Schenectady County

Pioneering ghost hunter Pitkin dies at 73

David J. Pitkin, who died Wednesday at his home in Chestertown at age 73, was well known to people w
Ghosthunter and author David Pitkin stands in the stairway to the Glen Sanders Mansion wine cellar in this 2008 photo.
Ghosthunter and author David Pitkin stands in the stairway to the Glen Sanders Mansion wine cellar in this 2008 photo.

David Pitkin didn’t investigate paranormal activity with electromagnetic field monitors, a fine-tuned digital recorder or other technological devices sometimes seen on reality television shows.

Nor did the former teacher and prolific storyteller wait until the eerie dead of night to launch his ethereal investigations. He viewed these tactics as gimmicks employed by ego-driven ghost hunters simply trying to make a name for themselves, instead of helping to liberate souls of the troubled deceased.

Instead, Pitkin tackled his probes into the spiritual world with only the bare essentials: the dogged research skills of a history buff and his bare intuition — a sixth sense he honed since becoming enamored of the unconscious mind during the 1960s.

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View the obituary of David J. Pitkin.

“I believe that a sixth sense is the birthright of each person, but we must claim its existence through usage,” he wrote. “We must be willing to develop and expand it, just as we would our muscles.”

Pitkin died Wednesday after a prolonged bout with cancer. He was 73 years old.

Pitkin is survived by his companion, Diane Wood, and three children from a prior marriage. He is also survived by a brother and four sisters.

Pitkin was a longtime teacher in the Saratoga Springs City School District and had a sense of humor that endeared him to his students even years after he left the profession. He also loved to study history, a trait that proved invaluable along his paranormal investigations.

Pitkin conducted more than 5,000 investigations into the paranormal that extended across the Northeast and even overseas — from Britain to Belize. After retiring as a teacher, he authored more than a half-dozen books on his ghostly encounters and became regarded as a knowledgeable source about paranormal activity.

He was a consummate teller of ghost stories who had a knack for keeping even the most skeptical of listeners spellbound, said longtime friend Tick Gaudreau. And he never needed to sensationalize his material to do it.

“He was a raconteur extraordinaire,” Gaudreau said. “He could hold an audience and even interest people who were less than accepting. If they listened to him, he could tell them a wonderful story.”

Pitkin’s stories weren’t based in lore or reproduced from second-hand sources, said Bill Getz, a close friend and dowser who would sometimes accompany him during his investigations. Instead, Pitkin generated them through site visits and his own meticulous research — work that would often unveil some of the same details he’d conjure simply by questioning spirits in a haunted building.

“He would have these empathic feelings about a place,” Getz recalled. “He would feel the energy about a place, he’d close his eyes and he’d get a vision.”

Getz said his friend had a unique spirituality and believed strongly in reincarnation. He said Pitkin surmised that life after death was partially a function of the energy coursing through an individual’s body.

“He certainly believed that we all have an afterlife and that our life force goes on,” he said. “It’s energy, so since energy can’t be created or destroyed, it just went on.”

Ruppert Pratt, another longtime friend and fellow author, remembers Pitkin for his unswerving ability and desire to teach. He said Pitkin was also someone who was easy to befriend and cared deeply about the people in his life.

“When he became your friend, he was really a lifelong friend,” he said. “He’d do anything to help you.”

Pitkin is remembered as intensely interested in the world around him and highly intuitive. Leslie Carroll, a friend of more than 20 years, recalled him as someone who always kept an upbeat take on life.

“He was so easy to talk to because he was interested in absolutely everything,” she said. “Everything piqued his interest.”

Carroll said Pitkin never lost his humor even as he battled cancer. She said his outlook on the afterlife has given her hope that his death won’t be the final chapter in their friendship.

“It makes me feel I will see him again,” she said. “That’s a happy thought.”

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