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Do you have a tale to tell of spooky Bay area locale? We’ll get you started with this article written and published in 2002.
Who Ya Gonna Call? GHOST HUNTERS
By Kevin Walker/Tampa Tribune
Originally published Oct 31, 2002
ST. PETERSBURG Ă˘â‚¬â€ť Last Halloween, a Pinellas County art dealer decided to take photos of her new home.
She had closed the purchase earlier in the day and wanted pictures of the 68-year-old house before she started a remodeling project.
She started in the dining room, zooming in on a pass-through to the kitchen.
She started to push the shutter button.
Without warning, the camera flew from her hand, hit the floor, slid across the room and smashed into a wall.
“I’ve dropped a camera before,” says the art dealer, who asked that her name and the house location not be used. “But to have it slide across the room and hit the wall so hard it broke the zoom mechanism?”
After she moved in, things kept happening. Her computer repeatedly malfunctioned, but only when used in her first-floor home office. Doors mysteriously unlocked on their own. She sometimes saw movement out of the corner of her eyes.
Earlier this month, she started feeling anxious, a “feeling of being watched all the time, a feeling of fear.”
In short, she was freaking out.
Who’s she gonna call?
On Oct. 5, Brandy Stark, 27, leads a five-member ghost-hunting team in an investigation of the art dealer’s home.
Two carry zone electromagnetic field detectors. Another Ă˘â‚¬â€ť Denise Schmidt, 37, on her first investigation Ă˘â‚¬â€ť carries a micro-scanner infrared thermometer and a 35 mm camera. “I’ve been wanting to do something like this my whole life,” says Schmidt, an ex-police officer.
Others carry cameras, constantly snapping shots. They make note of “spikes” in electromagnetic activity or rapid temperature fluctuations.
Stark constantly jots down the team’s observations.
Most come from Sandy Bard, 37, and Susan Granby, 36. Both are “sensitives,” people who believe they have the ability to sense and sometimes communicate with ghosts.
On the second-floor staircase landing, Bard stops.
“Heavy, heavy,” she intones, waving her hands in front of her chest, indicating the heavy feeling she often gets when sensing a ghost.
Bard then reports seeing an image of an elegant woman, wearing a stylish dress.
In the downstairs office, Bard sees a man, arms folded, unhappy they are there. Granby picks up something unclear about theft and gets an image of a man laughing at them.
They comb the house for three hours, then meet with the art dealer, who shares her experiences. Turns out there was a theft of art pieces from the previous homeowner, a woman who lived in the house for more than 60 years until her death in 2000.
The ghost detectives sum up their findings: The ghost upstairs is benevolent, perhaps the original homeowner. The one downstairs is mischievous, possibly the thief.
Stark advises the art dealer to contact a priest to perform a blessing of the home. But the group warns that taking steps to get rid of the troublemaking ghost might also drive out the benevolent spirit upstairs.
The art dealer seems relieved. The ghost hunters are excited about their findings.
They’re all nuts, right?
“No one,” Stark assures, “is a bigger skeptic than me.”
Not that ghosts exist. She definitely believes that is the case. But she casts a dubious eye on many of the “findings” some ghost hunters report.
And there are plenty of them.
Enter “ghost hunting” on any Internet search engine, and you will be rewarded with links to literally hundreds of paranormal investigation sites. Ghost detective groups have formed in most major U.S. cities, as well as many smaller ones (who knew ghosts were so active in Yuma, Ariz?).
Here in the Tampa Bay area, Stark helped found S.P.I.R.I.T.S. Ă˘â‚¬â€ť Servicing Paranormal Investigators Reporting Information Through Study Ă˘â‚¬â€ť in 2000. Members have worked about 30 cases, both in public venues (such as Tampa Theatre) and private homes.
It’s all out of curiosity, because they are not paid for their investigations. Stark is hoping to get some kind of grant so she can reimburse them for equipment and gas expenses.
A personal experience and what Stark calls “a morbid interest in the afterlife” prompted her to go into the ghost-hunting business. The personal experience involved a retired schoolteacher named Louise, whom Stark thought of as a grandmother. Louise died in 2000.
The two had talked about the afterlife at great length. Stark was asleep at home when Louise died but awoke suddenly at 2:30 a.m. with a pleasant smell of honeysuckle and orange blossom in her room. She also felt a relaxed, calm, happy sensation.
“I knew immediately she was dead,” Stark says.
Stark found out later that Louise had died just shortly before she awoke.
Other S.P.I.R.I.T.S. members talk of similar experiences. Schmidt, who also claims to have some ability as a sensitive, talks of seeing a ghostly image when she was 15. Another newcomer, Amy Rohrsen, 27, says the office where she works is haunted by former employees. Scott Elliott, 26, participated in ghost hunts in Ohio and was glad to find a group doing the same thing when he moved to St. Petersburg. Granby and Bard say they’ve seen and communicated with ghosts in the past.
A lot of people may believe in ghosts. These people spend their weekends trying to find them.
“I’m very careful about documenting everything, following certain procedures,” Stark says.
