Bellefonte, Pennsylvania 16823
By Serge Bielanko
Toward the end of every October, many people claim to feel a little chill in the air around Bellefonte. To some, it's simply the autumn hitting stride, temperatures dipping down like they always do around this time of year. Yet to others, it's something more than that. A town well-steeped in history, some people claim there are supernatural forces at work here. Ghost stories are not rare in these parts; things do go bump in the night; and chills run up more than a few local resident spines.
At times it seems that the residents of this town are… well, not alone.
Bill and Lisa Benzie would tell you that's true too. The husband and wife duo are both co-founders of the five-member Spring Hill Paranormal Investigators, a specialized team of experienced ghost hunters based right here in town. So as Halloween fast approaches, I reached out to them to ask some questions about the 'other side of Bellefonte'.
Do you think that Bellefonte is a good town to be in for people interested in the supernatural? If so, why?
Bill Benzie: YES! This town has such a rich and vibrant history! One only has to walk its streets and look around to see it. A lot of hard work and pride was put into the architecture of its buildings, and homes. The Miles-Humes home leaps to mind: 203 yrs old and still quite beautiful, and structurally sound. Petrikin Hall, is another example, built in the very early 1900's. The Brockerhoff, also another incredible structure. These buildings hold the energy of the people that built them, and also of those that lived and worked in them. They all have a stories to tell. The fact that Bellefonte was the cultural and financial hub of this area brings a certain energy. It was- and still is- the center of the county Government. Convicted criminals were hung in the town center known as the 'Diamond'. There is one building that I know of that I was in as a child that still had the shackles on the walls, where they would hold the criminals. That energy is around as well.
This fall, Spring Hill Paranormal Investigators (SHPI) is offering weekly classes for aspiring ghost hunters. That's not something most towns are able to offer. What should someone expect to learn if they enroll in the class? Do you ever take the students on an actual ghost hunt?
Bill: A few years ago, we were contacted through Facebook by a paranormal group from Connecticut called Family Haunts. Scott and Jillian Hamilton, along with their adult children, were already teaching a class in Ansonia, their home town. Scott was looking to expand his school. Through countless phone calls, texts and a couple of trips back and forth, Lisa and I decided this was something we wanted to do. After MUCH planning and preparation, we had an open house to register students for our class that October. Our first class started in November and we had 5 students!
Our curriculum is focused around safety, both spiritual and physical. We cover all aspects of the investigation, from interviewing potential clients, researching the properties, how to conduct an investigation, collecting evidence, and what to look for in the video, audio, and still pictures we gather. We go over what equipment to use: where, when, and why. We have changed the way we hold classes. We have gone from 10 classes (2hr classes held once a week for 10 weeks) to 2 days, each session being roughly 4-5 hrs. We do take our students on an actual investigation, where they take the pictures, ask the questions, and conduct the investigation with our guidance. SAFETY is key; we incorporate safety into every lesson.
Lisa Benzie: There's a lot more to it than just going into a place with flashlights, voice recorders and cameras. It is not like what you see on the TV shows. There are hours spent on researching a place, getting approval to conduct the investigation, setting up your equipment (which can take longer than the actual investigation), tearing down your equipment after the investigation and keeping everyone safe both physically and spiritually.
If someone takes your class and graduates, do you think they're ready to go investigating the paranormal on their own?
Lisa: Anyone that takes the class will have the basic knowledge and understanding of what's involved in conducting an investigation. And providing they follow and remember what they learn in class, they could safely conduct an investigation.
From what I understand, there are five current members of your investigation team, and that includes two couples? Would you say that exploring the supernatural with your wife/husband/partner makes it all more enjoyable for you? Do you ever find yourselves bickering with each other in the middle of a spooky place?
Bill: There are 5 of us yes, but Lisa and I are the only couple. JoAnna is married and has a family but her husband doesn't participate. Still, we owe him and their three children a huge debt of gratitude for being ok with us taking Jo away sometimes for hours on end. Dee has a beau and he is also very supportive of us. He worries sometimes, but he understands!! Thanks guys!!! Cory is the most recent addition to our group. He is a former student of our class. With his scientific approach, he has become a great asset to our team.
Lisa: Bill and I are the only couple and, like all couples, having something in common is very important in the relationship. Bickering during an investigation? No! An investigation is NO place for bickering or any other ill feelings between couples and/or team members. That's only an invitation for something to go wrong.
Is paranormal investigating safe? Have you ever felt in danger?
Bill: Danger is a relative term. Some folks think bungee jumping is safe… I do not! As a team, we rely on each other tremendously and trust is paramount. Every member of our team has to be prepared and on task.
Lisa: You need to be prepared mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. When you're prepared it can be very safe. I have never felt I was in danger though.
Let's say you're in an old house with a lot of strong supernatural energy in it. You don't see anything but you can sense you're not alone. And I'm not talking about your team mates. Do you ever get scared? Have you ever simply said, "We've got to get out of here!" and left in a hurry?
Bill: Any serious investigator that says they haven't been scared at one point or another isn't being honest. Or they haven't been on that many real investigations.
Lisa: To date, there has been only one time where we called an investigation off due to the negative energy that we encountered. I can't say I felt scared that night, but we had several members in the group feeling the affects of the negative energy. So Bill felt it was best to call the investigation off.
Each of you has been more up close and personal with ghosts than most people will likely ever be. Can you describe the most intense situation you've ever found yourself in while investigating?
Lisa: We were investigating a building in Granville that once served as an orphanage/hospital/nursing home. This was the investigation that Bill had ended due to how the group was being affected by the negative energy that we encountered.
Your Paranormal Investigation seems like a huge hit here in Bellefonte. Will the classes continue in the future?
We are almost done with classes for 2017. Our last class is in November and is all full. We are still finalizing our 2018 schedule; we'll be offering different workshops. But we are still in the planning stage.
Visit Spring Hill Paranormal Investigators on the web.
Preparing for moments like the holidays is all part of a successful fitness journey.
The long-awaited Centre County Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame will inaugurate 13 athletes with ties to the county at a ceremony on Sunday October 15th.
One of the most inspired and entertaining events of the season has to be the Punkin' Chunkin' Fall Festival.
Located in a cozy little building and nestled just across from a calm, quiet flow of Spring Creek along South Potter Street.
Some maintain that it was Curtin himself who urged Abraham Lincoln to say a few words to the crowd that day.
Iron Star Trading Company procures beautiful mid-century modern desk by internationally-known design legend, Raymond Loewy.
Getting dressed up in your Halloween costumes and piling into a carefully restored old train car is as cool as it gets.
During your Fall rides, park your bike in Bellefonte and explore what downtown has to offer.
Take a closer look, or maybe a closer listen, to realize the small Victorian town still clings to an impressive spiritual history.
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