IS IT A GHOST
YOUR GHOST STORIES
I have been actively investigating paranormal phenomena since 1975 although my interest goes far beyond that. I work with psychics which help to compliment my investigations, whether local or out-of-state. I have conducted many investigations concerning ghost lights, haunted houses, battlefields, cemeteries, Indian burial grounds, murder sites, churches and sacred sites. I am currently listed in the Encyclopedia of Associations, Directory of Newsletters, The Forensic Services Directory, Instant Information. I personally direct "Excursions Into The Unknown, Inc.", Haunted Chicagoland Tours, which is a part of the Oak Lawn Chamber of Commerce.
I have contributed a chapter for a book released by Bantam called "True Tales Of The Unknown: The Uninvited" and several chapters for "Dead Zones" released by Warner Books and both edited by Sharon Jarvis. I have written two books "Windy City Ghosts" and "Windy City Ghosts II" which deals with strange and unusual sightings around Chicago. I have also written a book detailing spirit photography entitled, "A Field Guide to Spirit Photography". My most recent book is devoted to ghost lights and is titled "Illuminating the Darkness: The Mystery of Spooklights". I've been to England, Wales and across the United States seeking out the paranormal.
How long have you been in the field?
I have been doing this myself since 1975, the Ghost Research Society has just turned 30 this year it was founded back about 1977under the name “The Ghost Trackers Club” and then became the Ghost Research Society in 1982. It started off as a hobby, I picked up reports and stories and it went from there. I guess that became interested because of my parents and the stories that they would tell me. When they were dating, one of their favorite things to do was to go to a famous location in Chicago called Resurrection Cemetery, where ghosts had been reported since the 1930s. Of course neither of them saw anything but they told me the stories. I eventually opened a P.O. box in Chicago, and put some small articles in some local papers requesting stories, and I was really quite amazed by the amount of material that I got. This was long before there was a world wide web. I finally got together a group of people that started the group. I didn’t really have any personal experiences with anything but I did have an interest in it.
What made you decide to write the books?
Long before I wrote the books, I produced the Ghost Trackers newsletter, in 1982 -2001 which was a newsletter that initially came out quarterly but was later dropped down to 3 times a year. I have book reviews featured writers and advertising. In 2001 I decided to take the writing seriously. When Windy City Ghosts came out I had over 20 years of research.
What do you consider your favorite book that you have written?
I really have two favorite books. My first book, because I take a lot of pride in it. Windy City Ghosts it is a list of very famous haunted locations up to some lesser-known locations. The Windy City books are divided by location and they include about folk tales and legends which Chicago has quite a few. Some are true and some are not so true. Obviously the legends start from somewhere, and the story gets handed off from one generation to the next. Many of the photographs in the book are of locations that no longer exist. My other favorite would be the Field Guide To Spirit Photography, which is a very useful guide that a number of people have purchased; it is actually the first filed guide that I put together. It tells people how to go about taking photographs, what to look for in photographs and to hopefully better you chances of getting something on film. And if you do, to try to ascertain whether it is a true apparition or a double exposure, lens flare, camera strap or a dust particle. It goes into the use of the camera and covers from the first cameras to the new digital cameras. It goes into motion picture cameras as well. It also goes into some other equipment that should be used in conjunction with cameras.
What would you recommend to someone who is interested in getting into the field?
I started by doing lots of reading on the subject. I read books by people like Hans Holzer, Irene Hughes, Ed & Lorraine Warren. That is only the tip of the iceberg. Then I discovered that there were no local groups, so I joined some out of state groups and went to some of their trips and conferences. I have always felt that that is the definitive part of becoming a researcher. On the job training is really the most important part finding a group that has protocols and knows what they are doing. That is the best way to do it. You can always go to different conferences and give you ideas and let you understand different protocols and procedures. If you are looking to start you own group, I would suggest looking on the web at some of the bigger sites and looking to see what protocols and equipment that they use. When I first got into this I was interested in all aspects of the paranormal from Ghosts to Poltergeists to U.F.O.’s and Bigfoot. I really enjoy going to conferences to learn more. I don’t feel that there are any true “experts” in the field, you always have a margin to learn. You might find someone who is just starting who has a new theory that has not been tried before, and you can ask yourself why didn’t I think of that? It is a great way to communicate with others that do the same thing.
What would you recommend to someone who is looking for help with a paranormal event?
I have a directory called the Directory of Ghostly Web Sites, and most groups have links to other people divided by state. Google is another way to find someone. I have seen groups that have basic links and then they have an “affiliated” list of links. I will be honest, there are a lot of kooks out there, there are a lot of fly-by night web sites that are there one day and gone the next time you try to go back.
