Getting Attacked by a Ghost Changed My Opinions on the Paranormal

When Ghosts Attack: How Getting Scratched by an Invisible Monster Changed My Opinions on the Paranormal

Greg Newkirk attacked by a ghost at Ohio State Reformatory

Imagine, if you will, four people locked into a dark room hidden on the upper floor of a decommissioned prison notorious for its restless spirits. As they attempt to speak to the ghosts that inhabit the walls, one of the would-be paranormal investigators, a former inmate, takes on a stern tone and begins to taunt the entity in the windowless room. As the scene plays out in the muted tones of night vision cameras, one of the ghost hunters suddenly clutches his back. As the investigators rush toward him, he complains of a burning sensation while lifting his shirt, revealing three fresh red claw marks running across his spine. It appears he was attacked by a ghost.

No, I’m not giving you a play-by-play of the latest episode of Ghost Adventures. Believe it or not, I’m recounting exactly what happened to me last month, far from clipboard carrying producers or enraged men in tiny Tapout shirts. It’s an experience that has had me aggressively reconsidering my opinions on the paranormal.

I never believed that ghosts could hurt you

Ohio State Reformatory


My brush with the more touchy-feely side of the supernatural happened in Ohio State Reformatory, a historic prison known for being a set piece in The Shawshank Redemption and Con Air, but more recently as a favorite location of reality television shows like Ghost Adventures. Interestingly enough, the whole reason I was at OSR was in support of the Nick Groff Tour, a cross-country ghost hunting tour featuring Nick Groff, who not only starred in, but Executive Produced a decade of Ghost Adventures.

I won’t go into too much detail surrounding the event (Dana wrote a detailed breakdown of the evidence we captured at Ohio State Reformatory, including video footage of the actual “entity attack” itself), but its been almost a month since an invisible appendage reached out from the darkness and left its mark on me, and I’ve still been fairly quiet about my side of the whole thing. The only reason for that is, to be perfectly honest, I’m still pretty rattled by the whole ordeal and have needed some time to process it.

Nick Groff Tour Ohio State Reformatory FI copy

You see, I’ve been actively chasing down the strange and the unexplained for nearly two decades. While instances like this are few and far between, in that time I’ve heard disembodied voices whisper in my ear, watched books levitate and fly through the air, and even dragged a man out of a haunted church after a pair of invisible hands choked him to the ground. Heck, Dana and I have a few pieces in the Traveling Museum of the Paranormal and the Occult that often remind us they’re haunted. My point is, I’m no stranger to weirdness. But in 18 years of active paranormal investigation, nothing has ever physically hurt me. Not once. In fact, before that night at OSR, I’d only been physically touched by something I couldn’t explain once, and despite that being one of the most personally terrifying things to ever happen to me, it didn’t hurt a bit.

I was always of the popular mindset that ghosts can’t hurt you, believing that the stories of scratches from an unseen force were just fodder for reality television, the product of an overactive imagination, or a forgotten brush with a rusty nail in an abandoned house. That’s not to say I didn’t want to believe it. Even as I was dragging a documentary camera man out of the Church of the Damned in 2003, I couldn’t shake the thought that maybe he wasn’t being attacked by a ghost, but was having an allergic reaction, or an asthma attack, or maybe even playing it up for the camera. The hand-shaped welts on his neck said otherwise, but I remained skeptical.

Now, I’m not so sure anymore.

Pushed and scratched by a ghostly hand in the dark

Greg Newkirk after being pushed by a "Ghost" in Ohio State Reformatory

When I was standing in OSR’s windowless room, I felt someone rush past me, pushing me out of the way like they were in a hurry. Thinking that it must have been one of the 200 other people exploring the prison on the Nick Groff Tour, I turned around to apologize, only to find my back to the wall. As my brain tried to comprehend whatever glitch it had just experienced, I began to feel an intense burning sensation in the middle of my back, the kind of burning you feel when your older brother winds up and slaps your bare skin as hard as he can. Once I mentioned it to the group, Michael Humphrey, the former OSR inmate we were exploring the prison with, turned to me and said, “I bet you got scratched… lift up your shirt.”

