By Bob Bainter
The Zephyr, Galesburg
“On a cold, dark night in Kentucky, two plumbers and their friends entered the sanatorium. What lurked behind its walls would soon become apparent as the mists of All Hallows Eve enveloped the sky…”
If that sounds like the beginning to a cheap horror flick, you would be wrong. It’s merely my interpretation of the beginning of the 6-hour live investigation of Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Louisville, Kentucky, by the Sci-Fi Channel’s “Ghost Hunters.”
Who are the “Ghost Hunters” in reality? They are Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson, life-long friends who share an intense passion in investigating claims of the paranormal. Is there more to them than meets the eye? Is there trickery involved? Or are they really who they claim to be: Two average Joe’s who work for Roto-Rooter by day as plumbers and by night seek to help people overcome their fears of the paranormal and unknown, and who do their investigations in their own spare time. I recently had the opportunity to meet Hawes and Wilson, “stars” of the TV show “Ghost Hunters,” and the founders of TAPS (The Atlantic Paranormal Society), based in Warwick, RI, at a presentation they gave in St. Louis at the main branch of the St. Louis Public Library system. The crowd that the presentation drew is a testament to the phenomenon that their organization has helped foster.
I arrived at the main branch around 5:30 p.m. to find that there were hundreds of people standing outside the building. The event had been advertised through the library system and on the TAPS website for over three months. The security staff of the branch disclosed that over 600 people at a minimum had been turned away due to seating restrictions. There were 600 seats on a first-come, first-serve basis, and all tickets were free. While waiting for the presentation to begin, I met Trish, a 26-year old mother of two who had driven from Omaha, Nebraska, for the presentation.
“I’ve been here since 10 a.m.,” Trish said, “and they’ve been turning people away since 3 p.m.” She added, “I just love the show and this is my first time seeing them in person. Driving this far will be well worth the trip.” Her reaction to the field of paranormal investigating is not uncommon amongst its legions of fans and has only blossomed as the show and its unique history have become more and more popular.
“We did a presentation at Harper College last week (October 22) and there were over 1300 people in the auditorium,” Hawes said. “It’s just amazing to me how many people have shown up for these (presentations).”
“It’s crazy, it’s really crazy how big this show has become,” said Wilson, the co-founder of the organization. “We do this to help people, and it’s just crazy the response.”
TAPS began with Hawes and Wilson each having their own unique paranormal personal experience in their lives. What were those experiences? “We will not tell anyone what those experiences are,” said Wilson. “That’s why they’re personal. To give you an idea of how personal they are, I’ve been married for eleven years. I told my wife just two years ago about it, so that gives you an idea of how good of a chance you have of finding out,” he ended with a laugh.
The premise of TAPS is as follows. A homeowner, business owner, or other concerned person calls the TAPS team and tells them they are having strange experiences in their home, office, etc. Voices, apparitions, unexplained cold spots, and noises are just some of the reasons people call TAPS. The TAPS team will review the case, and then decide to accept it. Equipped with a myriad of gadgets, such as digital audio and video recorders, EMF (electro-magnetic frequency) detectors, temperature detectors, and even a thermal imaging camera, the team investigates each area from a scientific point of view. The equipment is expensive (the thermal imaging camera cost over $10,000) and the team has acquired their equipment out of their own pockets.
“A lot of the equipment we’ve bought over the years with TAPS,” explained Hawes. “I can say that at one point Grant and I were throwing over $20,000 a year into TAPS on a yearly basis.
“Now Sci-Fi channel will provide the tapes, batteries, and things like that, you know, like the expendables (sic),” said Wilson. “They also provide hotels and travel, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to go to, say, California. You have to remember that this is a hobby for us. Hobby’s don’t make money, they cost money. So a lot of what you see comes out of our own pockets.”
