Paranormal Research Society Investigates Ghosts On & Off Campus

Every fall, Penn State is home to pumpkin contests, hayrides, trick-or-treating, and more common fall and Halloween festivities. Most people are content to celebrate the season and move on to Thanksgiving when the calendar turns.

For some, though, Halloween’s ghosts and spirits are year-round fascinations that need to be taken deadly seriously. 

Penn State’s Paranormal Research Society, or PRS, was founded in 2001 by Ryan Daniel Buell, who has since made a career out of investigating the unknown. Buell’s experiences with the paranormal began when he was growing up in South Carolina in the 1980s. When the internet rose to popularity, Buell connected with people who not only believed him but had stories to share of their own.

“I was going through websites reading about [electronic voice phenomenons] and paranormal investigators”, he said. “It wasn’t a passive interest. I knew that I had to do this with all of my being”. 

The PRS had humble beginnings. Buell and his friends had no equipment to work with and lacked a supervisor, so their first investigations involved campus buildings like the Schwab Auditorium and Old Botany. The group began to receive reports from faculty about ghosts on campus, including one incident where an employee called the police when she thought a ghost was banging on the walls.

After the group had gained some reputation, they were contacted by the Catholic Church, who wanted assistance performing an exorcism in Pittsburgh. The client, Bob Cranmer, believed that his house was possessed by a demon that had been tormenting his family for decades. Cranmer’s account of the haunting has since been disputed by his neighbors, who allege that he has misconstrued some facts about the home’s history. Buell and his team investigated the house along with Father James LeBar, the chief exorcist of the Archdiocese of New York. Buell maintains that his encounter with the demon, which he dubbed “The Bloodmouth,” was his most convincing paranormal experience.

“After the priest performed the exorcism, this substance [pictured below] started oozing out of the walls”, he said. “We got it tested, and it said that it was blood. There was also black mist in the room that made everything feel static. There is something nefarious in this world that preys on the weak and the wounded, and experiencing it in my early 20s was shell-shocking”. 

Purported “blood” found during a forensic investigation of the house
“Black mist” photographed inside the home

Following the exorcism, the group received requests from producers at MTV and A&E to star in its own TV show. Buell chose to sign with A&E and hosted a show called “Paranormal State” for six seasons between 2007 and 2011. Buell was worried about undercutting the serious nature of the club but thought that the publicity was too valuable to turn up.

“It was never my goal to be a ‘paranormal TV person’”, he said. “I started to think, though, and I realized that this would raise awareness for the club. Not only that, but it would fund our investigations”. 

Photo Courtesy of Ryan Daniel Buell

The group’s current president, Katherine Myers, assumed her role last year. Myers, a senior majoring in plant science, was interested in the paranormal from a young age and was immediately drawn to the group. Her first trip with the club was to Hill View Manor in New Castle, where she met some of her closest friends.

“I was a little worried at first, being in the car with people I didn’t know”, she said. “But, it was probably the most fun I’ve ever had. There was no heating, and it was the middle of the night. But by the time we left, we were already friends”. 

Vice President Lawrence DiPaolo noted that most of the PRS’s members are freshmen or sophomores and believes that the club is one of the largest on campus.

“It’s a good first club for a lot of people”, he said. “You can get involved very easily, and you don’t have to run for an exec board position to get your name out there”. 

The bulk of the club’s meetings are for featured presentations where members share their research into different supernatural topics. The club’s dues are used to fund field trips and other events during the semester. Although paying is optional, most of the club’s members choose to contribute anyway. 

The group was forced to put its plans on hold last year and, as a result, did not go on a proper research trip. Now back in full operation, members were able to take their annual trip to Gettysburg last week for their first investigation of the semester. Myers believes that she saw a full-body apparition wandering the battlefield, but it was hard to make out in the dark. She plans to put together a book compiling photos and accounts of the members’ sightings later this semester.

The current PRS uses an extensive collection of equipment to document the paranormal. Its primary device is a spirit box, which sweeps through radio frequencies as they walk through a haunted location. It occasionally picks up snippets of what sounds like words, which the investigators interpret as a spirit’s attempt to communicate with them. The group also owns an electronic voice phenomena (EVP) recorder, an electromagnetic frequency (EMF) reader, and a dowsing rod to identify sources of water. The club’s collection has been passed down every year, and members are able to check out the devices free of charge.

Paranormal devices have been widely criticized as pseudoscience by debunkers and skeptics. Myers said that the club is mindful of the stigma surrounding paranormal experiences and research.

“When you talk about ghosts at college, people look at you like you’re crazy”, she said. “We’re not like a Scooby-Doo gang trying to solve mysteries. It’s nice to have somewhere where you can discuss paranormal things that interest you.”

Most PRS investigations take place in public spaces like Gettysburg or private attractions that charge a fee to enter. Members get advance permission through consent forms for the rest of their trips. Myers said that the group is hoping to visit Eastern State Penitentiary, a reportedly haunted prison in Philadelphia, for Halloween. 

The Paranormal Research Society meets at 9 p.m. every Tuesday in 201 Thomas. Those interested in joining the club can visit its website for more information.

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About the Author

Adam Babetski

Adam Babetski is a senior double majoring in broadcast journalism and medieval history and is one of Onward State's associate editors. He's from the only part of Virginia without tractors and southern accents, except Richmond (reportedly). You can follow him on Twitter @AdamBabetski for hot takes about sports. For serious inquiries, email [email protected].

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