The interest specifically is in the society’s 1869 Allerton steam pumper in the firehouse. According to Jim Norton, society past president, the pumper took a serendipitous route from the Wooster Fire Department to the historical society. The pumper was originally used by the city’s Relief Station #4 and then retired about 100 years ago.
No one kept track of the equipment after it was replaced, Norton said, and by World War II everyone assumed it had landed on the scrap heap. However, it miraculously reappeared in 2000, when a collector in Pennsylvania heard of the society’s desire to have such a piece of equipment back in Wooster.
Turns out, Norton said, the pumper still had its “Relief Station #4” markings from its days in Wooster.
It was returned to the fire department for restoration – and that’s when strange things started happening, sightings of a firefighter in vintage turn-out gear, laughter of men when no one was around.
Norton said that when the pumper came to the society on East Bowman Street, similar occurrences were reported, including the wail of the steam whistle – which was inoperable.
“For the believer” in the paranormal, Norton said, “these are the things they want to grasp onto.”
The stories eventually ended up as a chapter in Edrick Thay’s 2001 collection, Ghost Stories of Ohio, which Norton speculated may have caught the eye of the ORBS – Ohio Researchers of Banded Spirits.
In other words, ghost hunters.
At first, they came in May and set up audio and video recording equipment for the wee hours in the morning. Norton sat alongside. The few strange spots he saw on that night’s video turned out to be dust. “I’ve spent hours here at different times doing things,” he said, “and I’ve never encountered a thing,” though other society volunteers have their own stories.
Now, ORBS is branching out from residential ghost hunting to form another specialty, haunted vehicles. They returned to Wooster a few weeks ago to have another look at the pumper, as well as other pieces of firehouse equipment. In the end, Norton said, they’d like to produce a television show about haunted vehicles.
While hardly a true believer, Norton is a believer in the historical society and would love to see some widespread publicity. “If (ORBS) sells (Haunted Vehicles), we could be on national TV,” he said. “If not, we’ll end up on the cutting room floor.” In either case, he said, if the ghosts of firefighters past want to hang out at the station and swap stories, that’s fine, too.
The ORBS people “did offer a prayer and a benediction of some kind to move the spirits to another location,” Norton said. “But I said as long as they’re friendly, I say we just keep them here.”
Published: August 1, 2012