For more than a century, energy from entertainers, shop owners, customers, bootleggers and others has seeped into the bones of the former Opera House.
Now known as the Haunted Opera House, the building retains remnants of that energy — unseen and unheard to the average visitor.
“Activity is everywhere in the building,” said owner Dave Triska, a paranormal researcher for 10 years. “The first night, I saw more activity than anywhere else.”
Triska sells antiques on the first floor of the 1904 brick building, is renovating the second floor into living quarters and allows “ghost hunters” to use the third floor. Paranormal activity has been found on all floors, but the third floor — once home to a Masonic Star Lodge — seems to be most active.
Triska and others have encountered a hostile spirit on that floor — perhaps someone who used to be a “tyler” (or “tiler”), that is, a lodge member who kept unauthorized people away from the secret proceedings. Most of the activity, he said, seems to take place at the small room where the tyler would have stood guard.
“His job would have been very important,” Triska said.
Near the tyler’s room is a window overlooking Rossville to the south. Employees on break at Casey’s have reported seeing somebody in that third-floor window. One time, Triska had gone to Casey’s for a drink and was walking back to his shop when he looked up, and also saw a figure in the window. He rushed back to the building, thinking someone had broken in … but found no one.
“He’s steamed with me,” Triska said, explaining that the tyler may be upset that Triska is bringing so many people into his domain.
“I’ve been grabbed, shoved into the wall …,” he said, adding that he no longer goes to the third floor alone.
An open mind
Terry Prillaman, former Rossville mayor, is familiar with the building, and doesn’t discount anything.
“Who knows what’s out there?” he said. “We can’t knock it unless we’ve been on the other side.”
One night last summer, Prillaman spent three hours on the third floor with his daughter and teenage grandchildren. Triska would use a flashlight while talking to the spirits, and the flashlight would go on and off in response — with no help from Triska, he said.
“It certainly was interesting,” he said. “I certainly think it’s worth a visit (to the opera house).”
Prillaman has been back to the opera house several times to talk to Triska and to listen to the recordings, adding, “You can definitely hear strange noises.”
Except for a couple of critics, Prillaman said he hasn’t heard any other negative comments about Triska and the business.
“Anything that will bring people to Rossville is beneficial,” he said. “Dave is a tremendous asset for Rossville.”
The groups that do paranormal investigation use special recorders that pick up electronic voice phenomena (EVP) — noises or voices the human ear can’t hear at the time, but which can be heard when the tape or recording is played back.
Triska has several examples, which he plays back on his computer for visitors. Among the words or phrases that clearly were not spoken by the investigators were: “die,” “be quiet,” “you don’t know what scares me” (or something similar to that), “they’re coming for you,” “get out,” and others, many laced with obscenities.
A normal person’s voice on a recorder has an echo, but the EVP do not.
Human eyes and ears have been trained to see and hear certain things, but there are no filters on cameras and recorders.
The investigators also use infrared cameras; again, they don’t see the spirits until the image is downloaded. Triska points out a misty spot in a photo; when he zooms in, there’s a blurry face.
In another photo, there’s the image of a little girl with her hair cut in bangs sitting at one of the old school desks on the third floor. There are recordings of a little girl’s voice saying “Elizabeth.”
The investigators will leave “trigger” objects to try to get a response from spirits. For example, a coloring book and toys are left out for Elizabeth, hoping to entice her.
More macabre, however, is the noose in “the flies,” the space over the stage (out of view of the audience) used to store scenery and where the pulleys are located to move props. Apparently, a man had hanged himself there, Triska said.
Sometimes, the investigators are sorry they provoked a ghost to show himself. Triska talked about the time a Muncie, Ind., woman tried unsuccessfully to provoke a spirit; as she was walking down the stairs, both of her feet flew out from under her, as if something had grabbed her, and she fell. Another time, five people became violently ill at the same time after trying to get a spirit to show up.
Novices who come to a haunted place sometimes have the wrong approach, Triska said.
“They walk in and think they’re going to see a full-body apparition,” he said. “They miss other things; they’re so busy looking for Frankenstein.”
He added, “You have to be aware of everything around you. It could last for a split second.”
To the detractors who think Triska is courting the devil, he said, “If there was the remote possibility of something demonic, we wouldn’t be here right now.”
Also, he takes a skeptical approach to ghost hunting. He and other reputable investigators discount as much as they can. For example, they know that orbs on photos are probably just dust spots and noises could be from pipes. Those odd lights could be from passing traffic.
Ninety-five percent of the phenomena can be explained; the remaining 5 percent falls under the category of paranormal, he said.
“It can’t be explained, but that doesn’t mean it’s a ghost,” he said.
“You have to be open minded, but also be skeptical. I don’t discount anything. You have to have a scientific approach.
“At certain points, I have to draw the line and get skeptical.”
If somebody claiming to be a psychic comes in and makes certain claims, Triska will take the words with a grain of salt. He tells investigators nothing about the building or its inhabitants beforehand, but, often, their accounts agree with what has been observed earlier.
Something has to be going on in the old building, Triska said, but nobody has any answers. Everyone has his own beliefs, he said.
Simply, he said, “I’m here to show you what I experienced and what people have experienced.”
Triska is a member of a paranormal research group called Sissy Britches Paranormal, which has a Facebook page. The name stems from a ghost hunter calling out to spirits, “Come on, you sissy britches!”
FYI Dave Triska, owner of the Haunted Opera House, is looking for old photos of the building. Call him at (765) 427-6464 or email firstname.lastname@example.org Learn more at his website (which is being revised), http://hauntedoperahouse.net/ or search the name on the Internet.