Wherever we think
there may be ghosts, we can be certain there is history, and that history is
worth knowing about.
I’ll start by
addressing the skeptics--I went on a paranormal investigation last week. It
was nothing like TV, and it wasn’t a waste of my time. It was an exciting
and enlightening Friday night, to say the least.
I accompanied Russ
Erwin and Stepha Perz of the Porter-based group Duneland Paranormal and
several others on an investigation where I was given permission to write
about my experience, provided I don’t reveal the location. The subject of
the investigation was a home in Northwest Indiana that was built before
1900, and, as all homes of that age do, it has a storied history--inevitably
some of which no one who is still living knows about.
I confess I watch
paranormal and monster hunting shows. Most are clearly staged and dramatic
and great for a laugh, but in others, I find genuine intrigue. I have an
obsession, a fanaticism really, with whatever happened where I’m
standing--whatever secrets land, lakes, rivers, historical sites, and
ordinary places alike hold. They contain multitudes of I-don’t-know-what
that I’ve been trying to uncover since I was a kid. I am after all still the
eight-year-old who marched into my local library one day demanding whatever
atlas had the most detailed map of the Pacific Ocean to aid in my search for
So, I went into
this investigation with journalistic skepticism, but also the belief that If
we define ghosts as untapped history, we can be sure ghosts are real and in
limitless supply all around us.
Going forward, I
will mention Erwin and Perz, but all other names have been changed.
While observing the
investigation, I had to “tag” any sound I made by fessing up that it was me
immediately after the fact. I regretted wearing my leather boots, which seem
to squeak louder in a direct correlation with the age of the floors on which
I’m sitting. At least I had the presence of mind not to bring a clicking
I followed Erwin
with my expectant reporter squint as he placed infrared, motion-sensing
cameras about the size of a bottle cap at points of interest around the
house. Erwin said he’s been into paranormal investigation for about a
decade, but, “I’ve always had kind of a sense, if you will.”
The group split
into two teams lead by Erwin and Perz. Perz was armed with a pair of
L-shaped copper divining rods (commonly used in water witching, also called
dowsing) with the short ends housed in cylindrical casings. The idea is the
long ends of the rods are moved by nearby energy while the movements are not
influenced by the person holding the casings. Erwin said the rods are an
easy way to interact with spirits.
I found from trying
them out myself that it’s nearly impossible to control where the rods point.
The method of talking to the dead with them involves holding them still and
parallel to the floor and asking yes or no questions. The rods crossing
indicated “yes” in our investigation.
I went with Perz
and her group to the bedroom where the Lady of the House (wife to the family
Patriarch who built the home) died decades ago. There, we got into a
conversation with the Patriarch. He correctly answered every question from
the others in the group, who are well-versed in the home’s history. They
mostly asked questions Perz didn’t know the answers to, which Perz said she
likes because it shows she isn’t influencing the outcome.
I volunteered to
hold the rods next, wanting to feel what the others describe as a magnetic
pull when an entity moves them. There’s a trick to holding the divining
rods--I may not have gotten it right, or maybe I’m just not popular with
ghosts. When I passed the rods to the next person, the Patriarch reluctantly
rejoined the conversation.
Someone asked if he
likes having visitors in his home. Given I was the only one in the group who
had never been to the house before, I asked, “Are you weary of new people
who come to the house?” The rods crossed. That’s fair, I thought.
I wouldn’t want to talk to me, either.
After I failed to
connect with the entity, I asked Perz for her advice on what to do if I want
to invite something to happen. “Just try to be open,” she said, adding that
a meditative state of mind can sometimes help, though introverts like myself
may subconsciously have a harder time leaving the lines open for a
Next, we visited a
room reserved for house staff. As we milled about and peered into the room’s
three large, odd closets, the door to the hallway creaked open a bit wider
by itself, and everyone took notice.
Another entity soon
told us it was her who came through the door, and she used to live in the
room as a Maid to the family that owned the house. This checked out with
Rob, a historian in the group who asked a series of exclusionary questions
to identify the Maid from three who were known to have worked at the house
based on Census records.
“Were you from
Sweden?” The rods diverted.
“Did you live in
this room in 1910?” The rods crossed.
“Is your name
[blank]?” The rods crossed.
Perz was holding
the rods throughout this conversation. “I have the chills going from my
scalp all the way down to my feet right now,” she said. Then, the rods began
to move in a way that surprised even Perz. “She’s saying something, I have
no idea whatÉ”
“Do you have
something you want us to figure out?”, Sara asked. The rods crossed.
“Is it something in
this room?”, Rob asked. The rods diverted.
Rob then asked if
it was about a couple who lived in the house in the early 1900s,
specifically about the husband, whom “nobody liked.” The Maid, who said she
didn’t like the Husband either, said it was about him.
“Was it something
he did?” The rods crossed.
“Did he hurt
someone?” Another yes.
“Did he hurt you?”
No. I, and I believe the whole group, became suspicious of the same thing at
the same time. The energy in the room shifted.
Rob and Sara took
turns inquiring. “Did he hurt his wife?” “Did it happen when he was
drinking?” “Did he hit her?” “Did he hit her because of money?” “Did he have
a gun?” “Did he threaten her with it?” The Maid answered yes for all. “Every
question, I’m getting chills,” Perz said, then Perz asked, “Did he do more
than just beat her?” The Maid again said yes.
Perz was almost
overcome with emotion at this point. She took a deep breath, and asked only
one more question. The answer was “Yes” again, and we thanked the Maid for
telling us her story.
An undeniable truth
about this encounter is that the six of us were all in or near tears at this
point. There we all were, reaching back in time with empathy for these women
who we know were once real.
accusations make sense historically, according to Rob, and she correctly
answered each of his test questions. I personally don’t believe we imagined
anything that happened Friday, but it also doesn’t matter to me if the Maid
was real or if we did all have a joint hallucination. The pain the Maid
disclosed to us is real for so many women. It persists and transcends time.
We later found the
Patriarch’s wife, the Lady of the House, in a downstairs room. She bragged
to us about a luxurious buffet and painting she bought that were still in
the parlor in a lively conversation that lasted a full 30 minutes. We also
talked to another Maid, who told us about losing her child and hiding its
death. Rob said there is a mystifying record of an infant’s death associated
with the house. Until Friday, he had no idea who’s child it was, but now he
has a lead in digging for the truth.
Erwin said he’s
always loved history, which informs his research into sites he investigates
and led him to get involved with the Duneland Historical Society, where I
met him. He also works with a noted Chicago-based historian and author who
writes about the paranormal.
These are my type
of people: curious minds. In fact, I think writers, historians, and
paranormal investigators are quite alike. When writers look inside
themselves, paranormal investigators look around themselves, and historians
look into the past, we make remarkably similar discoveries. We’re all in
search of the same thing--a new story--an amorphous truth about the world
Are we really not
ghost hunting when we visit museums and battle sites--or even flip through
old photo albums? Aren’t we likewise trying to connect with whatever we know
or think we know of the past?
Next time you visit
a new place, I suggest you stop and wonder what happened where you are
standing, and try just being open. It keeps both life and death more