VALPARAISO — Porter County Museum Executive Director Kevin Pazour said he was working alone inside the 157-year-old building one Sunday evening early last month when he heard a little girl laugh.
"I just stood there," he said. "I heard it clear as day."
He stepped outside thinking children may be playing nearby, but found no one around in the city's downtown area. He decided it was time to leave.
"That is enough for me today," Pazour said.
A week later, Scot MacDonald, executive director at neighboring Porter County Memorial Opera House, was at his office when someone mentioned seeing a young girl with long curly hair and formal clothing peering out of an upper floor window at the county museum.
After seeing the drapes moving in an upper level window at the museum later that same day, MacDonald said he sent a text message to Pazour, who was baffled since the building was closed. He told MacDonald there is also no forced-air heating or cooling system in the building and the motion-detector security system was never triggered.
"I didn't tell anyone about this giggle," Pazour said.
Neither Pazour nor MacDonald were sure what to make of the occurrences, but said they are not isolated events.
MacDonald said he was contacted on Mother's Day last year by Memorial Opera House Technical Director Scott "Stretch" Miller, who urged him to take a look at the strange images that were being picked up by a security camera inside the 124-year-old building.
"It was like a snow storm happening in the Opera House," he said.
Many light-colored orbs were moving together in a circular pattern inside the building, MacDonald said.
The occurrence, which lasted for about a minute, triggered a motion sensor, which sent a message, Miller said.
"There are no ventilation vents or anything around that could logically explain it," he said.
While it is not uncommon to see a few of these floaters on camera, Miller knew of no other time when there were as many gathered.
Pazour, a Porter County historian, said many older buildings attract a reputation of having paranormal activity, typically based on stories that are fabricated over the years.
"I think it gets embellished beyond reason," he said. "I think that's true in all storytelling."
The stories typically take two approaches, Pazour said. The first is that the paranormal activity is attached to the building itself based on its history. The other is that it is connected to the building's contents.
The museum has plenty of artifacts to initiate such stories, including the stuffed collie-mix dog fondly known as Daisy, he said.
The dog's body was preserved by a Portage Township woman after it was struck by a car and killed in 1930, Pazour said. Daisy made her way to the county museum collection in the early 1970s after her companion died. Several people since have claimed to see the long-dead animal move, he said.
"I think I saw it move, but it could be my mind was playing games on me," he said.
Museum visitors will have a chance to see what they think when a restored Daisy is returned to public display this fall, Pazour said.
MacDonald said he has experienced other unexplained happenings at the Memorial Opera House.
While working in his office, he has heard footsteps in an above loft area that only can be reached by a 15-foot ladder.
"There's no way anyone could access it without me knowing," MacDonald said.
There also have been occurrences of lights turning on by themselves, he said. On one such occasion a few years ago, he said he was doing a final walk through the building before leaving for the night and noticed once in the parking lot that the lights he had just turned off in the basement were back on.
"The lights can just stay on," he said, laughing.
MacDonald said these unexplained occurrences never have left him feeling uncomfortable.
"It's not like a super creepy feeling," he said. "But I'm not going to mess around too much with it."