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History or haunting: FOX43 looks into strange happenings at the Gettysburg Municipal Building

GETTYSBURG, Pa. -- "It almost sounds like somebody's walking upstairs, and I'm not the only one whose experienced that," said Gettysburg Police Chief Joe Doughtery.

The Gettysburg Municipal Building was initially constructed in the 1800’s as the Adam’s County Prison. Criminals died within its walls and Civil War soldiers just outside.

Inside the Gettysburg Municipal Building, curious happenings late at night.

Phantom footsteps, doors mysteriously closing, and an aroma without a source.

"It smells like just a faint whiff, as if someone had been cooking chili, and I’m usually one of the first ones in in the morning like 530,6 o’clock, and I know that there was nobody there doing it," explained Chief Doughtery.

Those strange experiences have been shared by a number of Gettysburg police officers over the years.

“It happens so often I don’t even think about it anymore. We don’t even think about it anymore," said Doughtery.

Chief Dougherty’s been with the force for more than a decade.

One night sits clear as day in his mind.

“We have an elevator that goes from the first floor to the second floor in the borough building. Was the only one on duty, I heard a ding, and the elevator came down from the second floor, and the door opened up. There was nobody in the elevator, and I know I was the only one on duty at the time," said Doughtery.

Chief Dougherty reacted like any officer would...

“I wasn’t scared. I guess what I thought was, 'how did somebody come through the main door without me seeing them,'" he said. "I checked upstairs to see if there might have been somebody who came in who I didn’t know about, but I was the only one here.”

Was it just an elevator malfunction? Or something of the supernatural nature? Gettysburg Mayor Ted Streeter is unconvinced of the latter.

"Oh, I’m a skeptic when it comes to ghosts, a true skeptic. When it comes to ET's and UFO's and yetis and Sasquatch and ghosts, I haven’t seen any events to convince me one way or the other," said Streeter.

The building’s history, though? Undeniable, dating back to the early 1800’s.

“It was the originally built as the Adams County Jail," explained Streeter.

FOX43 went to the Adams County Historical Society to find out more on the building's grave past.

“When the town of Gettysburg became the seat of Adams County in 1800, part of the agreement was for James Gettys to give a lot of ground at the edge of town for the site of a jail, and in 1804, the original jail was built," said Historian Timothy Smith with the Adams County Historical Society.

Smith says the county jail housed criminals for nearly 50 years before tragedy struck.

“Now, the original jail was wood, and on January 7th, 1850, there was a horrible fire at the jail," he said.

Records show two people died that day - one man from breathing in too much smoke and the other, burning in the fire.

Then, the Civil War and the famous Battle of Gettysburg in 1863 where the Union defeated the Confederate Army led by General Robert E. Lee.

That was the bloodiest battle in American history, part of the three day blood shed happening at the steps of the Adams County Prison.

“There were Confederate sharp shooters in the edge of the town at the time of the battle all around this building, firing up at Cemetery Hill, and there were northern soldiers firing back," explained Smith.

Smith says soldiers died right outside of the prison and within the prison? More death.

“Notably, there were two executions at the jail," said Smith. "It doesn’t surprise me that people would be freaked out or spooked by some of the things that happened in the town and see ghosts."

During the mid 1800's, one man was executed inside the jail. Another? Sent to the gallows on prison property. A third man, Frederick Smith cheated the hangmen, committing suicide in his jail cell.

However, Smith remains a nonbeliever.

“Historians would always find a reason to not believe in ghosts, I’m sure," he said.

 

In 1889, a third story was built, and that’s the present day structure of the building. From 1949 to 1992, the building served as the Adams County Library. Since then, it's been the municipal building.

Although historians study the history of the building, Smith says it's impossible to know the cause of the noises.

He offers this explanation: "It’s an old building, and it’s drafty, and it has lots of noises created in the building because of the method of construction.”

Could it be more?

”If you hear something, you can’t refute the fact you hear it! If other people have heard it, it gives more credence to what you thought you heard," said Chief Dougherty.

Although not everyone in the building is a believer, they can all agree on one thing: if there was a spirit roaming these halls, his name would be 'Gus'.

Borough officials say there are over a dozen ghost tours in Gettysburg, and the municipal building is a stop on many of them.

As for the spirit known as 'Gus' inside the building, Smith says he has no records of an inmate named 'Gus' who would've done time at the prison.