“This is the most haunted corner in town,” Kathleen “Kay” Pietrewicz said as she led an Occoquan ghost tour group to the corner of Commerce and Union streets.
It was a chilly October night, one of the coldest of the year so far, and the streets of the small town were quiet. The pale light of a flashlight illuminated the interpreter as she signed for the benefit of the deaf who make up much of the night’s tour group.
This corner was the site of a Civil War skirmish, where several soldiers were killed or wounded.
“Sometimes you can still hear the moaning,” Pietrewicz said.
Pietrewicz was in her element: a natural storyteller, with an eye for details and dramatic pauses, she spun the old legends of the haunted town, from the young girl who haunts her old bedroom after she died of grief when her fiance left her, to Old Bill, the ghost in seafaring garb who leaves the scent of pipe smoke in his wake.
Despite two violent deaths in town — a suicide and a murder — none of the ghosts in Occoquan are angry, she said. She’s counted 18 hauntings in town so far.
“We’ve got a couple of grumpy ghosts, but they’re not angry,” Pietrewicz said. “There’s no one being attacked, nothing like that.”
Hauntings typically fall into two categories, she said. One is the residual ghost, which is like a video or audio clip that keeps replaying itself. Many of the Civil War ghosts in town fall into this category.
“Then we have the intelligent hauntings,” Pietrewicz said. “Ghosts that will maybe interact with you.”
Some Occoquan shop owners have dealt with items being moved around, said Pietrewicz.
“They really have a sense of humor,” Pietrewicz said of Occoquan’s intelligent hauntings.
Some people ask her why these ghosts stay in Occoquan, she said. She generally responds that ghosts are just people without bodies, and they may just like to stay in Occoquan.
“People since Ghost Whisperer all think everyone should move on,” she added. “I think it’s a personal choice.”
As a paranormal investigator, Pietrewicz has so far only investigated two of the 18 hauntings herself: Rockledge Mansion and Polka Dot Divas.
“Most places I know have not really been investigated,” she said. “It’s mostly reported from shop owners. It’s very little visual. It’s mostly smells and sounds, things being moved around when nobody’s there, that kind of thing.”
She got into paranormal investigation in 2010. She said she’s always been sensitive to paranormal activity, but it was “pure luck” that she got into paranormal investigation.
It can be difficult to join a paranormal investigation team, but there was an open investigation at Weems-Botts Museum in Dumfries. This month, Weems-Botts Museum will be featured in the My Ghost Story series on the Biography channel on A&E, and Pietrewicz’s personal experiences at the museum will be featured in that episode.
She works on a team with a pagan, a Wiccan, and the team consults with a Catholic priest. They have about $10,000 of equipment, including a closed circuit TV and audio equipment to pick up electronic voice phenomena (EVP).
“Those of us who are sensitive, we go in, and we don’t want to be told about the history of a location, so we can see what we’ll pick up on our own,” she said. “We’ll go in and we’ll walk around, and in the mean time, our tech guys are setting up our equipment.”
Then the group goes into each room in the place and tries to talk with whatever entity they believe to be haunting the place.
“Sometimes we’ll go into a place and we’ll get nothing,” she said. “That doesn’t mean it’s not haunted. It just means they may not be there at the time or they may not want to communicate with us.”
Then the group reviews the recordings, to see if the equipment picked up any responses to the questions the investigators asked.
Pietrewicz and her group investigate a lot of residential paranormal cases, and even investigated a case down in Norfolk where people reported getting scratched.
“We’ve had clients in Lake Ridge or Woodbridge,” she said. “Sometimes children are saying they’re talking to people. We always know that children have imaginary playmates, but sometimes they’re not imaginary playmates.”
The group sometimes performs cleanses on the affected house, sometimes going more than once.
Sometimes residents can take back their own houses, Pietrewicz said.
“If they just put their foot down and take back possession of their home,” she said. “Those kind of entities feed on fear. A lot of time it’s just noises and things like that. They may be overreacting to something they could manage.”
Pietrewicz and her fellow investigators work for free, and interview potential clients with a three or four page questionnaire. One of the standard questions is whether the client has been playing with a Ouija board.
“That is not a game,” she said. “So many people, we go into their house, and we find out they have a Ouija board and that’s why they’re having trouble. It’s sad that it’s being sold as a game to the innocent and the naive who may not know that they may in fact be in contact with something on the other side.”
Pietrewicz urged caution with any object that acted as a conduit to the spirit world.
“There’s several objects that you don’t want to use, unless you know what you’re doing, and if you know what you’re doing, then you know not to use them very often,” she said.
Paranormal investigation should be performed by those who are over 18 and mature, she said.
“We don’t run through the halls screaming,” she said. “It’s not like the TV shows.”
But Pietrewicz insisted that she wasn’t afraid of her work.
“I’ve always said i’m not afraid of the dead; it’s the living that cause me problems,” Pietrewicz said.
Pietrewicz officially takes over the running of the ghost tours on Nov. 1, after running it under the OMA’s direction since June. Ghost tours will run from March through December, weather permitting. She also plans to have historical ghost tours during the day in the spring. She wants to reach out to seniors, home schooled students and other groups.
Those interested in going on a tour will soon be able to sign up online, once Pietrewicz creates a website for the tours. This month, she’s offering a special from Oct. 24 through Oct. 31. Every night that week, those who show up in costume will receive $2 off their tickets.