hoffman mansion

Back to Gettysburg

It’s been a year since Sarah and I have been to Gettysburg and recently we got a chance to head back to the town we have grown to love. It’s less than 90 minutes away and we haven’t been able to get there nearly as much as we should.

We started off the weekend by checking in to The Brafferton Inn, a great Bed & Breakfast right in the heart of the city. Sarah and I were greeted by Joan, one of the owners, and we immediately fell in love with the place as she gave us a tour of the grounds and finally led us to our room. It had its own private entrance right off the street, so it was almost like Sarah and I had our own little apartment for the weekend (and people who walked by were jealous and thought we lived there).

We didn’t have time to relax, though, as we had an appointment for a ghost hunt – not a ghost tour - with the Gettysburg Paranormal Association. Although this wasn’t technically our first hunt (you can read about that experience here) it was the first time we were on a location with actual ghost hunting tools (digital recorders, temperature guns, ghost nets, and dowsing rods) and we had a blast.

We were investigating at the Hoffman Mansion, a large empty house with quite a history. Between serving as a makeshift hospital during The Civil War and the site of a grisly suicide with a heartbreaking story, the estate has become quite a hotspot for ghostly sightings.

Our small group of amateur investigators was given free reign of the property and we spread out. The group leaders Pat and Kelly would roam from person to person, answering questions, giving tips, and sharing their stories and personal experiences. Given my past in radio, I truly enjoy interviewing people and finding out where they have come from and what they do, and these two did not disappoint.

Sarah and I started off in the basement and not much happened. I say “not much” because I thought I saw something. I have no idea what it was but it was something. Although it was pitch black in the basement, we were armed with a flashlight and a “ghost net,” which is basically a green laser pointer that emits a large pattern of light in the room. As we were nearing a small room just across from the stairs (as seen in the photo at right) I saw something dash out of the room and disappear on the other side of the stairs. It was small and gray-colored, and about the size of a cat. It moved very fast and it was also blurry, almost as if you put a gray blob of paint on a canvas and then just smeared it with your finger. That’s about as much description as I can offer.

I’m not saying it was a ghost or a spirit or something supernatural. Heck, for all I know, it was the beam from someone’s flashlight swinging by.  All I’m saying is, I saw it and I didn’t know what it was.

The only other time “something” happened was up in the attic. It was dark and creepy and as I climbed the stairs, I felt an oppressive air around me. I described it to Sarah like I was diving into a lake that was covered with a thin film of Jell-O. Once I got through the weird “gelatin barrier,” everything felt fine. We sat down for a few seconds and were joined by Pat, one of the lead investigators. He told us the story of a young woman, deserted by the love of her life, who committed suicide in the attic. I said something to Sarah and, right after I did, Pat said, “You know, the girl who committed suicide up here…her name was Sarah, too.”

As soon as Pat said the name “Sarah,” I heard a loud click come from Sarah’s hand. In fact, we all heard it. Sarah felt it.

“Was that you?” I asked.

“No,” Sarah said, and I could see her looking down at the thermometer gauge in her hand illuminated only by my small flashlight. “It was this.” Sarah studied the device in her hand.

I forget exactly what our conversation was at that point, but the loud clicking noise we all heard came from the thermometer gun. The click sounded like a piece of plastic being snapped in two, but everything was in tact. Sarah said afterward she felt the unit move in her hand as it “clicked” but couldn’t quite figure out how it made the sound. The only moving part on the laser thermometer is a little trigger, but it doesn’t make a clicking sound when it’s pulled, and try as she might, Sarah could not recreate the sound.

After that, the night was fairly uneventful. At least for us. At the end of our two hours, people told stories of pictures they caught of eerie faces in the windows, ghostly figures walking through rooms, and a roomful of eerie apparitions seen en masse. We didn’t experience anything like that, and my first reaction when I heard that was, “You liars. We were in the basement, too, and we didn’t see anything like that.” But of course, I didn’t say that. I just nodded my head and said, “Oh wow.”

The ghost hunt finally came to an end and Sarah and I made it back to our Bed & Breakfast. It’s funny how, after a couple of hours of ghost stories and eerie happenings, you become very aware of every noise you hear in a strange place. Every creak and  squeak demanded an explanation and we even had a bit of a scare with a closet door that appeared to open and close on its own. As it turned out, the night shadows in the room play some very convincing tricks on the eye.

