by Jane Roser
The icy feeling in your chest
The prickling of your hair
These are signs to warn you
That something lurks out there
You may not believe it
But I know that it’s true
There is a darker side
To the world you thought you knew
So be fearful of the night
Trust in what you feel
For evil does exist
And nightmares can be real
– Constance Welch
When you were a kid did you play with a Parker Brothers Ouija board? When you attended a sleep over did you and your friends play “light as a feather, stiff as a board”? Do you believe that ghosts exist?
In 2005, a Gallup poll found that three in four Americans believe in paranormal phenomenon. 37% believed that houses could be haunted and 32% believed that the dead could come back to haunt the living (of course, why 5% of the people polled believed that houses could be haunted, but don’t believe in the existence of ghosts is an unexplained phenomena in itself). Reality shows such as Ghost Adventures, Paranormal State and Ghost Hunters, as well as hit films like Insidious, Paranormal Activity and The Conjuring have fueled the nation’s curiosity for the unexplained, or maybe folks just like the adrenaline rush of having the bejesus scared out of them.
Katrina Weidman (star of A&E’s Paranormal State and Chiller’s Real Fear: The Truth Behind The Movies) lived in a haunted house in Doylestown, Pennsylvania when she was very young and her experiences instigated a life-long interest in the paranormal.
“I mainly remembered being scared to be left alone, particularly upstairs,” says Weidman. “When I was three or four years old I was sitting at the bottom of the stairs playing with picture blocks when my sister comes down and says to me, “how did you do that?” She was coming downstairs and peeked through the banister into my room and saw me sitting on my bed staring back at her. Then she gets to the bottom of the stairs and sees me sitting at the foot of the steps.”
Weidman arrived at Penn State in 2004 majoring in Integrative Arts with an emphasis in music promotion, taking on a second major a year and a half later in theater. “When I first transferred to Penn State I had joined a few clubs, including PRS (the Paranormal Research Society) and went to one meeting,” recalls Weidman. A short time later, she decided it would be best to cut back on her extracurricular activities and wouldn’t return to PRS until 2006.
“I started going to club meetings again and they sent out an email with an invitation to audition for a show they were going to do, so I went. It wasn’t so much an audition as it was a personality test. They wanted to be sure you weren’t afraid to be in front of a camera and were likeable; it was Ryan [Buell, the founder of PRS], Eilfie [Music], Sergey [Poberezhny] and two producers in the room with me.” Weidman received several callbacks and was quickly cast in what would become one of A&E’s most popular shows. Paranormal State ran for five seasons, from 2007 to 2011, with 2.5 million viewers watching the first two episodes, making it the third most watched show on A&E since 2004.
Filming a reality show comes with trials and perks. As a college club, the group had a limited budget, but with funding from a large production company, PRS was able to accept cases which were further away and purchase equipment such as thermal cameras which costs thousands of dollars just to rent. On the opposite side of the coin, you are almost constantly being filmed over a three day time period, which can at first be awkward and invasive. The crew may be taking a (much needed) break the moment something really cool happens and you come under intense scrutiny from other paranormal groups, as well as skeptics and critics.
Being able to work with colorful psychic Chip Coffey and legendary paranormal investigator Lorraine Warren (who, with her husband Ed Warren, were the first investigators of the Amityville Horror House and the subject of the hit film The Conjuring) was an incredible opportunity for the group.
“Working with Lorraine was an amazing experience,” says Weidman, “she’s one of the founders of the modern field [of paranormal investigation] and I had always heard about her because of her work on Amityville and The Haunting In Connecticut, so it was [surreal]. Chip has become a good friend and is one of the funniest people I have ever met. I learned from them that not every psychic is the same. Lorraine and Chip both have their strengths in regards to certain cases and they’re both very good with people and can get clients to open up, which is really important because sometimes clients will be guarded, especially when there’s a TV crew. There are a lot of emotions that go along with a haunting-anxiety and depression-so when you have someone like Chip or Lorraine in the house, the clients feel comfortable working with them and we can get to the source of some things they may have [initially] left out.”
Of course, there’s only so much you can include in a 22 minute episode that was filmed over three days, so there’s always a few stories that may slip through the cracks. An episode entitled “The Glove” from season two takes place in the former coal mining town of Daisytown, Pennsylvania where nearly every resident of this neighborhood had a ghost story to tell. The house PRS investigated had been in the owner’s family for several generations and were experiencing terrifying phenomena such as hearing ghostly footsteps and disembodied talking, as well as a floating head witnessed by the couple’s son.
“The owner’s great-grandfather was a very angry, abusive man and some of the kids [in the house] had seen him and were able to pick him out in photos event though they had never seen a photograph of him before,” explains Weidman who tells me an eerie behind-the-scenes story from this investigation.