I couldn’t see the marks myself, but the gasps of the three others in the room was the only confirmation I needed. It appeared as though I’d been attacked by a ghost. As I ran my fingers over the raised, irritated skin on my back, I can remember yelling something to the effect of “no fucking way” over and over again. While the conversation in the room intensified, I found myself mentally rewinding the night’s previous events. Had I scratched an itch and forgotten about it? No, I wouldn’t have taken one good scratch and called it good. Had I leaned up against a jagged piece of drywall? A quick check of my jacket and shirt nixed that idea. In fact, the only physical touch my back had experienced was the feeling of someone rushing by, pushing me out of the way.

The subtle difference between natural and supernatural

Nick Groff and Greg Newkirk discuss a ghost attack at Ohio State Reformatory

Later that night, after I reluctantly joined Nick Groff on stage to display the strange marks to a hushed and horrified audience, I was sipping coffee at a Denny’s with John E.L. Tenney, a long-time anomalistic researcher and good friend, when he mentioned that he had experienced something almost identical at Whispers Estate the previous year. In fact, the entire encounter was captured on camera in Destination America’s Ghost Stalkers. First he was pushed, then came the burning sensation, then the scratches.

In his own research, Tenney has found that it’s a common chain of events, one that might help in distinguishing truly unexplainable scratches from parlor tricks and production flair. The most distinguishing piece of evidence being the fact that the scratches aren’t actually scratches, but welts.

John Tenney scratched in Whispers Estate

When someone is scratched by a stray nail, a girly-fight, or their own hand, there’s often the tell-tale remainder of white, ashy skin flakes and traces of blood, but in the case of “supernatural scratches”, the wounds seem to fit a different set of criteria. They’re free of blood, lack the powdery remainder of skin cells scraped off by fingernails, and appear as something much like burns or welts. Even more interesting is that the scratches disappear shortly thereafter, usually within hours of their appearance. These kinds of criteria aren’t simply limited to scratches either, but manifest as many other physical marks allegedly inflicted by supernatural forces.

Upon closer inspection, marks left by “ghosts” don’t conform to wounds left by physical force. They more often appear to have been left by energy, like stray electricity moving through the air, leaving behind burns and welts in its wake. To the untrained eye, the differences could easily go unnoticed, but for someone who has been keeping score as long as Tenney, it’s obvious. As he often says, what you think is weird is weirder than you think.


Sure enough, the marks on my back seemed to fit the criteria for the truly strange, and by the time we’d left Denny’s, they were but faint streaks of red. An hour into my drive home, they had completely disappeared.

Reassessing my disbelief in the “harmful ghost”

In the weeks that followed, my “ghost attack” at Ohio State Reformatory gained a lot of attention, partially because it’s a truly creepy story with lots of evidence to back it up, but also because of my background as someone historically skeptical of paranormal attacks. In fact, I’m of the mind that half of my friends wouldn’t believe me if I hadn’t spent so many years yammering on about how fake I thought these kinds of things were, and I don’t blame them a bit. Fortunately, I don’t just have an established background to back me up. My experience occurred in plain view of three others, including a stranger, with two cameras rolling through the entire event.

Greg Newkirk and Michael Humphrey in Ohio State Reformatory

I’ve since received dozens of emails from others who had experienced their own ghostly attacks, some of them sharing disturbing images of their violent brushes with the supernatural, half of them startling because they were so similar to mine, the other half startling because they appeared to be self-inflicted. The most popular communications, though, were the ones that warned me of demonic attachment.

As someone who grew up in family of Baptist ministers, I’m no stranger to the belief that anything unexplained is the work of the devil. I was once told by a Sunday School teacher that both Bigfoot and flying saucers were tools of distraction employed by none other than Satan himself, and that all ghosts were demons set out to lead people astray. I like to think that these used to be fairly fringe beliefs held by only the most religious, but today’s entertainment trends have done a good job of convincing ghost hunters that every tickle must be a demon trying to possess them.

While I understand and appreciate the concern shown for me, for the record, I don’t believe that whatever happened to me was the work of some malevolent force. I’ve been in a few rare, terrifying situations where I’ve believed beyond the shadow of a doubt that whatever was in the room with me wanted me dead, and the experience at OSR was nothing like that. There was no air of evil, no feeling of dread, just a lot of confusion. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve run as fast as I can out of locations where I felt threatened, and I’ve done it more than a few times, but in Ohio State Reformatory, I was more interested in logically breaking down what I’d just experienced than I was in running for my life.

