Phantom footsteps, whispers, a swaying chandelier and a piano that played on its own exposed the presence of ghostly spirits residing in two local museums on Market Street. Or so say members of a few ghost-hunting teams that recently camped out with some high-tech equipment.
The spook sleuths from Scientific Paranormal Investigations and Finger Lakes Area Spirit Hunters on Thursday, Feb. 19, shared their findings with a crowd of about 55.
They played recordings they said captured whispered ghostly responses to questions and faint piano playing. They shared bone-chilling stories of apparitions and chills and breezes that seemed to come from nowhere.
“A feeling of dread engulfed me,” said Rob Henning, co-founder and case manager for Scientific Paranormal Investigations of Palmyra, as he described an encounter he said he had with a young girl in the piano room in the general store. “Immediately, we were blasted with cold, dry air.”
The general store and attached living quarters, at 140 Market St., is preserved store that thrived on Erie Canal commerce and a bustling downtown back from the early 1800s to the 1940s. Some believe its visitors are not just docents and tourists but also some long-dead members of the Phelps family, including spiritualist and musician Sibyl Phelps, who lived above the store and became something of a shut-in in the years before her death in 1976.
The Historical Museum just up Market Street, meanwhile, is on the site of a 1964 blaze that claimed seven people, six of whom were children. The museum itself is an old hotel that was moved from William Street in the 1970s during urban renewal work.
Bonnie Hays, director of Historic Palmyra Inc., was contacted about a year ago by members of the Victor-based Finger Lakes Area Spirit Hunters. “They said, ‘we’ve always wanted to come to your buildings, would you mind if we came?’” she said. “Of course, I said, ‘We’d love it.’”
And so, for the past several months, the Spirit Hunters and Scientific Paranormal Investigations have surveyed the museums with video, camera, audio, high-tech night vision and thermal-vision equipment.
The investigators aren’t the only ones who’ve experienced strange happenings in the museums.
“I swear a black cat came in the front door of the Phelps Store, walked down through the store and up the stairs,” said Ralph Kommer. “Bonnie (Hays) and I looked for it, but never found anything. She left food. It was never touched.”