Ghostly Secrets Of The Union County Courthouse To Be Revealed This Summer?

ELIZABETH—Seth Laderman won’t say whether the ghost of Hannah Caldwell is finally ready for her close up.

But he is predicting fans of Ghost Hunters, the popular cable television series on the SciFi channel, will not be disappointed when they tune in this summer to see what the crew found when they visited the Union County Courthouse.

“They can expect a pretty cool investigation,” said Laderman, a co-producer of the SciFi channel’s Ghost Hunters.

In fact, the crew, which travels the country investigating reported paranormal activity, was so pleased with what they encountered at the Elizabeth courthouse this spring that when the series returns for its sixth season in July, the courthouse piece is expected to air as either the first or second episode in the 25-show season, Laderman said.

The historic courthouse with its wide marble staircases, and the adjoining cemetery at the First Presbyterian Church, with all its Revolutionary War-era gravestones, provided backdrops worthy of any movie set.  But the investigators from Ghost Hunters also couldn’t resist the opportunity to investigate reports that Caldwell’s ghost haunted the historic courthouse.

Hannah Caldwell was buried in the church cemetery next to her husband, the Rev. James Caldwell, a strident revolutionary known as the Fighting Parson.  But the circumstances of her death more than two centuries ago remains the subject of historical dispute.  By some accounts, she was mistaken for a sniper by a British redcoat, while other reports say the killing was retaliation for her husband’s activities.

Some historians have even suggested it could have just been a stray shot from either side. Regardless, her death was used to rally the area’s farmers, who until that point, had remained fairly ambivalent about the revolution.

Retired Star-Ledger reporter Robert E. Misseck, who covered the Union County Courthouse, remembers writing his first stories about the Caldwell ghost in the 1970s.

“It was three or four weeks before Halloween, when one of the custodians in the courthouse comes into the press office and tells me he saw a ghost—a woman standing in the elevator with him, all dressed in white,” Misseck said.

Soon after the story ran, a psychic paid a visit to the courthouse.  She was “getting the vibe” that Caldwell was not pleased with the way her murder was depicted on the official Union County seal, Misseck said.

Laderman said the Ghost Hunters enjoy investigating public buildings, in part because there’s usually far more history involved and more people who have had experiences there.

The crew brings a host of electronic equipment, from EMF detectors, which record the presence of electromagnetic fields, to special recorders that pick up sounds inaudible to the human ear. They will also come with night-vision cameras equipped to film in the dark, along with cameras equipped with thermal sensors.

“We try to bring as much science into this as we can,”  Laderman said.
Grant Wilson, one of the co-founders of the show, said that when the crew investigates paranormal incidents, they consider it as much a success when they debunk a story as when they find evidence supporting the presence of unexplainable forces.

“We’re not in the business of convincing people,” he said, noting that the team had “a great time investigating” the county courthouse area.

During a break in the shooting of the final scene for an episode of Ghost Hunters that will air in July, Grant Wilson (left) and Jason Hawes (center) share a laugh. The two are founders of The Atlantic Paranormal Society, a group of ordinary people who moonlight and investigate seemingly unexplainable disturbances. Wilson and Hawes are the driving forces behind Ghost Hunters, the popular Sci-Fi Channel program in which the hunters travel the country investigating reports of paranormal activity. On the right is Brian Dee, the show’s director of photography.

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