The next morning, Sarah and I woke up to an amazing breakfast courtesy of the chef at The Brafferton Inn. After a late night running around chasing things we couldn’t see, it was exactly what the doctor ordered. The food was amazing. Fresh fruit, homemade pastries, raspberry-stuffed French toast, meatlover omelettes….man, it was nice. It’s making me hungry again just thinking about it.

Fully charged with breakfast and coffee, Sarah and I set out on the town. Although this wasn’t our first time in Gettysburg, we never took the time to actually see the town. We not only enjoyed looking at the shops, the theater, and the people (if you’re a fan of people-watching, Gettysburg is the place for you), we also had fun looking for a good cup of coffee. I won’t go into it too much, but…suffice it to say, we didn’t find one.

We continued our exploration and eventually made our way down to the Gettysburg National Cemetery. It’s a beautiful property that felt more like a park than a burial site. I still haven’t figured out if it’s weird to say we enjoyed, even had fun at, the cemetery. The statues, the cannons that surrounded the grounds, even the headstones, were beautiful and although we didn’t always understand exactly what we were admiring, we admired it all nonetheless.

We weaved and wound our way through the paths inside and didn’t even come close to seeing all of it when we decided to head back. The sky was getting darker and darker and rain was imminent.

Also, we had to go to the bathroom.

Gettysburg shops are notorious for not having a public bathroom so we decided to stop in at O’Rorke’s Eatery and Spirits, a warm and friendly Irish pub. We were still pretty stuffed from our breakfast but figured we’d order something small from the appetizers menu so we wouldn’t feel too guilty about popping in just to use the restroom. We ordered veggies and dip and a crab dip plate as well.

We severely underestimated the crab dip.

 It was huge and, although it was listed as an appetizer, could have easily fed six grown men.

Not only was it a very generous portion, it was also delicious. I wished I was hungrier than I was so I could inhale every last bite of it. Fortunately, I was able to restrain myself and we ended up leaving the majority of it untouched.

That’s one thing I didn’t expect from Gettysburg: amazing food. We walked by a bunch of places we wished we were hungry enough to try. Sarah remarked that she wished our stomachs were larger so we could just eat everywhere and I had to agree.

Sarah and I walked back to our B&B from there, about a 20 minute walk, and kicked back for a couple of hours before it was time to hit the road and investigate ghosts once again. Sarah took a nap and I read a few chapters of The War for Late Night. I left my laptop at home for this vacation and this was my only pop-culture moment of the weekend. It was nice, and being away from the internet and being “instantly accessible” was a welcome change of pace. It was also a lot easier than I was afraid it would be. There’s something to be said for occasionally unplugging from the matrix.

One weird thing happened before I started reading:

I sat on the couch, prepared to look through the photos we had taken so far that day. I took my camera out of the left pocket of my cargo shorts. It seemed awfully light for some reason and when I tried to turn it on, nothing happened. I had just changed the batteries earlier in the day but nothing had seemed amiss during our investigation of the museum. Because the weight of the camera was so light, I pressed the battery-release button on the camera and was slightly shocked to find that the battery compartment was empty.

To say I was baffled would be an understatement.

I checked the pocket for the batteries and they weren’t there. Strangely enough, I did find them in my opposite pocket. I know for a fact I didn’t take the batteries out, put them in one pocket, and then put the camera in another. I had just used the camera in the restaurant to take a picture of the mountainous crab dip and it never left my sight (or pocket) after that. I would have blamed Sarah trying to be sneaky, but both of my pockets were snapped shut, something I always take care to do when I’ve got any kind of equipment in them (I habit I picked up when I began filming on a regular basis).

After re-charging our batteries (no pun intended), we walked down to The International Museum of Spiritual Investigations for their “Night at the Museum,” a 3-hour ghost hunt within their history-laced walls. Fred, the president of the museum, was our fearless leader this time around and we spent most of the night huddled in the pitch-black darkness of the basement, a back room and yes, the bathroom. All senses were on high alert but unfortunately we didn’t come across anything concrete. There were a couple of “I wonder if” moments, but they were only moments and it’s hard to say for sure. Of course the audio footage that was recorded here (and on the previous night’s investigation) still has to  be gone through by the investigators, so who knows. If they find anything interesting and post it on their website(s), I will be sure to share that with you here.

