One of the greatest misconceptions we make as paranormal investigators is to go into a location with expectations of who we are going to find haunting the building. Such was the case in the historic Culbertson Mansion.
Haunted New Harmony hosted a public paranormal investigation at the 20,000 square foot Second-Empire mansion on August 25, 2018 with half the profits going directly back to the historic site. Thirty-three people attended the event which sold out three days after it was posted online. Most of them left with experiences they couldn’t explain.
The Culbertson Mansion is located in New Albany, Indiana, near the banks of the mighty Ohio River. It was built by William Culbertson, who was once the richest man in Indiana. The home has soaring hand-painted fresco ceilings, a carved rosewood-grained staircase, marble fireplaces and crystal chandeliers. Walking into the mansion is a visual delight. Many of us found it difficult to concentrate on the ghosts because we were so taken back by the opulence.
After a presentation on the history and hauntings of the building, we split up into three groups. They were led by Mary and Gary, who are both volunteers at the mansion and Kaitlyn Tisdale, who works for the Culbertson Mansion Historic Site.
Haunted New Harmony’s team of paranormal investigators were stationed on each floor and remained there for the duration of the night for consistency.
I was the investigator on the first floor and held most of my sessions in the formal dining room. The three groups each spent an hour with me and we utilized a variety of methods. With each of our groups, we start out by situating all the participants in a circle in folding chairs. This keeps the group quiet to prevent noise contamination that will be picked up on our digital recorders. Ghosts often communicate with us in a frequency we can’t hear with our ears, but can record with our recorders.
We started out with a straight EVP session, where we went around the circle and asked questions of the ghosts who lingered nearby. We then used the Spirit Box. A Spirit Box is a specialty piece of paranormal equipment that scans rapidly through the radio stations. The ghosts are able to talk to us, using the white noise. We record these sessions on a digital recorder and review them later because we often don’t catch what is said at the time. We then moved on to a dowsing rod session. We’ve found that many nineteenth and twentieth century ghosts aren’t keen on our electronic devices, but will communicate through dowsing rods. This was the case at the Culbertson Mansion as well.
We also utilized several devices that recorded changes in the electromagnetic fields. EMF detectors such as the Mel Meter and KII meters are often a valuable tool. Ghosts will use these to interact with us, but we didn’t have a lot of success with them at the mansion.
Throughout all three sessions on the first floor, I felt as though the activity was fairly low. Several people felt as though they were touched and a few people thought they saw movement in the shadows, but that was all. It wasn’t until I reviewed the audio recordings that I realized how active the night truly was.
One thing that was curious happened with the Spirit Box. We kept hearing the same male voice come across the speaker. He was somewhat sarcastic at times, but we couldn’t always make out what he was saying. We heard him clearly during my first group but didn’t hear him as often during the second and third group. It turns out, he just switched floors. We have his voice on the audio recorded on the other floors.
During one of our Spirit Box sessions, someone asked what Christmas was like in the mansion. “It’s been a long time,” was the response.
Listen to it here:
During my second group, someone felt as though they were touched on the knee. A voice on the Spirit Box immediately chimed in with “My dear.”
Perhaps one of the more chilling recordings I heard all night came during my third group. Two voices came on the Spirit Box, talking about me. “Where’s Joni,” one voice said. Then another voice responded with, “Oh, there’s Joni.” I’ve heard my name on the Spirit Box several times before but have never had them actively looking for me, which was a bit creepy.
All through the night, each group kept asking for members of the Culbertson family to talk to us. If any of them spoke to us, they didn’t identify themselves. It made me realize that we came in, expecting to find them there and directed most of our conversations in their direction. What we didn’t think about was the others who might have drifted in.
A person doesn’t have to die in a building or even live there to haunt it. Sometimes they come in with other people and just decide to stay. Other times, they might have died nearby and drifted in because they were drawn there. We kept asking for their names all night and didn’t get a response until the third group visited my floor.
It was almost as though it took them all night to trust us. Out of the blue, they began telling us their names. None of them were names we were expecting either. If we were hoping to hear from William, Cornelia, Blanche, Samuel or Frank, we were greatly disappointed. The names they gave were: Cheryl, Mike and Randy. Who are these people? I don’t know, but perhaps someone reading this might have a better idea.
