The Times West Virginian

October 31, 2013

For true enthusiasts, stories turn from scary tale to quest

By Colleen S. Good
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — Halloween is a spooky time of year, filled with ghosts and hobgoblins, things that go “bump!” in the night, witches, skeletons and zombies.

Our fascination with the scary isn’t anything new. West Virginia is famous for its classic ghost stories and haunted places.

A 2007 AP-Ipsos poll found that a third of American adults believe in ghosts. Many people can think back to a time they heard a door slam when no one was in the room, or felt a room suddenly grow cold, and saw the lights flicker.

For many people though, ghost stories are seen as just that: stories. Fun for a thrill around the camp fire, or told with a flashlight under the sheets.

But for some, ghost stories turn from tale to quest, as they go from reading about ghosts on the page to seeking them out in the real world. These people are known as ghost hunters.

Fairmont local Daniel Bellay, a deputy circuit clerk for Marion County, started ghost hunting a few years ago with friends.

“I had a couple of friends who were really into it, especially because of the television shows,” Bellay said. “We started visiting different places in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, and that’s pretty much how it began.”

To get started as a ghost hunter, Bellay said the two most important things are to read up on your local history and lore, and find some good friends to tag along with you.

“There are actually a lot of books and magazines and television shows that will show you how to do different techniques,” Bellay said.

Bellay knows his ghost hunting — he and his friends were once featured on the Travel Channel show “Paranormal Challenge.” They were on the Northeastern Spirit Society team and tried to beat their opposing team, West Virginia Paranormal, by braving out the night and documenting the most paranormal activity.

For the challenge, they were outfitted with top-of-the-line video camcorders, thermal camcorders to measure changes in temperature, audio recording devices and a Mel Meter, a standard paranormal hunter device that takes both electromagnetic field and temperature readings simultaneously.

Their team won the challenge, and he and his friends continued ghost hunting on their own for fun, usually on Friday or Saturday nights.

Bellay said he first became interested in ghosts when he was growing up.

“I think that from a young age I was just fascinated with the horror movies and the ghost stories,” he said. “Especially if you find out that there might be a place close to you that might be haunted, I think that sort of adds to the mystery and the appeal of it.”

For Bellay, the most interesting part of ghost hunting is learning about the history and architecture of the sites.

“I like the gothic style of everything, and the stories and the history, and the people in the area that were affected by these places,” he said.

Two of Bellay’s favorite places to ghost hunt are the West Virginia Penitentiary in Moundsville, and the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston.

“My friends and I have heard things,” he said. “One time at the West Virginia Penitentiary, we were walking and heard whispers and saw dark shadows.”

Bellay doesn’t have the time to ghost hunt often anymore, but if he ever sees a ghost up close, he knows exactly what he’d do.

“I would probably call the Ghostbusters,” Bellay said.

Email Colleen S. Good at cgood@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @CSGoodTWV.