Hunting For A Haunting

It was 2 a.m. when Laura Lee heard the door open and slam shut in one of the old buildings at the Fort Delaware State Park.

Scare up some spooky fun this Halloween! Photo courtesy of Delaware State Parks

Although Lee was staying overnight on the island with a Boy Scout troop, no one else was supposed to be in the building where she was sleeping. Assuming someone was trying to spook her, she looked out the window to catch the prankster, but never saw anyone enter or exit the building.

When she returned to her bed, she found her sleeping bag crumpled into a ball in the corner of the room.

“I’m a historian, so I look for proof in everything,” says Lee, the park historian and interpretive program manager for Delaware State Park in Delaware City, Del. “But there are some weird things that have happened that I just can’t explain.”

Halloween is the perfect time to call attention to the fact that a park is rumored to be haunted. It may also be a unique way to create a new revenue stream for facilities.

Although some may consider it “disrespectful” to exploit the site of a Civil War battleground, Lee calls it thinking out of the box and “a way to attract new visitors” to parks.

“To the people who thumb their noses and say it’s disrespectful, I feel it would be disrespectful if I let my fort fall down,” she explains.

Lee says she wasn’t always receptive to the idea of using the historical site for ghost hunts. In fact, she says she was hesitant when the state park was approached by a number of paranormal investigators who wanted to conduct research on the Peach Patch Island site because of the fort’s colorful history; it once housed Confederate prisoners of war.

However, once the Sy-Fy channel’s Ghost Hunters International filmed on location, Lee realized the value of such a program.

“You couldn’t buy that kind of publicity,” she relates. “It was amazing.”

For the last 10 years, a candlelight ghost tour in October has offered visitors a chance to hear about the history of the site, as well as the ghost stories and folklore that surround it.

Your community’s Halloween can be about more than just tricks and treats. Photo courtesy of Gainesville Parks and Recreation

With the buzz created by the Ghost Hunters visit, two more programs were created—the Pea Patch Paranormal Adventure and the Extended Paranormal Investigation. Led by the Delaware Ghost Hunters, groups are transported to the island by Delaware River Bay Authority boats and encouraged to explore and seek out their own ghosts and ghost stories.

The tours are offered in September and October, which Lee points out extends the “typical” park season.

Even better, she says, is the “significant” amount of money the program has generated that goes directly toward preserving the fort. While she was not able to release particulars, she said it helps fund brick re-pointing, safety repairs and other maintenance projects that may not otherwise be possible.

And Lee makes no bones about the purpose of the ghost hunts, which she believes contribute directly to educating the public about the site.

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