After 36 years in law enforcement, Shepherdstown Police Chief Michael King has investigated his share of things that go bump in the night.
And that was especially true last year, when his department was receiving more than the usual amount of 911 calls about strange, possibly paranormal, occurrences.
Local folks were reporting strange noises like hearing someone in their house or a baby crying and eerie flickering lights and doors closing.
Although he’s not exactly a believer, King has long been in situations that defy logic – including hearing two sets of footsteps running inside a Hagerstown, Maryland, church, yet no one was there. Years later, he still vividly recalls his police dog straining to attack the non-existent trespassers.
“I still don’t have an explanation for it, but I know what I heard. So that’s kind of what lead me into wanting to dig a little deeper here,” he said.
So when the unexplained picked up in his Jefferson County jurisdiction, King reached out through Facebook to nationally-known paranormal investigator Nick Groff, who took a special interest in the historic Eastern Panhandle town and its (possible) ghosts.
“They really found it interesting that the police were calling them, and so that got it rolling. I just wanted to get a better understanding of what we were looking at locally. And honestly, the Sweet Shop was one that really stood out to me when I reached out to them, because I’d only been in town three days when I heard about it being haunted,” he said.
The rest is network history.
That was the beginning of Destination America’s “Ghosts of Shepherdstown,” a six-part series that was shot locally and premiered June 12.
Cameras followed Groff, paranormal tech guru Bill Hartley and Elizabeth Saint, a paranormal sensitive, as they visited local hotspots and spoke to residents about their experiences.
It was the “first time a paranormal investigation team and a police department joined forces to investigate strange happenings in an American town,” according to a network press release.
A well-known downtown business, the Sweet Shop Bakery, was highlighted since so many people – from employees to folks who live in apartments over the popular eatery – have had strange experiences there.
Owner Pam Berry doesn’t dispute the claims, and was happy to be part of the show’s filming.
“Ever since we first bought the business over 18 years ago several people have told us about when they would see someone out of the corner of their eye or someone spoke their name. One of our tenants upstairs felt like she had a presence with her almost all the time – but it wasn’t a scary thing,” she said.
The night baker has seen enough that he always keeps the doors locked at the 200-year-old building.
“One time when my husband was interviewing someone for a job, the man – who had never been here before – suddenly asked him if we knew we had a ghost. And the man also said that a man in a gray suit had just walked through the wall, and he said it totally out of the blue,” she said.
Ironically, there haven’t been many spooky stirrings since the show, and no one seems to know why.
But local folks – as well as people from several different states – were touched by it, and have reached out via phone calls and especially social media to share their paranormal activities. A few have even visited his office, and expressed surprise that he was real.
The show aired on Sunday nights, so Monday mornings were “always crazy because so many people were calling to give us advice on what to do,” he said.
“Since the show has aired, I have been approached by people – who I would have bet a month’s worth of paychecks wouldn’t have talked to me about stuff like this – and they all want to tell me about their experience,” King said.
Someone even left a small, old tombstone – engraved only with the word baby – at the police station’s front door early on a Monday morning. No one knows where it came from, and none of the local churches are missing a tombstone from a cemetery.
He’s also heard from law enforcement officials across the country who’ve been called to investigate the unexplained, and appreciate his addressing this strange blur between possible fact and fiction.
“They know just like I do that we usually deal in facts – just black and white. But this is definitely different, and something many of us have encountered,” he said.
King and show consultants will be part of the town’s 4th annual Boo!Fest that runs through Halloween night.
Saturday afternoon’s activities will include a Ghosts of Shepherdstown screening at the Shepherdstown Opera House beginning at 3:15 p.m. It will be followed with a downtown walk beginning at 4 p.m.
Fans can meet the show’s stars – including a poster and picture-signing session – at McMurran Hall from 5:30-6:30 p.m.
Full event schedule is available at the Shepherdstown Visitors Center.