At the end of the investigation, we had a great conversation with Fred, who genuinely didn’t seem to mind that my questions were extending well past the three-hour slot we had reserved. He enjoyed sharing his past stories and experiences and wanted nothing more than to help out however he could.

Fred asked us if Sarah and I had been to Sachs Bridge and when we told him we hadn’t, he seemed surprised. Sachs Bridge (a red covered bridge on the outskirts of town) was the site where, while the Confederate troops were retreating, they came across some deserters. The deserters were hung from the rafters of the bridge as punishment and it is now one of the most-common places for ghost hunters to gather. He told us if we ever went out there we would not be alone, mostly because there’s usually someone out there looking for ghosts 24/7. Sarah and I decided to go out the next day before we headed home to see for ourselves.

Sarah and I made it back to The Brafferton in one piece that night and hopped across the street for some late-night Chinese takeout. We had done a lot of walking that day and were ready to hit the hay. If there were any strange noises in the room that night, we were too tired to notice them.

The next morning after enjoying another amazing – and filling – breakfast before checking out of the B&B (we’ll definitely be seeing you again, Brafferton!), we decided to see if we couldn’t find the covered bridge Fred told us about the night before. It was built back in 1852 and, as we learned, was destroyed by a flash flood back in the late 1990s. However, over 90% of the original truss and lattice was recovered and an amazing restoration was performed.

Sarah and I walked the bridge, this time with my own digital voice recorder, asking questions and hoping to hear something. After about ten minutes of taking photos and reading the graffiti on the inside of the bridge, we made our way down a little path we were also told was jumping with “activity.” We hadn’t gone too far when we saw an orange “U.S. BORDER” stake in the ground. We had been warned that the government is very unforgiving to people who cross onto government property, especially in that area, so we were mindful to stay on our own side.

We spent another ten minutes in the woods, along the riverbank, as a symphony of insects played on around us. There was plenty of wildlife to take in but neither of us experienced anything more other-worldly than that. Occasionally another person or two would pull up in their car, take photos of the bridge, and then leave but for the most part we had the area to ourselves.

We decided to head back and, before we got in the car, Sarah said “Five more pictures” and we went back onto the covered bridge. I turned on my digital recorder once again, we walked the length of the bridge, and then took some goofy photos before hopping in the car and bringing our weekend to a close.

Or so we thought.

That night, safe in the confines of our apartment, I began reviewing what I had recorded on the digital audio recorded. Besides the two of us (obviously), we didn’t seem to catch anything else besides the water below us, the occasional gust of wind, a car pulling up and leaving, and – of course – the never-ending chorus of insects. I was kind of bummed that we didn’t catch anything.

That is…until I got to the last track, on the bridge, right before we left. I don’t know what I caught, and I’m still not 100% certain it’s anything. I know sometimes our mind tries to make sense out of gibberish, even when there’s nothing there, and I’m not saying that isn’t the case here. I found two instances on the recorder; the first one neither of us noticed at the time. The second one I was the only one to hear and it’s so loud, it actually showed up as blips in the visual audio track of my  editing software.

Here it is, for your review:

What do you think? Did you hear something different than what we thought we heard? I’m not saying it definitely is or isn’t something and am very open to your thoughts and interpretations.

All of that being said, Sarah and I had an amazing weekend. Although the thrust of the weekend was primarily to do a little ghost hunting, what I ended up enjoying the most was the simple act of spending time with Sarah. I always enjoy myself with her and she always makes me laugh. She’s so much fun to be with and travel with and even hunt ghosts with. Where most people use the “Is there anyone with us in this room?” ghost-hunting approach, I couldn’t help but smile at Sarah’s less-formal, “OK, ghost, I’m serious, let me take a picture, I promise I won’t look” method.

Whether we’re taking silly photos of ourselves with a statue of Abe Lincoln, clowning around next to Civil War cannons, or just strolling down the street hand-in-hand, our little trip made me treasure once again how blessed I am. I love her. She loves me.

Considering all the time we spent “hunting” that weekend, I’m more than happy to report that I didn’t have to search long to find that the most valuable treasure was the woman who came to Gettysburg with me.