Hunting For A Haunting

By Christine Schaffran

It was 2 a.m. when Laura Lee heard the door open and slam shut in one of the old buildings at the Fort Delaware State Park. Although Lee was staying overnight on the island with a Boy Scout troop, no one else was supposed to be in the building where she was sleeping. Assuming someone was trying to spook her, she looked out the window to catch the prankster, but never saw anyone enter or exit the building.

Scare up some spooky fun this Halloween! Photo courtesy of Delaware State Parks

Scare up some spooky fun this Halloween! Photo courtesy of Delaware State Parks

When she returned to her bed, she found her sleeping bag crumpled into a ball in the corner of the room.

“I’m a historian, so I look for proof in everything,” says Lee, the park historian and interpretive program manager for Delaware State Park in Delaware City, Del. “But there are some weird things that have happened that I just can’t explain.”

Halloween is the perfect time to call attention to the fact that a park is rumored to be haunted. It may also be a unique way to create a new revenue stream for facilities.

Although some may consider it “disrespectful” to exploit the site of a Civil War battleground, Lee calls it thinking out of the box and “a way to attract new visitors” to parks.

“To the people who thumb their noses and say it’s disrespectful, I feel it would be disrespectful if I let my fort fall down,” she explains.

Lee says she wasn’t always receptive to the idea of using the historical site for ghost hunts. In fact, she says she was hesitant when the state park was approached by a number of paranormal investigators who wanted to conduct research on the Peach Patch Island site because of the fort’s colorful history; it once housed Confederate prisoners of war.

However, once the Sy-Fy channel’s Ghost Hunters International filmed on location, Lee realized the value of such a program.

“You couldn’t buy that kind of publicity,” she relates. “It was amazing.”

For the last 10 years, a candlelight ghost tour in October has offered visitors a chance to hear about the history of the site, as well as the ghost stories and folklore that surround it.

With the buzz created by the Ghost Hunters visit, two more programs were created—the Pea Patch Paranormal Adventure and the Extended Paranormal Investigation. Led by the Delaware Ghost Hunters, groups are transported to the island by Delaware River Bay Authority boats and encouraged to explore and seek out their own ghosts and ghost stories.

The tours are offered in September and October, which Lee points out extends the “typical” park season.

Even better, she says, is the “significant” amount of money the program has generated that goes directly toward preserving the fort. While she was not able to release particulars, she said it helps fund brick re-pointing, safety repairs and other maintenance projects that may not otherwise be possible.

And Lee makes no bones about the purpose of the ghost hunts, which she believes contribute directly to educating the public about the site.

“Any way that we can get the message out there within reason and to have people say ‘I can’t wait to come back during the day with my kids,’ it makes it worth it,” she says.

Your community's Halloween can be about more than just tricks and treats. Photo courtesy of Gainesville Parks and Recreation

Your community's Halloween can be about more than just tricks and treats. Photo courtesy of Gainesville Parks and Recreation

Trick-Or-Treating On Trails With A Twist
Providing parents with a fun alternative to the traditional dash between houses while maintaining the true feel of Halloween can definitely be a challenge, says Julie Butler Colombini, marketing and communications manager for the Gainesville Parks and Recreation Department in Gainesville, Ga.

Try this twist on your next Halloween-in-the-park event:

Line trails with whimsically painted plywood house fronts perfect for real trick-or-treating. Add in a Halloween movie for the whole family, carnival games, and a petting zoo. Then, top it off with a community canned food drive to benefit the local food bank.

Funding for this free event attracted an estimated 5,000 people in Gainesville and was covered entirely through local and national sponsorships, Butler Colombini says.

Sponsors dressed in costumes and were provided house fronts as well as plenty of candy, and the hands-on opportunity to interact with potential customers while families spent a safe Halloween like no other—all while the community came together to celebrate in the Rock Creek greenway that their support helped to build.

All the goblins will gobble up s'mores! Photo courtesy of Alyssa Smith

All the goblins will gobble up s'mores! Photo courtesy of Alyssa Smith

Host A Haunted Campout
For those who want to allow families to get in on the decorating action, consider a haunted campout. In Mesquite, Texas, $25 for a family of four will buy a night at Camp Rorie-Galloway and a chance to take home top honors in the tent-decorating contest.

“Some people use tarps over their tents, they have ‘Keep Out’ signs and fog machines, other people hang lights,” says Angie Johnson, recreation supervisor for the city. “We highly encourage people to decorate and get into the theme.”

But the night doesn’t end there. Each family gets a pumpkin to decorate while additional contests are held for costumes and screams.

“We had a lot of fun with the scream contest last year,” Johnson says, noting kids got a kick out of all the different kinds of screams they could create.

The following morning, families are served breakfast while awards are presented for all of the previous night’s events.

“It’s basically just a night to hang out and have a good time with other families,” Johnson says.

More Ideas

What Better Time To Host A Blood Drive?
Create a theme around the season and invite donors to get in the spirit. Although this can be fun, it’s also possible to get carried away. Exercise caution in planning and be careful not to offend the majority.

Host Stories Around The Campfire
Invite guests to bundle up, bring snacks and a thermos of hot chocolate, lawn chairs and blankets, and settle in for night of scary stories. In the event of inclement weather the campfire is optional; this can always be relocated to a rec center or library.

Round Up Tots For A Preschool Parade
Parents and teachers are also welcome to participate in this costume-laden ritual that has participants parading up and down the town’s Main Street. Although this may not work as well indoors, it can be moved if necessary.