It's a windy October night at the state Commerce Department, and agency attorney Don Hackler is telling ghost stories.
“About a fourth of the employees have told me they've heard noises or voices or seen things happen that they couldn't explain,” Hackler said before a tour of the agency's offices at a renovated old Oklahoma City church.
“The most common is the sound of ... people running up and down the stairs, the doors opening to the restrooms and the paper towel dispensers running,” said Hackler, the agency's deputy general counsel and public information officer.
“Occasionally, people will hear voices in the building. We've had people report papers flying off their desk and also rulers flying off their desk.”
Hackler said he is one of those whose ruler flew.
“I happened to be looking right at it when it happened,” he said. “It was sitting right next to a sheaf of papers I was reading through and ... it was just sort of like someone just flicked it to right off on to the floor.”
He said he had been working alone at the agency that Saturday but immediately went home.
On another Saturday, he said, he heard big-band music from the 1930s and 1940s at his desk.
“When I stood up and stepped out of my cubicle, it stopped. But when I stepped back into my cubicle, it picked right up where it was,” he said.
Employees also report hearing the elevator move up and down and the elevator doors open and close when the building is deserted, according to written accounts gathered by Hackler. The elevator is supposed to move only when someone is using it.
“Shortly after moving to the building, I was working after hours when I decided to make a pit stop,” one female worker wrote. “I was ... in the restroom when suddenly there was a bang on the wall of one of the stalls. I was alone! The experience was so unnerving and proof positive to me the building was haunted. Since that experience I frequently hear whispers when entering or exiting the elevator, even to this day. There's never anyone in the hallway.”
Another female worker wrote about twice this month finding a figurine of a lady holding a child had fallen from its spot on a shelf above her desk. “The cleaning crew either likes to play jokes or the ghosts are having fun at my expense,” she wrote.
After the first time, she stayed at her desk all day except once when she was only a few feet away. When she went back, she recalled, she found a framed picture of her husband and son had been turned.
“There's a couple of people who have said they've actually seen an apparition of some kind,” said Dustin Pyeatt, a Commerce Department outreach program manager.
The Commerce Department has about 140 employees, most at its main location at 900 N Stiles, in Oklahoma City.
Hackler said most of the reported experiences are in the new part of the building — an area added to the original church.
The church was built in 1907 but abandoned in 1980.
A firm of architects later occupied the building after renovating the church and adding on to it. Three architects told The Oklahoman on Tuesday that they never heard or saw anything unusual there.
Hackler arranged a tour for The Oklahoman on Oct. 24 after the janitors finished cleaning, and the building was supposed to be empty.
Early in the tour, he took a reporter and videographer to the third floor to ring a bell used by the agency to announce successes.
“A couple of people have told me they've rung this when other people aren't here, and they've gotten ... noises in the building,” Hackler explained.
After the third ring, from the nearby men's restroom came the unmistakable sound of the motion-activated paper towel dispenser going over and over.
Hackler hurried to investigate, but out came no ghost — only an employee working late.