The Mystery of Witch Burials: A Paranormal Investigation in Missouri

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The history of graves and cemeteries in European America since the Colonial period is a very fascinating study. Generally, before the 17th century, family and friends were placed in a simple hole dug by a living relative. A wooden marker with the deceased name carved or burned upon it or a piece of stone crudely etched was the only reminder that a soul was buried on a property. Many times these markers eroded away or were destroyed by nature. It wasn’t until the 18th century, when churches began to be erected throughout the country that the concept of a cemetery was born. The earliest graveyards were located right next to the local church. In the New England areas, this practice remained a standard practice into the 20th century. The only exception was the Puritans, who believed any such Church affiliations were idolatrous and breeched the boundaries of heresy. They were the first to set aside land used as a common ground for burials. They rejected the formal Church iconography on the headstones and preferred instead to use images like skulls to represent the secular fate of all humans.

After westward expansion moved the settlements across the Mississippi River, traditions of church graveyards began to change in the Midwest and the South. In very small towns where a church was present, a graveyard may have existed, but for the most part this practice became very impractical. Farms and plantations were built to accommodate the large scale cash crops and so having the traditional churchyard was too far away for landowners to travel with their dead. Transportation was very difficult in those days and so family cemeteries were purposely situated on a high point of land, away from the fears of flood, and were usually enclosed with some sort gate, fence or wall. There are many of these cemeteries scattered throughout southeastern Missouri, many of them erected by German immigrants. Over the past few years my wife and I have had opportunities to experience paranormal activity associated with two of them. Our latest investigation was very eye-opening.

Hermann Cemetery sits on the eastern slope of the bowl-shaped town that is located right on the Missouri River. Hermann itself is full of paranormal activity, as it has a very rich history. As any paranormal investigator knows, we understand that it is the history of a site which determines the intensity of the activity.

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The history of the cemetery itself has a fascinating and mysterious past. Many of the tombstones have actual portraits of the deceased on the headstone, which makes standing over their bodies a rather creepy experience. Another distinguishing feature, which is common in the German tradition of “green living”, is the prevalence of raised concrete landscape beds that are planted right on top of the deceased individual. Here in Hermann, these once beautiful flowerbeds look like slabs of dominoes collapsing onto themselves and sliding down the hilly slope where the cemetery was built.

Our investigation of this site was done during the day, about two hours before dusk. Normally we would do our investigations at night, as orbs and shadow figures tend to be more prominent when the sun isn’t shining. This time we were adopting a different approach to this reportedly very haunted location.

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It is rumored throughout the town and by some visitors that the Hermann Cemetery was once used as witchcraft ritual grounds. Although we have not been able to find any documentation of this rumor, we did discover some things during our investigation that have us scratching our heads and pondering the possibility.

It is generally known that during the 18th and 19th centuries witches, pirates, and other people who were perceived by society to be of ill-repute, were buried on the corners of cemeteries without any inscriptions of who they were. In the two far western corners of Hermann Cemetery all we found were modern grave sites, however, as we walked up the hill to the two top eastern corners, we did find several tombstones that fit the description perfectly, aligned in three short rows. HPIM7367Although most were smooth and with no inscriptions, there were a couple headstones emblazoned with skulls, bones, and similar engravings. Each one was mottled with a type of yellow mossy growth. These headstones had more Puritan-type symbols sculpted on them, much like the witch’s grave seen in the first picture of this article. Judging by the erosion and by comparing them to adjacent grave sites, they would seem to be dated back to the very early 1800’s.

The area of the “witch’s corner” felt very uneasy and, as we walked further south, we came across the isolated grave of George F. Bayer, the builder and founder of Hermann, Missouri. His story is rather lengthy, but to give you the meat and potatoes of it, it is important to note is that he died rather tragically and with a broken heart. His great ambitions for purchasing and literally building the town of Hermann HPIM7373by himself were stripped from him by the German government, due to complaints that his work was not progressing in an appropriate manner. As a result of harsh political decisions, George was banished from society and this drove him to an early death. He was buried near the witch’s corner and no one was allowed to be buried within 75 feet of his grave. It is suspected that George still roams this cemetery and the town which once shunned him, carrying with him a very heavy heart.

