Two glazed, beady eyes of a blond-haired baby doll pierced the darkness, staring at Jan Klinedinst and Tom Shirey, as if to cry out, "Hey, I'm watching you."
But silence -- or so it seemed -- filled the second floor of the John Wright Restaurant, a former warehouse built in 1916, as Shirey reached for his tripod and audio recorder.
"I wish I had a third hand to pick everything up," he said, tucking the pink-clad toy, jittery eyelids and all, under his arm.
An audio replay of that moment reveals a young girl's high-pitched voice seemingly squealing, "Let me see!" amplified using Audacity audio software by Tom Arnold, the team's tech guru.
To some, it's all coincidence -- street noise or an intercepted cellphone transmission.
To this crew, it means one thing:
Ghosts are in their midst.
And they are In the Midst of Ghosts, a York County trio formed last year to "excavate" -- not "hunt" -- for spirits.
It starts with learning a place's history. What happened there? Names. Dates. Times.
Next, they return after dark, cataloging each bump and disembodied voice like an artifact pulled from the dirt, said Klinedinst, founder of Down to Earth Archaeology .
Eight years ago, she said she developed a sense for the paranormal while working at the Dritt Mansion, a mid-1700s estate in Lower Windsor Township.
But don't look for her crew in abandoned mental hospitals teeming with tortured souls or fields where thousands went down in bloody battle.
Those areas are "fished out," Arnold said, whereas York County treasures, such as the Yorktowne Hotel, the Wrightsville House and the Goodridge House, are not.
These places, they say, stand to make a buck on those bumps in the night.
"I'm thinking outside the box to bring tourism to York, Pennsylvania, rather than everyone running to Gettysburg to go find a ghost," Klinedinst said. "Along with that comes the knowledge and the history. ... You need to show that you did your homework. Find who lived here and talk to them. Find out who that little girl was."
The owners of Hykes Mill invested thousands converting their more-than-a-century-old stone structure into the house of horrors where Elmer and Gertrude Zimmerman slaughtered children more than 150 years ago.
Shrieks and moans still echo throughout the surrounding community.
That's what they tell the more than 5,000 annual visitors to the Conewago Township Halloween park, open six weeks a year.
But what lurks inside the 16,000-square-foot former feed mill the other 46 weeks of the calendar has the hired help -- normally in full swing this time of year -- finicky, thanks to a visit from In the Midst of Ghosts.
"It's a haunted house," said manager Jesse Lapp, "but we're just starting to accept the fact
that, well, maybe it is haunted."
First, Klinedinst researched the site, where a mill was initially constructed in 1788 by Martin Shetter.
The present structure was built in 1849 by Jacob S. Bear. It was last operated in 1956 by Harry Hykes.
"You're talking thousands of thousands of people going through there for the Halloween entertainment not even thinking are there real ghosts here," Shirey said. "We go in there and all of a sudden, from day one, we're getting responses."
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