Sep 1, 2004 12:00 PM


Our story begins in a warm and muggy stairwell at the Kent County Courthouse in Chestertown, Md. Part of the courthouse dates back to 1860, and a newer half of the building was constructed in 1969 on top of what used to be a cemetery.

The courthouse installed a $75,000 security system in July. Less than a month after the system was launched, surveillance tape captured haunting images of what appeared to be a strange light "walking" in one of the stairwells.

"It didn't show up to the eye, but it showed up on tape," security officer Phillip Price said. Security personnel first saw the light while looking at surveillance tape recorded July 29, and it appeared live for more than an hour the next day.

After noticing the light, Price walked up the stairs and didn't see a thing. But downstairs, where by then a crowd of employees had gathered to watch, the video monitor revealed the strange light proceeding ahead of Price, stopping when he stopped and starting when he started.

At one point, those watching the video feed saw Price walk through the anomaly, they said, and Price said he felt "a real chill" when it happened.

We called on readers of our Security Beat e-mail newsletter to offer suggestions on solving the mystery. One reader asked us to send a video for authentication, which unfortunately we were unable to do. Another reader, Bob Thomas of Stealth Video, suggests that we have found a new application for CCTV systems poltergeists. "Please let me know how big this potential market is for new sales," he adds. Pat Johnson of Bethesda Rehabilitation Hospital remembers experiencing something similar 11 years ago at an old building in St. Paul, Minn. "A janitor and I watched a large glob of light walking up a set of stairs," she remembers. "I wished at the time I had CCTV in that building. The janitor never came back." The most helpful feedback came from Ashish Shah of, who thinks he can replicate the ghostly phenomenon by using infrared lighting attached to a camera head, and a staircase and wall paneling with a mildly reflective coating. "You walk and the camera moves with you the infrared light is not visible to you, but it is to the camera. The infrared light is focused at an angle so the light reflects off the wall's surface slightly off-center, thereby giving the impression that it is moving ahead of you." Hmmm.

It turns out the ghost was nothing more than an insect crawling on the lens of the camera or so says the general manager of Atlantic Security, the company that installed the CCTV system. "It's definitely a bug," Brooke Eyler said."I've seen it so many times, it's not funny."

The president of the Maryland Ghost and Spirit Association, however, isn't convinced. "They don't want to believe, so they're coming up with something," she said.

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