PROFILE: Is the old Chesapeake school really haunted?

Published 11:04 pm Saturday, February 21, 2009

CHESAPEAKE — There was a time when the sight of a young child would not be unique in the halls of the what is now the Chesapeake Community Center. That’s because the old buff brick building on State Route 7 was once the East School in the upper end of Chesapeake.

But today it is a gym and home of a food pantry, which means the place is the hangout for adults. So who is that little girl who allegedly roams the halls?

Her story remains a mystery but her “existence” is a reality, at least to those who claim to have seen her.

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It begins one afternoon about a year ago when a Marshall University student was working out in the gym. He went out to the hall to get a drink of water from the fountain and looked down the hall and saw her.

Curious, he went to director Ruth Damron and asked, “Who’s the little girl?”

Damron looked down the hall and saw no one.

“But I saw a little girl in a blue dress and long blonde hair,” he told Damron.

“I just kind of laughed,” Damron recalled.

But the student was adamant about what he had seen.

“He came back and he saw it again,” Damron said.

The next sighting came after that when a young child came to the center with her father. She slipped into the ladies room and saw the little girl.

“I just saw a little girl behind me in the mirror and but when I turned around she wasn’t there,” Damron recalls the child telling her.

That got the director to do some detective work and checked in with a family member who is an informal historian of the county.

What she learned could be an answer.

“There was a little girl who was made to commit suicide with her grandmother when the two jumped off a bridge,” Damron said. “Somehow she has gotten transported into this school. Maybe it is the noise. She has chosen this place to live now.”

The suicide, Damron was told, happened around the turn of the century and occurred at the Symmes Creek Bridge.

The story does give the director some explanation for her own experiences with unexplained phenomena.

“I will hear footsteps in the hallway and think somebody is coming into my office,” Damron said.

But there is never anyone there.

Michael Robare is the founder of the Central Ohio Paranormal Society, based in Columbus. He has spent the past five years investigating places whose owners believe are haunted or have some kind of spirit living there.

Why are they there?

“I believe they are mostly troubled spirits. Somebody refuses to pass on,” Robare gives as his explanation.

He and his crew go into a place where there has been a sighting and set up equipment such as digital cameras or video recorders as well as a tape recorder.

“We’ve documented audio sound or electronic voice phenomena (EVP). What it is we label paranormal,” Robare said. “We will ask direct questions like ‘what is your name?’ ‘What year is this?’ Sometime you will get a direct answer. Sometimes something random.

“I have heard actual voices and picked them up on a recorder,” he said. “(Sometimes) I’ve heard them with my ears and not picked them up on the cassette.”

In 2003 the Harris Poll questioned a cross section of 2,201 adults online and asked them about a variety of religious and supernatural beliefs.

For the age group of 25 and 29 years old, the poll showed that 65 percent of Americans believed in ghosts.

However, only 27 percent of seniors held that belief. Of those who believed in ghosts 58 percent were women.

Robare believes because he has had personal experiences starting back when he was a child.

“I would hear things and feel like somebody was watching me,” he said. “One time I saw a black shadow that came through my bedroom door.”

Since he’s been in the field investigating, Robare has also had a couple of chilling experiences.

“I was actually pushed in a bedroom by something that wasn’t there,” he said. “And there was a spinning wheel in the room, and the wheel jumped off the frame.”

Robare, whose organization does investigations for free, says they take a no-nonsense approach to checking out hauntings.

Investigations can take from three to six hours.

As far as the alleged haunting of the Chesapeake Center, Robare doesn’t offer any explanation.

“Without investigating, I couldn’t tell you,” he said.

“I would go in with my team to give you a direct answer.”

Profile 2009 is The Tribune’s annual section about the people, places and issues of Lawrence County and the surrounding area.