[As promised, this evening I bring you something just a little different for the Vault. It's a report from a real-life Ghost Hunter. In this case, the person in question is my old high school buddy Jay Stroming, who now has one of the coolest side gigs in the world. I'll let him explain...]
Ok, first, a quick disclaimer: this blog entry will not be about the horror genre. But it will definitely be related. You see, I’m a ghost hunter. Like those guys on TV (sorry, hard not to make a “Ghostbusters” joke here). If you’ve ever seen “Ghost Hunters” on the SyFy Channel, or any of the other similar shows on other networks, then you know what I do, in a nutshell. Brian is an old friend of mine going back to high school days, and I was honored that he asked me to do a post on my ghost hunting activities for The Vault of Horror. The impetus for his invitation was a recent investigation we conducted at a fire house here on Staten Island, New York, just two weeks ago.
I’ve been with EPIC, the Eastern Paranormal Investigation Center, for a little over three years now, and in fact, I am one of the co-founders, with Arthur Matos. In that time we’ve added two additional members, James Bricks and Laura Pennace, who in addition to investigating, do a tremendous job at historical research, which is key to our group’s philosophy. We’re a very scientifically-minded group, meaning we don’t rely on psychics or mediums, but rather sophisticated electronic equipment, such as infra-red cameras, EMF meters, motion sensors, and so on. We are out to find recordable evidence of the paranormal, whether it be video, audio, readings captured on meters, or ideally, a combination of those things.
In these three years, we’ve investigated a number of locations, mostly residential homes, but we do get the occasional business or high-profile client who wants us to come in and validate what they may be experiencing. About a month ago, we were contacted by Richmond Engine Company No. 1, a volunteer fire house servicing historic Richmond Town and the surrounding areas, here on Staten Island. While we’ve been lucky to never have had to doubt the sincerity of any of our clients in the past, claims of the paranormal seem to carry extra weight when coming from cops or firefighters. These are pragmatic problem-solvers and rescuers who need to deal with tangible facts and deal with life or death decisions on a day to day basis. They are not usually the types to get scared by things that go bump in the night.
The firefighters at Engine Company No. 1, whose names have been withheld for perhaps obvious reasons, were very sincere in their claims of the paranormal. It is a volunteer house, with all the firefighters living nearby and on-call around the clock. They don’t all reside there, as in a traditional fire house, but there are many nights where one or more of them will spend the night. The house itself was built in 1905, in response to public outcry after a girl was killed in a fire because none of the other houses could respond quickly enough. Nobody is known to have died in the building, and only one firefighter in the house’s history has died on the job, and that was out on a call, not in the building itself. Still, firefighters here reported hearing lots of footsteps coming from upstairs when nobody else is in the building; voices being heard; doors being slammed or banged; feelings of being watched; and a dark, shadowy apparition that appears at the top of the stairs.
We conducted our investigation on July 24th, 2009. The investigation began with some quick interviews with the firefighters stationed at the house, followed by a tour of the building. It consisted of a large garage area, which housed the fire truck, a kitchen, and a conference room area with a small restroom and some closets. The second floor contained the stairway, a small hallway, and then the living quarters, which was essentially a large room with a dining room table, some couches and a recliner, a number of display cases with pictures and vintage equipment, and a TV. We then set up our equipment and prepared for a long evening of investigating. We usually set up a safe room, which is a room where we can monitor our equipment, and it is usually the room with the least amount of paranormal activity. In this case we used the conference room.
Throughout an investigation, we rotate in teams of two, with two team members investigating a room, and the other two back in the safe room monitoring the equipment. We conduct EMF sweeps, to see what the Electro-Magnetic Field readings of the room are, to get a baseline. We take lots of pictures, both digital and 35mm. We always have a camcorder running, to document our investigation for later review. And we conduct EVP sessions (electronic voice phenomenon), where we ask questions to the supposed entity in the location, and reviewing our audio recorders later to see if we captured any voices. Investigations generally run from 6-8 hours, starting our recorders at 9 or 10, and running until 3 or 4am. Once we’re done, we break down the equipment and go home. Evidence review can take up to two weeks. If we set up 8 video cameras, and run each one for 8 hours, that’s a total of 48 hours of video to look through. Not to mention hours and hours of audio to listen to.
For this investigation, we focused mainly on the upstairs living quarters and the stairway, as that’s where the bulk of the activity was reported. During the course of investigations, we sometimes have what we call personal experiences. These are things we can’t document, such as if we see something but a camera is not focused on it at the time. During this investigation, we didn’t really have any personal experiences. We did have a brief period of the feeling of being watched in the upstairs quarters, but it didn’t last. The room definitely had a spooky vibe at first, but it didn’t last. Again, it’s only a personal feeling, so we don’t consider it as evidence. Psychological or parapsychological, who knows? One of our EMF meters was reacting a bit strangely during our EVP session, almost as if in response to some of our questions, and we can’t explain why it did this. As I write this, there is perhaps an hour or two left of evidence that we need to review, but so far, we have found nothing out of the ordinary.
Many times when we think of ghosts and hauntings, we think of horror movies, and Hollywood special effects. “Poltergeist,” “The Exorcist,” and other movies like that tend to portray the paranormal in what I call the “all Hell breaking lose” way. Nothing is really subtle. Voices are loud. Big, heavy objects move on their own. Apparitions appear at will, scaring people left and right. The ghosts are powerful and in control and terrifying. In real life, ghost hunting is not that spectacular. Most times, we spend the entire night sitting in a dark room, sitting still and being quiet. Heaters or air conditioning units are turned off, so it’s often uncomfortable. We drink lots of coffee and eat lots of candy to stay awake. We don’t have proton packs, and we don’t need them. Usually, the most interesting things are found during evidence review, and even then, you are talking about perhaps hearing a spoken word, maybe two, that you can’t account for, in 12 or 16 hours of audio you must listen to, or a single odd light that doesn’t belong and only lasts for 3 seconds, in 48 hours of video review.
We don’t get paid a dime to do any of this, and in fact we spend lots of our own money in order to be able to do this. So it’s not like the movies, even though I love “Poltergeist” and “The Exorcist” and “The Haunting” (the original, not the awful Liam Neeson version). But it’s still a lot of fun, and when we do catch that little piece of evidence that we can’t find a rational explanation for, it’s as thrilling as any of the best horror movies you’ll ever see. A full report on our investigation will be up shortly on our website, www.epicparanormal.com
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