Once a month, in the thick of the night, groups of people young and old traverse the trodden grounds of the historic landmark of Fort Reno with only a couple dozen bobbing lanterns lighting their way.
The fort " a quaint, tidy site tucked away miles outside of El Reno " is a place lost in time, marked with innocence during the day. But as the sun begins to fade and darkness washes over, something more sinister is revealed.
The air grows heavy, the blood-orange glow of the old chapel feels almost threatening, and the once-inviting environment turns into something entirely unwelcoming.
The leaders behind the Ghosts of Fort Reno tour would have you believing that feeling isn't for naught.
After years of supernatural occurrences, Fort Reno began to offer ghost tours, highlighting the various tales of ghoulish encounters while offering visitors the chance to experience one of their very own.
Jessica Wells, who works at Fort Reno and coordinates the tour, has not only mastered the full breadth of history of the fort, but also had a few spooky experiences of her very own.
"One night, I was closing down the visitor center," Wells told the crowd at the Oct. 16 tour. "I had turned off all the lights and was locking up when my daughter pointed up to the top story where all the lights had been turned back on. Naturally, we made my husband go back in and turn all the lights back off by himself."
She has dozens of firsthand accounts " including self-activating water faucets, phantom TV outings during soap operas and one ghost's certain fondness for playing with long, brunette hair " that she shared with the crowd, along with a condensed history of Fort Reno.
The place was established to keep the peace between warring American Indians before acting as a sort of policing station during the Land Run of 1889. It became a remount outpost shortly thereafter and later served as a prisoner-of-war camp during World War II. The area is now a preserved historical site that is also used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for research.
And while nothing particularly grim has occurred on the grounds, there is an odd prevalence of paranormal activity in the region, said Greg Lassiter of R.I.P. Studies, a paranormal research team that helps lead the tours.
He explained paranormal research methods and tools with the tour goers, all while his EMF reader " a tool that measures electromagnetic fields and often used to detect the presence of ghosts " sporadically flared up.
The tour of the grounds leads from building to building, sprinkled with tales of sightings and firsthand experiences with the paranormal for each. There's the ghost in the old schoolhouse that only answers questions about partying, then the children who can be spotted playing peek-a-boo in the old commissary.
But the creepiest account comes in conjunction with the big, foreboding Victorian house located on the corner of the lot.
While the researchers aren't entirely sure of the full story, they claim they were able to identify a little girl named Emily Ann, who they suspect was murdered and even perhaps buried beneath the home.
There's an overwhelming sense of sorrow that comes with simply coming in contact with the Victorian house, almost enough to leave one without question that there is something residing there. It is the creepiest moment of the tour.
The tour itself isn't scary in the Wes Craven sense. There are no sudden jolts of fright or obvious moments of fear.
But there is an eerie, invasive nature to the event that is nearly as unsettling. If you can get away from the comfort of the group and share a private moment looking into the worn, dusted windows without interruption, you will begin to feel the slight shifts in the ominous darkness behind the cracked and peeling walls.
You find yourself stricken by the weight of the air, finding your eyes drawn to a certain spot and unsure why. You begin to wonder if the flash you saw was a function of your mind, your eyes or if there was actually something there.
"There is no set definition of what strange is, what paranormal is, for what is a ghost," Lassiter said during the tour. "It's all interpretation."
The final Ghosts of Fort Reno tour of the season creeps to a start at 7 p.m. Nov. 20. Advance reservations are required, and admission is $6 for adults, and $5 for seniors and children.
For more information, call 262-3987 or visit www.fortreno.org. "Joshua Boydston
top Jimmy Johnston is interim director of Fort Reno. Photo/Shannon Cornman
bottom Gravestones. Photo/Shannon Cornman