It isn’t your quintessentially stormy night, but the sky is dark and a fat, yellowish moon is rising by the time I start driving east on I-696. I’m on my way to investigate a haunting, or, more accurately, to stand around and watch other people do the investigating.
Earlier in the day, I spoke with Scott Hattis, leader of Parahaunt, one of the numerous ghost-hunting groups operating in Michigan (yes, real people who cavort in graveyards, supposedly haunted homes and abandoned buildings, hoping for a glimpse into the great unknown). As good fortune would have it, Hattis invites me to join his group on one of their missions — a visit to a private residence in the eastern burb of Roseville where a family is reporting strange noises, apparitions and other phenomena.
Prepping for tonight’s excursion, I can’t help conjuring images from all the ghost movies I’ve seen over the years — films where supernatural experts consult tweed-jacketed professors in the “paranormal departments” of universities or use blinking gadgets to ferret out wayward spirits. It all seemed very glamorous and high-adrenaline. Although I’m doubtful tonight’s adventure will yield much in the way of bona fide proof of the hereafter, I’m feeling a twinge of exhilaration already. For moral and note-taking support, I’ve brought along my friend Monica, renowned in many circles for her vast knowledge of paranormal trivia and conspiracy theories.
Matching polo shirts
We turn into a quiet neighborhood of newly constructed, middle-class homes. To our chagrin, there are no creepy attic windows, no turrets, not a single gnarled tree
in sight. The street we’re looking for is lined with newer, ranch-style houses that couldn’t be a decade old.
Interestingly, the “haunted” house turns out to be the most Halloweened-out on the block. Plastic gravestones jut from the front lawn and an assortment of jack-o’-lanterns, ghosts and other spooktacular decorations populate the yard. On the front door looms the airbrushed image of a red-eyed Grim Reaper, clutching his scythe and grinning menacingly.
Inside, people are talking animatedly in the living room area and waiting for the investigation to begin. The decor is homey and, with the exception of a few crucifixes, about as far from gothic as you can get. An array of Lucille Ball, Disney and Red Wings memorabilia hangs on the walls. Collectibles fill a glass curio cabinet. An old golden retriever lies sleeping on the floor.
Most of the people in attendance — eight, to be exact — are Parahaunt members. Hattis, a barrel-chested man with a shaved head and a deep, commanding voice, is already giving instructions for tonight’s activities. I am surprised (and secretly delighted) to see that everyone sports matching black polo shirts featuring the Parahaunt logo and their first names embroidered in white. Real ghost-hunting uniforms!
One middle-aged couple is on their first outing with the group. I find out later that this is how the majority of members get involved — they join one ghost hunt to see what it’s all about and end up sticking around.
“The one that shakes the bed I want to get rid of. He gives me a real uncomfortable feeling,” Hattis is saying to Chris, co-owner of the house and the one who reported the haunting.
Chris has lived in the place for six years with her husband Roger, her three children aged 7, 11 and 12, and her mother. In the past year and a half since her grandmother passed away, different family members began experiencing strange phenomena.
To date, the family has seen apparitions in the house, and Chris’ son awakened at night to find his bed shaking. A TV turned on with no one around, and a music box on a high shelf in the master bedroom apparently started playing by itself.
“And it would not go off!” Chris exclaims. “I took the key out and everything. Scared the crap out of me.”
“Magical” dowsing rods
It’s time for the first leg of the investigation. Just as I’d hoped, the Parahaunters have gadgets. They pull out electromagnetic field detectors, digital cameras and temperature and humidity gauges. One woman, Donna, carries “magical” dowsing rods about the size of chopsticks. We file into the basement, where the team checks for unexplainable surges of energy, drops in temperature or
other ghostly vibes.
“I felt that energy as soon as I hit that doorway,” Scott says.
Later on, Scott explains his theory that spirits are drawn to electrical sources, where they can be re-energized. Chris mentions that the basement lights burn out quickly.
“Light bulbs will burn out quite frequently when there’s a ghost feeding from it,” Scott explains.
After getting some indeterminate readings in the basement, we move back upstairs. I chat a little with Ed, a towering guy built like a bodyguard or football player, who looks as though he could kick any butt within a 30-mile radius but who turns out to be charmingly unassuming. Tonight marks his second Parahaunt excursion and he is using the electromagnetic field detector to see if he can pick up any suspicious energy. I ask him whether he believes in ghosts and he smiles a little sheepishly and describes himself as more of a borderline believer. He says he’s heard some weird things on the tapes so far but admits, “I even have trouble seeing things when they point them out to me.”
