Stories of Our Neighbors: Judi and Kari Danser Find Hope on the Other Side

The mother/daughter members of the Northern Appalachian Paranormal Society are devoted to researching the spirit world and debunking "Ghostbusters".
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PHOTOS BY HUCK BEARD

Penn Township mother-daughter duo Judi and Kari Danser — mirror images of each other with their dark hair and easy smiles — have a lot in common: their love of local history (both are long-time volunteers at Bushy Run Battlefield), a love of travel and adventure (Judi is a travel agent with expertise in all-things Disney), and, above all, their belief that many things can’t be explained.

Today Kari, 23, with master’s degrees in law and forensic science, and her mom sport matching black T-shirts that say NAPS — short for Northern Appalachian Paranormal Society.

The Dansers and other members of NAPS — an investigative team, led by local paranormal expert Jay Blackburn and devoted to researching the spirit world — have a message to share.

“Don’t call us Ghostbusters,” Judi, 58, says. “Paranormal investigating is nothing like what you see on TV.”


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Judi: For me, it started with the show “Paranormal State.” Penn State University students went on investigations, and it really clicked with me. Growing up, I felt things in my parents’ house, but my parents would dismiss them. One time, the doorbell rang. I answered it, felt a rush of wind go past, and a music box from my Great Aunt Mary started to play. I said, “Oh, that’s Aunt Mary coming to say hello.” We all laughed about it. My parents said, “There’s no such thing as ghosts.” So I tried to let it go.

Kari was born in 1999. When she was just starting to talk, she’d sit in our living room, point to one corner and babble. Then she’d clearly say, “Grandma Ida.” My Grandma [Ida] Mohr passed away in 1986, and I never called her Grandma Ida. I think that was my grandmother’s way of letting me know she was there, watching over Kari, the great-grandchild she’d never met in person.

I have a mid-1800s photo of my great-grandfather as a young man and his large family. One day, Kari was talking on her toy phone, just jibber-jabbering. When I asked who she was talking to, she went over to that picture and pointed to my great-grandfather. So I took her to my parents’ house and said, “Show grandma who you talk to on the phone.” My mom has a different picture of the same family. Kari again picked out my great-grandfather.

Kari: Later, when my grandmother, my dad’s mom, was dying, I was with her in the hospital. My grandma said, “I’m going to come check on you,” and I said, “OK, don’t scare me; just flick a light or something.” And now, when I walk into her house, I’ll sometimes see a shadow pass, and I’ll say, “Don’t scare me, Grandma. We’re not doing this today.”

Judi: I think it’s comforting, the people we love reaching out to check in. My husband and I never shut down that sensibility in Kari. I never told her what she was experiencing wasn’t real.

Kari: A lot of times, there’s misunderstanding. At Hill View Manor in New Castle, one of our favorite haunted places, there’s an entity everyone called Grumpy Joe. Joe wouldn’t respond to men. We did an investigation and learned that in life, Joe liked visits from the kids that called Hill View home. He loved to play Scrabble. Kids called him Grandpa Joe, not Grumpy Joe. We learned that the male caretakers back in Joe’s time were mean. He didn’t have the nicest experience, but he missed the kids. He was lonely and wanted people to understand.

Hill View Manor1 CopyJudi: Our team emphasizes respect. It’s important to remember that these spirits were someone’s loved ones. After investigating, we make sure to say thank you (to the entities) — for their time and efforts to communicate.

Kari: I’m not a skeptic, despite my science background. I’ve grown up with this. When I’m investigating, I try to shut down the scientist in me. The scientist says, “You can’t prove this in court.” But on the paranormal end, as a medium, I’ll have an experience. Then, as a scientist, I’ll see if I can prove whether it was something that can be explained. If it can’t be explained, I try to debunk every angle. I’ll say, “Okay, the wind could have blown to the right, which would have made this door open.” At some point, there are things I can’t explain. I love that.

Judi: Growing up in Western Pennsylvania, Northern Appalachia, we had mythologies. We played games like Two Fingers, held seances, and looked for Bigfoot. I believe that people get signs from loved ones that have passed, but people don’t always feel comfortable acknowledging that. I think locations with more tragic deaths do have more activity. While investigating, we use different paranormal equipment to try to communicate with spirits. But — and this is important — we do not cross them over. We don’t “send them to the light.” Because you don’t know where you’d be sending them. We all have free will, and these people chose to stay here in the afterlife.

Kari: Wouldn’t you be upset if somebody tried to “send you to the light” or said something insulting like that to you?

Judi: The work we do on investigations makes me think that death is final for this body. But our spirit? I find comfort in knowing that maybe someday I can check in on my great-grandchildren.


Lori Jakiela has a new poetry collection, “How Do You Like it Now, Gentlemen?” and has written several other books.
She lives in Trafford and directs the Creative and Professional Writing Program at Pitt-Greensburg. For more, visit: lorijakiela.net

If you know someone who would like to share their story, or if you’d like to share your own story for this monthly series, reach out to us at: pghstories@gmail.com

Categories: Stories of Our Neighbors