Sometimes things go "bump" in the night, and while it's usually attributed to air in the pipes or the house settling, those bumps may sometimes be communication from beyond.
A majority of haunting claims can be attributed to those explanations, or to the tricks of our own psyches. After all, who among us hasn't seen a shadow lurking in the corner after watching "Halloween," or sprinted to the bathroom in the middle of the night because we drank too much soda during "The Exorcist"?
On March 20, I had the privilege of following Sedalia Ghost Hunters while they investigated a mid-Missouri funeral home that's been out of operation for several years. The investigation was put together by Saline County Career Center, which has offered a paranormal research course each year because of a growing interest in the field.
We sat along the walls of the sanctuary that night. Just listening for a few moments to hear if anything was out of the ordinary -- and to pick out real-world sounds that could be confused for the paranormal. Lights from an occasional car hazed through a front window, but otherwise it was so dark I couldn't see my hands as I felt around for the voice recorder in my bag.
People began asking questions, sure to leave at least 30 seconds between each to provide any entity there a chance to reach out.
"Did you work here?"
"Is there anything you need?"
"Do you know what year this is?"
Investigators used a myriad of devices such as handheld recorders to capture EVPs, or electronic voice phenomena, LED infrared security cameras for night vision, and a green laser grid that sprinkled hundreds of dots of light into the room.
Roughly 30 minutes later, flashlights flicked on and we made our way up a narrow staircase. Investigators scanned the room with electromagnetic field detectors to locate any electrical currents.
The electromagnetic devices are similar to those used to locate wiring in walls when renovating a home or business, and reflect a high or low level of conductivity.
Two theories in the paranormal investigative field exist regarding high EMFs (electromagnetic fields). The first theory is that some people are physically sensitive to high EMFs, similar to the way you can feel radiation emanating from a television screen or computer monitor. For those who are sensitive, it's believed EMFs may cause nausea, paranoia and possibly delusions if the levels are high enough. This is typically the case in rooms with a breaker box, basements with copper pipes and on properties near high voltage power lines. Some investigators would recommend a client minimize that electric field to see if it lowers the "paranormal" activity that's occurring.
The second theory is that a high-energy field acts as a sort of fuel for spirit activity. It's a conduit for someone on the other side, who is not made up of physical matter.
Because of these theories, one of the first things Sedalia Ghost Hunters does is scan the entire room when first entering.
We weaved throughout rooms of a second-floor apartment, which was once lived in by the funeral director. The woodwork was as intricate as the investigation, with large windows looking out over a rainstorm. I yanked open a stuck closet door, checking for signs of animals whose scratching around may have sounded odd to a person downstairs. It was empty.
There's a thrill in seeking the unknown, each member secretly hoping to spot a shadow person or hear a voice. Edmund Burke once said: "The first and simplest emotion which we discover in the human mind, is curiosity."
It's human nature to explore and to test our boundaries. To push the limits of our minds and find a rush of adrenaline that can only happen when testing one's self. That coupled with an adventure builds a natural interest in the paranormal.
For the most part, I think unexplained paranormal phenomenon, or what's referred to as hauntings, have a worldly explanation. For example, apparitions reportedly seen in windows are often playful reflections of light.
But recognizing that doesn't mean I'm a nonbeliever. I do think people who've passed are able to visit. And when I look deeply into my faith I can see how this world is caught in the crossfire between good and evil. That's part of the fun of paranormal research: to question those ideas, to hear what others have to say, to find humanity on the other side when we sometimes lose hope here.
One of my main curiosities, though, is why others become so fascinated in ghost hunting that their hobby becomes a second job, and unpaid at that. I often question how various paranormal research groups operate: whether they want to disprove activity versus believing every claim is paranormal. Put simply: how objective are they?
I was impressed with Sedalia Ghost Hunters and their professionalism. Their use of equipment was expansive as they attempted to collect as much data as possible.
The seven-year-old group became part of The Atlantic Paranormal Society family in 2010. TAPS is behind the shows "Ghost Hunters" and "Ghost Hunters International" on the Syfy Channel, and its main purpose is to help people become more comfortable in their homes and share information on their findings. Their services are free of charge.
As the only official TAPS team in the state of Missouri, Sedalia Ghost Hunters officials say they strive to do just that: explain the phenomena for their clients and validate those experiences. It's not their job to cleanse a home or "banish spirits."
"We're very proud of (the TAPS) distinction," 'Britt,' who founded the group, said. "We have been literally all over the state investigating since we formed in 2005. We've been as far east as St. Louis ... as far south as Springfield. We've been to the Joplin area. We've been to the Kansas City area. We've been to St. Joe."
The team also investigated the Villisca Ax Murder House in Iowa, where eight people were brutally axed to death in 1912 -- Josiah and Sarah Moore, their four children and two young girls staying overnight. EVPs collected by the investigators can be heard on their website: www.sedaliaghosthunters.com.
I was also impressed with their reliance on their own senses. As the evening progressed, the group gathered once again in the sanctuary for another EVP session. Everyone found a chair, which were lined against three walls of the open room.
A loud crash.
Vibrations went through everyone's chair.
"It felt like a car crashed into the side of the building," one guest said, her eyes like saucers.
Members of Sedalia Ghost Hunters checked all rooms, even ventured out to the garage to test the garage door. They tried to exhaust all explainable possibilities. They left with that night with none.
"A lot of people, that's the first thing that comes out of their mouth -- 'Well, it's evil,'" 'Britt' said. "Just because something's there does not mean it's evil."
The investigators encouraged visitors to hold true to their own beliefs. For some, the subject may be peculiar, for some it's wrong, and for others it's a passion -- proven by the popularity of paranormal reality shows on cable. Currently, Sedalia Ghost Hunters is reviewing the evidence they collected, just as I am reviewing mine, and they'll continue working for clients throughout Missouri in an effort to bring some peace of mind.
Contact Sarah Reed at
Note: Should I have any questionable noise recorded on the handy voice recorder I had fumbled for, I'll post it to get your take.