While the “ghost attack” definitely hurt me, I don’t get the impression that it was intended to do anything other than get my attention.

What really happens when ghosts attack?

Greg Newkirk's back after being attacked by a ghost

So, what happened to me in the windowless room? The short answer: I don’t know, but it was something weird. The long answer is that it’s complicated.

Before the crowd on the Nick Groff Tour was set loose into the prison, there was a big question and answer session with the crowd. After one audience member raised their hand and asked if the people on stage, comprised of Nick Groff, Tenney, Mark and Debby Constantino, and Johnny Houser, thought the physical encounters with the supernatural were actually demonic, John E.L. Tenney had a response that has continued to stick with me.

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What if you were an entity, human or not, that was trapped in a location for years, maybe centuries or more, and in all that time you’ve finally mustered up enough energy to reach out and let the living know that you’re still there. Maybe you can’t control it and it simply manifests as a set of red welts on a ghost hunter’s skin. That doesn’t make it demonic, it makes it contact.

I couldn’t tell you whether or not Tenney’s theory is the case with my experience, but it’s a compelling argument against the belief that “supernatural scratches” are the work of malevolent spirits.

Still, there are other schools of thought that these events might be psychosomatic, caused by the mind of the subject so wrapped up in the thought they might get scratched, that the marks actually manifest by the power of sheer will. Some even believe that entities can trigger this psychosomatic event at will as a way to bridge the gap of physicality between realms of existence. As someone who, like I mentioned earlier, never in a million years believed a ghost could physically hurt you, I’d be more apt to fall into the latter category.


I’ve spent a solid month coming to terms with what happened to me that night, and I’m no closer to knowing what I experienced than I was sitting at the Denny’s several hours afterwards. What I have learned, though, is that it only takes one experience to change your mind about what’s possible when it comes to the paranormal, and that’s the kind of experience that keeps fresh batteries in your flashlight and a full tank of gas in your car. After all, it’s these kinds of opinion-changing, in some cases even life-changing, experiences that push us to seek answers to the unexplained.

Can ghosts hurt you? If you had asked me for the first 18 years of my investigations, I’d have said “probably not, at least not directly”. After Ohio State Reformatory, my answer is, “I think they can, because I experienced it”. The real question now, for me at least, is if they even mean to in the first place.


Do you believe that ghosts can hurt you? If so, why do you think they do it? Have you ever been attacked by a restless spirit? I’d love to hear from you. Share your thoughts with me on Facebook, tweet me @nuekerk, or leave your comments below.


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Greg Newkirk

Greg Newkirk

Editor-In-Chief at Week In Weird
Writer, adventurer, and professional monster chaser, Greg Newkirk is the founder and Editor-In-Chief of Week In Weird, Director of The Traveling Museum of the Paranormal & Occult and one-half of the prolific investigative duo Planet Weird. Learn more about Greg.
Greg Newkirk
Greg Newkirk

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You don’t go taunt people or dead people. You don’t go bother them, either. You don’t show up in their house and yell at people, you don’t try to look under their floors to find whatever is hiding, and if your place has spirits that need help you go find someone who can quietly come in and help them. And just because you get scratched it doesn’t have to be some demon. Seriously? Maybe someone wants you to get out and stop harassing him or her, you know? I don’t mean to be rude, but I have little sympathy for… Read more »

I’m extremely hesitant to jump on the “demon” bandwagon, even in cases like this. I tend to think spirits are pretty much like the living; you have the good, bad, and everything in between. The difference is, they have a lot more trouble communicating, and I can see where that might lead to a very unhappy entity. Even though it is scary, getting touched, let alone scratched by an unseen hand, I don’t think it’s the devil trying to get you, maybe just some poor bastard stuck for eternity in a really depressing place.

I had planned to attend this event, but backed out after hearing there would be some antagonizing of spirits going on. OSR is not the safest location for women to go anyway, but I plan to investigate at another time. It’s hard to say definitively if it is demonic or not. It is my belief that not all demons are there to try and hurt every person. I think some are truly fascinated and just want contact. The same goes for people stuck in limbo. A lot has to do with frame of mind at the time. I know from… Read more »

I agree Verdia. The whole antagonizing thing seems like a terrible idea. Whenever I see investigators used that method I think…

1. The investigators are plagued by too much testosterone.

2. They have never heard about how much flies like honey.


3. That being rude can lead to pissing off things that you don’t understand…like things that can scratch you.

So, would you be willing to put yourself into that situation again?