“I don’t want to become a joke.”
Searching For Kerouac
The investigators are back at it a week later, this time at Haslam’s Book Store, just west of downtown St. Petersburg. They’re hoping to find Jack Kerouac.
He has been dead since 1969. But the ghost of the legendary writer supposedly still haunts the bookstore, where he used to stop by in his later years, often drunk, and move his books up from a lower shelf to one at eye level.
A television crew once hired a psychic to come to Haslam’s. After walking around the store for a while, the psychic claimed to have sensed Kerouac, still lurking about one of his favorite things, the printed word.
The S.P.I.R.I.T.S. have no such luck. Despite repeated attempts to contact Kerouac, none of the sensitives receives images of him. They even attempt an “EVP” Ă˘â‚¬â€ť electronic voice phenomena Ă˘â‚¬â€ť recording. This involves asking any ghosts present to speak while running a tape recorder. Others claim to have caught ghosts talking on tape, but the St. Petersburg hunters have had no such luck, yet.
Several strange things do happen. Temperature readings in one room Ă˘â‚¬â€ť the one containing the Greatest Books of the 20th Century list Ă˘â‚¬â€ť fluctuate wildly.
Rohrsen’s camera battery, fully charged, suddenly dies. Bard says she feels someone trying to take her by the hand.
Schmidt, on just her second investigation, also has a strange experience. When crossing the threshold into the Metaphysical Room, Schmidt claims to feel a cold sensation inside her body.
Rohrsen, who bumps into her, also feels the sensation in her arm. The others immediately surround the pair, taking readings with instruments.
Stark says such equipment failures and freaky sensations are par for the ghost-hunting course.
Ray Hinst, co-owner of Haslam’s, watches it all from a few bookshelves away. He says Stark had called and asked for an opportunity to visit the store, which the S.P.I.R.I.T.S. investigated once before.
“I just stay back and out of the way,” he says, smiling. “I think what they do is fascinating. I don’t mind letting them come in for an hour or two. They’re all really very nice people.”
The hunters are aware how some perceive them. All they have to do is mention their hobby is ghost hunting.
“But I find most people at least try to be open-minded. A lot of them are interested in what we do,” Stark says.
Even the ghosts have a sense of humor about it.
During the Haslam’s investigation, Bard briefly picks up an image from a ghost. He won’t give his name, but Bard says he appears to be laughing.
Bard chuckles herself.
“He thinks what we’re doing is funny.”
Hunters Follow Code Of Conduct
The St. Petersburg ghost detectives known as S.P.I.R.I.T.S. (Servicing Paranormal Investigators Reporting Information Through Study) follow strict guidelines when conducting a ghost hunt, including:
* At least two people must be present in every room at all times.
* No smoking, whispering, horseplay, alcohol, drugs, perfume or after-shave.
* Only the group leader speaks with the homeowner, so none of the investigators’ impressions is “tainted” with prior information.
* Team members do historical research on the site.
* Each ghost hunter files an individual report for each investigation.
How is the detecting done? In addition to team members who are “sensitive” Ă˘â‚¬â€ť those with the ability to sense and sometimes communicate with ghosts Ă˘â‚¬â€ť the ghost hunters have a wide array of resources. They include:
* Digital, 35 mm and Polaroid cameras. Hunters constantly take photos and look them over later for “orbs,” little white dots that doubters say are usually lens smudges or light flares but ghost hunters say indicate energy from a ghost.
* Readings from electromagnetic field detectors. Hunters believe ghosts disrupt these fields, causing sudden surges or “spikes.”
* Infrared thermometers. Ghost hunters say a passing ghost can cause sudden temperature fluctuations.
* A digital tape recorder. Some ghost hunters claim to have caught ghostly voices on tape, often so low they can only be heard after repeated listenings.
* Low-light video. This is needed just in case there’s a visible apparition or other ghost-related phenomenon.
For more information, visit the S.P.I.R.I.T.S. Web site at centralflghosts.homestead .com/home.html, where you can also find links to dozens of other ghost-related sites.
SIGNS OF A GHOST
Are strange things happening around the house, and you’re starting to wonder whether it might be something supernatural? Here are some indications ghost hunters say might mean you have ghosts (bear in mind ghost hunters believe the dead are most active between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.).
* Voices from out of nowhere.
* Hearing footsteps into and out of areas where no one is present.
* Objects being moved.
* Doors locking and unlocking.
* A feeling of being constantly watched.
* Consistent problems with electrical equipment not working in certain areas.
If you think you might be living in a haunted house, ghost hunters offer some simple advice.
* Don’t be afraid. Remember the living have power over the dead, and ghosts can affect you only as much as you let them. Despite what we’ve all seen in movies, ghosts rarely harm the living.
* If you want to get rid of a ghost, simply asking it to leave often does the trick.
* Burning a sage stick can often dispel negative ghost vibes.
* Setting up some type of fountain also helps, as flowing water helps dispel negative energy.
* A house blessing from a priest can also do the trick.
Reporter Kevin Walker can be reached at (813) 259-7975.