A search for spirits

January 28, 2002

A search for spirits


The ghost hunters point their digital cameras into a dark corner of the basement as the room temperature seemingly drops - a sign on their quest to capture an image of what they cannot see: Evidence of life after death.

On this night, that quest has led the ghost hunters to a house in the Snug Harbor KOA Campground in Williamsport.

It is after midnight on a moonless Saturday when Chanda Wright and three members of her Hagerstown-based National Ghost Hunters Society stand in the snow outside the house and ask the spirits they believe are within for permission to enter in peace, photograph them and record their voices.

Wright, Frank McGhee, Lisa Carlin and Nikki Hilderbrand are armed with digital cameras, tape recorders, flashlights, a night scope, video camera and the hope that on this night they will collect irrefutable evidence of the paranormal activity they seek.


For Wright, the quest began in childhood. She started hearing and seeing ghosts when she was 2 or 3 years old, but her parents refused to believe, she said.

Wright later sought people who had had similar supernatural experiences. When she launched a Web site devoted to the paranormal in the mid-1990s, she said, people started contacting her.

She tells the children who e-mail her about their paranormal experiences the same thing she told herself when her parents didn't believe her: "You know what you know," Wright said.

Her companions are more recent converts to paranormal investigation. McGhee and Carlin said they found Wright on the Internet last year.

On this night, like many others before, the ghost hunters work in darkness. They use flashlights to check the settings on their digital cameras and set up tape recorders. McGhee follows his night scope through rooms filled with skeletons, cobwebs and other remains of Halloween, when the home's owners staged a haunted house in the vacant site.

"They found that other things were going on that weren't part of the haunted house," Wright says.

Noises they couldn't explain. Apparitions. Sudden temperature changes. Objects embedded in walls.

Wright thinks the house is a portal for ghosts to enter the world of the living in order to relay messages to loved ones, look over them or complete unfinished tasks, she says.

Wright serves as her group's ghost meter, leading the others to still and silent rooms in the KOA house where she senses paranormal activity.

"They're in the basement," she says.

The ghost hunters descend with their cameras. Flashes punctuate the darkness, illuminating piles of household debris, Halloween souvenirs and gory haunted house scenes. They set up a video camera in a basement corner in hopes of capturing the invisible and inaudible supernatural activity they believe present.

The investigative flurry in the basement stops when Wright says, "He's in the attic." The ghost hunters answer her call for a camera four-fold as they trail McGhee and his night scope back upstairs. He pulls the cord to the attic door, steps onto the unfolding stairs, points and shoots into the dark attic.

What tripped Wright's sixth sense this time?

"You just know," she says.

Ghost hunting involves at least as much gut instinct as science and technology. Temperature changes and inaudible frequencies can be measured with laser thermometers and tri-field meters, the ghost hunters say. But the eerie feeling of another presence in a seemingly unoccupied room, the goose bumps that might piggyback that feeling, can't be scientifically measured, they say.

"You feel scared but I like to think of it like the rush of adrenaline you get on roller coasters," Wright says. "You can tame the fear."

She's no stranger to skeptics such as Joe Nickell, senior research fellow with the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, or CSICOP, based in Amherst, N.Y. CSICOP publishes its findings in "Skeptical Inquirer" magazine.

Nickell said he's "been in more haunted houses than Casper" during the 30 years he's spent trying to find logical explanations for haunted house claims.

"I don't set out to debunk. I set out to investigate. I've labored to try not to dismiss these claims but to try to explain them without an agenda," Nickell said. "I want to see hard evidence, not fuzzy thinking, warmed-over intuition or happy talk."

Nickell doesn't believe in ghosts. He's never seen proof that they exist, he said.

Many believers base their arguments on emotional, rather than logical, thinking, Nickell said. They fall prey to a logical fallacy called Argument from Ignorance, which assumes that because something has not been proved false, it must be true, Nickell said.

"There are no haunted houses, only haunted people," he said.

Wright said she doesn't argue with skeptics like Nickell.

"You have a right to believe what you want to believe," she said. "I think, in time, skeptics will go by the wayside."

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