I would if it evoked a Paranormal response. This is what we are looking for and i have been known to taunt. Sometimes it requires the right chemistry to get a spirit to manifest.

I have two pictures of a claw scratch I got when over at someones house that practices witchcraft. It felt bad to be there. When i got home and took off my long sleeved shirt I found two marks….. needless to say, I have never been back there.

If he didn’t do it himself then its an interesting coincidence that those scratch marks are in exactly the position they would be in if he had scratched himself and the lines match the curve his hand would follow.

Years ago when I was a child, I lived in a small town called Los Banos. My family and I lived a couple of blocks from a local cemetery, and I regularly heard strange creakings and other things growing up in the house there. It wasn’t an old house by any means, and was part of a new subdivision. I remember being extremely frightened as a young child, thinking that the house never felt safe. (the fact that I lived in an abusive household is besides he point) As I got older, I learned to tune it out, or just… Read more »
I was attacked by a ghost, if that is the right word to use to describe what happened. I was standing completely still in the back shop of my small retail premises at around 7 a.m. one morning, drinking a cup of tea. No-one else was in the shop and my feet momentarily left the ground, not by an unseen force as such, but by a massive thump under the floor where I was standing. There was nothing under the floor that could have caused this, no equipment, machinery etc., just an empty space. It was as if someone had… Read more »
Oh, and since I can’t edit… Yes, you will bring them home with you and then you will have big problems. And it won’t be because they are demons. It will be because you came in not taking care of yourself or respecting them, and either they need help or have anger issues or want to leave. So don’t go bother them, but if you simply have to, learn how to protect yourself, don’t be rude, and if someone asks for help find someone who really knows how to help and see what can be done. And learn how not… Read more »
I ask you sincerely. Why is it so important to get them to perform for you? All you have to do is get someone who can hear/speak to them to ask whatever you want to know if you have sincere questions, but if it’s to prove they are there it’s kind of obvious. And to those who don’t want to acknowledge that, it won’t matter what “evidence” you show them. Does it matter if it distresses them further or causes poor creatures who were tortured in life to be tortured/frightened in death? There are other ways to communicate without provoking…I… Read more »

[…] When Ghosts Attack: How Getting Scratched by an Invisible Monster Changed My Opinions on the Paranor… […]

I am glad to hear he apologized! They do remember those who treat them well and those who betray them or are rude, just as anyone else would.

So, what if ghosts are just some sort of leftover electrical energy of the dead? And that’s why when people are “attacked” they look more like burn marks?

Ves… I wonder about this too…what is the nature of these ghosts… electrical? Why the burning feeling? and the colors it leaves? I had another experience where that witch “sent” me a demon and he latched on to my left arm. At first I only noticed this huge purple mark on my arm. when I put my finger in to that area, NOT touching the skin, it was a burning sensation. Like a column of blue heat, i might guess to compare. If i touched the purple mark, which resembled a bruise, it had no feeling on the skin, only… Read more »
While I mostly agree with the others here about the unnecessary and rude nature of provoking for the sake of an effect, I kind of have to acknowledge that the hunters ‘taking one for the team’ may be a good thing. Even if they’re bad experiences, anything that could be considered evidence is a positive in this situation. People are often too literal, and too religious, about ‘demon scratches’. I kind of like the idea that it’s a concentrated energy effect, and may not even be intentional. Similar to the idea that many poltergheist effects are essentially unconscious psychokinetic phenomena.… Read more »
It is something to study from a different angel that is for sure. It is not what is always talked about, yet I also do not think is is so “unconscious”. But the majority of this phenomena is “thoughtforms”. https://heartuniverseorg .wordpress .com/2015/05/07/scary-monsters-part-1/ and part 2 talk about this. The energy of negative thoughts are Malevolent and that is why is is uncomfortable. It is not a kiss or hug. It is what makes our hair stand on end when anything like that is near, seen or unseen. But Curious, you are looking at it in a different light, which is… Read more »

Friday May 5.2015 I was in my apartment and no noise(tv,radio, etc) as its soundproof. I sat down in the bedroom chair and I felt a presence and then I began to hear sleigh bells softly going round and round the room. The bells lasted about a min or two and then just stopped. I didn’t feel scared,startled, or surprised, but actually felt happy right after. I don’t understand this or what it was….Any Ideas? I have no physical health problems either physically or mentally and I am really stumped.

