A paranormal look through Picatinny’s past: Haunts and History Tour explores Spicertown

By Eric KowalOctober 31, 2023

(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. - Two off-post organizations, one devoted to Picatinny history and the other devoted to paranormal research, conducted their fourth annual and season-appropriate “Haunts and History” tour of the historic Spicertown Village here on Oct. 19.

The tours were conducted at the request of the Picatinny Paranormal Research Society, in cooperation with the Picatinny Arsenal Historical Society and attended by approximately 20 people.

The year’s walk, conducted in the early evening hours, took place at the historical Spicertown Village located near the installation’s main gate. Jeff Ranu, Picatinny Arsenal’s historian, and Jason Huggan, Chief, Environmental Affairs Division, part of Picatinny’s Directorate of Public Works, led the historical aspects of the tour.

Jason Huggan, Chief, Environmental Affairs Division, part of Picatinny’s Directorate of Public Works, uses a map to point out landmarks during the fourth annual Haunts and History Tour at Picatinny Arsenal.
Jason Huggan, Chief, Environmental Affairs Division, part of Picatinny’s Directorate of Public Works, uses a map to point out landmarks during the fourth annual Haunts and History Tour at Picatinny Arsenal. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

Marci Keck, the founder of the Picatinny Paranormal Research Society, who also works as an operations specialist with the Picatinny Garrison, used paranormal technology to attempt interacting with long-deceased former residents of that area on “the other side.”

“Spicertown was once a thriving community, home to many families, the Wharton Barrel-Stave Factory and even a saloon,” said Ranu. “Picatinny Arsenal began the process of acquiring ownership of this land and its homes just after the start of WWII and the attack on Pearl Harbor.”

Spicertown was a community of homes first constructed during the latter half of the 1800s by a man named Lewis Spicer. The homes were occupied mainly by Spicer and his relatives. Spicertown comprised the property between the Cannon Gates and Union Turnpike (Current Route 15) and was privately owned until December 1941. The U.S. Government acquired Spicertown two weeks after Pearl Harbor, citing security concerns. The homes were used as military housing until the early 2000s, when they were demolished in favor of modern housing.

Mr. and Mrs. John Spicer – on their 50th Wedding Anniversary (March 6, 1923)
Mr. and Mrs. John Spicer – on their 50th Wedding Anniversary (March 6, 1923) (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

A few years before World War I, the Davenport family lived on a curve in the road behind what is now the Picatinny Arsenal Visitor Center.

Early one afternoon in June 1907, Norman Davenport of Spicertown went to the neighboring town of Dover for lunch. Davenport became engaged in a fight with the owner of a food cart, Henry Beckert, because Davenport believed he had been short changed. Allegedly, both men were intoxicated, and a tussle ensued. Davenport was knocked down in the fight and repeatedly kicked by Beckert and an associate.

Davenport was taken home to Spicertown, where he died on June 14, 1907, of a ruptured bladder, torn kidney, and severe bruising of the groin. He was 25 years old. The assailants were charged with homicide, according to a news article from the Courier News, provided by Ranu.

Fast forward more than 100 years to present day. With the aid of Lee Grabarczyk, a local medium, and several essential tools used in paranormal research, people on the Haunts and History tour attempted to communicate with the Davenports and the Spicers, and capture or record possible paranormal activity.

Paranormal events are purported phenomena described in popular culture, folk, and other non-scientific sources, whose existence within these contexts is described as beyond the scope of normal scientific understanding.

A medium, such as Grabarczyk, is said to use his or her psychic or intuitive abilities to see the past, present and future events of a person by tuning into the spirit energy surrounding that person. A medium mediates communication between familiar spirits or spirits of the dead and living human beings.

Some of the tools used included dowsing rods which are “L”-shaped sticks used for locating energy fields, an Ovilus5 which facilitates communication by converting environmental readings into words,

Phasmabox software, both tabled and in speaker form to capture potential energy of a ghost or spirit of the dead, an SLS camera, and the GhostTube app which uses a mobile device's actual sensors to detect fluctuations in magnetic energy, select words from the pre-populated data bank, and track audio recordings during paranormal investigations.

While the tour was not designed to compete with the scariest of haunted houses or be as mysterious, spooky, or mystical, as the site of the Salem witch trials, there were certain aspects that left those in attendance wondering if a part of Picatinny’s past were present.

Having never been to Picatinny, Grabarczyk was not entirely familiar with the installation’s landscape. When Huggan pulled out a map of the Arsenal, Grabarczyk immediately said he felt a connection and was drawn to one area in particular, asking, “What is buried here?” as he pointed to the lower right-hand corner. When Huggan turned the map towards him to take a closer look, he responded with amazement. “That would be the cemetery.”

During the evening stroll through the woods, Grabarczyk and Keck stopped the group on more than one occasion after stating that they sensed activity in the area.

“I was intrigued by this event, I missed it last year, so I made sure to clear my calendar for this one,” said Dawn Kadow, Picatinny Arsenal’s Housing Manager.

“I wanted to learn the history of Spicer Village, since I am the Housing Manager for Picatinny. At first, I was skeptical of the ghost hunting aspect, but once I saw all the tools being used, I started to get intrigued. At one point in the walk, we came upon an area where I caught something out the side of my eye, I had asked another in the group if he had seen that as well, which he replied, ‘I saw something like an orb’. It could have just been the whole atmosphere of ghost hunting and our minds overthinking, or was it really something else? Hmmm!”

Established in 2016, The Picatinny Arsenal Historical Society is a 501 (c) 3 non–profit organization committed to educating the public about the history of Picatinny Arsenal and preserving the memory of the contributions of its historic workforce to the defense of the United States of America.

PPRS, part of the Historical Society, holds meetings on the first Wednesday of each month during lunch and are open to the entire Picatinny Community. Members need no experience but come with an open mind to discuss personal experiences, learn how to use the tools of the trade, and take ‘field trips’ to various historical locations on and off post. Keck has an extensive background in paranormal research and has been on more than 200 investigations over the last 12 years, to include historical locations, private homes and long-distance case referrals and assistance.

For more information on meetings email PicatinnyPRS@gmail.com.