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Ghost stories and scares abound in NEPA

Gravestone makeup
Sarah Scinto
WVIA Photo
A cast member at Gravestone Manor in Wilkes-Barre has special effects makeup applied backstage.

What makes a good scare?

The cast members at Gravestone Manor in Wilkes-Barre have a few ideas.

“Something unexpected is something that usually works incredibly well,” said David Franks.

“It gives you a little bit of an adrenaline rush,” said Sydney Smith-Senese. “I downright love it…I love seeing the faces on people when I jump out of somewhere.”

The manor, as its entirely volunteer cast and crew refer to it, is a theatrical haunted house that features a new story every year. The spirits of the manor are active once again after the indoor attraction took two years off during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year, guests of the manor are transported to Lake Gravestein, where in an homage to 80s slasher films, a killer stalks the grounds of an abandoned camp. The volunteers write each interactive show, and this year Gabriel Gillespie’s pitch formed the idea for the story.

“We felt that a great way to come back was, you know, that slasher movie of old and bringing people into their own personal horror movie,” he said.

Gravestone Manor is just one of many haunted attractions that crop up in Northeastern Pennsylvania each October. They appear in warehouses like Gravestone or on large properties like Reaper’s Revenge in Blakely, all earning money from people’s desire to get scared.

Rich Robbins, Associate Dean of Arts & Sciences at Bucknell University, is a certified parapsychologist. He says we seek out haunted houses and stories of ghosts and hauntings for the psychological thrill.

“It gets your adrenaline going and your dopamine going,” he said. “It’s just kind of a safe way to experience physiological sensation and physiological reaction rather than putting yourself in danger by going skydiving or rock climbing or something like that.”

Robbins gives a popular talk on paranormal topics every October at Bucknell. In his Demystifying the Paranormal presentation, he discusses the physiological and psychological phenomena reported by people who claim to have experienced hauntings.

“I come from the point that these experiences do happen, that they are real for people, but just what they are, we don’t know yet,” he said. “And here are possible reasons both natural and supernatural as to why those experiences occur.”

Just by nature of its long history, Robbins believes Pennsylvania is a perfect place for stories of hauntings and paranormal experiences to spread, especially this time of year.

“Pennsylvania is such an old state, and there’s so much history from the Revolutionary War on through the Civil War,” he said. “If ghosts occur, and it’s based on folks who lived here…Pennsylvania is just ripe for that kind of environment to cause ghosts and hauntings.”

At Gravestone Manor, cast member and writer Franks hopes for that thrill-seeking and curious spirit when guests walk through the halls.

“The energy is one of my favorite things, especially when you have a really good group that’s really into the show and they’re really scared,” he said. “The energy that is put off from them just makes you want to go for more.”

Gravestone Manor is open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday until Oct. 30, and all proceeds benefit the United Way of Wyoming Valley. Robbins will give his Demystifying the Paranormal presentation on Wednesday, Oct. 26 at 6:30 p.m. at Bucknell University.

Sarah Scinto is the local host of All Things Considered on WVIA. She is a Connecticut native and graduate of King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, and has previously covered Northeastern Pennsylvania for The Scranton Times-Tribune, The Citizens’ Voice and Greater Pittston Progress.