By Elizabeth Keys
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Growing up in Stillwater, Lisa Newlin Vargas never personally encountered a ghost although she had a sense at times “there was something out there.” But working in Wellington, Kan., things that go bump in the night haunted her friends so much they contacted the Biography Channel's “My Ghost Story” television show. Their haunting tale premieres Monday at 8 p.m.
“My Ghost Story” features true and astonishing stories of the paranormal, told by the people who lived through them — and actually caught them on tape. Each episode features reenactments, video clips, and historical facts of everyday people who have experienced encounters with the supernatural. From moving furniture to dark apparitions to violent poltergeists, these harrowing eye-witness accounts of the unexplainable are transformed into more than tales with terrifying visual evidence. Everybody has a ghost story, but these people have their’s on film. In episode 70, Vargas and her friend, Carrie Van Pelt-Tooman, with the assistance of paranormal professionals, return to the old high school and discover the ghost of the old janitor is still on the job.
Vargas worked in the building as a school teacher and now volunteers there as the community theater uses the facility. Van Pelt-Tooman attended school in the building. Both knew the janitor who was suspected of haunting the building. In the television show, they give their first-hand eyewitness accounts of the unexplained happenings in the building.
Vargas explained the old school building in Wellington was originally a high school until 1960 and then served as a junior high school until 2001. The school district uses it now for storage and the community theater uses the auditorium.
“I have been part of the community theater for a number of years,” Vargas said, “and there have been some unusual occurrences during the time we have used the building — strange noises, doors locked with no one to lock them, doors banging — we have always just taken the quirks of the old building in stride.”
At different times, a pink figure had been seen in the balcony by several people. Many had heard singing and talking in rooms when no one was there.
“We go to the restroom in pairs because we have had stall doors held closed or had the lights turned out when no one was around the switch,” Vargas said. “Once, we were walking down the hall and a piece of paper floated down from the ceiling. There was no place it could have fallen from.”
Others have had the sensation of someone stroking their hair. The janitor’s spirit is believed to have rescued Vargas’ friend, Mary Prochaska, from a disastrous fall.
“Mary was on a ladder on stage one evening when we were working on sets,” Vargas said. “The ladder started to fall but then seemed to stop and right itself.”
The scariest experience for Vargas and Prochaska was getting trapped in the elevator and no one knew where they were. This happened during a musical revue that seemed to prompt a lot of strange, paranormal occurrences which led to an idea to raise money for charity.
“A couple of years ago, an American Cancer Society Relay For Life fundraiser was held in the building. We had our local paranormal group come in and investigate and the public could make donations to participate,” Vargas said. “The paranormal group picked up EVPs, thermal images, and we spoke with a spirit via a flashlight. It was a lot of fun and helped a good cause.”
One of Vargas’ friends, who is part of the paranormal group, sent some of the evidence to the casting director for “My Ghost Story” and the producers were interested in doing a segment. In December 2012, Vargas and Van Pelt-Tooman flew to Los Angeles to film the story. They received Hollywood star treatment with a driver picking them up at the airport, luxury hotel and a personal makeup artist.
“We felt so glamorous,” Vargas said.
Two weeks after they returned home, the cameramen came to Kansas to shoot on location.
“The cameramen had a list of shots for re-enactments he was supposed to film and he often did the same shot from several different perspectives — straight on, from behind, sometimes from ground level looking up,” Vargas said. “I think it took about eight hours to get all of that finished. We were exhausted but it was so much fun!”
Although she's not going to quit her day job as the youth services director at Wellington Public Library for Hollywood, she said the television show encounters helped them conclude the janitor’s spirit is a “happy” ghost and is just rambling about the place where he had the best experiences on Earth helping the children and faculty.