During the session, I had my volunteer assistant bring a small group of three or people at a time down to the basement. I’ve found that the kitchen area there is very active and wanted everyone to have a chance to experience it. Every group that went down had amazing experiences with the dowsing rods. Several people reported feeling ghostly touches and felt cold spots. Several others came back with news that they were talking to Cornelia and a boy they thought was William, junior on the dowsing rods.
Towards the end of the evening, one of the volunteers needed to leave, so my friend Paula Bundy, who was helping me for the evening, took several groups down herself. At one point, I walked away from my group in the dining room to switch out the groups. The group in the dining room continued on with the EVP session and actually recorded a ghostly voice.
I had explained earlier in the evening that it wasn’t a good idea to ask them if they wanted us to leave. My policy is: if you ask that question and they say yes, we need to leave. We’d be jerks if we stayed after getting direct communication like that. Someone asked if they were happy we were there and someone else corrected him, telling him that probably wasn’t a good question (it was actually okay). As he was discussing this, they got a response on the digital recorder. The ghost said, “They don’t know me.”
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the first floor investigation came at the very end of the night. Someone who attended the event brought a REM Pod device. This electronic gadget beeps when the electromagnetic frequency surrounding it is broken. We had the device sitting in the room with us all night and it never made a peep until the end of the night. It began beeping. We recorded the beeps because it almost sounded like Morse Code. Melissa Goforth, a reporter who was covering the event, sent the recording to a friend who is an expert on Morse Code. He stunned us all by telling us it was beeping out the sentence: I was born in TN. Was the participant born in Tennessee? I’m hoping this will make more sense as time goes on.
Jason Nelson headed up all the investigations on the second floor. Jason has been helping me with my Haunted New Harmony events for a year now and is well versed in the process.
Gary was the volunteer for Jason’s first group. Gary is in charge of the carriage house, where they operate the haunted house event every October. Gary has been involved with the Culbertson Mansion for many years and shared a few expenses has had.
One story was especially intriguing. He was putting makeup on several of the actors for the haunted house event. As he was finishing, a woman in a beautiful green dress came in. He saw her in the mirror, but when he turned around, she was gone. A bit later, he walked past the dining room and saw the same woman putting place settings on the table, but when he came into the room, she had vanished. He asked someone and they said it was Cornelia. There’s a painting of her there, wearing the same green dress.
Another experience happened to him in the carriage house. As he was walking up the stairs, he felt hands on his back, as if coaxing him to move up the stairs faster. When he turned, the person behind him was too far behind him to have done it.
During their regular EVP sessions in the main room, they didn’t capture any true EVPs, but they did catch quite a few responses on the Spirit Box. They asked if they had a nanny and the response was: breaking the rules. That didn’t make a lot of sense to us, but the response was very clear.
Another response came when they asked if they had any pets. The answer was “I don’t.”
Melissa Goforth (pictured above with her daughter Sophie), who was reporting the event for the local paper, brought her daughter Sophie with her. Normally, I don’t allow children under 15 to attend my investigations for a variety of reasons, one being that it’s a bit much for children to handle. Through some miscommunication, I didn’t realize that Sophie was under fifteen until she arrived at the mansion. The ghosts seemed to like her though, so I was glad she attended. As I reviewed all the audio from the evening, most of it occurred when her group was in the room.
During the Spirit Box session, Melissa explained that she brought her daughter and wanted to know if there were any other children there. A voice said, “I want your kiddy.” This was alarming on many levels. Was one of the souls there interested in children?
As the session continued, someone asked if he had any hobbies. The same male voice responded with “I could drink.”
They asked him if he liked games too and he responded by saying, “The game,” which was a direct intelligent response, letting us know he could hear us and was answering our questions.
During the session, someone saw a smoky mist move under another participant’s chair. It moved quickly but stayed just long enough for them to see it. Was this a ghost attempting to manifest?
They did a dowsing rod session with great success. When they asked if there were any kids there, the rods pointed to yes and then turned to point directly at Sophie.
During Jason’s third group, the dowsers discovered that Frank was there and Ann was with him. Someone also smelled Frank’s cigar in the hallway. Cornelia also came through, telling them she was there. Her first husband Dudley was there too. Several people were having foot pains and it was explained that Dudley had his left foot amputated, which could have explained it.
For me, the most thought provoking Spirit Box response came towards the end of the night. Someone asked what city the ghost lived in. Normally, if we get a response to this, it’s the town we’re investigating in, which makes total sense. This time though, we were shocked. “New Harmony,” the voice said.
