Halloween Hauntings — Part 2: Is Constitution Square haunted?

Published 10:44 am Tuesday, October 31, 2023

By Lance Gaither


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Today, Danville’s Constitution Square is a community hot spot for live music, festivals and, of course, a farmer’s market. With all the fun to be had at Constitution Square, it is easy to forgot that the park’s history extends as far back to the early days of the United States. The park was not only home to the state’s first courthouse and the site where Kentucky’s constitution was signed, it was a thriving community with a tavern, jail and post office.   

Since the park was founded in 1937, there have been many reports of ghost sightings in the replica buildings through the years, 859 Paranormal Research was enlisted by the Danville-Boyle County Convention and Visitors Bureau to check out the park and see if they could find any strange activity. The folks from 859 Paranormal Research thought two buildings in particular would be potential hot spots, Grayson’s Tavern and the jail. Click here to watch a video of 859’s findings.

Two former inmates of the jail drew the attention of the ghost hunters, the infamous Harpe brothers. During the American Revolution, the brothers were part of a British Loyalist outlaw band that looted and plundered throughout a war-torn and lawless country with colonists their preferred targets. Sometimes called America’s first serial killers, the brothers began a rampage in 1797 that lasted two years through Kentucky, Illinois and Tennessee. It is estimated they killed more than 50 people during their crime spree with the brothers confessing to 39 murders. The youngest brother, Micajah “Big” Harpe, confessed that the only murder he regretted was that of his own infant daughter, whom he had brutally murdered after her crying annoyed him. After their capture, they were held at the Danville jail, which was a state prison at the time.

While awaiting execution by hanging, the brothers escaped and continued to terrorize the region. To gain revenge on a man who helped authorities during their pursuit, the brothers mutilated and murdered his son. The brothers fled to the Ohio River and joined a group of river pirates, the Samuel Mason gang. The brothers’ brutality appalled the criminals and the gang forced them to leave. The brothers continued their spree as they fled west from pursuing authorities.

Authorities would catch up to the brothers in modern day Webster County. Although the older brother, Wiley “Little” Harpe escaped the confrontation, Micajah Harpe was captured  and severely wounded during the scuffle. Enraged by the brutal murders Micajah confessed to, the posse cut off his head before he died from blood loss. Wiley Harpe was apprehended soon after and quickly tried and executed by hanging.

Grayson’s Tavern is the building in the park with the most reports of supernatural activity. The tavern would be the spot where setters would go for relaxation and community. The Danville Political Club was a group that regularly held meetings at the tavern where members would debate policy and politics. Many members would go on to be political leaders in both the state and federal governments.

The 859 Paranormal Research members Justin Petrey, Katie Followell and Kayla Snow began setting up for their ghost hunt.

“As a Danvillian, this is my first time inside the tavern and I am really excited about it,” Followell said. “There have been stories of paranormal activity before. I am excited to see what will come from it. Can we debunk it or will we know who is still staying at the tavern?”

The first part of the hunt was searching through the buildings and the park for spots with electromagnetic fields or EMFs. The hunters explained that these fields are emitted by electrical devices and cables and that they can cause feelings of uneasiness and even hallucinations to certain people who are sensitives to them. They believe these fields are often the cause of most suspected paranormal activity. It is also believed that ghost can manipulate these signals to communicate through the EMF detectors the hunters use. After clearing the park and tavern, the hunters began setting up their equipment. The hunters sat up infrared cameras in every room of the tavern to watch for any activity. They further set up devices called cat balls. Small plastic balls with a motion activated LED inside. It is thought that an entity could manipulate the ball and make the LED light up. With equipment set up, the hunters began to go room to room using a technique called the Estus method. The technique involves one hunter having on noise isolating headphones connected to a device that scans radio waves scanning through multiple frequencies a second. Other hunters ask questions to any entities that might be in the room. It is believed that ghosts can communicate through the radio waves.

Although the Estus method was inconclusive in the tavern, strange happenings did occur. Before the hunters left the tavern to search the rest of the park, a single cat ball in an unoccupied room began to light up. The ball was staying lit as if something was continually manipulating it. When the ball stopped lighting up, hunters went into the room to try and trigger. No matter if they stomped or bumped the table that balls rested on, neither would light up.     

Soon one ball would light up again while the other didn’t. The ball continued to stay lit until the balls were switched. Then the balls would not begin to light up again. Further investigation of the ball showed that it was not low on battery and that it operated as normal.

During the investigation in the rest of the park, the hunters performed an Estus method inside the jail. Although the results are far from concrete, early on in the reading, there was what could be an intelligent response.

Followell interpreted a voice saying “help me,” when Petrey asked how, she immediately hear “not sure” as a reply. Although further comments were not as immediately responsive as that, the reading continued to provide somewhat intelligent responses.

As the hunters concluded, they could not confirm a supernatural presence but they could not find an explanation for the cat ball lighting.          

Ghost hunters, from left, Katie Followell, Justin Petrey and Kayla Snow discuss hot spots for paranormal activity in Constitution Square. Photo by Lance Gaither

Katie Followell and Kayla Snow set up equipment to track paranormal activity. Photo by Lance Gaither

A motion-sensing light illuminates during the Constitution Square ghost hunt. Photo by Lance Gaither