Armed with their equipment and a team that includes a veterinary assistant and a PR manager, just to name a few, they go “lights out” and begin to search for evidence of the unknown. The team will utilize their digital voice recorders by asking into the seeming nothingness of an empty room, “Is there anyone here who would like to talk to us? Can you tell us your name?” While nothing is heard at the time, review of the evidence after an investigation has led to voices being heard on the recorders, and in some cases, those voices have actually responded “intelligently” to the questions posed by the team. TAPS calls these voices “EVP’s,” or an electronic voice phenomenon. They also measure fluctuations in the magnetic fields of the area with a device called an “EMF” device, or electro-magnetic frequency device. A long held theory in the paranormal world is that “ghosts” and “spirits” are actually energy, and they require energy to interact with the world. Therefore, the EMF device can detect subtle changes in the fields around the areas they investigate. However, most of the time, simple explanations can solve even the strangest cases.
“As plumbers, we have been able to dismiss many claims just because of bad pipes in the basement, coming loose and banging against other pipes, the ceiling, what have you,” said Hawes. “We once installed a $1.49 trap in a woman’s toilet and she never had ghost problems again. I kid you not.” Hawes also recalled another case. “We were investigating a woman’s claims of apparitions in her house, and when we checked her bedroom, our EMF meter was jumping off the charts. We found her alarm clock was an old 1960’s model, and was causing crazy electro-magnetic fields around it. This woman slept with this clock right by her head for about ten hours a night. We spent $22.99 on a nice digital clock, and she never saw an apparition again.”
“About 80% of the cases that we’ve been involved in we have been able to ‘debunk,’ or disprove,” said Wilson. “It’s that 20% that gets us excited the most. We are trying to eliminate any possibilities of explainable phenomenon, and when those possibilities are eliminated, you have by the very definition of the word a paranormal experience.”
What is intriguing is the proliferation of television shows on cable that deal with ghosts, hauntings, and other paranormal experiences. It has also brought some intense skepticism on the realm of the supernatural. The show that brings out the most critics is “Most Haunted,” which airs on the Travel Channel. The show is based in the UK, and travels to some famously haunted castles and estates that have been, in some cases, abandoned for centuries. The criticism comes from the “Most Haunted” crew’s seeming perfect record of having something unbelievable happen to them in every episode. However, recent revelations and damning video evidence have in fact shown that many of the incidences of the “paranormal” have actually been hoaxes perpetrated by the crew for the purpose of garnering the “shock” value and increased viewership. Not to be outdone, A&E recently announced the debut later this year of its own show, “Paranormal State,” that loosely follows the “Ghost Hunters” format.
With TAPS, the believability of the show lies in the fact that some episodes reveal nothing but a couple of personal experiences amongst the team that can’t be backed up by hard evidence. Many investigating groups, such as the team from “Most Haunted,” will use psychics, mediums, séances, Ouija boards, etc. TAPS frowns on this approach, as they look for concrete evidence of the paranormal in audio and video tape, temperature changes, and fluctuations on electro-magnetic frequency devices. While this has brought on the opposite reaction of what TAPS is trying to achieve, they do their best to remain positive
“We did an interview with Yvette (Yvette Fielding, the melodramatic host of Most Haunted—authors opinion), and it kind of went over like a fart in church, to be honest with you,” Hawes said, much to the delight of the crowd in attendance at the presentation (He then added, “Sorry, don’t forget, we’re just plumbers) “We’re not disrespecting her by any means, but she was forty minutes late for a live radio show.” Hawes continued, “You know, people are going to watch our show. They’re going to watch their show, but ours doesn’t have the entertainment aspect of theirs.”
Wilson added, “The thing is, every show out there is raising awareness. Some people want to have that type of experience, you know, the Halloween-y, haunted house type experience, and that’s great. But they’re watching something paranormal which makes them think about it, and that’s good. But that show makes us look great.”
In the United States, Hawes explained, the general population as a majority believes in the supernatural, but it’s not embraced by the people or the government as much as it is in Ireland, the sight of their first investigation outside of the United States.
“While we were in Ireland investigating, the government was building a new road in the country, and it’s investment in the road was over 14 million euros. The local population explained to the government that the intended route was going to result in the removal of a ‘faerie’ tree.” (Note: “faeries” in Ireland resemble, according to local lore, three to four foot tall “elemental” beings, much like trolls.) “When this was brought to their attention, the government spent another 7 million euros to re-plan and reroute the road around the tree.”
