Former Chestnut Grove Superintendent Andrew Skarupa standing by a monument to the victims of the Ashtabula Train Disaster of 1876.

When Andrew Skarupa experiences a cold, damp feeling come over him, he slowly turns, preparing himself for the sight of a ghost.

Eerie apparitions don’t usually bother the former Chestnut Grove Cemetery Superintendent. He said he sees them all the time and has experienced the presence of ghosts since he was a child.

His work at the notoriously haunted Chestnut Grove Cemetery has made him not only a firm believer in its supernatural inhabitants, but also an advocate for the preservation of Ashtabula County’s rich history.

Chestnut Grove Cemetery is the final resting place of 25 of the 92 victims of the Ashtabula Train Disaster of 1876. It was a snowy December night when the two engine, 11 car Pacific Express Train reached the bridge over the Ashtabula River. One of the two engines made it across when the bridge, an architectural wonder of its time, suddenly buckled, dropping the cars into the Ashtabula Gulf. Passengers who were not killed by the crash succumbed to the fire that spread from the stoves.

Many of the bodies are interred at Chestnut Grove, including a mass grave for those whose remains could not be identified. Bridge engineer Charles Collins shot himself and was buried near the train disaster memorial at Chestnut Grove. Many ghost sightings have been of a man matching Collins’ description.

 “People ask me all the time, ‘Are there ghosts at Chestnut Grove ’ and I can honesty say yes there are,” Skarupa said.

Skarupa said he has seen, or experienced many ghostly beings at the cemetery, including a horse, a woman, an old man wearing a top hat looking for his grandson and even a poultry poltergeist.

“It was funny really. I had seen a few other ghosts, but to turn around and see a chicken, well, lets just say some people didn’t believe me,” he said.

While some ghosts were visible, others were experienced as a feeling, or a sensation. Others were nothing more than loud noises.

Skarupa said the most stunning ghosts are simply bangs and crashes.

“I was standing in the cemetery one afternoon and I could hear this huge noise. It sounded like Indians at war, that is really the only way to describe it. I didn’t find out until later that there is an Indian burial ground right there at Chestnut Grove,” he said.

He would later discover a horse, a ghost which he had seen several times, is also buried at the cemetery.

Skarupa said the ghosts don’t speak, but he can usually sense what they want.

His natural ability to see and sense ghostly presence became apparent when he was a child. His body’s naturally strong attraction to energy has made him the victim of not one, but two lightning bolts. His personal energy field causes machines to turn on and short out.

“I think that is why the spirits are attracted to me. They are pure energy now and my body just hold more energy than the average person. I am at peace with them and they know they can come to me,” he said.

He said he has seen ghosts throughout Ashtabula but Chestnut Grove is the most haunted place he has every experienced.

“Chestnut Grove us the most haunted because there are burials from as early as the late 1700s. A lot of souls have been there a lot of years. There is no denying the history of that cemetery,” he said.

Skarupa’s grandfather Burt Cunningham, who was only 19 years old at the time, was one of the first people on the scene of the disaster.

Skarupa has many theories on life, death and the afterlife and he believes some souls were taken from this world so quickly they don’t realize they are dead and therefore cannot be released of their earthly bounds.

“The nature of my upbringing as a Roman Catholic has lead me to understand that there is something after this life. These souls are here and they want people to know that they were somebody. They are here to tell us to be cautious and to be kind to each other and to show us that we are not alone. Everybody is here for a reason,” he said.

Story courtesy Margie Trax and the Ashtabula Star Beacon