It was Sunday night and the ghost hunters stood on the steps of the West Pasco Historical Society, trying to talk with William Barber, a Union soldier whose desk is inside the building.
The desk dates to 1850 and was donated to the society in 1983. It is said that Barber's spirit is still very fond of his desk and that he doesn't like things put on it. Museum volunteers say people often smell wafting cigar smoke when they pass by the desk.
The museum was closed. The ghost hunters - Courtney Micalizzi, 20; Sarha Chapman, 21, and Nathan Thomas, 20 - like to go at night, when all else is sleeping. They addressed Barber as "colonel," although his actual rank is disputed. With their recorder rolling, they talked to him, hoping to capture "electric voice phenomenon," known as EVPs. They heard nothing and went home, thinking their night was a bust. Thomas stayed up late going through the tape.
Toward the end, he heard a voice answering back in the darkness. The group believes it was Barber's spirit.
"I had no choice," the hushed voice says, after Chapman asks how he feels about his desk being in the South, when he fought for the North during the Civil War.
The air conditioning system roared to life while the group asked questions, so they retreated to a gazebo. As they left, the voice on the recording said:
"Where are you going?"
Thomas couldn't believe it. He shouted to Chapman, who lives with him. They are engaged and have a 7-month-old daughter. Chapman called Micalizzi. They all had chills.
"I was shaking," said Chapman, the founder of their paranormal investigating organization, Hunting the Haunted. She and Micalizzi have been ghost hunting since they were students at Mitchell High School, toting their tape recorders to places with alleged high paranormal activity in West Pasco.
They said they once saw a full body apparition when they both worked at a hotel in Tarpon Springs. Micalizzi now works at a bowling alley. Chapman, at Target. Thomas, at 7-Eleven. But the three of them spend all their free time researching the paranormal. They say they do it because they want to know if there is an afterlife and what it's all about; if spirits need help or comfort.
"After you die, who are you going to talk to?" Micalizzi said.
They swear the tape is real. Thomas held the camera as the others asked questions. They said it couldn't have been Thomas talking, because his mouth was next to the microphone and it would have been really loud.
David Prace is the president of the Historical Society and said, while he's not a ghost believer, if his building does have a spirit lurking, he just hopes it's a friendly one. He's invited the group to come back another night, though this time they will be allowed inside. His wife, Midge London-Prace, doesn't know what to make of it all.
"A lot of people think it's for real," she said. "Maybe he is a ghost here."
One of the things attributed to Barber's ghost is the knocking of items off his desk and the surrounding walls. When London-Prace opened the museum Wednesday, a painting that had been hung for years was found on the floor, the frame shattered, everything around it still in place.
Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.