It isn't ghosts that frighten them, though the two have met their share; everything from disembodied footsteps to floating energy orbs.
What really frightens them is going public about their experiences working in what they believe is a real-life haunted house.
Karen is the director of a prominent community service agency that operates programs throughout St. Charles County. Katie worked as the agency's assistant director for six months before moving to another organization.
Karen and Katie are respected community leaders who depend on maintaining public credibility. They agreed to tell their story on the condition that their real names were withheld, along with the agency's name and the building's exact location.
The agency moved into its current headquarters in 1998. The two-story building, built in 1869, sits atop a hill overlooking South Main Street in St. Charles. With its balconies, arched windows and spiral stairway, the Victorian house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Katie described her first day on the job. It was the fall of 2000. Karen gave her a short orientation, showed her around the building, then prepared to leave for a week-long business trip. Karen gathered her belongings and headed toward the front door. She paused, glancing back at her new hire.
With that, Karen walked out the door. Katie was alone.
"I knew she wasn't joking," Katie said. "She was telling me for my benefit. By the second day, I knew what she was talking about."
It began with little things, Katie said.
"I felt like I was being watched. I would hear noises, footsteps, doors opening and shutting. I'd check downstairs, but no one was there."
Katie survived her first week with the ghosts.
Karen was already an old pro at handling the building's "other occupants." She first encountered the unknown in February 2000. It was 10:30 p.m. and everyone else had gone home. Karen sat in her upstairs office, typing on her computer. Just inches to her right was a shuttered window and balcony door.
"I thought I heard someone walking around downstairs, but I blew it off," Karen said. "Then I heard three knocks on the window next to-me. Two min-utes later, I heard three more knocks on the glass. I thought I better get my work done and get out."
Over the months, Karen noted several strange incidents. Before leaving her office every night, she made sure she closed her closet and latched the windows and balcony door. When she unlocked her office door the next morning, she sometimes discovered her closet, windows and balcony door had mysteriously opened during the night. Karen said her co-workers swore they had not entered her office.
But Katie's experiences escalated far beyond Karen's.
Katie researched the building's history and learned that it had originally been a surgeon's home and office.
"I heard he had treated soldiers in the building," Katie said. "I knew a lot of them probably died there."
One day, Katie was helping a local physician rummage through supplies on the second floor. Katie left the physician alone in the storage room and went downstairs. When she returned, the physician looked disturbed. She asked if he was OK. He said he had felt something touch his back. He looked behind him and saw a dark shape that resembled the outline of a woman. He blinked and the shape was gone.
"After working there four months, I decided it was time to call the paranormal investigators," Katie said.
In February 2001, Katie contacted an Illinois-based paranormal investigation organization that she discovered on the Internet.
After a preliminary visit to gather information, the investigators came in force to conduct an all-night session. The 10-member team included four psychics, or "sensitives." They arrived after dusk in 10 vehicles, then unloaded an array of monitors, computers, cameras, thermometers and other devices.
"My God, it was creepy," said Katie, who spent the night alone with the investigators. "They brought in all this crazy equipment. It was like 'Ghostbusters.'"
Katie said she was prepared for excitement, but the investigators told her to expect a boring night. They set up video cameras and measured some temperature anomalies, but nothing much happened. Finally, Katie and the entire team went outside for a break. After they returned, they checked the videotape.
"On the tape, we saw us walking outside," Katie said. "Then we saw this huge 'orb' float across the screen. It was a big ball of light, like a ball of energy, the size of a volleyball. They told me that's what spirits look like when they're captured on video.
For the rest of the night, the team would only discuss their plans outdoors so as not to tip-off the spirits. Katie said events grew stranger with each hour.
"Curtains were blowing with the windows closed," she said. "The sensitives were talking to the spirits, telling me things about myself that there's no way they could have known. In one comer of the room, the temperature dropped 30 degrees. Then the lobby became foggy. It was so thick, you could reach out and touch it."
"I started to get really nervous," Katie said. "The investigators were saying we might be making the spirits mad. I didn't want them mad at me. These investigators were going to leave in the morning, but I still had to work there."
Katie said the investigators came to the conclusion that the spirits of nurses, patients and their family members were still present in the building, as if it were still a working medical office.
"The sensitives told the spirits, 'You guys are dead, the year is 2001, you need to go," Katie said. "Then a thick fog came down the stairs. You could see it trailing from upstairs. It came down to the lobby. The sensitives told the spirits to go out the front door and into the church down the street. The fog passed through the door. We could see it go down the street."
But one spirit did not want to go.
"The sensitives told me that a little girl was afraid to go and still holding onto my leg," Katie said. "They put a thermometer to my leg and it read colder than the rest of my body. They told the girl to go with everybody else. They did another temperature reading and it was normal. Then the investigators packed up and went home. We had no more problems after that night."
Illustrations by Raymond Castile
This story was originally published in the Suburban Journals of St. Charles County, Oct. 31, 2001. Used with permission..