Hunting Pittsburgh’s haunted history


Katie Porfeli, a member of Ghosts N’at, uses a special camera that the hunters say senses paranormal activity. (Photo by Elise Lavallee | Contributing Editor)

Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish if a person is drunk or possessed by a demon.

At least that’s what TJ Porfeli, the co-owner and president of operations of Ghosts N’at Paranormal Adventures, said Saturday while speaking at the orientation for one of the company’s ghost hunts.

“If anyone’s drunk, please hide it right now. We don’t know if you’re really really drunk, or if you need an exorcism,” Porfeli joked. “And they kind of go hand in hand — you’re throwing up, your head’s spinning around. We don’t know if you either need to sober up or if we need to call in a priest.”

Sporting a black “Who yinz gonna call” T-shirt, Porfeli led a ghost hunt at the Homestead Pump House late Saturday evening. Porfeli laid out the ground rules for the hunt and answered questions for 20 minutes before the group of 10 people headed into the basement of the Pump House. The event required all participants bring flashlights and only allowed visitors ages 18 or older unless accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.

“Will a ghost follow me home? We get that question on every hunt,” Porfeli said. “I’ve been doing this for 10 years, and I haven’t had a ghost follow me home yet, but I say if it can cook and clean, it can stay.”

To ramp up participants’ fear before the hunt, Porfeli told the group that the Pump House was the site of the Homestead Strike between the steelworkers and the Carnegie Steel Company, whose operations were headed by Henry Clay Frick. More than 10 people died in the 1892 strike and dozens more were injured.

Because of the number of deaths that occurred inside and around the building, Ghosts N’at chose the Pump House as a site to hunt ghosts.

During the hunt, the Ghosts N’at crew used a number of tools they said can help identify ghosts. These included things as simple as a touch flashlight — which Porfeli said could be turned off and on by ghosts — and equipment more specific to the trade, such as K2 meters, which measure electromagnetic fluctuation, and a device called “the portal,” which hunters say can be used to communicate with ghosts using radio waves.

Porfeli also encouraged participants to ask questions of the ghosts. These questions ranged from “Do you have a family?” to “Do you dislike Henry Frick?”

“This is a crowd participation thing. Basically I’d say you can ask anything, but you have to keep in mind the location that you’re in,” Porfeli said, adding that ghosts feed off the energy of a crowd.

Ghosts N’at, a group that offers guided ghost tours, uses a spirit box device to register paranormal voices and sounds. (Photo by Elise Lavallee | Contributing Editor)

Porfeli also said it’s important to keep in mind that ghosts were once people. He said you can’t yell derogatory things at them like they do on a lot of ghost-hunting TV shows.

“You show them respect,” Porfeli said. “You say please and thank you, things like that. We get more activity that way.”

After three hours of ghost hunting, the group had witnessed the flashlight turning on and off multiple times without anyone in the group touching it and had heard a number of strange sounds recorded on the ghost-hunting equipment. But many members of the group were left still wondering about the existence of paranormal entities.

“We call it hunting for a reason — ghosts don’t always come out,” Porfeli said. “And if we hear a noise, we don’t automatically go, ‘Oh that’s a ghost’ — we try to figure out the cause of the noise,” Porfeli said.

Sebastian Larson, a Moon Township resident, participated in the hunt with his parents and said there wasn’t much proof of ghosts from the hunt, but that he still has an open mind.

“I believe in [ghosts], but I just ask for more physical proof,” he said. “I feel like we did hear something, but I don’t think that they reached us.”

Sebastian’s father, Rob Larson, 38, said at one point during the tour he felt spiderwebs on his arm, and then he felt somebody poke him twice in the upper arm. While Larson said he felt “creeped out,” he said he doesn’t take these kind of occurrences too seriously.

“I’m not a ‘ghost hunter.’ We just kind of go for the entertainment value,” Larson said.

Ghosts N’at hosts a multitude of ghost tours and hunts each year, featuring 11 historic locations including the Carrie Furnaces and Anderson Manor. Tours consist of stories about the paranormal encounters experienced in each location, and hunts feature paranormal investigators seeking out spirits.

“Since ghost hunting isn’t classified as a scientific field, there are no real experts in it,” Porfeli said. “It’s more about learning how to ghost hunt and interpreting it yourself.”

Porfeli said he got interested in ghost hunting in 2005 when he watched the television show “Ghost Hunters” and saw a full-bodied apparition — a ghostlike image — on-screen. But it wasn’t until 2008, when he gathered enough people and equipment, that he became a paranormal investigator.

“I’m not a historian, I’m a ghost hunter,” Porfeli said. “It’s our own version of keeping history alive.”

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