Wilson added, “In Ireland, if a builder wants to build a new home, they will mark the foundation with cairns, or a stack of stones, on each corner of where the foundation is to be placed. They come back the next day after placing the cairns, if they have been disturbed or knocked over, they absolutely will not build there. If they are still in one place, it’s ok with the ‘faeries’ to build on that spot. It’s really embraced by the culture there. In fact, if your house isn’t haunted, people think there is a problem.”
TAPS has investigated numerous sights around the U.S. that are famed for their purported paranormal activity. This list includes the famed “Winchester House” in California (they found it spooky but not haunted), the Myrtles Plantation in Louisiana (strange voices found on tape recordings led them to believe it lived up to its reputation), and most famously, the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, which was the inspiration for Steven King’s famous book, The Shining.
“It’s the one place that has never let us down in strange and unexplainable occurrences,” said Hawes. “We were able to catch on live TV during our investigation last year a child’s voice calling out to us in the basement, and we have been back there many times and have been unable to reproduce that voice.”
The incident occurred during their first-ever live investigation on Halloween in 2006. There were, according to Wilson, over 250 security guards on the property to prevent anyone from interfering with the live investigation.
“They wouldn’t even let Jay’s (Jason’s) wife on the property. They wanted to make sure that there were no false readings or any outside influences on the show, since there was no way to edit out anything that went wrong. That voice we heard was right in front of my face, and there was no one around or in the tunnel with us when that occurred. It was extraordinary.”
One thing was clear after meeting with Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson. Success hasn’t changed their mission. Regardless of how the show fares on Sci-Fi (It is the number one rated show on the network), the TAPS team will continue investigating. Judging by recent ratings, “Ghost Hunters” will not be relegated to the dustbin of television history any time soon. Their recent live investigation in Louisville became the most watched show in the history of Sci-Fi, displacing the previous number one show which was their 2006 live Halloween special at the Stanley Hotel.
“Our number one goal is to help people,” said Wilson. “People have asked us why we don’t charge for our investigations. It’s simple. If we charged for our services we would be charlatans in the eyes of the public. When you think about it, also, how can you charge someone for something that in the eyes of the scientific world doesn’t exist?”
It’s nice to know that the next time you see that shadow out of the corner of your eye, dancing in the darkness of your bedroom, or you hear the voice of a dearly departed family member calling out from your basement, there is no need to fear. Help is only a phone call away.
CALLING ALL GHOST HUNTERS:
After meeting with Jason and Grant from TAPS, it inspired me to want to find out more about the paranormal on my own. I, personally, have never had a paranormal experience that I can absolutely say I couldn’t explain, but I’d love to find out what lies beyond.
So, after considering it carefully, I, along with the assistance of the Zephyr, am proud to announce a contest. I am inviting the public to join me on our own ghost hunting trip somewhere here in the Galesburg area. But I need your help! How do I choose who to take with me on this trip…and where do we go to do our investigation?
First, I need you, the reader, to help us pick a place to investigate. Simply e-mail me at email@example.com with your ideal location to investigate. Tell me if you’ve had an experience somewhere, whether it be an apparition, disembodied voices, unexplained noises, etc, and why this would be the ultimate location in our area. Please include your contact information in the e-mail, and also it would be helpful to include any information you might know about who we can contact at this location to obtain permission to investigate.
Second, I am looking for volunteers. Send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org telling me why you should be included in our team. Be creative! Send me a video over the internet telling me why you would make a great ghost investigator. Now, you will not be turned down if you don’t send in a video, but use your creativity in describing what makes you the perfect person for such an adventure if you can’t. Everyone will be considered.
I will select 4-5 team members from the submissions collected, and the team will study the suggestions of locations before we decide upon where the investigation will take place. The results of the investigation will be reported on here in The Zephyr in an upcoming issue.
So, tell me why you’re not scared of things that go bump in the night, and good luck to all!
Disclaimer: This contest and investigation is not affiliated with The Atlantic Paranormal Society or any of its affiliates, nor is it affiliated with the Sci-Fi channel or “Ghost Hunters. The beliefs (or skepticism) of the author in no way reflect the beliefs (or skepticism) of The Zephyr or its staff.