When Amanda Staszak was just 9 years old, she spoke to a ghost for the first time.
“Who are you?” she asked a man who sat perched at the end of her bed one night. “What do you want?”
“Why are you sleeping?” he replied. “I’m not here to hurt you.”
She had seen this ghost before, roaming around her backyard, but was petrified of him. Staszak spent many nights sleeping on her parents’ bedroom floor before she gathered the courage to confront the spirit, a man who had lived on the property in Washington Township long before the Staszak family.
“I remember seeing pieces of his collapsed house scattered through the woods around my house,” she said.
Staszak sought information about this gentleman, but “it was hard to get specific details about [him] through historical records,” she said.
“The things I fear most are what trigger me to learn more,” she said. “Once something is understood, the fear goes away.”
This spirit had tried to communicate with her, with anyone who would receive a message, she said, but it took several encounters before she stopped hiding under the covers and talked back.
The realization that she could communicate with spirits was “groundbreaking,” she said.
“They’re people just like us, only they exist outside of our physical form.”
While the experience may have steadied her nerves about having a ghost share the house with her family, Staszak has continued researching other places that are ridden with paranormal activity, first as a hobby, then as a paraprofessional.
After years of freelance work, Staszak, a current resident of Pitman, teamed up with Rosalyn Bown of Woodbury and Chrissy Desjardins of Bucks County, PA, and founded Perceptive Paranormal Research (PPR).
“We have a rare common interest, so we’d run in to each other, whether investigating privately through freelance or through local groups,” Staszak said, adding that Bown and Desjardins also grew up in paranormal surroundings.
“Our overall goal is to give people knowledge and understanding,” Staszak said. “We provide spiritual guidance, we go out and above paranormal aspects.”
To date, PPR has investigated over 20 sites along the East Coast: most in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, but extending as far as the Mark Twain House in Hartford, CT, and the Stranahan House and Museum in Fort Lauderdale, FL.
PPR’s next venture will be investigating the Whitall House at Red Bank Battlefield Park, a Revolutionary War site. The Gloucester County freeholders on Wednesday granted the three-member team permission to investigate the site for paranormal activity.
Freeholder Frank DiMarco said the freeholders are not aware of any existing activity at the site, and that PPR is “just investigating to see what they find.”
“They just needed access to the building,” DiMarco said. “I don’t know if they’ll find anything, it’s just an interesting concept.”
'We like to leave it up to debate'
Staszak attributes PPR’s out-of-state networking to Bown.
“She was scouted for Ghost Hunters Academy,” Staszak said, referring to the SyFy show.
“Through her experiences on the show, she met a lot of people in different areas of the country, and we do a lot of networking on Facebook and through our website, so we’ve created a contact base outside of our region.
“We do a lot of networking to build our credibility…and the Internet is a powerful tool, so we hit the ground running with that,” she continued.
“We like to leave it up to debate for people to make their own conclusions,” Staszak went on. “In this field, there are just as many skeptics as supporters, and if we have skeptics, that’s fine. A level of skepticism grounds you.
“On average, if we do five investigations, four out of five will give us concrete evidence, so it’s very common,” she said. “Every now and then, we’ll go on a case and nothing will happen, we won’t feel anything. There could be no spirits at that time, or they could be standoffish, so we’ll just have to go back again.
“Nine times out of ten, we do collect evidence. It’s a lot easier than people think.”
Staszak said the Whitall House has never undergone a paranormal investigation before. There have only been excavations at the site, DiMarco said.
“We’d heard rumors of other groups who were unsuccessful…so we went in a little pessimistic,” Staszak said. “We took a leap of faith and submitted a proposal with the hope to negotiate something out.”
Neither PPR or the freeholders will charge for the investigation.
Staszak, Bown, and Desjardins, with the oversight of a park ranger, will conduct their research on Tuesday from 7 to 11 p.m.
“The insurance policy only covers the three of us to be there,” Staszak said.
“This is not an open house,” DiMarco said.
“[The freeholders] are not requiring us to produce any presentation of evidence, but whatever evidence we do get, we’ll offer it to them and they can use it how they see fit,” Staszak said.
DiMarco said increasing Red Bank Battlefield Park’s notoriety would improve the chances of receiving grants to restore and preserve the site.
“We’re hoping to draw some attention to the park,” he said. “It’s a beautiful place with so much history, right in the heart of Gloucester County.”
“The Whitall House became a hospital during battle, so it’s highly probably there’s residual energy imprinted on the location,” Staszak said.
“I like to do a lot of research and know every nook and cranny about the history of the site. Some like to go in not fully aware so it doesn’t alter your mind,” she added. “We’ll go into the history and utilize it: If we know someone’s attached to location, we’ll reach out to them specifically.”
Staszak said during the investigation, she will try to contact James and Ann Whitall, Col. Christopher Greene, and some of the soldiers who fought there.
“Between the people who were treated and who died there, I wonder if there are any spirits that are angry,” DiMarco said. “Sometimes they’ll put out some of the medical tools that were used [in that time]. It’s kind of scary, kind of barbaric.
“I’ve never had any experiences [with the paranormal],” he continued. “Maybe I’m just not receptive…but I’m optimistically cautious—I don’t count anything out.”