When people are looking for someone to help, do you think that there is a good way to judge the credibility of the group?
That’s a hard question. You almost have to be able to see what the group’s motives are. If you find group in your area look at their web site, do they list their investigations and have results, images and resolutions from the investigation. Do they do it scientifically, does it sound right? If you feel that it is you can give it a try. There are so many different groups that are out there that it is hard to keep my list updated. I have not met all of the people on the list but I have met a lot through conferences, by phone or in by mail. You really have to be t the judge yourself. Just because a group does not have a great website does not mean that they are not good researchers.
What do you think of the offering of “Certifications” in Ghost Hunting/Paranormal Research?
That’s always been an issue with me. I have not seen the materials or qualifications that they have. I always feel that if you want to have something to hang on your wall, or think that you want to you are doing join a group and learn. Most groups will offer training to people and hands on experience. We offer workshops that explain what you have to know and what equipment to use and then you get to see how the person uses the tools and the training that is really the only way to certify someone. When you are not even there to observe an individual or see what they are doing it is hard to certify them, so I am kind of down on some of these courses. Not saying that there are not some good ones but I think that you need to have some hands on experience before you become certified.
What do you think of the new interest in the paranormal by the media? Do you think that it has had a positive or negative impact on the field?
I think on the general public it is a positive. Unfortunately they do not make show like Sightings or Unsolved Mysteries. Shows like that where they really get into the investigations. Some of the shows now seem to be like soap operas, its not focused on what they do but the interaction in the group, lost equipment things of that nature. There needs to be more shows out there like Sightings & Unsolved Mysteries that really focus on the investigation. Not saying that the ones out there now don’t generate interest. I find myself laughing sometimes about how some of them go about investigations and how they draw their conclusions. You are trying to condense an investigation into a half an hour to an hour. I know that they have a time constraint, but for them to come up with a conclusion in that short of a time is not scientific at all. I have to laugh at web sites and some of these shows that get something and right away jump to the conclusion that it is a ghost. I will tell you that I am a believer in these types of things but I also season my belief with Skepticism. You have to be able to rule out a natural explanation along the way. Once you rule those things out you can start to look at a paranormal explanation. Some groups do not do that, they simply will jump to the conclusion that it is a ghost and that is not scientific at all. There are benefits to these shows by getting the interest in people, but sometimes it leads their beliefs down the wrong road, that they should be a bit more scientific and a bit less “new age”.
Do you ever work with “Psychics”?
We do get involved with people who are psychic or at least a bit intuitive. It is something that needs to be looked at in this field. We don’t rely on psychics, or sensitives. When we do an investigation I am the person who conducts the initial interviews and I am the only person on the team that has the details. The other members of the team only know that they are going to a location that is reportedly haunted. I think that that is very scientific in that aspect they have no preconceived notions as to the location. So when they go through with the equipment they will just pick up what they pick up and it is the same with the Psychics. I have to chuckle but with groups like TAPS, which I have a great respect for what they do. Before doing an investigation they have a meeting to know what is going on before they get there. They literally already have a notion of what is going on where to go instead of having one person who knows the details. We always have the same rules. We also work teams. Others break up by themselves, have an experience but now they no witness no backup and what they have is heresy. When we do an investigation we always work in teams, we have one person using the equipment and another logging the results. This is also good for safety. Once an investigation has concluded we will sit down with the client and the team will be told the details of the reported haunting. And they will match up if they picked up readings in a specific area. Don’t ask me how but it seems like more than 80 percent of time our paranormal team will pick up activity in the right area. At that time we might set up some equipment in the area, it could be EVP equipment, Nite shot cameras or we could Set up GEIST a device that is actually several pieces of equipment can be attached to it. It is kind of a self-contained piece of ghost hunting equipment. I can be locked in a house and if something happens to one of the sensors whether it is a Tri-Field meter, Ion Detector, Geiger counter it will send a signal to a laptop and record the data and if there is a camera in the location it will set it off as well. So you don’t even have to be in the area when it happens. You can eliminate a lot of contamination such as people talking that can be interpret as EVP, I’m very skeptical of EVP unless I have been there, not because of fraud but because you can pick up people talking in another room. We also put to together a report to give the client to tell them what we believe is going on at the location.
What would you personally consider to be the most conclusive “Proof” that you have been witness to?
