By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
Halloween is a very enjoyable time for many. Whether that’s with an event taking place—like attending a live theatre production, a book reading, a horror movie marathon or a paranormal investigation—it’s simply a time to either be merry to get your spook on. Getting closer with the spirit world these days is easy and it has come a long way. In the early part of the 20th century, the choices were generally with seances. Folks could indulge in contacting loved ones.
Even the annual tradition of contacting Harry Houdini became part of the paranormal tapestry. He passed away on All Hallow’s Eve, He promised to his wife Bess that if either should die first, they’d attempt to contact the other and had a code word to prove communicating with spirits is possible. Over the years, the methods of doing such a thing have improved and organizations have formed.
Technology-wise, newcomers have many more tools at their disposal. For the casual investigator, all they need is a willingness not to bring in their own (spiritual) beliefs into a case. Many veterans believe this can taint the data. Having an open mind on the fact hauntings are not rooted according to culture helps. These experienced folks generally agree a good common sense, a basic camera and an audio recorder are all that’s needed.
Ghosts are more than reflections of history, traumatic or not. Interest in this subject is a popular culture phenomenon. Public events, whether they are walks around a historic part of a town or a lecture, can be found in every major city. Not everyone can investigate a haunted house on their own; the advice often heard is to go join a team near you. In the Pacific Northwest, many groups exists. The bigger known are Northern Paranormal Investigation (NPI), Vancouver Paranormal Society (VPS), Paranormal Victoria (PARAVI, sadly defunct) and Washington State Investigations and Research (WSPIR). Beyond Belief Paranormal Events (BBPE) is more business oriented. As for which group, even those unlisted, is best? Readers are best advised to research and trust your own judgement. There are snake oil organizations who don’t have the best intentions in mind when helping clients or they hide behind a facade and enjoy the ego stroke.
These days, to be actively involved in this hobby is not easy. Darryl Pearson of NPI said it’s become a challenge to manage a team more so with finding that definitive evidence of the afterlife. “You’ve got social media involved. It’s a game more often than not; sometimes you have to step back from it. I have been actively investigating for 11 years and it takes the energy out of you. I’m not going to say anything more blunt than that. [All the things you do] wears you out.” revealed this leader.
In addition to this group participating in functions after the season, those who want to dig deeper into the rabbit hole must be careful. According to Pearson, it’s possible to bring a spirit home with you. That’s when you have to take command and tell the spirit to leave.
For Susan M. Schulz-Jelley, a hobby investigator, she said, “I think a bit of lingering stigma still exists to living in a house that is haunted.”
In addition to attending special events featuring well known investigators or the upcoming Port Gamble, WA Ghost Conference, she uses her gift as a ‘sensitive’ to help the deceased move on to the light. Not everyone treats a ghost like a normal person. Should that haunt be from a soul needing help, no person/investigative team worth their salt walk away. Quite often, it’s simply about how the living and the spirit world not fully understanding each other. Yes, Tim Burton hit a nerve with his movie Beetlejuice. It’s a terrific movie for many reasons. Jelly worked with the Vancouver Island Supernatural (VIS) for a few years. They were more active in the 90s and one place they investigated was Beban House in Nanaimo. They had a few experiences and Jelly talked about how she helped the spirit of the boy move on.
“Times are changing and attitudes are being changed with the help of all the paranormal investigation shows on television. Soon, hopefully, everyone will realize that help is available if they’ll only go looking for it,” said Jelly.
She believes the public ghost hunts offered during Halloween are an ideal place to start. “People get to see and handle various pieces of equipment designed for investigating all in one night,” said Jelly, who was thrilled to get her feet wet into investigation again some time ago. “We employ audio recorders, video cameras and film to help capture and document strange events as they happen. It‘s to the investigator’s benefit to seek out reasonable explanations for suspected activity and rule that out first before accepting that an event is paranormal.”
Peter Renn of VPS investigated the unknown since he was a teen. He lived in London at the time and went to a trade show to find out who the local groups are and said I want to learn. That was 20 years ago; as he moved, his passion never left him and investigated locations in Australia and New Zealand. When he emigrated to Canada 12 years ago, he joined the Vancouver group and eventually became the head of this organization. He thinks of what he does is a profession. “It’s hard because we don’t make money in what we do and there’s no guild either. It’s very much a passionate part of my life,” said Renn.
He fully agrees that social media takes a huge part of keeping an organization in the public eye. It’s not just about attending pop culture conventions–to which Fan Expo Vancouver invited them to attend one year. He spends about 10 hours a week to keep general interest alive. For VPS, 90% of their cases are for clients. “We rarely do public buildings so much anymore. We primarily help people, and that must be every individual/group’s primary goal,” said Renn.
In Part Two, I look into what makes up a good investigative team, the various techniques used and include how I got involved in this scene. Look for it on Sunday, as the veil begins to thin…