This made the hairs on my arms stand at attention when I heard it. Did a ghost follow us from New Harmony to New Albany? Did it stay or come back home with us?
Traci Hoehn was in charge of the third floor and I set this up for a reason. Traci is very intuitive and often picks up on the same impressions that I do. From the moment I first visited the mansion, I knew the third floor was going to be the most haunted. There’s just a vibe up there that you can’t ignore if you have any sort of six senses.
Traci took her own notes during the evening, so I’m inputting them here:
- Right after Kaitlyn explained the Punishment Closet and we were talking having groups of two go out there, there was the distinct sound of the door knob to the hallway between the servant’s room and the Punishment Closet rattling. It was loud enough to be heard by the entire room.
- “Mommy” is heard several times on the spirit box, but I couldn’t get a clear clip because on each occurrence someone in the group was also talking.
- One man felt very cold while it was very hot in the room. There was no breeze around him. I could feel the cold around his body when my hands were about an inch from him. When he got up and moved, I sat in his chair for a moment. I didn’t feel cold, but I noticed that his chair wasn’t even warm. The metal seat felt cold as if no one had been sitting in it all evening.
- The young girl felt something grabbing her foot.
- When someone asked, “How old are you?” during the spirit box session, there were two responses: initially a voice said four quickly followed by three.
- We got several responses through the night when asking about pets that seemed to answer dogs, cats, and possibly chickens.
- Two women sitting near the corner where the closet is located felt cold spots.
- One of the aforementioned women later felt a hand on her back and then playing with her hair. She felt uneasy and moved seats. While this was going on an empty chair next to the two women continually made ticking noises.
- The seat that was occupied by the man in Session 2 who felt cold was now occupied by a man who said he kept feeling the sense of falling backward.
Traci captured quite a few Spirit Box responses during the night. One was a very intelligent response to a question. They asked them what their favorite games were. A male voice said, “My favorite.”
When someone asked if there were any children in the room with them, they received a response that sounded like a child’s voice. I can’t make out what the child says, but the fact that a child responded makes it quite interesting.
They also recorded a true EVP during a dowsing rod session. A woman asked the rods to show her what “yes” looked like. A ghostly voice responded with “no.”
The third floor is home to a very intriguing room. It’s located down a long hallway beside the staircase and looks to be made of wood lattice, the same type you might put around the bottom of a porch. The room is just large enough for two people and has a chair in it. This room is called the Punishment Closet.
Children who were misbehaving might have been put here in a “time out,” to think about their misdeeds. It definitely has a creepy feeling to it. During the session, Jason would have the volunteer bring small groups of three to the closet to use the dowsing rods.
Above: Sophie in the Punishment Closet (photo courtesy of Melissa Goforth)
On several occasions, the guests would discover that the rods wouldn’t operate like they had during the group. They would often spin wildly and refuse to settle down. Nearly everyone who spent time in the closet came out feeling a bit unnerved.
At the end of the night, I gathered the groups together in the formal dining room and asked them to share their experiences for the evening. Everyone agreed that the third floor was the most active floor of the night. Many people came forward, telling us they felt cold spots and ghostly touches. Several people saw smoky mists attempting to form. One woman thought she heard someone whisper her name as she went down the stairs to the basement.
Someone thought they heard the name Martin and Kaitlyn said there was once a servant there named Martin. They also kept getting the number 3 come across the Spirit Box on the third floor. We couldn’t figure out any reference to the number three, but perhaps that information will become clear as time goes on.
Everyone enjoyed the punishment room and felt a lot of activity there. Everyone also loved working with the dowsing rods and felt they were getting relevant responses to their questions.
All in all, it was a great investigation. I think we learned quite a bit about the ghosts who linger there, but we’ve barely scratched the surface. The mansion hasn’t been widely investigated and the ghosts aren’t well versed on how to interact with us. Trust has to be established first. I feel they’ll become even more forthcoming in future events.
I hope to return to the mansion for another public event in November. I will post information on my website as soon as we can determine a date.
Above: Joni Mayhan, Paula Bundy, Jason Nelson and Traci Hoehn
Thank you to everyone who came out to the event, including my team of investigators and the wonderful volunteers who were so knowledgeable and helpful throughout the night. Special thanks to Jessica Stavros and Kaitlyn Tisdale from the Indiana State Museum Sites for hosting us for this amazing event.
And also…thank you to the souls who linger there for allowing us in their space.
Will there be another investigation?
I hope so. We’re looking at dates in early November