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Giving Up the Ghost in Gettysburg

Tonya Keyser

Skeptical Briefs Volume 19.2, June 2009

Although we moved to a large town about twenty-five miles away from Gettysburg several years ago, I typically continue to spend part of every weekend there. Sometimes it is just a quick trip to switch things around in our antique mall spaces. On other occasions, we make a day and/or evening out of the trip with a delicious pizza from Tommy’s, a walk on the battlefield, and shopping while dodging the regiments of ghost tours on the town’s sidewalks. On one unseasonably warm April Saturday, we drove over the mountain to spend the afternoon and evening with friends who were visiting Gettysburg for the weekend.

After consuming a table full of artery-clogging delights and good conversation at Hunt’s Battlefield Fries, we walked around town. I was excited to show our friend Ken Biddle (author of Orbs or Dust, a book about false positives) the newest ghost-themed tourist traps. It is always entertaining to watch him display his photo analysis skills to the orb-mongers and camera-strap aficionados who line Baltimore Street like some alternate universe version of the boardwalk, minus the ocean. The tour guides stand in front of the shops hawking their tours with overly enthusiastic salesmanship typically reserved for the red light district in Amsterdam. Somehow, the scene along this street appears even seedier. At least after you pay for a hooker and she closes her velvet curtains to hide you from the street, you have a reasonable expectation of some form of satisfaction. Here, you are only guaranteed to feast from a platter of overcooked fallacies, badly seasoned photography, and greasy charlatanism that inevitably leads to mental indigestion.

We wandered away from the more crowded area to Ecto Hauntings, one of the newest ghost tour companies in town. The shop, which suspiciously smelled of cat urine and wet dog, offered a variety of goods, including reenactment clothing and accessories, tickets for ghost tours, and paranormal paraphernalia. The front wall was lined with photos of dust, pollen, rain, hair, and camera straps, all known in certain circles as proof positive of the afterlife. I was immediately drawn to the counter, where they were selling a single bead tied on a string for $16.95. This item was packaged in a plastic bag with a little brochure titled “IT—Intuition Technology.” The front of the brochure claimed that one could use this item to detect spirit energy. Um, okay. I saw the rest of the group standing at the front of the store chuckling at a homemade, stapled-together booklet. As I approached, I heard Kenny say, “Everything you need to know to begin paranormal investigation ... and it’s only six pages long.” Wow. Everything you need to know, all in six pages ... a veritable bargain at the price of $6.95. And you don’t even need to be able to read very well. I figured it couldn’t get much worse than that, and we all exited the shop giggling like a gaggle of schoolgirls.

We walked around the corner to a shop with no name. There was signage, but it was written with a sharpie on cardboard. It advertised “Nightly Ghosts Talks” (figure 1). What kind of grammar is that? I looked at the sign on the very bottom of the door, underneath the very clear and professionally placed decals that showed that they accept MasterCard and Visa, reading “Come in and enjoy our FREE (museum)” (figure 2). Priorities, I suppose.

A self-proclaimed grammar Nazi, I am always on the lookout for printed and posted material that does not adhere to the established conventions of the English language. I am annoyed and fascinated by such blatant errors and always obtain some sort of masochistic satisfaction from noticing them and pointing them out to those around me. Was I to ascertain that we were going to enjoy something called a “free”? Was the museum an afterthought or a further explanation of what “free” meant, as his use of parentheses would indicate? Unsure of what to expect, we walked in the door.

Upon entering, we figured out that the owner claims to have two haunted objects in his museum. The rest of the objects are there as distracters in a modified game of Where’s Waldo, where guests are supposed to guess or “sense” which objects have spirits attached to them. Anyone sensing correctly is entered into a monthly drawing for a K-2 meter. I wondered why someone so sensitive would need a K-2 meter. And then I wondered how the owner determined which two objects were haunted in the first place.

Tonya Keyser

Tonya Keyser wrote and produced a documentary (The Other Side: Giving up the Ghost) and two comedy films about the paranormal community. She writes for a popular blog ( and can be heard weekly on the Ghost Divas Live podcast on the Supernatural Radio Network.