There are several different ones. Most recently we were at Gettysburg and it was just after dusk, about 10:00 and two of us distinctly smelled Cherry Tobacco and heard horses on the trails going through Gettysburg. Then we actually saw a figure climbing a rocky ridge which would be a feat without a flashlight. There was a house in Illinois that we were the first team brought in, even though our names were not mentioned. The state Fire marshals had brought us into a conference room to explain what they could not. They found it hard to approach the media or the family involved to explain why they had contacted a group of ghost hunters because they could not understand what was happening in this house. Fires were breaking out, the smell of sulphur, microwave power cables melting into the sockets, flames shooting out of electrical sockets when the power to the house had been shut off in front of two fire marshals that have a combined experience of 70 years. Things like this that they could not explain. They literally gave us a gag order to not talk about it, but of all people the National Enquirer broke the story. There were later a lot of things disavowed by the fire marshals because they did not want to look like they were kooks. But we were never able to investigate the house. We were able to learn a lot by talking to the people. Another was the investigation of a house that we did a documentary on for the Discovery Channel called “Real Ghost Hunters” the segment that we did where a woman reported animals acting strangely and seeing things out of the corner of her eye, lights were flickering on and off and she actually saw what appeared to be the figure of a man in uniform leaning against her doorjamb in the middle of the night. We had found a lot of activity such as video and audio. The Discovery Channel had the heater and other equipment shut off so they could film the segment. After about an hour we heard sounds that we had not heard before. We heard the sounds of people walking on the stairs and throwing things on the floor. We could watch the cameras that were up there and there was nothing that we could see. But it registered on an oscilloscope and the audio recorders. The Discovery Channel crew was kind of scared because we were there to recreate an investigation and we have things actually happening. We sent a couple of researchers up when the noise had stopped and there was nothing up there, they walked around and it sounded exactly like what was heard before. We also got some high EMF readings in the area. So I have been witness to many different things. I have walked into small cold spots where you could see your breath, but if you stepped back you would be warm again. Along with hundreds of people who have seen things in their homes. These things are unexplainable.
What do you think of the practice of having to conduct an investigation in total darkness?
I think that it is so they can use their Sony Nite-Shot cameras. I have seen groups take it to another step and refuse to do an investigation unless the power to the location is shut off. I wouldn’t want to be involved in that because when you power it back up there are so many possible dangers. I understand that they want to eliminate EMF readings from the electrical equipment in the location such as Refrigerators, electrical outlets, microwaves, TV screens and things of that nature. I understand it but it’s not practical. If a person reports that at 6 in the morning things are happening, why would you go there at 6 in the evening just because it’s dark? We try to set the time that we go at the time when things seem to be happening. That is something that you have to determine in the interview. Try to determine the time and where the activity is taking place. Cameras are going to register if something is there whether it is day or night. We always use backups to all of the equipment. We use film cameras as well as the digital cameras. Sometimes we use multiple cameras with different films in the same location using a T connector on the tripod so both cameras take an image at the same time. It is not always a good idea to just arrive at dusk. I think that going to a cemetery at night to take pictures even if it is supposedly haunted, is not my definition of ghost hunting. Its just picture taking in the dark, and so many things can appear on those shots especially at night. Of course during the summertime you have bugs and you might get a good orb. People need to examine the timeframe that is given by the client and base the investigation on that.
Any new books in the works?
I am working on Windy City III, I just have so much material that it will happen. I have a couple of field guides in the works, the field guides were actually the brainchild of my research assistant Jim. He decided to put together something that is a small version of the book that you can take into the filed with you, it has a shorter description of the haunting but more specific information on where it is, GPS locations if you need them, the times that these locations are open and closed, and if you need permission to go there. If permission is needed we will try to include contact information. Unfortunately a lot of these groups trespass and end up getting arrested. This happens a lot at a place called Bachelors Grove out here in Chicago. Jim is working on one now called Americas Most Haunted. I a couple of filed guides that I am working on about some of the Civil War sites and one on Theatres. I have also been considering writing one about myself and the history of the Ghost Research Society in general, portraying some of our cases. I think it would be good for people looking to get into the filed.
In closing is there any other advice you would like to give?
I would like to say that if you do have an encounter with a ghost, the first thing is that you should not be afraid. We have not come across anything harmful in all of our years. I have heard of people breaking their arms or legs but that is in the attempt to get away, they hit the door or fall down the stairs, but the ghost did not do that to them. What I tell people is that if you believe that you have a ghost in your house you should keep a diary, what happened, who were the witnesses, when did it happen where did it happen. A researcher coming in will find that as a priceless piece of information in determining a pattern and chronology to what is happening. If you are having an experience the one thing that I suggest is to simply ignore it, I know it sounds funny but if someone was talking to you while you were walking down the street and you simply ignored them, they would get disgusted and walk away. Once you give them recognition and in some cases I have heard of some people that have set aside a room or a chair just for the ghost, and that makes them feel at home. But there are also a lot of these that are cause by natural explanations so don’t jump to conclusions, and look for a paranormal team to help you.