John Lewis felt the playful push behind his left knee.
A girl’s giggle and the sound of running footsteps quickly followed.
The lead investigator of Baelfire Paranormal Investigation and members of his team turned around to a deserted backstage at Slippery Rock University’s Miller Auditorium.
“There were three people, along with myself, that witnessed that,” Lewis said. “We all agreed that there was something definitely there.”
And then some.
Lewis, owner of the Titusville-based Baelfire, announced Thursday at a news conference in the theater lobby that Miller Auditorium is indeed haunted — not by one, but four separate entities.
“We pretty much feel the place is haunted, and I believe we have enough evidence to say definitely,” he said about the facility built in 1958. “We have two males, a little girl and we do believe that Emma Guffey Miller is here.”
The ghost of the former SRU trustee and prominent political activist for the Democratic Party has been part of college lore since her death in February 1970 at age 95. Affectionately called “Emma the Ghost,” Guffey Miller loved the stage and had donated most of her wardrobe to the theater. Stories of her alleged hauntings prompted Baelfire to contact the university for permission to conduct an overnight investigation for paranormal activities on Feb. 28.
“We said, ‘Sure, come on in,’ ” said Gordon Ovenshine, senior writer with the university public relations office. “Slippery Rock is an institution that obviously believes in the mission of exploring all kinds of ideas and theories ... We look at this as a unique part of the history and charm of the university.”
Baelfire, which means “demon slayer” in Gaelic, does not charge for its services.
The 12-member team wired the auditorium for sight and sound with infrared cameras, electromagnetic field devices and digital and analog recorders for electronic voice phenomena or EVPs.
“Almost everyone on our team had personal experiences,” Lewis said.
The group filed through 600 photographs and 13 hours of audio and video recordings. They believe to have 30 photos that show possible evidence of unexplained phenomena and 27 different EVP clips that feature four distinct voices. The best photo of a primordial mist was taken backstage by the scene shop, near Lewis’ knee encounter with the little girl.
“It’s so dense,” he said of the neon green mist. “It’s actually the thickest primordial mist that I’ve caught in my six years of investigating. I wish I could say we caught an apparition here on film because that would be just incredible.”
Among the evidence presented were EVPs of an adult woman’s voice believed to be Emma Guffey Miller’s. In one recording taken on the stage, a voice is clearly heard saying, “Enough!”
Again on stage, Lewis attempted to contact her and said, “The people at the university and the theater love Emma. They just want to know for a fact that you are here. And you hear a ‘yes.’ I do think Emma Guffey Miller is here. That is my opinion.”
Dr. David Skeele, professor of theater, has contacted Guffey Miller’s granddaughter, Alice, who lives in Georgia, to see if she could recognize the voice.
“She’s not absolutely sure if she would be able to tell if the voice is her grandmother,” Skeele said. “She has vivid memories of her grandmother and spent a lot of time with her, and she might be able to.”
Lewis jumped at the opportunity for verification.
“If she can identify the voice on the recording then that would give us some hard-core evidence that ‘Yes, spirits are real,’ ” Lewis said. “That’s our ultimate goal at Baelfire Paranormal is to prove that spirits are real, that you don’t just lay in a hole after you die. You can interact.”
The team also recorded phrases such as “get away,” “let go” and “stop talking.” During a question-and-answer session, an investigator stated, “Once again, we are here.” A male voice replied, “Are you?”
Later, another asked, “Are you connected to Emma in any way?” A male voice answered, “No way.”
Lewis joked, “He must be a Republican.”
The investigator asked, “Do you think we are here to hurt you?” to which the same male voice answered, “Go!”
They also recorded someone saying, “nein,” which is “no” in German.
“Perhaps in the past, you guys did ‘The Sound of Music’?” Lewis mused.
Skeele said, “Well, we’ve definitely have done some German plays.”
The team was unable to identify the little girl or the two males.
“There is one theory that (the male) used to be a student who died tragically,” Lewis said. “But again, we don’t have any hard evidence on that.”
As the team was packing its equipment, they heard, “Goodbye.”
“It’s not a residual haunt where the ghost’s routine is played over and over again like a DVD,” he said. “It’s actually an intelligent (haunt). It knew we were here. It knew what we were doing.”
After analyzing the evidence, Lewis was able to present Skeele with a certificate stating that the theater is haunted.
“This is the best possible outcome for us and what everyone wanted to hear. People have had so many experiences over the years,” Skeele said. “If it wants to be here, I’m happy to let it.”
Lewis emphasized that the energy was positive.
“It’s my opinion the university should run with this. It’s a proven fact, cases of haunting bring people in, especially young people,” he said. “They would love to say they go to a haunted university. You’ll probably have tons of people signing up for theater now.”
Former College Trustee Haunts Building Named For Her
Emma, go home.
That's the message paranormal investigators hope to deliver next weekend to a ghost that many Slippery Rock University students and teachers say has been roaming the halls of the university's theater and the North Hall residential building.
They call her Emma, for Emma Guffey Miller, a prominent theater supporter and former Slippery Rock trustee, who died 39 years ago today.
"When I first got here, it was generally accepted that the place was haunted," said David Skeele, a professor of theater. A psychic who went through the theater building detected three presences, he said.
Over the years, Slippery Rock students have reported seeing a woman's figure in the theater or hearing pounding noises. The apparition is thought to be Miller because she loved the theater, and the building is named for her.
Armed with high-tech gadgets, a team of investigators will attempt to put Emma, or any others still lingering there, to rest.
"We hope that we can actually catch Emma as an apparition. Maybe communicate with her," said John Lewis, owner of Baelfire Paranormal Investigation in Titusville.
Miller was born in Guffey Station, Westmoreland County, on July 6, 1874. She was a six-time delegate to the Democratic National Convention from Pennsylvania. She died after suffering a heart attack on Feb. 23, 1970.
She was a long-time member and past president of the Slippery Rock Council of Trustees and was instrumental in securing state assistance for the construction of eight buildings between 1928 and 1939.
Lewis and his team will position nine infrared cameras and an array of digital and 35 mm cameras, as well as electromagnetic field meters and computers throughout the theater when they spend the night there Saturday.
They hope to learn why Emma is still hanging around.
"She might not know she's dead. There might be unfinished business," Lewis said. The team will help her "move on, if that's what she wants."
The specter of Emma is not the only spine-tingling aspect of the building. Superstition holds that an old baby doll has to be set on the stage for each production to ensure the show goes on as planned.
"If they don't set out a baby doll that they've had since the 1950s, the productions will be a disaster. But (Emma) appears to be a friendly spirit," Lewis said.
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