- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Editor’s note: The names of the homeowners (*) have been changed to pseudonyms, at their request, to protect their privacy.

A strange young man had been coming around, lurking outside the window, skulking about in the driveway and even standing at the end of the kitchen. But now, it — or something — was getting bolder, upsetting Manassas homeowner Marie Smith*, 45, and scaring her son, Daniel*, 22.

“Two weeks ago I awoke and saw a man at the end of my bed. … I felt something in the room,” Mrs. Smith says. “I woke up and said, ‘Daniel, Daniel, is that you?’ When I came back to bed … I felt something on my arm. I thought it was a spider. A gentle touch. I brushed it away. From my elbow down there was a cold blast. … It was so very cold in one spot,” says Mrs. Smith, who adds, “We feel uncomfortable in [some] areas of the house almost always.”

Enter Brian Bradley. Investigators like him are visiting scores of residences and public sites, such as churches and bed and breakfasts, across the region to hunt for evidence of ghosts or other paranormal presences and help put the living at ease.

Armed with digital-beam thermometers to measure hot and cold spots, infrared cameras and videos, electromagnetic field gauges and tape recorders to capture EVP (electronic voice phenomena believed to be ghost utterances), they come to take the full measure of a ghost — or just a mischievous ventilation unit and knocking pipes.

Mr. Bradley first asks the difficult personal questions at the kitchen table next to the hearth — about medications, family trauma, ambulances, fires, suicides — before unpacking his briefcase on the living room carpet.

There is a “talking” thermometer that takes remote temperature readings and announces them (perfect for work in the dark), a digital camera with an infrared beam that takes time-lapse photos in 15-second intervals when the beam is breached, a lowlight video camera and a Trifield Meter to measure electromagnetic fluctuations. (It swings measurably near the microwave.)

How else is one to detect a modern ghost or assign apparitions to high-tension power lines or contaminants in the ground? At some locations, “I would love to do soil samples,” Mr. Bradley says.

As rain and wind whips around the house, Mrs. Smith, a real estate broker, and her neighbor Mary Jones* lead the Fairfax County director of the Virginia Ghosts & Hauntings Research Society (VGHRS) through the kitchen, bedrooms and den to a study/mudroom at the back of the ranch-style house. Ms. Jones, a psychologist, refuses to enter the room because of the unpleasant, spooked feeling she gets there.

Mr. Bradley, an architectural site planner by day, notes his heart is beating a bit faster, with a heavier feeling on his chest, as he walks through the bright, peach-colored room. There could be a barometric pressure change in the room affecting heart rate because the room is below an attic, next to a big, high-ceilinged room and with a door to the outside, he suggests.

“For the most part, we have shown that what the homeowners thought was paranormal, was more mundane,” Mr. Bradley says. “One house we went to, I was able to research the structural plans because of my background,” he says. He found there were support beams running the length of adjoining town homes. “It was unusual that the beams went so far, but it was capable of causing the creaking in town homes two houses down.”

Although his motion detection camera and night video later show nothing unusual, he remains unsure why the temperature has dropped four degrees in the mudroom. Mr. Bradley is a bit concerned the main electrical power box for the house is at the head of the bed where Mrs. Smith sleeps. (Electric power from high tension power lines affects brain activity, he says.)

But Mrs. Smith doesn’t think she is imagining anything, and no one suggests she is.

“We don’t feel threatened, but that day I e-mailed you about the touch, Daniel was in the driveway and heard someone in his ear whispering, ‘Heh, heh, heh, heh.’ ” Mrs. Smith tells Mr. Bradley.

Some people do feel threatened — or should, apparently. In one recent case, there were too many dangers, both mental and physical, from a tormented spirit of the victim of a violent death to safely permit a reporter or other untrained person to tag along with the investigation team, says Al Tyas, director of DC Metro Area Ghost Watchers (DCMAG).

Residents of the Eastern Shore house had experienced the angry presence of a female spirit pacing the hallways, and DCMAG deemed the site unsafe. The ghost was believed to be that of a woman savagely murdered there a few years back. Ghosts have caused bruising of the living and have followed people home, Mr. Tyas says.

“Some people get sick to their stomach, get headaches. … We have had [an investigator] faint,” he says. “Something really didn’t want him there, someone who experienced a lot of emotional distress, it’s not something to play with.”

Finally, on a follow-up investigation this month, a highly sensitive medium was called in. According to members of DCMAG, the medium, who has been a consultant for police, was able to help the troubled entity cross to the other side, performing what is known as a “clearing.”

“I don’t want people to get the impression we are ghostbusters. We are not busting ghosts — not destroying that thing,” says Mr. Tyas, who is a technician for the federal government. Mr. Tyas’ group has only done a couple of clearings “when the ghost needs to move on and cannot. Others are just kind of happy being on this side or will move on in their time.”

Mr. Tyas formed DCMAG in March 2002, having split from VGHRS, where he had been co-director. He relies on psychics and mediums as part of the investigations; VGHRS sticks to measurable observances.

