As one of the oldest cities in the country, Philadelphia is known for its historical sites. But most tourists miss out on the ghosts sometimes reportedly caught patrolling the famed spots. Besides the infamous Eastern State Penitentiary, paranormal activity has also been reported everywhere from the Edgar Allen Poe House and City Tavern to Independence Hall and even the Philadelphia Zoo. This means the terror-ific opportunities are endless for the students in Drexel’s newly formed Paranormal Investigation Group.
The group was co-founded less than a year ago by Matthew Kurtyka, a junior majoring in arts, entertainment and media management who, with his roommate, wanted to use his interest in the paranormal to start a ghost club at Drexel. Now, the student organization has more than 30 members who are possessed with an interest in the paranormal.
The students make trips to allegedly haunted historical sites where they use Ouija boards and equipment like high-quality cameras and audio recorders to interact with the spirit world. Or, at least, that’s the plan.
“Since we are a fairly new club, we have only gone to Plays and Players Theatre, one of the oldest theaters in the U.S.,” said Kurtyka, the club’s president. “This theater in particular has had paranormal phenomena for years and years.”
Drexel’s Paranormal Investigation Group does have future plans to visit Eastern State Penitentiary, one of the country’s oldest and most brutal former prisons whose “Terror Behind the Walls” haunted tour attracts humans and ghosts alike. Other proposed trips include the Betsy Ross House, where ghosts have been reported seen and heard crying in the famous flag-maker’s Center City house; and New Jersey’s Burlington County Prison, a 19th-century prison-turned-museum whose former inmates are said to still lurk in hallways, cells and the old gallows area. Both the Betsy Ross House and Burlington County Prison were investigated by the SyFy Channel show "Ghost Hunters."
When it comes to picking the locations, the students reach a general consensus on places that are not just historical, but also affordable and accessible. Of course, places with known paranormal activity are ideal, but the group can forge their own path as well.
“Many old places do hold some sort of significance but ultimately, any location can prove as an enjoyable, paranormal investigation,” Kurtyka said.
So far, the group has visited eerie areas only during the day, but the spooky interactions provided by experiments with an Ouija board more than made up for having the lights on.
“We have had several creepy instances where ‘spirits’ have attempted to come in contact with us through the Ouija board by telling us facts and information that no one had known previous to the session,” Kurtyka said.
Kurtyka hopes to eventually turn one of the Drexel buildings into a haunted house during Drexel’s Halloween season. But to do this, he wants to better carve out a space for the group in Drexel’s community so it can visit more locations and accomplish more. It doesn’t hurt that the group’s faculty advisor also has an interest with the undead: By day, Jeffrey Stanley teaches classes in the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design’s Screenwriting and Playwriting Department, but at night he transforms into undead residents of cemeteries from all over the world during “Boneyards,” his Philly Fringe performance that imagines supernatural comic monologues.
Scaredy-cats need not apply to the group, but Kurtyka welcomes students who can get into the spirit regardless of their paranormal beliefs or personal experiences.
“Whether you are a skeptic or a believer, it never hurts to be adventurous,” he said.