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Hunting Ghosts, Live! (Pt. 2)

If you came here by way of the “Hunting Ghosts, Pt. 1” entry, you should have a rough idea of how we survived that experience and, maybe not so surprisingly, arrived at a sequel. Just like before, one day, I received a call from an unfamiliar number (remember when we used to answer those?), and it was a hiring manager. “We’re doing another live show on Halloween, in Delaware this time,” the voice at the other end of the line said. “I’ll do it,” I said. “Do you need extra help,” I inquired? They did, so I recommended a friend/co-worker from the previous year’s live show, Trevor. He was hired, too, and soon we embarked on an epic roadtrip from Dayton, Ohio to Newark, Delaware.

My travel journal picks up from here….

Day 1 – Oct. 28 The morning air is cold enough that, along the drive, we spot a politician with his hands in his own pockets. As we check into the hotel, it doesn’t take long to figure out this place is a giant step up from our lodging in Kentucky last year. My room is spacious, complete with a living room area and full kitchen, which even includes a dish washer. The cabinets are stocked with pots, pans, plates, and mugs. Utensils, prep knives, and a can opener are in the drawers. It’s almost better than being at home. Whether I lucked out or if this a standard room is a mystery, although I suspect not a lot of time will be spent here.

I’m on call today and and stay in the area (everything is relative, right?) by driving a quick hour northeast to Philadelphia. The first stop is at the Liberty Bell…. It’s old and large… and it’s symbolism casts a longer shadow than its history.

I keep having this nagging feeling someone is going to call from the production office, so I skip touring Independence Hall (for now) and figure out lunch. Of course, the most obvious choice is a Philly cheesesteak. A coin flip between Geno’s Steaks and Pat’s King of Steaks (right across the street from each other) determines the latter. I scarf down the classic (and satisfying) sandwich from Pat’s, burn myself up with a side helping of cherry peppers, then head back to Delaware. Along the way, my phone rings. It’s the production office, with some work to do…

Philadelpha, PA / USA - Oct. 30, 2008: A Philly cheesesteak and French fries from the famous restaurant, Pat’s King of Steaks, is shown up close. For editorial uses only.

Day 2 – Oct. 29 I haven’t yet quite wrapped my head around how this is all going to work. It’s a little surprising when we board a small landing craft boat that’s almost completely filled with equipment cases, leaving just barely enough room for a few people to stand along the perimeter.

Delaware City, DE / USA - Oct. 29, 2008: TV broadcast production equipment cases are shown filling nearly all available space on a small landing craft boat, en route to Pea Patch Island in the Delaware River.

The half-mile ride from Delaware City to Pea Patch Island (the home of Fort Delaware) is cold, and the boat feels like it’s in a constant battle against the choppy water. Below, the fort is barely distinguishable just to the right-of-center.

A wide view of Fort Delaware, from across the Delaware River, in Delaware City, Delaware is shown in a daytime view.

In a larger historical context, this fortification is relatively young, with the surviving version having been built in the mid-1800s. Still, a lot of trauma and torment took place here in a short span. During the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s, approximately 2,900 Confederate soldiers died on the island, from various causes like smallpox, typhoid/malaria, scurvy, and pneumonia. Some prisoners drowned in the river, and some were shot.

After orientation on the island, I head back to the mainland to buy some equipment from a hardware store, then pick up some people from the airport in Philly. Game 5 of the “World Series” (never gonna not hate that illusory name) is about to start. While waiting on the arrivals, I can see the blimp flying over the stadium in the distance. The Phillies have the advantage over the Rays and can seal the deal with a win tonight. Whatever you want to call the game, it’s entertainment, and it’s a shame today isn’t my free day… If it were, you know I’d be in the city right now, exploring more of the food and beer scene, and yelling at a TV with the locals.

Later on, when the work wraps up at the fort, my counterparts and I make a few roundtrips, shuttling cast and crew from Delaware City to the hotel. Finally back in my room, I flip on the TV and catch the end of the game. There it is – the Phillies win 4-3! Some cheering echoes throughout the hotel. After another long day in the TV biz, I celebrate with a couple Yuenglings and call it a night.

Day 3 – Oct. 30 Back to the island again… This morning, the broadcast trucks, Ghost Hunters’ “TAPS” van, and other support vehicles are being brought in via barge. This infrastructure wasn’t designed for this sort of delivery, so it’s fascinating watching a backhoe position heavy-duty ramps between the barge and island. The two ramps don’t look much wider than a standard tire, so any misalignment could seemingly result in one of these vehicles taking a dip in the Delaware River.

Metal ramps connect a small barge to an island during the day.

This is a setup day, so I’m helping out with anything and everything – running cables, moving equipment cases around, organizing paperwork – whatever it takes to keep moving and busy, which is no problem. Having pushed around live sound equipment for the past 7 years, I’m no stranger to hard work. This is definitely a unique opportunity, so I don’t forget to snap some photos along the way. Here’s the well-preserved fort’s courtyard:

Delaware City / USA - Oct. 30, 2008: A cannon and stacks of cannonballs are shown in the courtyard of Ft. Delaware, which is a fortification dating to the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s.

Day 4 – Oct. 31 Halloween is here! Exactly a year ago, I spent the night at an old tuberculosis hospital in Kentucky. Tonight, I’m on an island in the middle of the Delaware River, and we’re hoping the spirits of Civil War soldiers are still here.

