Fishtown ghost cop debunks ‘haunted houses’ as hobby

John Levy of Olde City Paranor­mal poses for a por­trait at his home in Phil­adelphia, Fri­day Au­gust 26, 2011.

While on routine patrol one day in the sum­mer of 2006, 26th Po­lice Dis­trict Of­ficer John Levy felt the sud­den need to vis­it a re­stroom.

Levy, who grew up at Sal­mon and Somer­set streets, happened to be near his par­ents’ house, so he stopped there. His folks were at the shore at the time.

While in­side, the of­ficer ex­per­i­enced something that would change his life forever.

“I’m in the bath­room and, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a fig­ure walk from right to left,” said Levy, a Holme Circle res­id­ent.

The fig­ure emerged from what used to be his grand­fath­er’s room. The man died in the mid 1980s.

After the ex­per­i­ence, the mar­ried fath­er of six began do­ing some re­search. That ini­tial in­terest even­tu­ally grew in­to a a full-fledged pas­sion in all things paranor­mal.

Today, Levy heads up Olde City Paranor­mal, a group of vo­lun­teers who lead paranor­mal in­vest­ig­a­tions in the Great­er Phil­adelphia re­gion.

“I am a skep­tic. By no means am I out there to ac­tu­ally ghost hunt,” Levy said. “We try to prove that a place isn’t haunted.”

Levy will be the first to ad­mit that, to the out­sider, his hobby might seem a little hokey. And be­cause he’s a cop by day, he gets his fair share of rib­bing.

“I get my stones broken at work just about every day,” Levy said with a laugh.

His solu­tion is to in­vite fel­low of­ficers to come out with his group on a paranor­mal in­vest­ig­a­tion. The typ­ic­al re­sponse: No way.

Levy finds that funny and iron­ic. Cops can run in­to burn­ing build­ings and chase down gun-wield­ing rob­bers. But when the pro­spect of see­ing an ap­par­i­tion crosses their plate, they’re the first to ad­mit fright.

Since form­ing in 2009, Olde City Paranor­mal has held its share of in­vest­ig­a­tions at his­tor­ic sites and private homes.

Levy sees his group as provid­ing a ser­vice, wheth­er it’s help­ing scared cit­izens cope with an un­known something go­ing on in their homes to rais­ing money for his­tor­ic sites like Hor­sham’s Graeme Park. Places like the lat­ter have seen a drop in fed­er­al fund­ing, Levy said, and his “open in­vest­ig­a­tions,” where the team in­structs every­day folks on the ways of ghost hunt­ing, help raise money.

As for the in­vest­ig­a­tions them­selves, some­times they turn up noth­ing, but oth­er times, ex­per­i­ences that come out of them are tough to ex­plain.

Take, for in­stance, the time the group con­duc­ted an in­vest­ig­a­tion at the old Temple Uni­versity nurs­ing school on Le­high Av­en­ue.

Levy claimed he felt something brush along­side his hand. When he played back an au­dio re­cord­ing of his voice ask­ing if something was in the room, the re­sponse came back: “Did it hurt?”

The au­dio clip is pos­ted on the group’s Web site: www.olde­city­paranor­

Levy doesn’t ex­pect every­one to be­lieve in the paranor­mal. Ac­tu­ally, he doesn’t even com­pletely peg him­self a be­liev­er.

As for his team mem­bers, he’d even prefer those who don’t be­lieve to those who do.

“I would rather have a skep­tic on my team than a guru,” he said. “I want some­body to be able to dis­prove what happened. I wel­come skep­tics.”

Levy tackles paranor­mal in­vest­ig­at­ing like he does po­lice work. 

“We’re very pro­fes­sion­al about what we do, and that’s what I cor­rel­ate [to] be­ing a po­lice of­ficer,” he said. “I take my job very ser­i­ously as I do paranor­mal in­vest­ig­a­tions.”

It cer­tainly helps that there’s an in­vest­ig­at­ory nature to his day job.

“We’re pro­fes­sion­al wit­nesses when it comes to the com­mon­wealth,” Levy said of be­ing a cop.

Levy isn’t the only cop with Olde City Paranor­mal. There’s his wife, Aman­da Levy, and then there’s George Fein­stein, a city cop who works the may­or’s pro­tec­tion de­tail.

Fein­stein once had an eer­ie ex­per­i­ence at City Hall.

While work­ing the desk one day, Fein­stein had to use the bath­room, but the second-floor fa­cil­it­ies were not work­ing, so he went up a floor. There, he saw something he still has trouble ex­plain­ing. What ap­peared to be an ap­par­i­tion peaked out from a door­way. When Fein­stein went to in­vest­ig­ate, there was noth­ing there.

“I’m the type of per­son who wants to see proof,” Fein­stein said dur­ing a re­cent in­ter­view at City Hall.

Fein­stein also once wit­nessed a heavy met­al chair next to his desk scoot across the floor. His part­ner sup­posedly saw it as well. Both were startled.

“It’s ac­tu­ally something I’ve al­ways been in­ter­ested in,” Fein­stein said of the paranor­mal.

He first met Levy when the ghost-hunter stopped at City Hall in­quir­ing about do­ing an in­vest­ig­a­tion at the old build­ing.

Fein­stein, who had been run­ning with an­oth­er paranor­mal group at the time, Paranor­mal 215, de­cided to join Levy’s group. The two have since be­come good friends.

Fein­stein, like Levy, gets his share of teas­ing. Some even comes from May­or Nut­ter and oth­er cops on the pro­tec­tion de­tail.

But still oth­ers are gen­er­ally in­ter­ested, Fein­stein said. Some have even in­quired about group mem­ber­ship.

Un­like Levy, Fein­stein calls him­self “more of a be­liev­er than a skep­tic.” It goes to show that not all so-called ghost-hunters come to the table with the same out­looks or at­ti­tudes about the top­ic.

“It helps me to be­lieve rather than the op­pos­ite,” Fein­stein said.

Fein­stein agrees with Levy that the in­vest­ig­at­ive nature of po­lice work can only aid the ghost hunt­ing pro­cess.

As for Levy, his abil­ity to help people is what stokes his pas­sion in both jobs.

“We’re out there and we like to help people,” he said. “That’s the ba­sic stand­point of paranor­mal in­vest­ig­at­ors.”••

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