When trees drop their leaves and evening shadows grow long, most of the region gears up for football, harvest festivals and a glass of wine by the firepit. Diamond State Ghost Investigators, meanwhile, are rolling up their sleeves and rounding up their AV surveillance gear and EMF meters in preparation for their largest event of the year—a team effort that’s helped raise $1.8 million for historic restoration in Delaware’s parks over the past 15 years.
Their destination: Fort Delaware, a spot they say is notorious for paranormal activity. Carl Suppa, a past president at Diamond State Ghost Investigators, has spent time in the general’s quarters, which has bedrooms and a child’s area. Carrying an EMF (electric and magnetic field) meter during one visit, he asked no one in particular, “If you’re in here, can you please make the lights go up for me?”
According to Suppa, the lights on the meter blinked in response.
He then asked, “Is it OK for us to be here?”
He watched the lights flash again.
DSGI’s summer event is at Bellevue Hall, a 19th-century mansion sitting on 328 acres in North Wilmington. Built in 1855 and now part of the Delaware State Parks system, the estate was purchased by William du Pont Sr. in 1893 and later expanded by his son in the 1940s and ’50s. William du Pont Jr. added barns and tennis courts to accommodate his wives from two marriages—Jean, an equestrian, and Margaret, a tennis pro.
Although no one knows who the spirits might be at Bellevue, manifestations on the property have occurred mostly in the servants’ quarters in the attic and in the basement, where du Pont Jr. and his friends would retire after dinner. Recording on audio equipment, investigators once asked the spirits, “Did you do naughty things down here?” A “no” is clearly audible on the recording, though investigators say nothing was heard at the time.
Under contract with the Delaware State Parks system, the Diamond State Ghost Investigators team conducts one or two paranormal tours each year at Bellevue. Dubbed “Paranormal 101,” the events are designed to educate the public on EMF meters and other paranormal detection and surveillance equipment, offer photography tips, and identify whatever spirit orbs show up on footage.
Bellevue’s staff always insisted that something was happening on the third floor, where the sounds of a little girl had been heard. DSGI investigators have documented activation of a motion-activated music box placed on the staircase, well away from any team members. When they questioned the spirit in the attic, the music box on the stairs started playing. “I always imagine a little girl hiding on the landing, afraid of us,” says Wilmington’s Gina Dunham, who is DSGI’s current president. “Imagine if someone came into your home uninvited.”
“Ghosts don’t come out more at Halloween—or at night, for that matter.”
—DSGI’s Gina Dunham
“We have recordings of footsteps in the attic, too,” says DSGI vice president Andy Lendway, an artist, illustrator and photographer in Wilmington since 1983. “Heavy footsteps.”
Located on Pea Patch Island in the middle of the Delaware River, Fort Delaware was considered an ideal prison for Confederate and political prisoners. Its modern design provided reasonable conditions and a natural boundary for its occupants. Then, in July of 1863, an influx of thousands of soldiers captured at Gettysburg raised the prison population to as many as 13,000. The six-acre complex was designed to hold a fraction of that number. Roughly 2,500 prisoners, guards and civilians died inside Fort Delaware’s walls. According to DSGI’s president, paranormal activity is rampant at the fort. “With no power on, and no one touching the meters, if the lights flash in a timely response to a question, something is making it happen,” Dunham says.
Dunham first got involved during DSGI’s inaugural monthlong event at the fort in 2009. Every October since, the group has conducted paranormal adventure tours for up to 140 guests, who are guided through the fort. Interpreters from the Delaware State Parks system provide historical context while seven to 12 DSGI members position themselves at locations with known manifestations. “October is just the month that doesn’t interfere with other events and fits the season,” says Dunham. “Ghosts don’t come out more at Halloween—or at night, for that matter. The fort is technically a living history museum, only open certain months of the year, so maintaining the historic integrity of the tours is crucial.”
Now Brandywine Prime, the Chadds Ford Inn was also the site of a DSGI investigation. “There were things going on, but they couldn’t properly document anything,” says Dunham.
DSGI also conducts private investigations at people’s homes. The interview and application process typically involves a walkthrough and journaling manifestations for two to three weeks. “We want to be safe, and we want homeowners to feel safe,” Dunham says. “We refer anything that sounds like demonic activity to other groups in Delaware, who are surprisingly busy.”
DSGI analyzes what they find—and what they don’t. “Sometimes it’s inconclusive,” Dunham admits.
Lendway mentions one house in Hockessin where investigators recorded near-constant activity. “You could see the relief on the homeowners’ faces,” he says.
“Sometimes people just want to know they’re not crazy,” adds Dunham. “The spirits seem to want to be acknowledged, and they’ll settle down after that.”
Investigations are conducted at night, when the environment is quieter and they can control who’s there. When DSGI finds evidence of activity, they go back for more. It can take a month to go through all the evidence collected from a single overnight investigation.
When evidence of activity is discovered, homeowners often ask the DSGI team to return. “No one has asked us to get rid of any spirits though,” says Dunham. “Our role is to document what we’ve found and reassure people that it’s OK to talk about the paranormal.”
At Fort Delaware and Bellevue Hall, DSGI events continue to be popular. “We’re not here to change minds—just to educate,” says Lendway. “Even at our events, it’s a little taboo to talk about.”