by NICK BUCHANAN
“Oh heavenly father, God of the universe, we come to you in prayer tonight for our protection. Please protect our bodies, souls, equipment, and all personal possessions from any harm. We ask that you send your angels to guard against all evil and malevolent spirits and protect us with your white light. We give permission to your angels to intervene on our behalf if necessary. We pray that no spirit or ghost of evil will or intention be allowed to attach themselves to any of us, any of our belongings, and that they not be allowed to follow us into our homes. Amen.”
This is how Lisa Swickard begins her interactions with the supernatural.
Every Friday and Saturday night, Swickard and her supernatural friends take small groups of people on after-dark visits to select locations in Tiffin that are said to be haunted by spirits. The tour commences along the Sandusky River at the pavilion on Robert Frost Parkway, where Fort Ball stood during the War of 1812. It then makes stops at the former location of the Axline House, an occupied home that was swept away during the infamous Tiffin flood of 1913, and two former brothels that are still standing: the Hotel Monroe and the Hotel Berlin.
The tour stops were chosen based on Swickard’s love for history: she began her career as a journalist in Tiffin in 1982 and has since written multiple books about the history of the town.
“She does the history, and I do the paranormal,” said Kerry Giebel, a supernatural expert who helped coordinate the tours. “Lisa likes to know what’s here, I don’t. I like to go in, and as I’m asking questions on my digital recorder, if I get a name, I like to compare with her. […] I’m like, ‘I asked a name, and I got […] Fred,’ she’ll do the history and say, ‘yes, there was a Fred.’ If I can match something, that right there makes my day.”
Giebel has studied the paranormal for six years, and she has been featured on Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures. While she does not claim to be a medium, she does claim that she can hear the spirits and would like to work on seeing an apparition.
“I’ve never really seen an actual, you know, person in front of me, and I definitely want to see that, and I believe I will,” said Giebel. “I hear them a lot with my own ears because I can pick up on them. I wouldn’t say that I’m a medium, but I can pick up on them.”
On this tour, the supernatural and the history behind the spirits are co-dependent. At each stop, Swickard taught her audience about the spirits that they were about to communicate with. Among the spirits were William and Addline Axline, a couple who died in the 1913 flood; Luther Hershey, who died after having glass ketchup bottles thrown at him; Albert Brewer, Hershey’s ketchup murderer; and Mattie Ross Nisonger, the famous madam of the Hotel Berlin brothel.
“My catchphrase is ‘fascinating history you did not learn in high school… or in any school,’” said Swickard. “We dig up the nitty-gritty. That’s why the brothels are so popular: because there are people that live in Tiffin and grew up and don’t know that they even existed.”
“That’s what we’re here for: to show you that the activity is real and to share the history,” Giebel said.
In addition to electromagnetic field readers, periscopes, and various meters that monitor supernatural activity in the air, the women loaned out dowsing rods: two handheld, L-shaped rods that moved in response to a question asked by Swickard. (All of the dowsing rods pointed at yours truly when the spirits at the Hotel Berlin were asked to point all of the rods towards a male in the tour group who would make the best customer. Be jealous: I’m a fan-favorite among dead prostitutes.) The women said that these tools are what turn non-believers into believers.
“We have had people who come on the tours, too, that you can tell they’re not real believers, and one fellow that came one night […] was being real loud, and he was just not believing,” said Swickard. “We put a set of dowsing rods in his hands, and the minute they crossed, he didn’t say another word for the rest of the night.”
While supernatural activity is rampant on most tours, it is not guaranteed.
“[The spirits] know we’re coming; they know we have people, because it seems to get more and more active. We do have nights that are not active,” said Giebel. “You know, like I always tell people: we’re on their time. We can’t make them talk to us or make the meters go off. It’s like a fishing trip; you never know what you’re going to get. Some nights are pretty mind-blowing.”
Both women have been excited to introduce the supernatural with whom they have grown relationships, even to those who don’t believe that the spirits exist.
They did stress, however, that there are healthy and unhealthy ways to interact with the spirits.
“You have to show respect. You have to say please and thank you, and particularly when you’re talking to spirits that are this old. That was a general thing that,” said Swickard.
“Do not mess with [Ouiji boards],” Giebel added. “It does tamper with [the spirits].”
Swickard and Giebel are coordinating an after-dark cemetery walk for the last tour of the year on Halloween. (Reservations to the private event have already sold out.) After the tours end, they plan to launch private paranormal investigations and scope out new locations for next year’s tours, but they’ll miss the spirits they have become well acquainted with this year.
“I got attached. You would get attached to a dog or a human and… It’s going to be hard leaving Mattie,” said Swickard.
The tours through Halloween have already sold out, but they will resume again next summer. For more information, visit the official website or Facebook page.
all photos by NICK BUCHANAN