Gho$t story: Businesses find profit in the paranormal

Jeff McGaw//October 30, 2019

Gho$t story: Businesses find profit in the paranormal

Jeff McGaw//October 30, 2019

Gettysburg Battlefield attracts more than a million visitors a year, and thousands of them sign up for ghost tours. “Ghost tourism is big in this town,” says Natalie Buyny, director of media and public relations for Destination Gettysburg. PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES

May Augusta Yohe died in 1838, but many say she currently resides at the Hotel Bethlehem at 437 Main Street in Bethlehem.

Sometimes she is seen near the third floor exercise room of the hotel. Other times, she is said to be in room 932 where, apparently unaware of the advantages of existing in the nonphysical realm, she has been heard saying “I’ve locked myself in the closet.”

Others from the great beyond wander about the Hotel Bethlehem.

Francis “Daddy” Thomas died in 1822. He now resides at least part time in the hotel’s boiler room manifesting most often as a shadow with a top hat.

Then there’s Mrs. Brong, no first name given. She was the wife of a heavy-drinking hotel landlord in 1833, and she was known for the then offensive act of strolling about in her bare feet.

Over 180-years later, she meanders, still shoeless, in the kitchen area or so it is said.

Business is brisk at the Trivago of the afterlife, and the Hotel Bethlehem is but one destination for wandering souls.

Spirits flock in large numbers to destinations like the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia and to the town and surrounding battlefields of Gettysburg.

Some, like Fred the Ghost, who resides in the State Theatre in Easton, and who is regarded as a paranormal superstar, wander alone.

Ghosts are “absolutely good for business,” says Charles J. Adams III, of Berks County, a storyteller and author of dozens of books on haunted places. PHOTO/SUBMITTED

The ghosts seem to favor old construction. They’ve been reported at Bube’s Brewery in Mount Joy in Lancaster County, Bucks Hotel and Tavern in Jonestown, and The Franklin House, both in Lebanon County; the Union Canal House in South Hanover Township and Alfred’s Victorian restaurant in Middletown, Dauphin County; and the Brinton Lodge in Douglassville, Berks County according to information at www.Hauntedplaces.org.

Tourism in Pennsylvania is a nearly $40 billion annual business, and paranormal tourism is a growing sector.

A study of paranormal tourism by researchers at Kansas State University in 2016 noted that “the paranormal continues to grip humanity’s attention with an unwavering force.”

It concluded that even with rising educational and income levels in the U.S., the “paranormal belief persists and is, in fact, growing,” and positively impacting tourism.

And while hard data on the specific impact of ectotourism is scarce, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that where ghosts go, dollars follow.

“I certainly believe that ghosts, or more properly, ghost stories, are absolutely ‘good for business,’” said Charles J. Adams III, of Berks County, a storyteller and author of dozens of books on haunted places.

“Over the last 35 years…I have come across several restaurants, B&Bs, and other businesses that have embraced the paranormal and I have presented to overflow crowds at several of them,” he said.

Some businesses disavow any connection with ghosts. One he approached about being part of a tour, declined the invitation saying it would “bring in the wrong kind of people.”

“That’s a naive, borderline asinine belief,” Adams said. “Just before that (shall remain unnamed-wink, wink) [business] made its decision to eschew its spirit entities, I conducted a talk and tour there that attracted about 300 of the ‘wrong kind.’ ”

Ghosts of Gettysburg

Johlene “Spooky” Riley, of Gettysburg Ghost Tours & Gettysburg Paranormal Association, runs 14 separate tours for tourists who like their history with a ghostly twist. Riley is shown with the company’s tour guides. PHOTO/SUBMITTED

They do talk about ghosts it in Gettysburg, however. That town, famous for the civil war battle that took place there, is to the spirit world what New York is to the fashion world.

“Ghost tourism is big in this town,” said Natalie Buyny, director of media and public relations for Destination Gettysburg.

It’s not hard to see why, according to the folks at History & Haunts, one of the ghost tour businesses there.

The three-day battle in July, 1863 claimed 23,049 union casualties and 28,063 Confederate casualties, their website noted. “With thousands dead, it’s inevitable that many of the deceased have lived on in Gettysburg as spirits caught between worlds.”

