By Tinamaria Colaizzi
Point Park News Service
Except for one devastating thing, Denise and John’s two story house looks like something that could be featured in “Homes & Garden” magazine.
A spacious patio overlooks the four acre property’s lush landscape, the warm living room exudes coziness with a flickering vanilla scented candle and a beautiful floral centerpiece sits on the fixed wooden dining room table.
Perhaps the only downside to living in this quaint north of Pittsburgh home is sharing it with the unknown.
“Oh yeah, our house is haunted,” Denise said casually, “We bought it 14 years ago and weird stuff has happened ever since.”
This “weird stuff” includes strange noises, ghostly conversations, moving furniture and visions of little children dressed in 19th Century clothing–just to name a few examples. Although she was initially terrified, Denise’s fascination with the paranormal grew with each ghostly encounter in her own house and she became a paranormal investigator in 2004. Now, she is the lead investigator of a Paranormal Research society she founded this year.
Since most of their friends and neighbors do not know about the hauntings in the house, the owners requested that their last name is not included in this article. They are currently writing a tell-all book about their experiences with the unknown, however, which they are hopeful will help others in similar situations.
“We didn’t know it was haunted before we bought the house. This is why I became a paranormal investigator…because of what happens in this house.” she said, asking that its location be kept secret for fear of local teenagers coming on her property to look for ghosts or cause trouble.
Denise is the lead investigator for Pittsburgh Paranormal Adventures Society, a group of about 15 members interested in the thrill of ghost hunting.
“Our members range from bankers to housewives to college students. It’s a lot of fun!” she proclaimed. The group has traveled as far as Trinway, OH for a paranormal investigation.
While experiences in her house developed into her greatest hobby, Denise was no stranger to ghostly encounters.
During a weekend of dog-sitting at her deceased grandmother’s house, Denise believes that the spirit of her “baba” came for a visit one night while she was sleeping. The year was 1983 and her grandmother had died the year before.
“I just opened my eyes and above me was a floating black shadow. I sensed that it was my baba. John was asleep, but standing by the fireplace across the room! I jumped to go over to him and John woke up asking why he was standing across the room. We don’t know why,” Denise said.
This experience was frightening enough to make the couple leave.
“There was no way we were staying in there for another night. The next night we took the damn dog to our apartment even though we weren’t allowed to have pets!”
This event served as a foreshadowing for the couple’s paranormal activities. Denise described the move from the apartment to the new house as exciting, but also a bit daunting.
“We couldn’t move in for three months because of all the stuff in the house…millions and millions of wire hangers were strung on rope, wooden toilet seats hung from the ceiling, and just tons of food cartons and garbage everywhere.” Denise explained.
Now, the house is transformed into a warm, traditional home full of antique furniture, photo albums on top of wooden shelves, and historical knick knacks.
“I told John he was out of his mind. I said, ‘We’re not buying this house!’ but he had a vision of what it could be. We got a 30 ft dumpster and took everything out of the house. Absolutely everything.”
Despite successfully gutting the house, some things chose to linger.
“Our very first night sleeping here, a grandfather clock went off at 2 am. But we don’t have a grandfather clock! It was so real–the whole house echoed,” Denise explained.
She later learned from a friend that the previous owners had a large grandfather clock imported from Europe and it was a central piece to the house. This first unexplainable event was chilling, but Denise had a somewhat humorous response.
“I still tell my husband that I had saved him $3,000. I had always wanted a grandfather clock, but after that I don’t want it anymore!”
Other strange events occurred during the move in process, including doors slamming shut, loud footsteps on the house’s wooden tile flooring and objects, like electrical tape and tools, simply disappearing into thin air, all witnessed by family and friends.
“Our friend went down to the basement with a roll of electrical tape. He was standing on the chairs fiddling with wires and when he went to reach for the tape, it was gone.”
Denise further explained that the basement was entirely empty after being gutted and even if the tape had rolled away, it would have had to turn up somewhere.
The basement would prove to be the scariest part of the house, after the couple learned even more unpleasant facts about the property’s history.
“This place used to be a mining office back in the day. There was a huge mining accident, people and kids were killed and they brought the bodies here where our side yard is,” Mike Smith explained.
Jessica believes that the spirits of some of these children still live in the house since she has heard and seen them. One day, someone called the house requesting to speak to Eric, her son. Thinking he was in the basement, she called out to him and she heard a response from the basement: “I’m coming!”
“A few minutes went by and I thought, wow, Eric is being really rude. There’s someone on the phone for him and he’s keeping them waiting!’ Jessica explained.
Then, she suddenly noticed that Eric had been outside the entire time cutting the grass. Strangely, the only way to get to and from the basement is through the kitchen door, and this is when Jessica realized that spirits were actually speaking to her.