After reviewing the dozens of photos we took of the Hermann Cemetery, we have not yet found any evidence to suggest paranormal activity… at least not in the main area where all of the gravestones lie. What we did find was discovered while we walked down the final gravel pathway of our investigation. Here, we turned and began shooting photos in the wooded area. All throughout our spectral investigation my wife and I felt there was something peculiar about this area, almost as if something or someone was watching us.

HPIM7421In the top corner of the woods we peered through the outside limbs and brush and noticed just inside the foliage that it was exceptionally dark. This immediately struck us as very unusual because upon looking up at the canopy, we saw that the tree cover was not very dense. Why would the sunlight be literally sucked out of this area? As we traveled along the pathway a few feet further down, the wooded area was lit up as it would be expected normally. What phenomenon could be occurring in this corner of the woods and is it possible that it may have some connection to the rumored witchcraft practices?

The lack of sunlight is not the only thing that drew our suspicion. We were only able to capture two photos of the wooded area because it was in that moment the batteries in our digital camera went dead. We were also walking with an ASR Voice Recorder app on my Android phone that was continuously running throughout our investigation. Right around 41:00 we lost all audio – no just once, but six times! Each time was very brief, perhaps a second or two, and the dead time showed up as white areas in amongst the black lines of recording on the phone screen. I have not been able to figure out or debunk how this was able to happen. I tried covering up all speakers and receivers with my hand to see if any zero reading would occur, which it does not. Air movement does not seem to be a factor because a steady light wind was present throughout our entire investigation and the audio is not affected anywhere else. Somehow the audible energy from the atmosphere was sucked out in short increments. What logical explanation can be derived from multiple energy sources being expended so mysteriously?

We have one last piece of evidence to offer you that comes from a very unusual source, but one my wife and I are very familiar with using. It is called Zillow. Yes, it is the real estate website. Many of us have used this resource to either find our dream home or one we can actually afford. And yes, it is a wonderful tool for finding paranormal activity.

In our research of searching for homes for sale around Hermann Cemetery, we found one whose property line lies very close to the cemetery grounds. We suspected that if this graveyard were truly haunted then any homes for sale around it should have paranormal activity in them as well. We had found other sites in the Hermann area which have apparent fairy activity in the woods and, in this case, Zillow did not disappoint us. The 3 photos below are taken from the Zillow site.

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In this photo you will see an orb right in front of the blue chair. Perhaps this is an entity taking a load off her feet by relaxing in the plush chair?

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Here is another orb closer to the ceiling but still quite defined.

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In this bathroom photo you can see at least one orb reflected in the mirror. Could this possibly be one of the witch’s admiring herself?

All of these questions tied to the photos are simply conjecture, however, it is rather interesting that a home right on the edge of Hermann Cemetery has so many light anomalies in it. And so now we sit back and reflect upon the history of cemeteries in America, the possible roles witches had on their plot corners, and the evidence we gathered at Hermann cemetery. We ask ourselves – what are the possibilities that, with further investigation and more equipment, we may be able to verify the rumors that witchcraft was performed in this cemetery at one time? We definitely believe there is something very odd happening on this site because it drained sunlight, audio waves, and lithium battery energy right before our eyes. Hermann Cemetery has provided evidence that there is something unusual going on with this site and that perhaps some the legendary rumors are, in fact, true.

Rising Thunderstorms Attract A Most Unusual Cryptid

7582090102_985021b2e4_zOver this past Father’s Day weekend I had an opportunity to attend the 19th Annual Haunted America’s Conference in Alton, Illinois. I had never been to one of these events and I really had no idea what to expect. I spent a few weeks prior to the conference thinking this was going to be a bunch of weirdos staring into crystal balls or spending their time talking about astrology, magic potions, and ghost stories you probably would read about in paranormal romance books. The only speaker I was familiar with was Troy Taylor, who I know has written several books about the many hauntings in the Alton area. Since I know and respect Troy’s credibility in the paranormal and he was to be the lead presenter and organizer of this event, I went ahead and pushed forward to attend this gathering at the Atrium Hotel. Little did I know that all of my preconceived notions were dead wrong. This conference was one of the neatest and most informative I have ever experienced outside of my own paranormal investigations. And I think it even surpasses most of those because this 2-day conference revealed a glimpse of the paranormal world that spanned centuries and definitely launched new passions within me.