Some of those dead still have one vapory foot in the real world, and the living will pay handsomely for a glimpse. Gettysburg Ghost Tours & Gettysburg Paranormal Association run 14 separate walking tours, according to Johlene “Spooky” Riley, who manages the place.

Most ghost tours in Gettysburg cost around $10-or-so for adults, and last an hour or more. Prices go up with tour length and the level of paranormal intensity.

History and Haunts advertises a paranormal expedition for $35 during which guests are led by a paranormal investigator. It also advertises a Dead of the Night tour, a $50, three-hour tour that includes an effort to communicate with the dead.

Mid July through late August, and the end of September through early November tend to be crunch time in the ghost tour business, Riley said.

“We’re talking about thousands upon thousands of people,” she added.

“This weekend alone (Oct. 26-27) I think there’s 300 people (ghost) hunting, and about 1,000 doing walking tours.”

Hotel Bethlehem

The Hotel Bethlehem on Main Street in Bethlehem is home, it is said, to three ghosts who occasionally are seen by guests. Hotel management has embraced the visitors from the netherworld. PHOTO/SUBMITTED

While not a cornerstone of the business model, wandering spirits don’t appear to be driving folks away from the Hotel Bethlehem.

Built in 1922, the hotel was recently ranked third on the list of top 10 Best Historic Hotels in the U.S. by readers of USA Today. It is a busy, full-service, hotel with two restaurants, 24-hour room service, 19,000-square-feet of meeting space, a Penn State Creamery ice cream parlor.

Sometimes, though, people are just curious.

“We do get guests who come and they stay with us specifically for room 932,” said Hotel Bethlehem Marketing Manager Brynn Levine. “They’ll make a weekend of it.”

Yohe, Thomas and Brong, by all accounts, are not tortured, angry souls bent on spooking the bejabbers out real people. They are more akin to ethereal ambassadors of goodwill, colorful strands in the fabric of the old, 125-room hotel.

“We like to call them our friendly ghosts,” said Levine, adding that visitors can pick up brochures about the spirits in the hotel lobby.

And while fully-embraced by management, Levine was careful to keep up appearances by pointing out that “all three of those guests were former guests of the Eagle Hotel which was the hotel on the site of our current hotel. None of those guests stayed in Hotel Bethlehem” she said.

State Theatre, Easton

J. Fred Osterstock ran the company that managed the State Theatre in Easton. His spirit is said to still wander the theatre. PHOTO/SUBMITTED

Fred Osterstock was a distinguished looking gentleman who managed the company that owned the State Theatre in Easton. He died Oct. 28, 1957 at the age of 73 and is buried in the Easton Cemetery in Northampton County not far from the theatre, but there are a few people who believe he still shows up for work. As the story goes, the signs of paranormal activity began during a downtime in the 1970’s. A man, later identified to be Osterstock, would appear in a hallway here, a doorway there, or would be seen entering a utility closet or walking near the stage.

Police have been called to investigate more than once, theatre officials say.

Fred the ghost, as he’s known, has not only been embraced, he’s become a paranormal celebrity. In 2003 the State Theatre Center for the Arts joined with a local television station to create the Freddy Awards to honor achievement in local high school musical theater.

Over $1.3 million in scholarships, internships and community awards have been distributed through that awards program.

Fred plays a large role in the theatre’s marketing campaign.

“I don’t know if there’s an exact correlation to money or ticket sales, but it’s a way for them (visitors) to connect to the theatre,” said Jamie Balliet, the senior vice president of marketing for the State Theatre.

“People come to the theatre and they love what’s on stage, but when they’re there they also like the history of the building and everything else that goes on,” Balliet said. “It just creates a different experience when you’re in a house that is as warm as ours and, you know, has little quirky things like a ghost. Now everybody knows who Fred is.”

The Brinton Lodge at 1808 W. Schuylkill Rd. in Douglassville, Berks County, is a 300-year old landmark known for its unusual architecture and eccentric history.

For $20, you can take a 90-minute ghost tour, according to its website.

“Decades of hauntings, a storied history, and original architecture from the 1700s make Brinton Lodge an unusual landmark in Berks County,” the website reads.

Though it firmly embraces the paranormal, the owners declined interviews with the Central Penn Business Journal.

“We don’t do those kind of articles,” the man on the phone said. “We don’t talk about it.”