Casino Theater paranormal investigation attracts believers, skeptics |
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Casino Theater paranormal investigation attracts believers, skeptics

Joyce Hanz | for the Tribune-Review
Oakmont native Mark Bowen, founder and director of the Oakmont Paranormal Society, conducts a preliminary paranormal investigation from a jail cell housed inside the Casino Theater in Vandergrift. The Vandergrift Police department once operated out of the theater, and several jail cells still remain.
Joyce Hanz
The historic Casino Theater in Vandergrift was dedicated in 1900. There have been sightings of moving objects in the balcony, noises and lights going on and off. Paranormal investigators from ALKO-PSI and the Oakmont Paranormal Society gather next to the stage in the Casino Theater for a preliminary paranormal investigation before 50 ticketholders will accompany them on a ghost hunt on Oct. 15. The event sold out rapidly.
Joyce Hanz
The seldom seen basement area of the Casino Theater in Vandergrift will be explored by paranormal investigators. The area is purported to be haunted by several entities.
Casino Theater in Vandergrift

Are you a believer in the supernatural, or a skeptic?

Paranormal investigators from ALKO-PSI and the Oakmont Paranormal Society welcome both on their tours, including a behind-the-scenes guided paranormal investigation at the historic Casino Theater in Vandergrift on Oct. 15.

And apparently there are plenty of people who want to know if “the truth is out there.”

“We sold out before October,” says Ashleigh Hannigan, event organizer and secretary of Vandergrift No. 1 Fire Department, one of the beneficiaries of the charity event. Proceeds also will be donated to Tiny Cause and the Casino Theater.

As the name implies, paranormal investigations involve gathering information on the location, visiting the location and conducting investigations assisted by high-tech equipment with a goal of documenting and attempting to scientifically prove the existence of ghosts.

Mark Bowan of Oakmont has more than 90 paranormal investigations under his belt. He formed Oakmont Paranormal Society in 2011 and serves as director.

He jumped at the chance to explore the Casino, which was dedicated in 1900 and was once a popular stop on the vaudeville circuit. The Casino Theater secured a place on the National Historic Registry during the 1980s. Many people are not aware that the Vandergrift police department was once housed inside the Casino Theater building. The tour will include the main theater, former jail cells, basement and former council chambers.

“There is definitely something there,” Bowan says, referencing paranormal activity at the theater that has been reported by some. “I am very excited about this hunt. We think there are two or three entities in the Casino Theater.”

Bowan enthusiastically conducts investigations around the Alle-Kiski Valley area.

“There is definitely a lot of paranormal activity around here, all the way from Kittanning down to Oakmont,” he says. “Human beings are very curious, and in death, that does not stop, it can carry on.”

A preliminary paranormal investigation was conducted last month by investigators from ALKO-PSI and Oakmont Paranormal Society at the theater. A team of 10 spent three hours roaming the interior of the Greek revival-style theater.

“We got some good responses,” Bowan says. “Two of the responses came from entities in the basement area. The entity actually said a profanity that was heard on our ghost box (radios that have been hacked and swept for frequencies).”

Only one documented death has been recorded at the Casino Theater.

“A man committed suicide by hanging himself in his cell in 2003,” says Emily Sears, a paranormal investigator and historian from Lower Burrell.

The theater also served as a refuge space during the infamous St. Patrick’s Day floods in 1936.

“We feel that spirits linger in places not just because they may have died there, but they can also be attached to a building,” Sears says.

The investigators will utilize equipment such as digital voice recorders, tape recorders, ovilus, digital cameras, EMF (electro- magnetic field ) meters, video recorders, thermometers, EVP (electronic voice recorder) and spirit boxes as tools for attempting communication with paranormal entities.

A spirit box roams radio frequencies — generating white noise that some theories suggest gives entities the energy they need to be heard.

An ovilus is a portable database of 2,000-plus words. When investigators contact a spirit, they can ask a question and the entity will use the database to pick words out to answer the questions.

During the pre-investigation, several investigators were particularly interested in cell No. 2 in the former police barracks.

“We had an entity answer us ‘Who the (expletive) cares?’ when we asked which of the Three Stooges was not blood related (the Three Stooges had performed at the Casino in the past),” Bowan says. “We are not sure who that entity was.”

Bowan will utilize a “trigger object” named Boo Buddy during the investigation. Trigger objects are just that — inanimate objects that may attract the entity’s attention.

“He is a stuffed teddy bear that is programmed to ask a question and is outfitted with a voice recorder on him,” Bowan says. “He can sense movement and temperature change.”

Participants will be escorted outside if they get scared or uncomfortable during the investigation, Bowan says.

Organizers are considering adding an additional evening next year.

Joyce Hanz is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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