One of the speakers was a cryptozoologist named Ken Gerhard. Ken is a very interesting man who sports a black leather hat which looks a little like the one Billy the Exterminator wears on the A&E Channel. He has been researching the stories and personal accounts of cryptids from all over the world. His craft is one that is not fully recognized by the scientific community at large, but it is an emerging science that someday will receive the accolades it deserves. Throughout Ken’s presentation we were introduced to many different types of cryptids, some seemed rather ordinary while others looked like they were taken from the pages of a science fiction magazine. One local cryptid in particular drew my attention and fascination – the Piasa Thunderbird.

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The story of the mysterious Thunderbird has its roots in Native American legend. Many times we learn about ghost stories or headless horsemen through legends or myths which were created from an unknown and obscure past. The funny thing about myths is that they are far more than just creations of fiction. They are derived from real experiences. The Piasa Thunderbird (pronounced Pie-a-saw), a legendary cryptid, also has its foundations in mythology and, in turn, has great potential for a true existence.

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The bird was first recognized in detail by an Illinois Indian named Ouatoga, who lived thousands of years ago. It became known at that time that giant birds were carrying off large woodland animals, such as full-grown deer, and then eating them as food. As the legends goes, these monsters of nature began developing a taste for the Indian people, wiping out entire villages. The Indian people were able, to some degree, to predict the coming of the Thunderbirds because they were known to soar the drafts created by intense thunderstorms. Thus the derivation of how these birds got their name. Chief Ouatoga, “whose fame extended even beyond the Great Lakes, separated himself from his tribe, fasted in solitude for the space of a full moon, and prayed to the Great Spirit to protect his people from the Piasa.” (Alton Web) For the Indian chief, this was a spiritual warfare.

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The legend continues whereby he recruits 20 warriors and arms them with poison-tipped arrows. Ouatoga offers himself as bait for the birds and stands out in the open. Just as one of the Thunderbirds is about to swoop him up, the arrows fly, hitting their mark. The bird dies and it was from this day forward that Ouatoga’s feat was recorded as a great victory for the Indian people. In honor, they carved a petroglyph of the bird into the bluff face of a rock, which now resides along the McAdams Highway in Alton, Illinois. Over the years the current painting was restored and sits in its glory as a reminder of this incredibly large and dangerous cryptid.

This story is based in myth, however, the myth has been transformed into a definite reality through multiple claims by people in North America that the Piasa Thunderbird is indeed a very real creature. One of the first documented sightings was in April 1890 near the town of Tombstone, Arizona. It has been claimed, by the local Tombstone newspaper Epitaph, that two cowboys saw this bird flying in the desert and chased it on horseback. Once they got as close to it as the horses would allow, they jumped off and ran after the bird, as it was repeatedly landing. They got within rifle range and shot the bird dead. It is claimed that:

“[t]he enormous wingspan of the creature was said to have been 160 feet and the body was more than 92 feet long. It was smooth and featherless, more like a bat than a bird, and they cut off a piece of the wing and brought it with them into Tombstone, Arizona.” (The Unexplained Mysteries)

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My first reaction to this claim, and perhaps it is yours as well, is that there is no way a dragon of this size could have existed, let alone been shot down by rifles in the mid-1800’s. This either had to be a myth or the ramblings of two cowboys drunk off of their flasks while sitting around the campfire. The size of this prehistoric bird is a little too much to swallow, but claims of the Thunderbird’s existence continued to live on. In 1930, this Tombstone story was verified and researched further by a man named Horace Bell. He claims that a photo was found of “6 men standing, with their arms outstretched, fingertip to fingertip”, lined up in front of the bird (The Unexplained Mysteries). The actual wingspan dimensions were reduced down to 36 feet, still a monstrous cryptid.

In 1963, in a September issue of Fate Magazine, it was further claimed that the Tombstone story is true and that “the photo was published and had appeared in newspapers all over America.” Extensive research was done to try and verify the existence of this photo, however, it was never found. It would seem that even after three separate claims over the time span of nearly 75 years, the mysterious Piasa Thunderbird still remains as a legend. It wasn’t until 1977 that the validity of the mythological Thunderbird was finally verified. Or was it?

