Ghost hunters search for spirited homes

October 31, 2004|by JULIE E. GREENE

Have you ever heard the sound of someone's footsteps on your stairs when you know you're home alone?

Is it a pet or the paranormal?

Are you a skeptic or do you believe in ghosts?

Whether your house is haunted depends largely on your answer to the last question, according to ghost hunters.

"I believe in ghosts. I've seen them. A lot of people think if you believe in ghosts, ... you're crazy. I don't care what they think," said Beverly Litsinger, president of the Maryland Ghost and Spirit Association.

Litsinger, of Randallstown in Baltimore County, Md., and Susan Crites, president of the West Virginia Society of Ghost Hunters based in Hedgesville, W.Va., are ghost hunters.


They help people find out if their homes are haunted. Crites' group does it for free and Litsinger said she doesn't usually charge people.

Signs your house could be haunted include electronic devices such as televisions turning on or off inexplicably, changes in temperature, strange glowing lights, a piano playing, children's toys that turn on, or strange smells for which there's no source, Crites said.

"If it ain't normal, it's abnormal," she said.

Katie Norris, 26, of Hagerstown, said she has lived in haunted homes.

She's heard footsteps, had things move inexplicably and woke up to what felt like someone bumping into her bed, she said.

Norris moved from one haunted apartment to another this year. Her previous apartment was haunted by a ghost that was "not a happy camper," she said. To clear the energy or purify the air, she tried burning sage and white candles and lining her windows and doors with sea salt to get rid of the ghost, she said.

By the end of August, she'd moved for reasons that included the ghost, she said.

Her current apartment has a nice ghost, Norris said.

Photos of her childhood yard in the Sharpsburg area show spots that could be dust instead of ghosts. "It could be anything, but I know what I feel when I'm there."

"All of this really depends on what you believe, too," Norris said.

Crites wasn't a believer at first.

She thought the abnormalities she was experiencing were a figment of an overactive imagination.

She claims she saw an apparition of a ghost, a woman who never married and died in the house her father built - Crites' former downtown Martinsburg, W.Va., house.

She inquired about other peoples' ghost stories, investigated them and formed the ghost hunting club. Crites has written several books about people's encounters with the supernatural.

"I think it's reasonable to be cynical about the existence of ghosts," she said.

Crites and Litsinger use electromagnetic field detectors, cameras, audio and video recorders, thermometers, thermal cameras and night vision equipment to detect ghosts.

Litsinger, of Randallstown, Md., also uses her feelings.

"I look for, 'Do I feel this presence of a being in there?'" Litsinger said.

Crites said she looks for a manmade source of abnormalities. For example, a draft could be caused by a crack in the wall or the odd way a fan in another room blows air around.

Joe Nickell is skeptical of such ghost hunters.

"Those instruments are not meant to detect ghosts. They're not scientists so they don't know what they're doing," said Nickell, a full-time paranormal investigator.

"Of course, they're assuming that ghosts exist. Science has never validated a single ghost," Nickell said. How could a "ghost" have motor functions without a brain, he asked.

"It's a popular superstition. It's understandable because we want to believe we live after we die. We want our dead relatives to somehow be available. I understand those emotions," Nickell said.

Nickell is a senior research fellow with the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal and a columnist for Skeptical Inquirer magazine based in Amherst, N.Y.

He doesn't want to be called a debunker, instead saying he approaches each case as a mystery.

As a former professional stage magician and private investigator, Nickell said he uses his knowledge of magic tricks to catch tricksters and his detective skills to solve mysteries.

"It's true that the end result of 30 years of work has been to debunk many things, but that's a consequence for me - not a starting point ... It's been my experience that the debunking will take care of itself," Nickell said.

Take his first "real" haunted house investigation of the Mackenzie House, a historic site in downtown Toronto, in 1972.

Various caretakers claimed hearing footsteps on the stairs late at night when no one else was home, one caretaker's wife woke to find a man standing in a frock coat beside her bed and there were photos of a ghost, Nickell said.

It turns out the house's staircase was 40 inches from a neighbor's staircase and they were hearing the neighbors on their staircase, Nickell said.

The "ghost photos" were a mist effect created when a camera flash bounced off white sheet music, he said.

The man in the frock is a bit more complicated, he said.

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