Chance of a ghost at Philadelphia museums

For the first time, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology is allowing ghost hunters into its halls. Flying against the institution’s long history of serious academic research, this weekend visitors can buy tickets to join a paranormal investigation among the ancient artifacts.

For the first time, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology is allowing ghost hunters into its halls.

Flying against the institution’s long history of serious academic research, this weekend visitors can buy tickets to join a paranormal investigation among the ancient artifacts.

“It’s a very old building with a lot of storage areas,” said Beatrice Jarocha-Ernst, the museum’s membership coordinator. “While these storage rooms are visited and catalogued and the artifacts are cared for—they can still be pretty creepy places. There’s always in your mind: This was something related to death; or this came out of a grave. Imaginations can run wild.”

Despite occasional gossip of unexplained events inside the building, Jarocha-Ernst is not convinced there is a haunting. Nevertheless, the Penn Museum is joining many other museums and historical sites in drawing visitors with the potential of ghostly mystery.

Now there is a museum devoted to nothing but that. The Museum of the Macabre presents ways that people have attempted to interact with the afterlife. It focuses on the late 19th century, when spiritualism spiked in the Philadelphia region.

Richard Fink, the co-founder of the museum, says the huge casualties associated with the Civil War, and the rise of new technologies stoked a popular interest in communicating with the dead.

“The telegraph was invented in 1848,” said Fink. “So you go from a society where you have to talk to people directly, face-to-face, to a world where you hear voices coming from an unknown source. A disembodied voice.”

Philadelphia was home to some of that era’s popular spiritual mediums, including Madame Blavatsky, who would go on to found the Theosophical Society.

The Museum of the Macabre is still in development; it’s a traveling exhibition-for-hire. Like a ghost, it has no physical home. Unlike a ghost, it won a prize for its business plan from Temple University, which is expected to scare up funding.

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