BY NADYA ELLERHORST
This article will be published in The Review’s special magazine issue, set to be available on campus starting the week of April 24.
Paranormal investigation shows were once my best bet, albeit a guilty pleasure, for satisfying my longstanding curiosity concerning the supernatural. However, I recently realized that the “Dude, did you hear that?” and “I felt something TOUCH ME” incidents that perpetuate these programs only allow me a secondhand glimpse into the world of ghost hunting.
From what I’ve gathered through ghost tours of historic New Castle, the city of Newark and the university’s campus, Delaware is something of a spooky state. As such, I wanted to actually try my hand at the paranormal instead of sitting on the sidelines. I reached out to the Delaware City Ghost Hunters, a regional non-profit that conducts free paranormal investigations, and they agreed to show me the ropes of their craft in our very own newspaper office.
To my knowledge, whether or not The Review’s office is “haunted” has never been explored. I’ve heard things go bump in the night as I’ve sat by myself in the office, but the source is usually just someone scooching in their chair in The Den located downstairs. However, call it fatigue or my sensitive disposition, I will concede that around 10 p.m., I’ve sometimes had that odd sense that I’m not alone.
On a Saturday evening, Ethan Grandin and Larissa Heather, associate layout and visuals editors at the paper, join me in the office. Some members of the Delaware City Ghost Hunters – George Blanchfield, Dolly Ziegler, Janet Williams and Wendy Long – soon arrive wielding shiny briefcases of equipment. I get a crash course in some of the tools they use, including EMF meters that measure fluctuations in electromagnetic fields and an SLS camera that detects human figures. There’s an Ovilus, a device that a ghost or spirit (there is a difference, as I later learn from their pamphlet) can apparently employ to voice a variety of pre-loaded words – a maximum of three at a time, to be exact. The group also utilizes everyday objects like digital cameras, flashlights, voice recorders and light-up bouncy balls.
Our hours-long investigation begins when Dolly notices a figure standing near me on the SLS camera, who quickly disappears (the camera stops working soon after). They whip out the EMF meter and Ovilus, and we begin asking a myriad of questions. We try out the spirit box, a device that rapidly (and noisily) scans radio stations, with little luck, and we later switch to a flashlight that we ask the entity to manipulate on and off in response to “yes or no” questions. While we get inconclusive or conflicting answers to many of our inquiries, we eventually find out that our office is home to “Jack.”
I find the gradual, thoughtful process something that’s easy, and admittedly fun, to get into the groove of, even amid silent pauses. Open-mindedness is key. At one point, Ethan maintains a steady back-and-forth with “Jack” about whether he enjoys the music Ethan blasts in the office, and Larissa dances to the steady beat of the spirit box. As I snap pictures, I notice what appear to be “orbs” in some of the images, which the group enthusiastically confirms as they scan the office for any potential reflection sources. When the Ovilus says things like “Poltergeist,” “Devil,” and “Rapture” – sometimes in low, mocking or objectively creepy tones – we can’t help but look at each other with raised eyebrows and a bit of nervous laughter.
Indeed, it turns out that debunking and drawing universally agreed-upon conclusions are a core part of the activity. If the Delaware City Ghost Hunters catch an “orb” or other sort of apparition or figure on camera, they explain that they’ll try to determine whether it might have been caused by something more worldly. Likewise, in listening to voices picked up on recorders, they’ll work together to conclude what precisely is being said.
Throughout the evening, we candidly discuss portals, clairvoyance and other supernatural phenomena that I passively digest through popular media but never really get to chat about on the daily. Interestingly, the group members express that the frequent exaggeration — and editing — of some primetime ghost hunting shows don’t do justice to what is, in reality, an elongated, patience-demanding practice. It even runs the risk of undercutting their own reputation. They view paranormal investigation as their hobby, most of them being retirees, and some derive a great deal of satisfaction from the peace of mind they can give people through their work, which can additionally consist of helping ghosts “cross over into the light.”
Paranormal investigation strikes me as an embodiment of not taking anything around us at face value. Perhaps it’s even a way of defying death by refusing to accept a mysterious yet inevitable aspect of life as finite, even if it’s a practice that relies more on subjectivity and the sheer unknown than concrete, scientific explanation. At the same time, it’s about respect, consisting of intentional inquiries and a desire to help both those you can see and those you (usually) can’t.
Were we talking to thin air? Or were we talking to the ghost of a man who apparently shares Ethan’s taste in music? Will I come into the office from now on certain that I’m the only one? Or will I take a moment to acknowledge someone who apparently spends more time there than our staff combined? Are those really orbs floating near Ethan and me in the photos that Wendy took, or are they just reflections from other sources? Will the groan of a chair in Denny’s be enough to send me through the roof in fright, or will I continue to just shrug it off? For all of my aforementioned enthusiasm, I personally precariously sit on the fence when it comes to matters of the paranormal, trying to keep an open mind in both directions. I haven’t come to any conclusions just yet.
Before they leave, George gives Ethan and me compact versions of the flashlight that helped us get to know “Jack” a little better. If you twist them just right, they’ll light up with a slight tap. Perhaps the investigation – the curiosity – is never meant to end. Maybe it’s not the answers that sustain the adventure – maybe it’s the questions.