The time period between July and August 1977 saw a very sharp increase in sightings of giant birds in the state of Illinois. This Midwestern state actually has the most reported cases in history, which is unusual since the landscape and environment here is not really conducive to this type of bird. They require high cliffs and the weather would need to be more consistent with the conditions you would find in California, the home of the American Condor. Nonetheless, the most convincing case of the Piasa Thunderbird happened in what has been called the “Lawndale Incident”.

“three boys were playing hide-and-seek in the yard of a home in Lawndale, in Logan County, Illinois. [They] saw [two] birds swoop down toward [one of their friends who] leaped into a small swimming pool in the yard…. The birds then headed for Marlon [Lowe and] picked him up by the straps of his sleeveless shirt and lifted him about 2 feet off the ground…. Marlon, [who weighed 65 pounds], screamed for his mother and punched at the bird. The bird dropped him to the ground after flying 35 or 40 feet from the backyard to the frontyard.”  (Mark A. Hall, Thunderbirds)

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After this happened, Marlon’s mother Ruth called the state wildlife organization to report this attack on her son, as she was gravely concerned this could happen to another family. After telling the wildlife department about her story, they wrote the birds off as turkey vultures. No such bird could exist in nature, they told her. The news of this incident, however, spread rapidly over the radio and made the front page of the newspaper in St. Louis and Detroit. Soon there were over 30 reported sightings of strange giant birds which were discovered over the entire state of Illinois. It was almost as if mass hysteria spread throughout the towns and cities of the area. Or were there really Thunderbirds with wingspans of 12 or more feet swooping over the heads of Illinois residents? The 7 witnesses in the Lawndale Incident swear these cryptids do exist and there were at least a dozen other people willing to stand in line and back up these fantastic claims. The authorities continued to say they were turkey vultures, but is the Piasa Thunderbird still just a myth?

More sightings were reported in October 2002 in the towns of Togiak and Manokotak in the state of Alaska, one in particular from an airplane. The interesting fact about the sightings in Alaska is that they were termed as “super-eagles”. In the Illinois sightings, people were not overly familiar with the birds in their state, so they could easily misjudge wingspan or bird type. In Alaska, however, nearly everyone is familiar with eagles and other native birds of the area. They knew what they were seeing was definitely out of the ordinary and could potentially have been “the legendary Thunderbird, a giant bird known throughout history to the Eskimos and American Indians in North America.” (Mark A. Hall – Thunderbirds)

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So, based on the preceding claims that date back over a century, let us assume the Piasa Thunderbird is a living, breathing cryptid. How can this be cryptozoologically possible? There are several explanations to this question. The first is that the Thunderbird is simply a more ancient version of the condor. In every reported case, it has been verified that the birds in question have a white ring around the neck which looks strikingly similar to the American condor. The argument against this theory is that the 4,000 left in existence live only in California and have never been known to leave the state.

Another possibility comes from a prehistoric perspective which states that the Piasa Thunderbird is a descendent of the pterodactyl, more specifically what were called teratorns. The largest teratorn to date is the Argentavis magnificens, and it was native of Argentina about 6 million years ago. It had a wingspan of about 23-30 feet with strong, stout legs (good for picking up prey) and a hooked beak. All of the Thunderbirds that have been seen in North America have this hooked beak as well. Another common trait, which is where the Thunderbird gets its name, is that it is speculated Argentavis  would have been seen following raging thunderstorms around because it was easier to ride the thermal currents than to flap their wings. As mentioned earlier, the Native Americans were privy to this trait because they knew when a thunderstorm was on the horizon, the Piasa Birds weren’t too far behind.

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A third possibility, and one which may be more feasible in the chronology of dinosaurs, is what is known as Merriam’s Teratorn.  It is a predecessor of the modern day condor and has a wingspan of 11-12 feet. It was a more active predator than the condors we are familiar with today. Skeletons of this teratorn have been found primarily in the La Brea tar pits. It is believed that this bird was capable of preying on human infants and possibly adults during its existence over 10,000 years ago. These traits have given Merriam’s Teratorn the honorary distinction of being the real legendary Piasa Thunderbird.

