Once upon a time, the whole idea of ghost hunting involved three out of work professors in jumpsuits as they ran around New York City in search of haunted places to keep their “Ghostbusters” business afloat. While the 1984 movie has been recently released and a third incarnation is set for the silver screen this winter, the whole idea of chasing down ghosts for cash or fun has grown more mainstream than ever. The practice of going into dark and damp places in search of electronic voice phenomena on digital recorders or “orbs” on digital cameras has gotten a boost in recent years from cable shows such as “Ghost Hunters,” “Paranormal State,” “Dead Files,” “Ghost Adventurers,” “Ghost Whisperer” and “Haunted History.”
“The cable network shows have certainly affected our membership,” said Christian Schmitt, a member of Advanced Ghost Hunters (AGHOST) of Seattle-Tacoma. “We are getting new members all the time, especially around Halloween.”
The group is 11 years old and conducts paranormal investigations around Puget Sound free of charge to the property owner. Members record sounds, shoot video and use psychics to gather scientific evidence about potential hauntings or ghostly activity. But while the half-hour television shows make ghost hunting look quick and easy, it never turns out that way.
“Evidence review is like watching paint dry,” Schmitt said. “I have sat through 14 hours of video footage and got about three seconds worth of evidence. But that still made it all worth it. But I have been on a lot of them when they are total busts.”
Schmitt participated in 40 paranormal investigations last year and figures about a quarter of them provided no evidence of ghostly activities.
Bumping around dark hallways and black forests at night during investigations might be fun, but a lot of work happens before and after the outings. AGHOST monthly meetings include case reviews, classes on terminology and evidence gathering methods.
Yes, there is an app for that. With the rise of ghost hunting shows, so comes the rise in mobile phone applications to feed off that popularity. Two popular ones are Haunted Sights that uses the phone’s GPS locator to show the closest “haunted site” and its history based on viewer comments. What have been called “Ghost Radars” report to use the mobile phone’s electro-magnetic field to locate paranormal activity and tap into ghostly energy fluctuations to generate words so mobile app users can “speak with the dead.”
Box Top Vintage owner Jooley Heaps used just such an app to “scan” her Pacific Avenue novelty, vintage and retro hip storefront. The Android app found nothing but a few blips on the “Ghost Radar” and a few random words.
She is not deterred, however. She has felt odd from time to time while in the back hallway ever since she moved into the spot in a historic building more than a year ago. She found 100-year-old books in a large vaulted room that had been locked for year. And the place is often colder than normal conditions would create.
“Something is back there. I have never had anything really creepy happen because nothing messes with me or my kids,” the tattooed punk rocker said. “But you do get a sense that something is back there.”
She thinks something paranormal could be left in the building’s long history that dates back to the city of Destiny’s roots. Whatever, if anything, stayed around because she didn’t have the place cleansed when she moved into the store.
“I never saged the place because I just forgot about it,” she said, admitting that she doesn’t put much faith in such things. “It couldn’t hurt right? We have all seen ‘The Shining.’”
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 101
“Electronic Voice Phenomena” are voices or noises that are not heard at the time of the recording but can be heard only after a recorder is played back. It is believe that ghosts often communicate on a sound frequency that is not perceptible to the human ear.
Ghosts are disembodied souls that may not know he or she is dead. There are apparently intelligent ghosts that can interact with the investigators and basic haunts that don’t make contact with the living and play out their “lives” over and over again.
Orbs are believed by some to be signs of ghostly activity under the idea that ghosts gather electrical charges from the area around them and create electronic pulses that can then be captured on digital cameras as balls of light or energy.
Paranormal simply means "beyond-normal," or things that can’t be easily explained.
TACOMA AREA HOT SPOTS
Here is a list of sites around Pierce County that are reportedly haunted:
Joint Base Fort Lewis-McChord – Ghostly figures have been reportedly seen in the woods on North Fort Lewis that runs along Steilacoom DuPont Road. Others claim the main airfield there is haunted by the victims of the Jonestown mass suicide of the 1970s since their bodies were flown to the field from the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project in Guyana after the group’s cult leader, Jim Jones, issued the order for everyone to “drink the Kool-Aid” that was laced with poison. Some 918 men, women and children died on Nov. 18, 1978.
Lakewood’s Thornewood Castle (now a bed and breakfast) has reportedly been a site where “orbs” have been spotted. Although no ghastly activities have been known to occur there, it was one of the locations used for Stephen King’s short lived “Rose Red” miniseries. The castle itself is a 500-year-old Tudor-Gothic castle that was shipped to Lakewood and reconstructed brick by brick by Chester Thorne, one of the early industrialists of Tacoma.
Lakewood’s Western State Hospital and the nearby Fort Steilacoom Park have been the locations of several ghost investigations because of the area’s association with the treatment of mental patients there since before statehood. It was also the location actress Frances Farmer reportedly received a lobotomy during her time there in the 1940s. Her life has been the subject of a handful of books and movies.
The Puyallup fairgrounds is reportedly haunted either by coaster riders who died at the site or by the ghosts of Japanese Americans who were held there during the internments period of World War II.
Spanaway Lake Junior and High schools are on the list of most local “haunted places” web sites, stating that janitors have experienced lights turning on and off as well as other strange activities. The park is thought to be haunted by those who have drowned in the lake.
Gog-li-hi-ti Wetlands on the Tacoma tideflats is reportedly haunted by a person in a canoe that appears and disappears, or a mysterious man walking his dog along the banks. The former site of a “Hooverville” camp created during the Great Depression is also seen as a paranormal “hot spot.”
Tacoma’s Old City Hall apparently has a ghost named Gus that moves the elevator between floors, turns lights off and on and unlocks doors.
Tacoma’s Point Defiance Park is reportedly haunted by the ghost of a young girl who was killed there 30 years ago.
Tacoma’s University of Puget Sound is often sited as the resting place of the first victim of serial killer Ted Bundy. Rumor has it that Bundy had dumped her body in the foundation of one of the buildings there and that students have spotted a ghost walking the halls.