Shepherdstown Sheriff with investigators Bill Hartley, Nick Groff, and Elizabeth Saint.
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GHOSTS OF SHEPHERDSTOWN Intros Audiences to the Spirits of Main Street, USA

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All photos courtesy Destination America.

Move on over, Charleston. Shepherdstown is edging in on your title for Most Haunted Locale in the USA. At least that’s the story told in Ghosts of Shepherdstown, Destination America’s most recent paranormal venture, coming to television tomorrow, June 12th.

Part of the wide-ranging Discovery Network family, Destination America has already made a name for itself in the world of spooky television with such programs as Ghost Asylum and A Haunting. Now they’re ramping things up with an all new six-part series pitting a group of well-known paranormal experts against a pack of spirits that seem determined to cause trouble.

Who roams the stress of this little town after dark? Destination America is going to find out.
Who roams the streets of this little town after dark? Destination America is going to find out.

Ghosts of Shepherdstown centers on the titular small town of Shepherdstown, West Virginia, a little burg perched on the banks of the Potomac River. While residents enjoy a lively arts scene and beautiful countryside, they’ve also long endured the presence of the town ghosts. Recently, those ghosts seem to be getting more and more active, which has led to more and more panicked calls to the Shepherdstown sheriff’s office. So many, in fact, that the office is having a hard time responding to serious non-ghostly emergencies as quickly as it should. Overwhelmed and exasperated, the sheriff has called in a team of crack paranormal investigators to get to the bottom of Shepherdstown’s spooky activity.

Leading the crew is Nick Groff, a seasoned ghost hunter best known as a former co-runner and co-star of Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures. He currently produces and hosts Destination America’s Paranormal Lockdown. Fans of that show will also recognize Elizabeth Saint, a professed sensitive to paranormal activity who has previously joined Groff on Lockdown. A former Engineer Technician for the Department of Defense, Saint also lends her expertise to creating Ghostly Gadgets, inventions designed to assist in capturing evidence of spirit activity.  Finally, we have Bill Hartley, founder of the Greater Maryland Paranormal Society, who serves as technology expert for the team.

Shepherdstown Sheriff with investigators Bill Hartley, Nick Groff, and Elizabeth Saint.
Shepherdstown Sheriff with investigators Bill Hartley, Nick Groff, and Elizabeth Saint.

SciFi4Me was fortunate enough to get a preview of Shepherdstown’s first episode, “Welcome to America’s Most Haunted Town”, which follows an investigation of frightening activity in the town bakery. The activity seems to center on the night baker, a young woman whose work is regularly interrupted by mysterious thumps, moans, and objects being dropped from an upstairs window. Groff, Saint, and Hartley join forces with a psychic medium and the town historian to figure out just who is hanging around the bakery and how the activity relates to Shepherdtown’s Civil War history.

The show offers an interesting perspective on paranormal investigations, a topic which is by now quite familiar to television. Though other programs, such as the SyFy staple Ghost Hunters, have covered large areas in one or two evenings, Ghosts of Shepherdstown will keep its cadre of experts for a full six weeks, plenty of time to settle in and dig up the truth of this town-wide spooktacular, if truth there be.

Investigator Nick Groff
Investigator Nick Groff

While the concept is compelling, the execution leaves a little something to be desired. Most of the dialogue seems either rehearsed, awkwardly delivered, or both. To be fair, this is edited television and not a live broadcast. So it’s natural that some sequences, particularly interviews or explanations to the audience, will be prepared in advance. But even so, much of the speech we see lacks the edge of emotion you would expect from, say, a put-upon sheriff or the bakery’s frightened employee.

In contrast, members of the team, particularly Groff and the guest psychic, occasionally come off as overly dramatic. Overall, the Spooky Squad is trying a bit too hard to make the action intense when it would be more effective to let events speak for themselves. That is to say, they should be simply keeping the audience informed of what’s going on because what’s going on is interesting enough all on its own.

Investigator Elizabeth Saint and guest psychic Lori
Investigator Elizabeth Saint and guest psychic Lori

Aside from this, the pacing of the program is somewhat jarring. Throughout investigations, the footage cuts rapidly and sometimes abruptly between team members and locations. This can make it difficult to settle in and feel like a part of the action, which of course makes it difficult to be invested in the final outcome of the episode. It makes everything feel less like a documentary and more like reality television.

With all of that being said, Ghosts of Shepherdstown certainly deserves credit for trying something new. It also provides an interesting avenue through which to discuss the storied history of a small American town that was deeply involved in a pivotal period of American history. As is often true of premieres, the first episode is somewhat rough around the edges. But it is certainly entertaining and left us genuinely curious to see what comes next. If you’re a fan of paranormal television or if you’re looking for an unorthodox way to explore America’s past, you should definitely check it out.

Ghosts of Shepherdstown is produced for Destination America by MAK Pictures with executive producers Mark Kadin, Will Ehbrecht, and Tucia Lyman. It will premiere on Destination America on June 12th at 10/9c.

Check out sneak peek videos at the official Destination America site. Or check out the network’s Twitter or Facebook.

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