He pauses. “But it’s adventurous.”
After snapping a shot in what he calls “the target room”(the boy’s room with the supernaturally vibrating bed), Scott says, “I got somebody looking at us through that window over there.”
He shows us the image, pointing to a round, smudged area on the window blinds.
“Well, it did look like a blob in the window,” Monica tells him, skeptically. “But I’d like to see it blown up — I’ll be honest.”
“When I put it on the computer we’ll be able to see it better,” Scott replies. Tonight he’s already captured “orbs” (round points of light that some believe to be evidence of ghosts) in a few shots with the video camera.
I talk to Jerry, a tall, handsome gray-haired man. He claims that since he began ghost hunting with Parahaunt about a year ago, he’s seen faces materialize in photos after processing. “Some of the pictures we’re getting amaze me because there was nothing there when they took [them]. And after they’re developed … these faces appear that weren’t there before.”
“Something is telling us there’s something there in that house,” he says. “We’ll probably see it on the infrared camera.”
The spirit world
Judging by all the excitement, the infrared video camera is apparently the mack daddy of paranormal technology. Two TVs are hooked up to the camera — one for viewing infrared data and one for recording. Parahaunter Keith descends into the basement with the camera and a CB radio that he uses to receive instructions from Scott. Before long, the orbs start appearing on the TV screens upstairs. They look like shooting stars, zipping across the screen or sometimes floating gingerly past. Every time one shows up, the crowd lets out a chorus of oohs and ahs like we’re watching a fireworks display.
The group seems to agree that the appearance of “orbs” is evidence of ghostly activity here tonight. But not everyone buys into the orb theory. Not even every ghost hunter. According to John Tenney, local ghost hunter, lecturer on Michigan weirdness and self-described paranormal “archivist,” most orbs have less to do with spirits and more to do with digital cameras and tricks of light.
“The whole orb phenomenon started pretty much about the same time that people started using digital cameras more often than regular cameras. Digital cameras have only been out for general purchasing for the past five years and nobody really understands … how they are going to react to light reflection or dust or pet and animal hair.”
Tenney cites a UFO researcher who is able to reproduce the orb effect on demand.
“All he does is find some dust, blow it in the air, snap a flash photograph with a digital camera and you’ve got orbs.”
Tenney, who ran (unsuccessfully) for mayor of Royal Oak in 2001, says he thinks some orb photos could be the real thing.
On the other hand, when they stop laughing, the folks at skeptic.com will offer to sell you a Baloney Detection Kit that could help you debunk the existence all paranormal phenomena, period.
But even the most logical arguments don’t squelch the human longing to revel in mystery, pursue that brief glimmer of light in the darkness or seek answers to the most fundamental of questions.
Ouijas and rhinestones
Scott’s been chasing ghosts for nearly 10 years.
“There were two things that got me interested in it,” he says. “My son passed away … and I wanted proof that there was life after death. And I lived with my family in a house that was dangerously haunted.”
Back at the house, the evening is drawing to a close with what Scott calls a “circle” — which, from what I can tell, is basically a séance. Chris and a handful of Parahaunt members gather around the kitchen table and join hands. A lit candle, along with a tape recorder and an electromagnetic field detector are placed in the center. The lights are turned out. Scott leads the group in a prayer of protection, invoking the name of Christ, instructing everyone to clear their minds and go into a “semi-meditative state.”
After a few moments of silence, Scott says he senses the energy of an older woman in the room. He asks, “Anybody here used a Ouija board?” Chris’s cousin says that she has and that she got a reaction. “It hasn’t left. It’s still with you,” Scott announces.
A few moments later, someone else speaks up. “I’m getting an image of a rhinestone brooch on somebody’s coat lapel. I can’t make out the image, but for some reason I want to say it’s a horse or a horse head.”
“Well my grandmother had one,” Chris offers. “But it wasn’t a horse head.”
More “sensed” images follow: an old-fashioned bathtub, the letter “C.” But nothing strikes home with much impact.
“The spirit that’s been hanging around from the Ouija board, I have to have your permission” before the spirit is sent away, says Scott.
Chris’ cousin provides the requisite approval faster than you can say “exorcism.” Scott recites a short prayer asking that the entity be sent back from whence it came.
The night comes to an abrupt halt when one of the children returns home with a dog bite. The group arranges to return later to “cleanse” the house with holy water and prayer.
Following up with Scott a few nights later, I learn that Chris was so intrigued that she decided to join the ghost hunters on their next excursion. Indeed, real or imagined, the orbs work in mysterious ways.Christina Kallery is a Detroit-area freelance writer. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org