When Sophia Wescott opens her tattoo studio each day, she always makes sure to say good morning to the cast of characters waiting for her. There is the whistling man, the little girl and the pranksters just to name a few.
But when she walks into her bizarrely decorated studio she says there is no living entity in the building to greet her back, only spirits.
ZONE13 Tattoo and Body Piercing in Deptford is haunted, she claims. So much so that the Travel channel’s Ghost Nation paid a visit earlier this year to investigate and filmed an episode about it. A local paranormal group, NJROPE, also has worked with her over the past two years to help her understand and coexist with the spirits she says she encounters almost every day.
“I always was a believer in the paranormal,” Wescott said.
Sophia and her co-owner Dale Wescott purchased the property in 2014 after it sat vacant for years. The original home was built in the early 1950s where a woman named Bertha lived until her family moved her out. The home was then sold to an architect in 2006 and he soon moved a two-story building to the property and attached the two together.
He lived and worked in the addition while a landscaper worked out of the original home. The landscaper eventually left and so did the architect when he couldn’t rent or sell the property once his work was done.
“He said it was the quietest property he ever had,” Sophia said when she contacted him to ask if he experienced any paranormal activity.
Sophia and Dale were looking for a new location for their growing business when they discovered the 3,200-square-foot building that sits off of Rt. 41 behind BJ’s Wholesale Club just down the road from a New Jersey Department of Transportation Maintenance Facility.
“When we bought this place it was quiet here, it was wonderful,” said Sophia. She calls it her little hidden gem.
They started to hear noises once they began gutting the place in July of 2014. “We would start to hear little things like footsteps, but I would always try to debunk everything.”
Sophia said that when friends would come over to help paint or clean they would tell her it felt heavy when they went upstairs. Others would come down and feel a little dizzy.
“We weren’t thinking ghosts at the time,” Sophia said.
That was until Dale said he began encountering paranormal activity on the second floor that shook him to his core.
While tearing up the carpet to install hardwood flooring, he found a child’s necklace and then soon felt a hand go across his head. Dale recalls saying to himself “that didn’t just happen” and then thinking “but it sure as hell did.”
“We’re gonna put it right back where I found it and call it a day,” Dale remembered saying. He put the necklace back and installed the flooring over it.
Dale claims to have seen a little girl in a white dress appear on the steps and follow him around the shop.
“It feels like she’s on top of you literally like it gets extremely cold. It’s almost like she’s grabbing on to you,” he said.
He’s learned to ignore her and says that it might not be the best thing to do. He said there is nothing malevolent and admits the child gets to him because “kids shouldn’t be caught between here and the afterlife.”
Both Sophia and Dale said at first they were terrified when entering a room on the second floor which you have to go through to get to the kitchen and supply room.
“You couldn’t even get up the steps without feeling sick,” Sophia said.
“It’s really surreal because we go up there and feel a heaviness,” said Dale, describing it like an anvil on your chest. “Once you pass beyond that and go into the kitchen it feels like the pressure of the room just changes, it’s calm.”
He has heard growling and laughter and said he was scratched across his stomach while upstairs. He said twice he saw what appeared to be a distorted child walking on its hands and feet in a back stand position.
“I freaked out.”
But he said what put him over the edge was the time when he heard footsteps coming down the stairs from the second floor while he was doing electrical work by the front counter.
While recounting the story, he said he made a growling-laughing sound at the noise.
“Well it repeats it louder,” he said with a laugh. “I’m like okay we quit now.”
They dealt with the activity for approximately four years before they invited NJROPE to come in and investigate.
During their investigations, director Frank Lazzaro said they have experienced disembodied voices, have been touched, and have seen full-body apparitions so clear they could describe what it was wearing.
“I saw a man with a white shirt walking, a skinny guy wearing jeans and white shirt,” Lazzaro described seeing while walking the same path the figure walked.
In the basement of the original house, Lazzaro said they have heard banging noises and captured a female voice they believe might be that of Bertha.
According to Dan Webster, NJROPE co-director, while in the basement during an investigation he and another member heard a whisper but couldn’t make out what was being said until they listened to the recording.
“That’s when we heard what we call Bertha on the recorder yell very loud ‘I’m not moving.’ We didn’t hear that live. We heard the whisper,” said Webster. Lazzaro believes that they find her in the basement because it was left untouched so “it’s familiar with her, looks the same. It’s comfortable, it’s away from people.”
In the large tattoo room, which is located on the first floor of the added building, Sophia said she often sees shadows moving or peeking around corners as she tattoos customers. She also claims customers have heard voices right next to their ears or had their feet tickled.
“Tell Dale to stop tickling my feet,” Sophia said one customer told her while she was having the back of her arm tattooed. Sophia had to explain to her that he was in the other room.
The ghostly jokesters also seem to be curious about what people have in their pockets, particularly men.
“They said it feels like somebody’s trying to take their wallet out of their back pocket or put something in it,” Sophia said. This mainly happens when they are in a lay down position while getting tattooed.
They’ve also heard whistling at odd hours, including once at 3 a.m. when Sophia set up a voice recorder to catch it.
“There was nobody in the shop, I’m glad I validated what I heard,” she said.
Sophia said that for a long time they didn’t mention the activity to customers because they didn’t want to scare away business but now many of the customers are very in tune and accept it. NJROPE’s visit has also made the spirits calm down, she claims
The studio’s following and business has been doing so well that ZONE13 Tattoo and Body Piercing has won the annual Best of Gloucester County contest for arts/artist the past four years.
“Some people are going to love it and want to come here,” she said. “But then you’re going to get the ones that are like, I’m not really comfortable coming there.”
Watch the Travel Channel’s Ghost Nation episode about Zone 13 on Oct. 31 at 6 p.m, or Nov. 21 at 7 p.m.
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