RIEGELSVILLE, Penn.--The Rev. Jeffrey A. Wargo says footsteps awaken him as he sleeps in the parsonage at St. John United Church of Christ.

Voices call his name.

And the clocks on the first floor stop at exactly 3 a.m. each morning. In this sleepy village, the pastor has assumed an unlikely second role: collector of "true" ghost stories.

His book, "Ghosts in the 'Ville: True Stories of the Unexplained in Riegelsville, Pa.," chronicles strange happenings in the former paper mill town.

Perhaps the most fascinating tale is his own, the story of a pastor who doubles as scribe for the supernatural.

Wargo expected nothing unusual when he moved into the parsonage after graduating from Princeton Theological Seminary at age 26.

He lived alone in the huge stone mansion for the first year. Wargo says that on his first night sleeping alone there, a rhythmic noise awakened him.

He recalls lying in bed in a state between wakefulness and sleep, trying to pinpoint the sound. When he identified the noise as footsteps pacing the floor above, Wargo sat bolt upright in bed.

"I had no idea what to do," Wargo says. "I sat there shivering. I decided to pray."

As he finished his prayer, he says, the footsteps were drawing closer and closer until they suddenly stopped. At dawn, Wargo checked the house for signs of an intruder, but everything was normal.

Later that day, someone at the church told Wargo that his predecessor had mentioned ghosts living in the parsonage.

Wargo was so shaken, he decided to drive 65 miles to sleep in his parents' house at night. He later returned and blessed the house with holy water from the Jordan River.

Wargo says he now believes several spirits haunt the parsonage, and one ghost in particular haunts the church office -- an unfriendly ghost.

Cyrus Stover built the office in 1858 as a home for himself and his wife, Anna Bunstein. After living in the house briefly, Stover went off to fight in the Civil War and died in combat shortly afterward. His grave in a cemetery near the church reads: "His sun set while it was still noon..."

Legend says Stover lingers because he never had the chance to fulfill his vision of sharing the house with his wife.

One evening, Wargo went to the church office to meet a couple who wanted to get married. When the meeting ended, the pastor says he stayed in the house alone to finish up some paperwork. As he sat writing, he heard the screen door open and footsteps enter the building, but when he checked the reception area, no one was there.

He says as soon as he sat back down in the office, an alarm clock in the building started blaring music and static.

Wargo insists that when he later mentioned the incident to the person who owns the clock, she was startled. The clock had been broken for 20 years.
The author says other sightings suggest modern technology upsets the ghost. Once, Wargo was using the copy machine in the office when he glimpsed the figure of a man with his fist extended running toward him. The man was about 5 foot 2 inches tall, wearing a bowler hat and old-fashioned clothes.

Amazingly, a previous pastor reported a similar incident. She was making copies late one night when a figure appeared, punched her in the stomach and doubled her over. A voice warned "Get out. Get out, now!" and a strong force thrust her out of the building, Wargo says.

"It's almost like anything that is foreign to what he understands, he doesn't want here," he says.

Few people would be brave enough to stay in the haunted parsonage. According to Wargo, doors open by themselves, furniture slides around in the attic and lights turn on unprovoked.

Wargo says he was once lifting weights near a window when he glimpsed the reflection of a man standing behind him in the glass.

"I screamed and dropped the barbell and turned around and nobody was there," he says.

Apparently, the figures have visited other residents of the parsonage. There is the story about the previous pastor's son, who was brushing his teeth in the bathroom when he saw the figure of a woman dressed in a white hoop skirt in the mirror.

Wargo lived alone in the huge mansion at first. After about a year, he married his wife, Stephanie, and she moved into the haunted house.

Although he says he was honest with his wife about the sightings, it really sank in during her first night in the parsonage, when they heard the sound of a body tumbling, coming from the attic.

In an effort to understand his experiences, Wargo began recording the haunting in a journal and collecting ghost stories from around Riegelsville.

Sightings were so common, Wargo quickly gathered enough material for his book. "Ghosts in the 'Ville" has sold more than 500 copies, and Wargo is working on a second book.

But why does Wargo think Riegelsville is such a hotbed for supernatural activity? He looks to history to find the answer.

According to folklore, the town stands on a former Native American settlement where people would come to have their spirits cleansed.

Shamans would rid people of their diseases or possessions and cast the evil spirits into the ground.

"You have to wonder what it means to have these spirits cast out into an area that seems to have so many unexplained hauntings," Wargo says.

Despite the strange happenings in his parsonage, Wargo chooses to stay there. According to Wargo, his predecessor told him he would get used to the bizarre events and, although the visitors still startle him, sightings have almost become mundane.

Nothing violent has ever happened in the parsonage and Wargo says the spirits are willing to share the space.

As a religious man schooled in theology, Wargo says he wrestles with what his experiences mean and how they fit in with his Christian beliefs.

"When things do happen, it's startling and a reminder that there are other layers to our world and a reality that we don't understand," he says.
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