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When Dana and Greg Newkirk started The Traveling Museum of the Paranormal and Occult, they didn't purposely design the collection of reportedly haunted and supernatural objects to be quarantine-friendly. But when the world shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic, the museum was right there, ready to be visited from home by anyone who was looking for a few thrills.
The Newkirks, actually, didn't design the museum to be a museum at all. "It was completely by accident," Dana tells SYFY WIRE. She and Greg have each been investigating the paranormal, separately and together, for 20 years. "Throughout the span of that, no matter what, people just give you weird stuff. If you're doing an investigation and they have things, they'll give them to you, and you collect them from your own investigations."
Eventually, they had enough items that it could be called a collection — like a Dark Mirror that is said to show the person looking into it visions of their future or their worst fears — and they started bringing that collection to paranormal conventions and events. "People don't usually get to touch and handle things that are haunted or supernaturally significant," Greg says. Museums with haunted artifacts will usually keep them behind glass (and sometimes in a ring of salt) in an attempt to contain whatever is attached to that item. "We were like, 'Let's just bring half a dozen of our weirdest things we've gotten over the years, and we can talk to people about them.'" He adds. "People loved it."
Now, 21 years after they accidentally started collecting, the museum has over 500 objects and a website where you can explore the creepiest and most haunted items in the collection. There's a piece of the home from The Amityville Horror, believed to hold residual energies from the murders and hauntings in the Long Island house. The Restless Painting has been known to fly off whatever wall on which it's hung and it sets off paranormal investigation equipment like K-II Meters every time they're in proximity. Ruby the Haunted Doll, rumored to have been held by its young owner as she passed away, imbues people with intense feelings of sadness when they pick it up.
"People started coming to events with stuff under their arms, or someone will hear about it and the next day they're sending something to us," Greg says. "We get boxes of hair and weird stuff like that all the time. It spiraled out of control. Now our apartment is just filled to the brim."
"Our neighbors think we're the weirdest people in the world because they'll see us in the middle of the night pulling a full-size coffin into the house," Dana adds.
If you think it sounds creepy, well, you're right. Some of the objects in the Para Museum's collection are downright bone-chilling. There's a Ritual Sword on the "do not touch" list, as it was allegedly used in occult rituals. At an event at The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado — the famously haunted hotel in which Stephen King first conceived of The Shining — the Newkirks witnessed a young girl pick up the broadsword and immediately claim to be possessed by it, saying that she couldn't put it down until she "spilled blood" with the blade. The Catskills Crone, a wooden carving of a woman that was found with nails in her eyes and rope around her neck, had so much negative activity around it that the Newkirks eventually returned it to the woods, live-streaming it to the museum's members and asking people all around the world to participate in a ritual that would (hopefully) quiet the apparitions and the things being thrown at them in their home.
On the whole, though, most of the items are quiet. In fact, the Newkirks say that 95 percent of what they get from people doesn't exhibit any kind of activity at all. "The other 5 percent, though, is really interesting," Greg says. Every new object goes through several rounds of investigation, including the electronic voice phenomena (EVP) sessions traditionally used to capture evidence of ghosts speaking, and recording them for days on end and observing any movement or changes to the object. They have a Patreon where people can become members, who then get to see live investigations of new objects and have access to information about the most paranormally active objects.
More than just a collection of scares, though, the museum is an opportunity to challenge people's expectations of what the supernatural is (and what it isn't). "We can talk to people and challenge them about why they're afraid of these types of things," Greg says. "All the time, we get 'I don't know how you live with your house full of this stuff. I've been a paranormal investigator for 50 years and I'd never do that.' But that same person has been to some crazy haunted places, and watched things crawl across the roof, and seen a person be possessed. I'm like, 'so you'll spend all night in a giant haunted object, but you won't touch a tiny one?'"
They also view it as an opportunity to use these haunted items as an object lesson about open-mindedness. People, they believe, often don't see how their own biases affect their perception of things as seemingly apolitical as a haunted doll — but there are so many times when, if the haunted object is from another culture or belief system, a person will be twice as scared of that item than of another that they perceive as less threatening.
"At the end of our lectures, the point of the story is always this: you can be a skeptic or you can be a believer. But if you can train yourself not to be afraid of a ghost or of a scary object, you can also not be afraid of somebody who has a different religion than you or somebody who has a different view of the world than you," Greg says. "You can see the world a little bit differently if you choose curiosity over fear. If you choose fear, you are automatically saying, 'I'm not going to learn anything from it.'"