Sunday, October 30, 2005

Ghost hunt

Now that we're in the thick of Halloween, this is a good time to tell you about one other thing I used for Vampire Underground research. This experience helped for a few reasons: first, it introduced me to some tools of the trade. Second, it gave me an inkling of what it might be like to be on a "paranormal inspection team" like the main characters in my upcoming books. And, as you'll see, it also made me think really hard about the viability of ghost hunting....

A while ago, I'd visited New Orleans. As you probably know, there're many, many tours that canvas the city--vampire and ghost walking tours, bus tours that visit cemeteries and drive through the neighborhoods, plantation tours, even tours on those scooter things across the river at Old Algiers Point. My mom and I wanted to try something different, so we signed up for a Grayline tour that was like no other. It was a "ghost hunting" experience. We didn't know where we were going or what exactly what we were going to do, but Mom and I gamely rode on a minibus along the river with about fifteen other people and were let off in an old neighborhood in the darkness (with a security guard--don't worry). There, in front of a house that was a little worse for the wear, we met a psychic--our leader. As dogs barked in the night, we listened to her explain that we would be given some tools of the trade, separated into groups, and then let loose in this domain to explore any paranormal activity. She wouldn't tell us the history of the house--the knowledge would cloud our judgement and she wanted us to go in without any preconceptions of what we might find--but this was definitely a documented site of paranormal activity.

With that, Mom and I met our partners, a couple from a town near Baton Rouge, and we received our instruments. First, there were the divining rods. With these, we could "ask the spirits questions" and get answers from the movement of the rods. (It had to be yes or no questions. For instance, if you'd sense a presence, you'd "call out" to invite the spirit to interact with you, then ask something like, "Are you a female? If the answer is yes, please move the rods to your right.") Second, we received a thermo-anemometer, a temperature gauge, which allowed us to determine any changes in heat and coldness. Then there was the magnetometer, which recorded shifts in the electromagnetic field. One person per instrument with one person who would record our findings on a clipboard with a chart; we would switch responsibilities throughout the night. We were ready.

As we wandered the eerie halls and rooms, one of our partners, the wife, was "a bit psychic," so we ended up getting some stories from her as we questioned with the divining rods. But as she came up with murderous scenarios, I wondered something: Why were all the spirits we encountered the victims of violent death? Not everyone dies due to murder. Now, I'm a skeptic who's open to possibilities, but the fact that we were only talking to spirits who died in "interesting" ways was a little suspect. I thought that maybe our partners were getting carried away and imagining too much. Heck, it was pretty easy, because this place had become more and more unsettling as we searched the tattered walls with our flashlights. In the stillness, the husband in our group suggested that this once might've been a mortuary. We found a presence in an old bathtub, then in a tiny back room with a toilet and wires sticking out of the wall, then in an upstairs room that overlooked a housing project across the street. The bathtub spirit was a female who'd been murdered by her husband. The presence in the tiny back room seemed to be a child but then we talked to his/her mom to find out that the baby had never made it out of the womb alive due to a violent incident. Upstairs was the stomping ground of another murder victim.

In the end, the leader told us that the house had been through many changes: it was a bar, a possible brothel, as well as a boarding house. Many people had passed through. But the weirdest information came when she told us about previous documented contacts with the spirits inside. One was a woman who'd fallen down the stairs and broken her neck. This had happened near that tiny back room with the toilet. She'd been pregnant, and the baby hadn't lived, either.

Imagination or...?

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