So, after all of this information has been considered, do we know for certain that the Piasa Thunderbird is a real creature – alive in various parts of North America? As with nearly every cryptid, we do not have a skeleton, feather, baby Thunderbird or even a definitive photo to offer as absolute proof. The reported claims, in my opinion, allow for the possibility of their existence and, if one of these dinosaurs were to fly over my head – I would not be surprised. No…who the hell am I kidding? A cryptid of that immense size would terrify me more than a demonic entity causing every hair on my body to stand on end!!

Works Cited:

Hall, Mark A. “Thunderbirds: America’s Living Legends of Giant Birds”.  2004.

https://theunexplainedmysteries.com/Thunderbird.html.

https://www.altonweb.com/history/piasabird/

 

Spotlight: Gettysburg

The BattlefieldWe put the spotlight on Gettysburg, Pennsylvania which is a small town with a big history, a history that has gone far beyond that of the civil war battle that happened there on July 1-3 1863.  Yes it’s place in the history books is unquestioned and as a tourist town visitors arrive every year to walk the hallowed ground that are now preserved.  Some of these visitors come for the history while others come for it’s haunted history.   Walking the town you’ll find markers telling you of the property in front of you, the people who lived there, information about the 46,000 plus casualties, or what happened during/after the battle at the building or nearby.  You may even run into the many dedicated reenactors who permeate the town during the summer months. And that is before you set foot on the national park portion of Gettysburg! So having investigated Gettysburg many times myself I decided to ask some fellow investigators & friends what their thoughts on the town are, the history, the magic if you will of what makes this little Pennsylvania town so special.

Solider Statue in front of Inn 1863“What I think makes Gettysburg special for paranormal is mostly [the] limestone and [that] fuels energy [for paranormal events]. [Gettysburg] Has different feeling than other places.  My fave place is Hoffman mansion on Steinwehr ave. Place is highly active, [I’ve] heard voices out loud, been touched and pushed, and most Evp I ever got was there. Sachs Bridge is second, was a very sad feeling and very strong presence.” ~ Mark Saloky is an investigator and who lives in Gettysburg.

“[Gettysburg] special to me due to the fact of all the men who lost there lives there. It wasn’t a war against another country or nation but a war of brother against brother. That means a lot to me because it did have an amazing end it brought all of America together in the end … (for the most part anyway).  I’m always drawn to devil’s den and little round top, I love looking around from that vantage point [Devil Den] as well I’ve also seen some awesome light anomalies at night from up there.” ~ David Caltrider who is the founder of Manchester Paranormal Society located in Hanover, PA.

Pennsylvania Monument
Pennsylvania Monument

“We [Ruth & her husband] like Gettysburg for the history. We have two favorite spots on the Battlefield, one is Triangular Field . . . the eerie quiet. I even found an EMF meter – laying on one of the rocks, batteries were strewn all over, maybe someone had to leave in a hurry. The other is The Wheatfield, have one photo that we see a soldier on horseback. We also like Sachs Bridge, the history and the beauty of it.” ~ Ruth Himes resides in Lancaster, PA and is a co-founder of The Ghost Seekers.

“There are many people interested in the paranormal that visit Sachs Bridge. You can find any level of investigator there, new or experienced. It also has yielded results from EVPs to K2 hits to flashlight responses to Spirit Box responses. One even stated the bridge name![During one of their investigations] ~ Rebecca Slaughter Boyer resides in Hagerstown, MD and is the co-founder of Antietam Paranormal Society.

“The history is what makes it special but there is an energy that just has me coming back for more.”~ Sarah Mack resides in Indiana County, PA and is the founder of Shotts in the Dark Paranormal.

