Many people don’t think of the charming municipality of Princeton as synonymous with the paranormal. At first, Mimi Omiecinski, owner of Princeton Tour Company for the last nine years, didn’t think so, either.
“A man came on our tour about five years ago who could see ghosts and he said, ‘This is a really haunted town. You ought to get Weird NJ out here and learn about this stuff yourself,’” she said.
However, Omiecinski didn’t want to conduct the types of Halloween tours where teenagers in makeup jump out and scare customers.
“The last thing I wanted to do was commercialize it,” she said. “I didn’t want to go down that route.”
And she didn’t. Instead, Princeton Tour Company’s fall ghost tours bring 25 to 50 visitors on a historically haunted trip through the Princeton University campus and downtown, taking them to about 25 stops on an hour-and-a-half journey over one mile that also brings them to a burial ground where they can use ghost-hunting equipment.
Shelly Hawk, fourth-season tour guide, said, “This is not a jump-out-and-scare-you tour. This is a different way of bringing the people of Princeton to life and to tell their story. These stories are gruesome because they’re true and they’re much better than putting your hand in wet spaghetti.”
Hawk knows that the stories she tells on the tour are true because they’ve been authenticated by the use of ghost-hunting equipment as well as Weird NJ. However, Princeton Tour Company lets guests let guests figure that out for themselves when they hand over the ghost-hunting equipment at an unmarked burial ground that was once host to a skirmish during the Revolutionary War.
At the burial ground, visitors have about 25 minutes to use dowsing rods, therma-meters, EMF meters, electronic voice recorders and cameras to investigate the space, which is the same equipment used for casual paranormal investigations.
“It’s a lot like the TV show ‘Ghost Hunters,’ except that on the show, they are spending a lot of time looking in nooks and crannies. We are spending a lot of time asking questions,” said Omiecinski.
Visitors will say things such as “Can you cross these dowsing rods? I know it takes a lot of energy, but I really want to get to know you,” and other things in a respectful manner that will help ‘wake the dead.’ However, Omiecinski said that once people get the hang of it, they realize they don’t need equipment to feel the presence of spirits.
You also don’t need to completely believe in the paranormal to have a ghostly experience. “Even the nonbelievers love it once you put the rods in their hands,” said Hawk. “They walk away and they look a little more intrigued.”
What they do need, however, is to understand the history of Princeton so they know what to ask the spirits, which is why a good chunk of the ghost tour is spent learning about the history of the legendary municipality.
Following the parts of the tour where visitors head to authentically haunted spots and check out the unmarked burial ground with ghost-hunting equipment, they walk to one of America’s oldest cemeteries, owned by the Nassau Presbyterian Church, that contains the graves of people such as John Witherspoon, signer of the Declaration of Independence, Aaron Burr, vice president of the United States and killer of Alexander Hamilton, and President Grover Cleveland, among others.
At the cemetery, guests try out the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR) lamp, which was created by Princeton researchers who studied paranormal activity for two decades, designed to help people develop paranormal capabilities.
The ghost tour visitors attempt to change the lamp’s color by using the power of their minds and energy, similar to a mood ring, which Omiecinski said works over 90 percent of the time.
Although there is no ghost hunting in the cemetery, as it is meant for visitors to learn about the history and be a quiet stroll celebrating Princeton greats, guests do experience peculiar happenings there.
“The cemetery is very serene and powerful and we have a lot of people who walk through unexplained cold spots or get orb shots on their cameras,” said Omiecinski.
Princeton Tour Company urges its guests to bring digital cameras and take a lot of photos in the hopes that they will capture ‘orb shots,’ or the presence of sprits. Often, they do.
Although there are no guarantees, Omiecinski said that people who are open to the paranormal often feel paranormal presences on the tour.
“The level of activity is always surprising to me. People will say to me, ‘I found a woman who was 43 years old and had all these children,’ and I ask them, ‘You put all this together?’” said Hawk.
Omiecinski and Hawk aren’t without their own paranormal experiences. Hawk said that while walking from the end of the tour back to her car near the cemetery, she often feels the presence of a girl in turn-of-the-century dress, running along the fence and giggling. When Hawk turns her head to look at her, the girl disappears, so she pretends she doesn’t feel her there.
Despite the hope that the Princeton Tour Company has in discovering paranormal acitivity, Omiecinski said that the best thing to be is a skeptic.
“The whole time it could be because of this or that. We encourage people to assume there isn’t activity but to give the energy of wanting to feel it,” she said.
However, the tour is about a lot more than just the presence of ghosts — it’s also about the history and the storytelling of Princeton.
“People are happy to learn something new,” said Hawk. “This is history being brought to life.”