Paranormal policy spelled out – and not on Ouija board

Wood County Historical Center

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN

BG Independent News

 

Few public institutions have to adopt official paranormal policies. But then few local buildings are featured in the “Ghost Hunter’s Guide to Haunted Ohio.”

The Wood County Historical Society recently adopted a policy on paranormal investigations at the Wood County Historical Center and Museum.

There have been times over the years when ghost hunters have been allowed to spend the night in the museum in an effort to stir up spirits of the past. So Dana Nemeth, director of the historical center, said a consistent policy was in order.

“We were starting to have people request to rent the museum for paranormal investigations,” Nemeth said.

So the board spelled it out – and not on a Ouija board. No special arrangements will be made for paranormal investigations. No spooky overnight outings, and no sanctioned supernatural postings about the museum.

There are multiple reasons to halt the channeling of so-called spirits at the museum, Nemeth said. First, the employees at the museum are county workers.

“It’s not appropriate use of county employee time to supervise such activity,” she said.

Second, there is already enough stigma associated with the people who once inhabited the former county poorhouse. The Wood County Historical Center and Museum is the site of the former County Infirmary, which operated from 1869-1971. After the last of its residents were moved to the new Wood County Nursing Home, the building was slated for destruction, but with support from the community, the building was repurposed into a museum, which is managed jointly by the Wood County Commissioners, the Wood County Historical Society, and the Wood County Park District.

As a community organization, the Wood County Historical Society’s mission includes sharing stories of the county infirmary, while remaining respectful of the individuals who lived and worked there.

The ghost stories that haunt the museum only came to life after the poorhouse was turned into a museum, Nemeth said.

“They are part of the folklore of this county, but I do not see it as our role to continue to perpetuate those stories,” she said. “There’s a tendency in those stories to not respect the people who lived here.”

In the Haunted Ohio book, the author Chris Woodyard tells of several “spirits” at the museum. There is Bert, who was a physically and mentally handicapped former resident with a goofy smile, has reportedly been seen going about his business pulling his little red wagon. There is an elderly woman, called Agnes — who is dressed in a white nightgown and night cap.  There are stories of strange noises of dishes rattling in the dining room. And the story from the late 1980s, during renovation and restoration efforts, when a work man who was sanding and varnishing the floor on the second floor of the west wing felt that someone was watching him. He looked up and saw a woman watching him. He finished his work for the day and left. When he came back the next morning, there was one set of small footprints in the middle of the newly varnished floor.

The focus should be on the history of those who lived there – not spirits they supposedly left behind.

“There is a sincere curiosity by the public about what a poor farm was,” Nemeth said. “We want to try to encourage the idea of being respectful to the history of the site and giving the dignity that was lacking in the past.”

Over the years, the historical museum has gradually moved away from focusing on supernatural events.

“I would say we’ve been tweaking our folklore events,” so they don’t include ghost stories, she said. “This didn’t seem appropriate for the direction we want to go as an organization,” Nemeth said.

When Nemeth presents programs on the museum to children, one of the first questions is often about the site being haunted. That is not how they want to attract people to the museum.

For this reason, Wood County Historical Society’s Board of Trustees adopted this policy:

  • No special arrangements will be made for paranormal investigations.
  • Renting out the center and/or museum for paranormal investigations is not permitted.
  • Visitors paying admission during hours the museum is open may use hand-held recording devices in public areas as long as it is not disruptive to any other visitors or exhibits.
  • The society does not authorize photos, videos, audio clips or written posts on websites, blogs, social media, video or any other media source that pertain to paranormal activity at the Wood County Historical Center and Museum.
  • Unsanctioned postings or media brought to the society’s attention, particularly those of a commercial nature, will be referred to counsel.

“It’s much easier to have a policy in place than deal with this on a case-by-case basis,” Nemeth said.