By the afternoon, it’s already been a long day, ensuring all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed leading up to tonight’s live broadcast. Here and there, I’ve been crossing paths with the guest host, actor/magician Steve Valentine, who you probably recognize from various movies and TV shows. [more on him later]

image courtesy of Flickr user Raven Underwood under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

As the sunlight gives way to the darkness, I’m assigned to babysit the investigation equipment. That basically means sitting and watching the CCTV feed (just imagine a bunch of security camera feeds on a screen) and making sure the ghost hunting team has everything they need, whenever they stop by to grab a new piece of equipment or change out some batteries.

your author, Justin J. Kilmer

At one point during the night, I’m watching the CCTV monitor, and something catches my eye: under a table, the legs of a wood stool slowly rotate back and forth in a circular motion. I literally pinch myself. I’m definitely here and awake. By the time the investigative team walks into that room a little while later, the stool is completely still, like nothing ever happened.

The rest of the night creeps along. The hit to my circadian rhythm and biting cold air make it hard to keep my eyes open. I’m legitimately open to more spooks at this historic site… a Civil War soldier walking by, the sound of a musket being fired, George Washington crossing the Delaware… but none of that happens. Other than a few weird photo anomalies, I haven’t quite gotten the same, heavy vibe here as at the old tuberculosis hospital a year ago.

On the verge of giving in to my fatigue, “that’s a wrap” goes out over the radio. I know I’m ready to sink deep into my bed, and I’m sure the rest of the hard-working team feels the same. From here, adrenaline kicks in, as we hustle to get everyone back to the hotel.

Day 5 – Nov. 1 While looking for some coffee, I run into one of the regular cast members, Steve, and tell him about watching the seat rotate last night. He says they’ll look for it on the DVR and thanks me for the tip.

It’s load-out day. In reverse of what we’ve previously watched, trucks and equipment are now being precariously loaded onto barges. The pros again just do what they do, and no insurance claims for vehicles lost to the river need be made.

The island is a nature sanctuary, and we respect it by adhering to the “leave no trace” principle. After every bottle, wrapper, and video cable have been removed, we’re ready to say our goodbyes to this intriguing, but windswept place. One of my co-workers has an idea: “For dinner, let’s get a cheesesteak in Philly! Kilmer, didn’t you already go get one? How about you take us?” As many times as I’ve driven to the Philadelphia Airport in the past few days, uh, no, I’m not driving… but I’ll show you the way.

From the back seat of the SUV, I occasionally break up the banter by calling out the simple directions during the hourlong drive. “Take this exit. Now make a right. Make another right up ahead,” and we arrive at Pat’s King of Steaks. For the sake of comparison, I opt for Geno’s Steaks, across the street. This might be blasphemy for those with a more refined cheesesteak palate, but the signature dish at Geno’s and Pat’s tastes no different to me, at all. It’s the same deal for me with Cincinnati chili. People have their preferences, for a variety of claimed reasons, but let’s be honest: most probably can’t tell the difference in a blind taste test.

Philadelphia, PA / USA - October 28, 2009: The crowd and neon signs on the iconic Geno's Steaks cheesesteak restaurant are shown at night.

(2021 good news: My photo above has since been licensed for news-type articles quite a few times, including by one of our nation’s oldest magazines, The Atlantic.)

Day 6 – Nov. 2 For the bare bones crew still left in Delaware, back home we finally go. Trevor and I start the nearly nine hours drive back to Ohio. It’s about what you’d expect… We reflect on the work we just finished, take turns picking out CDs to jam to along the way, and kick around some lunch ideas. He’s pretty familiar with this Appalachian corridor, so he says I should take a very specific exit in West Virginia and stop at a very specific gas station to get some very specific food, pepperoni rolls. I have no idea what those are but soon find out: they’re simply white bread rolls baked with pepperoni in the middle. They taste just how they sound, like bread and pepperoni. Historically, this has been a snack or meal for coal miners. Now, it’s a convenience store staple that can last a week and doesn’t need refrigerating. To truly appreciate it might be an acquired taste, since I now just want a slice of pizza.

Hours later, it’s nice to be back home and also a bummer to settle back into the regular routine. Seeing new places is sort of becoming addicting, and I can only wonder what’s next…

Another 2021 update: A couple interesting things happened following this live show. In 2009, the two original Ghost Hunters, Jason and Grant, headed to Cincinnati for a book signing event. One of Janine’s good friends, Allison, just happened to work on that new book and invited us to come say “hi” to J&G.

When we arrived at the bookstore, the line was literally out the door and down the side of the building. Since Allison had been a big part of putting on the event, we ended up near the front of the line. Then came security. Uh-oh. “Some people just said you jumped the line,” he said. Allison saw the guard talking to us, rushed over, justified with “I told them to get in line here,” then hurried away to take care of more work. We watched the guard report back to someone, shrugging his shoulders while saying “There’s nothing I can do.”

If the complainer (yeah, I get it) continued paying attention, it quickly would have made more sense. When we got up to the table, right away, Grant said “Heyyyy…. What are you doing here?” I told him we live nearby and that we’re friends with Allison. We bought the book, had them sign it, and I also had them sign my Ghost Hunters Live “All Access” badge from the previous Halloween. It was a nice, quick reunion in this small world.

Fast-forwarding three years, to 2012, while working on NCIS (and I still am in 2021!), guess who gets cast for an episode? That’s right – Steve Valentine, the co-host of the Ghost Hunters live show in Delaware. I tracked him down during lunch one day, and he added his signature to my “All Access” badge. He was very gracious and, unfortunately, I didn’t once think to ask what I’d like to know now – what his thoughts are about ghosts.

This experience continues, so be sure to subscribe for more travel and ghost hunting tales. Your address is safe with us, and we’ll never sell or trade your info or send you junk.

As a state park, Fort Delaware is open to the public for seasonal tours. Ghost Hunters current airs on A&E.

 

“Hunting Ghosts, Pt. 2” Written by Justin Kilmer, Edited by Janine Kilmer

Unless otherwise noted, all media and text on this page are copyrighted © by Justin J. Kilmer.

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