It's one of those questions that have baffled paranormal researchers for as long as ordinary people have seen weird things that go bump in the night: Why are some buildings haunted and some not?
Why is it that a 200-year-old mansion that has been the site of a multitude of deaths and dismemberments can be quiet as the tomb while a 1940s ranch house with no record of mayhem or misfortune can be overrun with spooks and spirits?
Talk to paranormal investigators and they'll tell you there are as many reasons for hauntings as there are potential cases of bloodletting in a razor blade factory. The truth is nobody knows for sure why some buildings seem subject to repeated eyewitness accounts of ghostly phenomenon and others aren't.
Take the John Sloan Fine Arts Center on the Lock Haven University campus, for example. On that highly-reliable source of all things factual, the Internet, one can find listings for several Lock Haven-based hauntings, and inevitably Sloan Fine Arts Center crops up among them. Indeed, the university arts building reportedly is haunted by up to three ghosts.
Paranormal Entity Number One is a woman draped in white, whose presence is peaceful, calming and even protective. She is most often seen in the main stage theater area, and recent conversations with members of the University Players student theatrical group brought forth a flood of stories about this white-gowned lady.
They've seen her sitting quietly in the audience during play rehearsals, for example, or walking the center aisle of the theater, only to vanish when she reaches the edge of the stage.
Paranormal Entity Number Two is a curious child in the studio theater on the third floor of the building. This little fellow has also allegedly been seen in the Sloan elevator, riding the lift down to the basement level and vanishing before the doors part.
Paranormal Entity Number Three is perhaps the most often-seen of the spectral trio of Sloan Hall spirits. It is a kind of "black blur," described by one student I spoke to as a mass of thick black smoke, but which moves with the deliberation of a sentient being.
This ghost is said to be very menacing, and almost all of the half-dozen or so students in the University Players group I talked to recently recounted stories about encounters with it.
One young lady, in fact, told a harrowing tale of being chased - along with another female performing arts student - by the "black blur" throughout various backstage and audience areas of the main stage theater, and of nearly being cornered by the ominous presence before making their escape out into the adjacent Sloan gallery.
Interestingly enough, in the stories told by students and alumni, this "black blur" is frequently neutralized by the woman in white, who seems to want to protect the students from harm. Think of the black blur as an overly gassy chili dog and the "woman in white" as an Alka-Seltzer and you'll get the idea.
One former student told the university newspaper, the Eagle Eye, several years ago he saw the "black blur" only once, during a rehearsal for the play "You, the Jury."
He said it seemed to rush the stage from the audience, but as soon as it got to the lip of the stage, the woman in white appeared, and she seemed to chase off the "black blur." This then-recent graduate said he got the feeling the woman in white was essentially telling him, "Don't worry, kiddo. I've got it under control."
He added that he was frozen with fear when this odd series of visitations occurred.
This same alum said he had seen the woman in white on a separate occasion, while crawling around in the fly gallery above the main stage. But he often felt the presence of the small child in the Countdown Theater.
Another alumnus, an old chum of mine named Maureen Campbell, said one night she was in Sloan with seven other individuals when things started to get very weird.
Now married and living in London with her husband and young son (and another child on the way), Mo said this encounter with the unknown, which took place perhaps 20 years ago, began with what she described as "unexplained noise" in the back of the building.
Then she saw the "black blur" and suddenly felt a sick sort of jolt in her stomach.
She and the rest of her little group were becoming increasingly uneasy, and began holding hands. Soon, she said, there was a flicker - or a flash - of white light and everything calmed down.
Was this the woman in white coming once again to the aid of the frightened college students? Maureen thinks so.
Melinda Hodge, an art professor at LHU who often finds herself working late hours at Sloan, told me recently she frequently hears phantom footsteps in the hallways, the movement of the elevator and the flushing of toilets in restrooms when she's quite sure she's the only person in the building at that time. The only living person, anyway.
So what is the source of all this curious phenomenon? After all, Sloan, built in 1973, is of a relatively recent vintage, and as far as can be determined it has never been the site of a sudden or violent death.