While seeing ghosts is not a common occurrence for Denise and her family, friends and family members have had similar incidents of seeing the same two children throughout the house. During a graduation party for her son Justin on a hot summer day in 2001, Denise’s aunt received the shock of her life.
“She was taking my godson to our upstairs bathroom, and she saw a little boy at the top of the stairs looking down at her.”
While the family member assumed the child was a party guest, she was surprised to see him wearing an old-fashioned shirt buttoned to the neck with long sleeves and long pants.
“Their eyes locked and she says his body turned in slow motion towards the bedroom, but his head never moved, and he vanished into my bedroom.”
Denise still gets chills when talking about the assumed spirits of coal mining children, especially since she too has once seen this dark haired boy, mistaking him for one of her sons.
Additionally, two family friends have claimed to see the same little girl with curly blonde hair and a high lace collar looking out from Denise’s bedroom window.
“My friend Stacy came to visit me and she asked who I was babysitting. I told her I wasn’t babysitting anyone, and she said there was a little girl looking out of my front bedroom window!” Denise hesitantly recounted. “Three months later another friend came over and asked me the same question. She said the girl was perched looking out the window wearing a lace party dress.”
While she has never seen the girl herself, Denise keeps an eye out for her and also looks for other spirits every weekend with her paranormal investigation group. Every weekend, a core team from her group attempt to uncover spirit presences at private residences or public places like libraries, former hospitals, or resort spas. Her scariest moment was seeing a black shadow of an alleged little girl’s spirit climb up the wall of an old Victorian house in Indiana, PA. While she admits that the thrill of the scare is invigorating, she approaches each investigation in a calm and practical manner.
“I like to treat the ghost how I would like to be treated. I tell them that I mean no disrespect and that I come as a friend. We sit down, introduce ourselves and use our equipment to gather evidence,” she explained.
Denise keeps a black briefcase full of most of her equipment, including a digital camera for night vision photos, a recorder for EVPs (Electric Voice Phenomena) to hear spirits speaking through radio frequencies, and a K2 meter to record temperature fluctuations, since a drastic drop in temperature can point to a spirit presence.
“I have spirits saying names on my recorder. One spirit with a deep voice said his age was 56. One time we were in a basement and you can hear a little girl saying ‘breathe’ and two investigators immediately asked, ‘Did you hear someone say breathe’?”
Because of her Roman Catholic upbringing, Denise keeps a card with a prayer by St. Michael, the archangel, as protection against demonic spirits that could inflict evil onto the group. Even so, she says she was once physically harmed by a malicious spirit at a private residence.
“I felt like something was burning me. I looked down and I saw scratches going down my leg and they started to bleed. I really thought I was going to quit. I guess sometimes you don’t know what you’re dealing with. But I enjoy this, I have fun, and I keep going.”
Ironically, Denise has never performed a full-fledged investigation on her house, and doesn’t plan to do so in the future. She believes her home is her sanctuary, where she feels most safe. However, a friend who is interested in paranormal activity has held an EVP recording in her kitchen with microphones and a mechanism similar to a lie detector test, which produced lines on a piece of paper after hearing noises.
Denise began to ask questions relating to the new additions to the house, such as the kitchen’s mural of a floral landscape and the family’s antique furniture displayed throughout the living room.
Once they played back the recording, Denise believes she heard the spirits.
“I asked them if they liked the mural on our kitchen wall that we painted and a woman said yes. We all heard it. Then a woman’s voice said ‘Do you hear them?’ and we heard a man saying ‘Uh huh’.”
After 14 years, Denise and her family are used to the things that happen. The hauntings have, however, affected her relationships with family and friends.
“We don’t tell a lot of people about our house. We don’t want them to think we’re lying or that we’re crazy,” Denise expressed. When her sons were younger, they hosted a sleepover at the residence for the first and last time.
“They were all in the living room and our couch moved back four feet by itself. To this day, they will not come in this house. I had three mothers calling me the next day and thought we were playing pranks.”
Luckily, Denise believes that the spirits in her house are not evil. Instead, she speculates that they are simply attached to the house. Somewhat ironically, an antique, Victorian-era dollhouse sits in the family’s dining room, showcasing tiny porcelain people in over 10 rooms. After learning about the house’s history, the dollhouse gives off an eerie effect. The little figurines suddenly appear to be trapped in time inside the dollhouse. Is this the case for the spirits in Denise’s house?
“Maybe the spirits are stuck in my house because they’re so attached to it,” Denise speculated. “They have to be here for a reason. Maybe they’re just not ready to move on.”
Even with the threat of a scary occurrence happening at any time, the family does not plan to move out of the house. Instead, Denise says they accept it and insist it has an irreplaceable sense of character, even with its odd quirks and strange events.
“Will the spirits be here forever? I don’t know, but I don’t mind sharing. I love this house and I’ll die here.”