How would you fell if you were stuck some place for ever and here comes people whom know your their but only come to gather evidence that they are still here and not offer help to get you out. You would not walk by a living person stuck on the road and say sorry not here to help just to watch.

use of the term Devil is well over used, I beleive such a term used as it is commonly, is merely a means to point blame on something/someone without facts and without saying there name, but as we are talking about spirits merely thinking to blame the biblical bad guy carries intent and you might as well be calling his name from the roof top. a devil is more likely though in this case less so, I believe such entities do not haunt abandoned locations as they are not ghosts, all mythology carries the message that the Demons and Devils… Read more »

Those welts look similar to what I get when having an allergic reaction to dust mites. Those also go away in a few hours and they do burn. I wonder if the mechanism of injuring you was that you could have had an allergic reaction to the spectral being’s “touch?” Maybe you have thought of this, but have you thought of putting your back under a black light to see if there is a substance residue? I have heard of the reside lingering for months.

Oh thanks for sharing this! This is a compelling documentation and I am sorry it has been difficult for you.

I am a story writer so my mind tends to fill in gaps and create back story to most inexplicable or strange things almost immediately. Reading this – especially when you explained that they are not like scratches from a nail and people tend to feel like they’ve been pushed before it happens – the thought occurred to me that what if there is a force (not necessarily a malevolent spirit or a demon) but some natural force that is created where spirits congregate. A natural byproduct of all that energy in one place that can get out of control… Read more »

I have faced 3 wield attacks….
In one my bone of leg in the fingers were having hairline fracture…
It was like someone stood on my legs and suddenly after sometime it started paining….
One i saw on my hand suddenly a scratch appeared…. and the wieldest thing was it was 3:30 pm and on the it happened i was wearing some godly thing….

I’ll start off by stating that I can see into other dimensions eg. angels, demons, spirits, ghosts, auras, etc. But I cannot communicate with them. The sound is always very muffled. At my inlaws house there is a male ghost. For some reason he strongly dislikes me, and I suspect it’s because I can see him. One night at around 9pm I came out of the bathroom after taking a shower. I looked up and saw him exiting our room. He grimaced at me and stormed past me. Immediately my leg started burning, at the back just below my butt.… Read more »

“enraged men in tiny Tapout shirts” lmao!!! Spit up my coffee

I, too, was attacked by unseen forces. About 8 years ago I was sitting cross legged in the middle of my queen size bed. Suddenly I felt hands and nails (claws really) on my back and I was flying towards my dresser. The wound on my head was within centimeters of my temple and required nine staples to close. Since that attack, my family and a couple close friends have devoted our time and energy to learning and helping others understand what it is they could be experiencing. Thanks for sharing your story. It’s inspiring.

A team member in out group,mayo we affectionately call ‘the witch’ had an inverted cross scratched into her next when we were investigating The Priest House in Sussex a few years ago. The team had split into 2 small groups. She was upstairs with 3 other team members when we heard loud talking and then the whole group coming down and she asked if we could look at her next. Sure enough, there it was. She said it felt like it was burning too. I have been touched inappropriately in the Admiralty wing at Bodmin Gaol. There were 4 of… Read more »

More and more I am becoming totally convinced that there is a severe shortage of good manicurists in the afterlife. I wonder how the “barbers and hair stylists are making out?

My husband has been scratched 3 times in the last 3 months – the last 2 times being yesterday and two weeks prior to that. I searched the internet trying to find a ‘logical’ explanation and came across this article. Like you, I was EXTREMELY skeptical of the supernatural until a few years ago when we started experiencing the presence of SOMETHING in our home. It started with the door knobs and closet doors, proceeded with the cabinets being opened, doors slamming, sofa cushions bundled on the floor, items disappearing and appearing a few days later, to a cup being… Read more »