Ah, but paranormal investigators will often tell you that it isn't necessarily the building itself that is haunted, but the property upon which the building was constructed. It could be, for instance, that a previous building on the same lot was haunted, and that the ghosts of that previous haunted location just never left.
So, believers in the paranormal say, could be the case with Sloan. Back in the late 1960s, there was a private home on the lot where Sloan now stands. That home was purchased by the university and briefly used for professor's offices before it was torn down so Sloan could go up in its place.
One of the university staffers who shared an office in that original house was now-retired art professor Stan Wisniewski. Stan told me he had a strange experience in that house almost 40 years ago, in 1970.
He says he was talking on the phone in an office he shared with another professor when he looked up to see an elderly woman standing in the doorway.
He hung up the phone, turned back toward the door... and the woman was gone. He got up and looked up and down the hallway. No elderly lady. He went upstairs to the second floor and asked if anyone had seen her. None had. He went out onto the sidewalk and looked up and down Fairview Street. Nothing.
For a little old lady, this gal could move like lightning. There was no sign of her. He believes she might have been a ghost.
Further, it turns out others had seen this same elderly lady in the house from time to time.
So who was she? Good question.
According to deed records, a Mrs. Clara Claster was once one of the owners of the property where Sloan Fine Arts Center now stands. Late in March of 1966 the 67-year-old woman suddenly went missing. Then on Friday, April 1, two passersby traveling from Renovo discovered Clara's body lying near her car, which was parked along the Renovo Road.
Then-coroner LeRoy Bryerton determined cause of death to be carbon monoxide poisoning. In other words, a probable suicide. (Bryerton himself, by the way, is rumored to have haunted his old home in the years after his own violent death.)
Is it possible that the unquiet spirit of Clara Claster was the alleged ghost seen by Stan Wisniewski in 1970? Could she even more possibly be the mysterious woman in white seen by LHU students more recently? Who knows.
What of the ghost of the curious little boy? Well, it turns out that in 1932 a young boy named Jerome Claster, who was born at 263 N. Fairview St. (the address of the house located where Sloan now stands), died of complications of measles at the tragically young age of 4. Jerome is believed to have been related to the aforementioned Clara Claster, but it's unclear how.
Could he still be wondering around the building, wondering what all those college kids are doing in his old house?
Finally, there was one other sudden and mysterious death connected to the house where Sloan currently stands.
On Oct. 29, 1957, a research scientist employed by the New York and Pennsylvania Paper Co. was giving a speech about paper making in front of a group of Curtis Publishing Co. executives at the Fallon Hotel, when audience members noticed his speech patterns - usually carefully modulated, with perfect diction - were uncharacteristically speedy, like a tape recorder on fast-forward.
That's when W.E. Byron Baker paused, smiled, looked out into his audience, said, "I'm sorry..." and had a sudden, massive heart attack right there at the podium at the Fallon Hotel. He died in the ambulance en route to the Lock Haven Hospital.
He was a man who had been at the top of his field, respected and admired and an active member of the community. He had much to look forward to in life, and then in the blink of an eye it was all over.
Could he perhaps be the mysterious black blur that the students have seen at the Sloan, perhaps frustrated and angry that his life was taken so suddenly, when he still had so much for which to live? It's impossible to say.
But Baker doesn't appear to have necessarily been a hostile or belligerent person in life. He was a typical family man, edging toward retirement with a wife, a daughter and two grandchildren. It seems odd to think of him menacing college students in the form of a "black blur."
Then again, what isn't strange about the world of the paranormal? The word itself means "beyond the range of normal experience."
But let's give old Byron Baker the benefit of the doubt. It's just as possible that, with all of the Native American activity that went on in the region during the pre-Colonial era, and the number of burial grounds in the vicinity, the "black blur" could be a tribal member slain in a skirmish with white settlers (or, conversely, a white settler slain in an Indian attack).
Or it could be an interdimensional being trapped in this reality by a rift in the time-space continuum.
Or an alien presence forced to remain on this planet as a result of the crash of its flying saucer in the Bald Eagle Mountains in 1947.
Or a trick of the light.
Or a figment of the imagination.
Whatever it is, real or imagined, it's undeniably interesting.
Matt Connor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Two of the original Peek at Past books are available for purchase at Ross Library.