Cobourg Jail
Credit: Kevin Callan

I survived my night in the haunted Cobourg Jail.

In fact, it was a perfect experiment. I took myself out of the familiar and tested my fear of the unknown, just as a new camper would his or her first time sleeping in the woods.

The feeling I had the moment the lights went out—when I was left alone in the basement of the jail cell—was the same feeling a novice camper might have the moment the sun goes down. I heard strange noises, bumps in the night. I imagined ghosts circling the tent, just as a camper would imagine a bear. Both are rare occurrences, and both usually mean to you no harm.

Problem was, I had listened to local ghosts stories before my sleepover in the jail. That was just a bad idea. The Peterborough Paranormal Group warned me of demons disguising themselves as children, powerful energy that could move me across the room and spirits possessing both me and my camp gear. They warned me of the “witching hour,” a moment during the night when the spirits are more active; a time around 3:00 a.m.

Everything was going well at first. The double shot of Jack Daniels before bed made me fall asleep fairy quickly. At 3:02 a.m., however, I was woken up by some loud bangs and thumps. I felt a strong energy source pulsing outside my thin nylon tent, just outside the circle of sea salt the paranormal folks gave me to create a protective barrier. I shouted, “Go away. I’m not afraid of you.”

It’s the same reaction I’ve had when a bear wanders into camp—and it seemed to work. All went quiet, as if the ghost sensed I wasn’t afraid and decided to move on. But I didn’t get off that easily. A few seconds later, I felt the energy pulse beneath me, as if it was trying to lift my body off the damp basement floor. Then there was a soft push from below. That just creeped me right out!

I flicked my lantern on. It flickered and went out. Strange, since I put new batteries in it before I went down to the basement. I turned on my backup flashlight, a small LED light from my camera bag. This time I screamed, “Go away. I’m not afraid of you!” The odd surge of energy decreased and then eventually faded away.

I seriously think all of this was a subconscious moment, waking up right at “the witching hour,” and feeling, or sensing, something outside my tent—of course, nothing really came of it. My fear got the best of me. My anxiety level grew. I was nauseous and my heart pounded. This is exactly what happens when you think every noise beyond the tent while camping is a marauding bear—and ends up being a harmless field mouse.

In the morning I felt so empowered. I had battled my fear and survived. More than that, I proved there was nothing to fear except fear itself. That’s exactly what first-time campers will feel the moment they crawl out of the sleeping bag as the sun lights up the darkened forest. They’ll feel good about themselves. Good enough to take on countless more nights in the forest.

That’s not to say I ever want to sleep in the Cobourg Jail again. That would be just foolish. The place is definitely haunted.

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