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The “Castle” at Devil’s Den, monument for the 44th New York & (2) companies from the 12th New York Infantry Regiments

“I have always been fascinated in Gettysburg, PA. Being the daughter of a vet I grew up watching war films many of them pertaining to the battle of Gettysburg. So when I was old enough to learn about it’s haunted past. Just made me fascinated even more. It was always a place I wanted to investigate, one day. So, when I learned of the PRS [Ryan Buell’s Paranormal Research Society] and field trip they were hosting I jumped on the chance. When entering the small town you can definitely feel the sadness of it’s gruesome past. The first place I had the chance to investigate was with Heather Taddy in the Orphanage. That is where I also had my very first encounter with being touched by an unseen force. Several things happened that night though nothing like what happened in the old make shift lunch room/classroom on the main floor. We were in a group of about 13. We sat on the benches that were in there doing a session. I sat on the end with only one person to the right of me. As we started I had felt it get colder. As the questions went on I all of a sudden felt something or someone play with my hair to my left. As I said being that I was at the end of the bench there was no one sitting on the left. It didn’t scare me. Surprise? Of course. But it felt in my mind like a child playing. Probably just to let me know they were there. I have been in this field a long time but never had that happen up until that point. I wanted to experience the things I had heard about. And I left Gettysburg with a lot of memories of so much activity that occurred there during our stay. It is very much one of the most haunted places in America. Would I go back? Of course I would like to take my team there this summer.” ~ Victoria Smith is the founder of The New Page Paranormal Research Team located in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin.

Wheatfield“Gettysburg has, for me, the opposite feeling than I expected . Many times when I go to places where a lot of death has occurred , such as hospitals, asylums, etc, there is a feeling of doom or death. Gettysburg, however, has a calming and peaceful feel to it. I felt as though the spirits there were at rest peacefully. It really allows you to enjoy all the history tied to it. It is very active with spirits but perhaps because of the way it has been preserved and all the monuments for those who were killed, its as if the spirits are proud of their role and are happy to feel respected. It truly is a one of a kind place and one of my favorite haunted places!” ~ Ramona Burns

“It’s funny, because when I went for Paracon [Phenomenology] 105, We stayed at the Fairfield Inn. Spent the weekend at the convention, my daughter went on the junior hunt, and we had an investigation at one of the rooms at the Eisenhower. Had a strange experience of someone grabbing my head like they were talking a basketball. Twice. It was nuts. When we were checking out of the Fairfield, we were coming down from the third floor and as I looked into the second floor dining room, I saw who I thought was the hostess arranging the plates. She walked off towards the left, out of view, so I put the bags down to say thanks. I stepped in and there was a stack of chairs where she walked to. When I got downstairs I asked the hostess if anything ever happened in the upstairs dining room and she told me, “the lady of the house is always.straightening up”. It was something else, cause she was physically there, not translucent or anything like that.” ~ Douglas Chizmadia live in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

“What makes Gettysburg so special to me is that it has struck a balance between the past and the present. It isn’t one of those places where something as phenomenal as war or as final as death left their mark and then moved on, leaving behind only only a small plaque describing the number of lives lost during three days of fighting. Gettysburg is a town where past generations chose to preserve their unique heritage for future generations, long before President Lincoln spoke his mighty words. By doing this, not only was this pivotal point in our history kept alive, but that moment has also become a key factor in the town’s prosperity and growth, forever rooted in our hearts and minds.  The thoughts and needs of the people who endured those terrible days have also not been forgotten, but preserved and expounded upon. Take for instance the need to be remembered, to not be left to wander through the afterlife unnoticed. Echoing across time, their needs have become stepping stones to assist the living in paranormal investigations and discoveries. If their history were forgotten, lost in the shuffle of modern living, would we understand why we briefly caught a glimpse of a soldier walking across a field, heard the haunting sounds of drums echoing in the night or the cries of women, where none could be found? In my opinion there is no other location in the United States that has such a strange dichotomy as Gettysburg, between the history and the haunts.” ~ Kendra Belgrad tour guide for Ghostly Images.

The history is alive and the energy that is felt by the millions who visit Gettysburg every year is always there just around the corner with something new to find everyday. Many historic locations in Gettysburg like the Hoffman House, Devil’s Den & battlefield, Sach’s Bridge, The Orphanage, & Fairfield Inn to name just a small few are well worth visiting if you’ve never been to Gettysburg. We recommend a trip whether you are coming for the history or haunted history, take it from us you won’t be disappointed and if your lucky you’re have you’ll own story to tell…