On a moonless night when the stars stand still, a sense of ghostly spirits fills the fall air. But even in brightest sunshine, a white Jack Russell Terrier named Pixie found that others may walk among us, unseen by human eyes.
As a puppy in the household of Peggy and Bruce Schmidt, Pixie exhibited the typical traits of Jack Russells: high energy, intelligence and a willful nature. The Schmidts had welcomed her as their fifth dog, joining a Yorkie named Remington, a Doberman named Leroy and fellow Jack Russell Terriers Chippy and Scrappy. The Schmidts enjoyed training their Jacks for agility competitions, but Pixie stood out from the crowd with a surprising talent they’d never imagined.
When Peggy launched a business, called Ghost Tours of America, centered on exploring haunted properties in North Carolina’s Outer Banks and suburban Pennsylvania, she took long walks to research details, relying on lore and legend for the storytelling that entertained visitors.
“We took Pixie along so she could get a good long walk while we explored the areas,” says Peggy. “We took photos too, looking for ‘orb activity,’” which shows translucent spheres hovering, visible only in photographs and indicating, according to experts, ghostly presence.
Pixie, alert and eager, turned from tourist to investigator on these walks.
“She would stop at some spots and absolutely refuse to move. We took pictures wherever she stopped, and at each spot, there were orbs,” Peggy says. “But when we selected the locations to photograph, thinking those were likely spots of activity, no orbs showed up.”
Pixie, she says, became Ghost Tours of America’s research director who verified the promising locales as haunted.
Throughout her life, Pixie repeatedly demonstrated her ghost-hunting chops.
“In researching a tour in Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania, Pixie honed in on a location that had been the old Bell Telephone building, where she was fascinated by one particular corner,” Peggy says. “No matter how much I pulled or cajoled, she absolutely did not want to leave that part of the building.”
Peggy took photos of the spot, which did show some orbs, but didn’t think much more than her usual, “Pixie spotted some ghosts, how cool.”
But the first night Peggy led a group through the building, describing what had happened at the location, one of the excited tourists shrieked when she looked at her camera.
“Clearly visible, as if in daylight, was an apparition, right at the spot where Pixie insisted she wanted to be,” Peggy says.
Peggy later discovered that old telephone service building had originally been a theater, “and ghosts never want to leave the stage, no matter how the space around them changes,” she says. “I would never have known except for Pixie.”
With the keenly heightened hunting sense that is part of her breed, Pixie was a treat to see in action. Peggy outfitted her with a special yellow vest as a signal that she was “going to work,” and when she was in full hunting-the-haunted mode, she was not distracted by other sights, scents or sounds.
“Clearly visible, as if in daylight, was an apparition, right at the spot where Pixie insisted she wanted to be.”
When the general manager of the historic Pickering Creek Inn, located in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, heard about Pixie’s knack for the paranormal, he invited her and Peggy to visit. Although he admitted he was a bit skeptical about what he might observe, he knew the building, originally a mansion built in the 1830s, was rumored to be filled with ghostly tenants.
“Through years of well-documented sightings, Phoenixville is known as the most haunted borough in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” Peggy says. “The instant we arrived at the Pickering Creek, Pixie’s body language shifted—hairs on the back of her neck went up, she made unexpected stops, displayed a little agitation—and she zeroed in on ghostly spots at two separate tables right in the dining room.”
Ignoring everything around her, Pixie led the way to a sub-basement, which sits atop what was once a stop on the Underground Railroad, and confirmed, according to Peggy, a lot of activity.
“All three of the spots Pixie chose had been suggested as paranormal sites, and she walked right in to say, ‘yes, right here,’” Peggy says.
Pixie’s very full 13 years included motherhood and agility competitions in addition to her ghost-spotting duties. When she passed in 2012, the Schmidts found some comfort in the continued presence of Pixie’s beloved son, Walker.
Peggy has always believed that when an animal passes, he or she usually sends a “calling card,” or sign to let their human know they are okay.
“Pixie sent signs that included the number five (remember, Pixie was the Schmidts’ fifth dog) such as five dog toys tumbled in a heap, five rumbles of thunder in a row, five socks lying in the laundry basket,” Peggy says.
Although Pixie has not “returned” for a visit to the best of the Schmidts’ knowledge, Peggy believes that Pixie was present in a different way at a very difficult time in their lives.
Walker, ailing from a variety of illnesses and age, was fading and the Schmidts desperately hoped he would rally and stay longer. Pixie knew differently.
“The day before Walker passed, I found a five-dollar bill on my lawn,” Peggy says. The Schmidts home sits on a cul de sac with no sidewalks out front, is set far back from the street and is nowhere near any pedestrian activity where passersby might have lost money.
“When I spotted it, I knew it was time for Walker to move along, but that his mom Pixie was going to be sure to get him there safely,” she says. Our pets never go alone.”
On a moonless night when the stars stand still, the memory of a little white dog with sparkling eyes confirms what she always told her humans, that ghosts are among us and, like Pixie, never wish to leave the stage.