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.oldecityparanormal.com.
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.”••