VGHRS founder Bobbie Atristain says, “There has to be someone who starts to gather empirical evidence and treat this as a science experiment instead of using metaphysical means.” Her investigators, like Mr. Bradley, collect only scientific data “because that is the only way the study of the paranormal will be taken seriously,” she says.

The Richmond-based researcher and UNIX systems administrator grew up experiencing “unexplained events” at her grandmother’s house and read heavily about paranormal phenomena. “The main goal is to get a big research university to take a serious look at the paranormal instead of viewing it as a pseudoscience,” she says.

• • •

Psychic on board or not, no ghost investigator is known to be paid for work or expenses. Mr. Tyas estimates he has spent $1,000 for equipment alone thus far for investigating suspected hauntings.

Although Mr. Tyas had taken the “heavy duty” equipment like the infrared camera to the troubled Eastern Shore haunting site, there was plenty left with which to catch a ghost by the tail — or mouth — at the old Ramsay House, which serves as the Visitors Bureau in Old Town Alexandria.

A recent DCMAG investigation furnished an EVP of a male voice. It said, “Coffee, oh coffee,” says Judy Erksa, an investigator.

“[On playback], I definitely heard the word ‘coffee,’ someone said coffee and they said it with some expression,” confirms Merrie Morris, communications director for the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association, which operates the Ramsay House. “It was like someone registering what someone had brought you. In a good way. It was really uncanny. It did sound kind of breathy. … Frankly, it sounded like what you would expect a ghost to sound like.”

Two decades ago, a longtime employee in his 70s or 80s would come by on off-days just to hang out at the historic house. He “would drink our very cold, day-old coffee, nasty coffee, nasty stuff. He would pour some and just chew the fat with us for a couple of hours,” says Robin Moscati, a former Ramsay House administrative employee.

The man died about six months into Ms. Moscati’s job tenure, back in 1987. Then, one day she noticed “a sparkly white light at the top of the stairs,” at the entrance to the office where the coffeemaker sat, she says.

The next morning, after having been the last one to leave the night before and the first to enter, she found the coffeepot was on “with old fluid in the pot — it was warm, but not burned. If it was on all night, it would be scorched,” Ms. Moscati says. The old drip coffee pot was not automatic. On other occasions, her co-worker would make coffee but, when she went to get it, the pot would be empty, with the coffee grounds wet.

“We’d check the machine to make sure it wasn’t draining out, looked in cabinets, cleared out dishes,” Ms. Moscati says.

She and others heard footsteps on the office floor above while gathered in the main room one Christmas season. The footsteps crisscrossed the room from both sides, making the letter X. The office cubicles, office machines and covered walls made it “impossible to make that diagonal,” she says. A person would have to zigzag.

If that’s all the “ghost” does — mischief, tomfoolery and decent manners (no slamming doors or cursing, as Ms. Erksa has found at a Lovettsville, Va. home) — the presence of the paranormal is usually accepted by the human inhabitants after a visit by Mr. Tyas’ group.

DCMAG’s goal, says Mr. Tyas, is to have “everyone comfortable, everyone OK” with cohabiting with a ghost or two. Investigators will visit a home multiple times, if necessary, after a preliminary investigation.

“Make a project out of it. Take pictures so you have control over the situation. It’s your house,” Ms. Erksa advises on dealing with a ghost in the home.

After growing up “in a house with a ghost in it,” she became an investigator to “prove to myself whether it was real or not.” After one investigation where a male ghost cursed upstairs while a female sang below, she is certain. More than that, she says, it is “liberating — you are not as afraid the more you do it.”

Who to call if you think you’ve got a ghost

So your house has a, umm, visitor. Or a cold spot on the stairs. Or strange-looking people in Colonial dress in the back yard. Never fear. The Washington region is home to several groups of investigators who make it their job to explore the emanations and put them to rest — or at least make you comfortable living with them. Other paranormal researchers look into cases all over the country. Try these sources:

Local paranormal investigators

• www.dchauntings.com.

• www.virginiaghosts.com.

• Research centers and umbrella groups

• https://the-atlantic-paranormal-society.com.

• RhineResearch Center and Institute for Parapsychology, 2741 Campus Walk Ave., Bldg. 500, Durham, N.C. 27705. Possibly the oldest paranormal research group. Founded by Dr. J.B. Rhine in the 1930s, the research center was affiliated with Duke University until 1965, and is now a nonprofit, according to managing director Jim Matlock. The main research programs are in the areas of extrasensory perception and psychokinesis. Publishes the quarterly Journal of Parapsychology. Call 919/688-8241 or see www.rhine./index.shtml.

• Pennsylvania State University Paranormal Research Society: 125 HUB/Robeson Center, University Park, Pa., 16802. The Society has a university budget, and millions of dollars of funds to tap for research. Held second annual conference this month and plans to issue new quarterly magazine. Since 2001, PRS has investigated dozens of cases all over the country. See www.clubs.psu.edu/up/paranormal.

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