Still on Interstate rest-area racks in Pennsylvania during mid-January 2009 were copies of Pennsylvania Pursuits travel publication (Fall 2008), featuring “Pennsylvania’s Top 100 Most Haunted Places.” Number five on the list—the historic Baker Mansion in Altoona—boasts a “haunted wedding dress” that supposedly moves inside its display case.
I investigated the site in June 1993. I found that as deliciously spine-tingling as the ghost tale was, and it was shamelessly promoted for publicity purposes, the staff and management were skeptical of it. I was told (not for attribution) that a former curator probably “started the whole ghost business,” that it was she who had witnessed the swaying dress as well as other phenomena, including a bedcover that reportedly became mysteriously rumpled.
That is not to say, however, that the old wedding dress does not actually appear to move supernaturally on occasion. According to my tour guide, Jim Kennedy, the display case rests on loose boards, and a heavy person or group of people walking up to it can cause the dress to suddenly appear animated. That can also happen if the guide accidentally bumps the case while viewers’ attention is focused on the gown. Kennedy added that by merely staring at the dress some people could become convinced that it actually moved. (For more, see my book, Entities , 1995.)
Having worked in the house for a few years, Kennedy said he had never personally experienced anything he would attribute to a ghost. “I don’t believe the place is haunted at all,” he told me.
Still the claims persist, repeated in various ghostly guides that are big on mystery mongering and short on investigation. As my fellow ghostbuster, the late psychologist Robert A. Baker was fond of saying, “There are no haunted places, only haunted people.”