“This house was a twin; the family bought the other side and were renovating it, but they couldn’t keep a contractor. Ryan, Sergey, Chad [Calek] and Michelle [Belanger] were in the unfinished side of the house; Heather [Taddy], Eilfie and I were in the front bedroom of the finished side. I was sitting on the bed facing the door and the cameraman was standing at the top of the stairs facing me. I remember I was leaning my head back because I was so bored and tired and nothing’s happening and as I raised my head, I looked up and I saw this woman’s arm reaching around the cameraman. It was her hand up to her elbow and wasn’t solid, but almost glowed a greenish, grayish blue color and I had this ‘holy shit am I really seeing this’ moment; then it was gone and I didn’t say anything to anyone at the time because I thought, well maybe I was just tired and imagined it. The next night, Eilfie and I were on outside duty, which means every now and then, depending on the location we were at, we have someone stationed outside to make sure that noises weren’t coming from any neighbors or the street. So we were outside and everyone else was inside when over the walkie talkie we hear ‘Shaw just got touched! Shaw just got touched!’ Shaw was our audio engineer and he was sitting on the stairs where the cameraman was the night before and he said it felt like a woman’s hand was pressing down on his shoulder. We have him on camera reacting to it, it looks like his shoulder is pushed down a bit and he freaks out. So for me that was confirmation that I didn’t just imagine this; it was cool to have had a personal experience and then have it confirmed.”
In 2012 and 2013, Weidman co-hosted a documentary on the Chiller network called Real Fear: The Truth Behind The Movies that investigated the stories which inspired films such as Poltergeist and The Amityville Horror. The Pennsylvania town of Centralia (which Silent Hill was loosely based on) was on the producer’s radar for awhile, but once Weidman mentioned that her grandmother’s family was from there, it was chosen as a location because of her personal connection to it. In Amityville, Weidman had the opportunity to talk to Christopher Quaratino (aka Chris Lutz), whose family endured the horrors portrayed in the book and film.
“Meeting Chris and hearing his story was mind-blowing,” says Weidman, “I didn’t realize there was such a thing as a demonic haunting until [as a child I’d heard about] Amityville.” Weidman was also not aware that the true story which inspired Steven Speilberg’s Poltergeist was still an open police case (the activity plagued the Hermann family in 1958 in the town of Seaford, New York, coincidentally located only ten minutes from the town of Amityville).
While the two hour specials focused mainly on ghost stories, Weidman would love to one day profile the stories behind The Entity and Ed Gein who inspired Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Silence of the Lambs. “He was a sick pup, and I mean no disrespect to the families who were affected by his crimes, but he was the genesis for so many great horror films. These actually happened not that long ago, too, so you can still find people who were connected to it and hear their stories.”
Weidman currently participates in paranormal events all around the U.S., all throughout the year and loves meeting people who share the same interests that she does. On a recent investigation of Pennhurst State School and Hospital in Spring City, Pennsylvania, Weidman met a woman in her group who had previously worked at the hospital.
“She started talking about her time there and was calling out to these patients that she remembered working with and saying ‘do you remember the time you threw my typewriter at me?’ or ‘do you remember the time I loaned you lunch money?’ We were doing two to three minute EVP (electronic voice phenomena) sessions, so we would record for a few minutes, then play it back and see if we got anything. When we stopped that session, this woman in the group who was a seasoned investigator said she didn’t want to interrupt them, but as the former employee was talking, she heard a male voice say ‘no’ and a few others in the group said they heard the same thing. We played back the recording and sure enough, we got this voice that is saying ‘no’.”
From July 18 to July 21, Weidman will be participating in a fun event called Phenomenology in York, Pennsylvania. There will be workshops, lectures, vending tables, investigations at locations such as the Michael Crist Farm which was a Confederate field hospital during the battle of Gettysburg and, of course, karaoke. Weidman has a lot more in the works that she can’t announce yet, but you can find future events on her webpage http://katrinaweidman.com or on her Facebook fan page.
“We don’t know what the paranormal is yet,” says Weidman, “we do what we do because we want answers, but I meet a lot of people who [have a label for every phenomenon]. But we really don’t know, so you have to keep an open mind because there’s so much that we’re discovering every day and that’s really exciting.”
If you remember your high school Shakespeare, you might recall that after Hamlet sees his father’s ghost he tells Horatio what he has witnessed and Horatio has trouble believing it. Hamlet replies, “there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” So the next time you feel a prickling on the back of your neck or a sudden chill that makes the hair on your arms stand up, look around and ask yourself….am I really all alone in this room?