Fred Duerr, owner of the Rising Sun Inn in Franconia, is second guessing things around the Inn these days.
The other day, he was in the basement checking inventory when a lightbulb went out. He turned around to go check on the bulb and it turned back on.
"Normally, I would just write something like that off," Duerr said. "Now, it just makes me think just a little big longer."
In fact, all these little unexplained occurrences over the years were what caused Joe Iannetta, founder of City Lights Paranormal Society in Easton, to contact Duerr and BJ and Gary Schuler, co-owners of the Rising Sun, to see if his group could conduct a paranormal investigation at the Inn.
"Honestly, the first place someone mentioned to me" was the Rising Sun Inn, Iannetta said, recalling a man who told him he grew up in the area and used to eat at the restaurant when he was younger and recalled numerous ghost stories.
The inn, which dates from as far back as 1739, has a storied past that includes possibly housing the Liberty Bell for a period on its journey from Philadelphia to Allentown for safekeeping shortly before the British occupation of Philadelphia in 1777, as the inn is right along the Liberty Bell Trail — the route the bell took at the time.
Duerr said a researcher creating the Rising Sun's Web site also found definite historic evidence that the inn was part of the Underground Railroad, and its basement is constructed in such a way that would have made that possible, he said.
There are also stories of the inn having a still during prohibition, landing the then-owner in jail a few times.
Duerr and the Schulers have owned the Rising Sun since 2007, when they opened it, returning its name back to the original name from what has been known over the years as the Bell House, the Rising Sun Tavern and even Gerhart's Tavern back in the 1700s.
Since that time, they've heard numerous ghost stories from previous owners, prior and current employees, visitors and others over time.
Several employees in the past, and even the current cleaning staff of the building, have noted feeling, or sometimes even seeing, a presence on the second floor of the building, which now houses an
office and other parts of the restaurant.
The ghost upstairs has become affectionately, or perhaps not so affectionately, known as "Scary Mary."
In addition, people have heard voices and seen unexplained things.
"People have been talking about it for years," said BJ Schuler.
Schuler said people who worked at the inn in the 1980s and 1990s have told stories of a salt shaker sliding across the bar, a white form walking across a room upstairs and other things that just can't quite be explained.
But when Iannetta and his crew showed up to do a study for paranormal activity at the Rising Sun on Feb. 27, they expected to be able to debunk most of it.
"We try to disprove a haunting," Iannetta said. "We hear our clients' claims and we try to recreate them on our own basically."
The crew, including Iannetta and three investigators, Ellen Stocker, Ed Wood and Kathryn Sullivan, along with one of the Rising Sun's regulars with an amateur interest in paranormal investigation, showed up after the inn closed Feb. 27 around 2 a.m. and stayed until daybreak around 6 a.m., bringing all their equipment and accruing almost 60 hours of recorded material to analyze.
Often, they are able to find reasons for the feelings and show why they're not paranormal activity.
For example, high levels of energy off electric equipment can cause people to feel like they're being watched or feel a presence that isn't there.
Vents might be causing unexplained movement of items.
Equipment like voice recorders, infrared digital and still cameras, thermal monitoring devices and more allow City Lights Paranormal Society to try to find common explanations for clients that don't relate to paranormal activity or ghosts.
But in this case, they just couldn't explain it away.
"That's one of the most intriguing things about it," Iannetta said. "It's very rare to go on a case where a client is claiming certain things are going on, and then we be able to prove exactly what they're saying."
Sure enough, the crew caught all kinds of electronic voice phenomena (EVP), or unexplained voices that show up on playback of recordings but are not heard by the investigators in person.
During their overnight investigation, Iannetta's team would ask questions of the theoretical ghosts, hoping to either hear something on sight or hear something on recordings later.
In one instance, they asked any ghosts there to knock on the bar to show they were there, and on the voice recording later, they heard a voice say, "Is this the bar?" almost as if asking where to knock.
Upstairs, one investigator crawled around the camera and on the recording, an unknown voice asked, "What is this?" possibly referring to the camera.
In the basement, the investigators ducked to avoid a pipe and as they discuss it on the voice recordings, an unexplained voice says, "Watch out," possibly in reference to the pipe overhead.
There are also recordings of a child singing and other items that only showed up in the EVP form.
City Lights Paranormal Society does not alter any of the footage or recordings, Iannetta said, so what's played back is an exact recording at the scene.
And Scary Mary, that ghostly form that some past employees saw upstairs?
City Lights even caught that on film. A video upstairs, with a camera aimed on the fireplace and a doorway where sightings of a ghost-like figure or feelings of a presence were often reported, shows a shadowy form move across the room and out the door.
"None of our detectors or equipment indicated it being anything else," Iannetta said.
In other words, they couldn't find any other explanation than paranormal activity.
Duerr said when Iannetta first contacted him, he wasn't surprised to hear people thought the building was haunted, but he was surprised a team wanted to investigate.
"I was kinda skeptical, you know?" Duerr, who is also the executive chef for Rising Sun Inn, explained. "I'm here the most, probably, alone at odd hours. You hear stuff and you see stuff."
And although he's still not sure he believes, Duerr said he's definitely started to see things differently.
BJ Schuler said she is, too.
On a recent day, she was working in the restaurant alone and heard a crash in the kitchen area and thought Duerr had just arrived for work — but he hadn't and she wasn't able to find an explanation for the noise.
"If you were into believing that, you could easily convince yourself that ghosts are here," Duerr said.
All in all, both parties seem pleased with the paranormal investigation.
Duerr said the restaurant may try to incorporate some of the stories into a Halloween event in October, particularly with the opening of the renovated barn on the property — the foundations of which are probably 150 years old — that will be used for larger events like weddings and concerts.
Iannetta hopes to take his team back to the Rising Sun for a more thorough investigation in the future, although his team is booked up through July with investigations.