Do-it-yourself ghost hunt

You don't need to go on an expensive bus tour to experience spooky thrills

October 30, 2009

You can go hunting for your own ghosts this Halloween armed with just a digital camera and a pocket voice recorder, expert ghost investigators say.

The odds you'll spot something – about 1 in 10, and typically only after the fact when you review your film and tape, says Dan Jungles, director of the Will County Ghost Hunters Society. But it can and does happen, and you don't have to be a trained expert to have success, he says.

"Just because you can't see it or hear it doesn't mean it's not there," Jungles says.

Adds Doug Oram, an investigator for the Chicago Paranormal Research Society: "Just because something out there is not understood doesn't mean it's not real."

What is a ghost?

There seems to be no consensus on just what you're encountering when you find evidence of a "ghost."

Diane Ladley, owner of Historic Ghost Tours of Naperville and author of the just-released book "Haunted Naperville," believes what people are seeing and hearing is a "residual" memory created by the electromagnetic energy left behind after a death.

"Residual" ghosts are a common theory, but Jungles and Oram say that more typically describes something that recurs on a consistent basis – boots clomping down stairs in the wee hours of the morning, a door slamming in the attic, a moaning voice.

Jungles, an electrician who lives in Shorewood, believes an "intelligent" ghost – one that is able to interact with people – is the manifestation of a soul that for some reason is trapped. Perhaps it has "unfinished business" in this realm, Jungles says, or maybe it wants to remain with a loved one or was the victim of a sudden, unexpected death.

Oram, a software engineer from Aurora, agrees with the "unfinished" aspect of the phenomenon, but doesn't have an explanation other than some type of "natural physics is happening for reasons we don't yet understand."

All three can agree on one thing, however: Trauma is almost always associated with the creation of a "ghost."

It really is a kind of "living hell" for the people who get caught in this limbo experience and are unable to free themselves, Jungles says.

Do your homework

If you want to increase your odds of having a paranormal experience, start with a location that's known to be "haunted" and do some research on what might have happened there and who might have died, Jungles said.

"Start with researching other sightings where people have said they've seen things or experienced something," Ladley says. Coming armed with information gives you clues about what you might see, she says.

For example, Ladley says there is a lot of paranormal activity at Fourth Street and the railroad tracks in downtown Naperville, the site of a 1946 train collision in which 47 people died. Some cemeteries are well-known ghost hot spots, often conjuring the spirits of mothers and children, she says.

If a ghost is present, it may respond to questions, Jungles says. And by asking questions specific to the person with whom you're speaking or the incident in which they died could increase the odds of eliciting a paranormal incident, he says.

Be prepared

All three ghost experts issue two warnings: Don't break the law by going onto private property and be careful. Traipsing around on unknown land or in dark buildings at night can have a bad end if you end up tripping or falling into something, they say.

Once you're comfortable with the site you've chosen, arm yourself with a camera (both digital and 35 mm will work), a voice recorder and, most importantly, batteries, Oram says. You don't want to be in the middle of something only to have your equipment fail, he says.

Professional ghost-hunting groups typically invest in more elaborate equipment, including video cameras attached to monitors for live feeds, an EVP, which is an electronic voice phenomena recorder, and an EMF or electromagnetic field meter, Oram says. Cameras with infrared or ultraviolet capacity can be particularly useful in catching things the naked eye cannot, he says.

That said, even the most basic equipment can produce results, Oram says. And having the best gear in the world won't make a difference if nothing's there, Jungles says.

Also, it's easy to scare yourself so it's important to realize that ghosts aren't typically negative or evil, Oram says. Television and movies have created a false impression that paranormal incidents result in violence and mayhem, all three investigators say.

"Forget what Hollywood tells you," Oram says. "I've had plenty of paranormal experiences, and nothing's been negative."

Be patient

When you're ready to begin your investigation, be quiet, be respectful and be patient, Oram says.

Once your equipment is set up, begin the investigation by announcing the time, date and names of all those present, Oram says. Any sound – a train whistle, someone stepping on a twig and the like – should also be identified during the recording so it's not mistaken for something else when you're reviewing the tape later, he says.

Begin by asking simple questions: "Is there someone here?" "What's your name?" "Can you give us a sign that you're here?" More elaborate questions can be pursued as well: "Why do you stay in the place?" "How did you die?" "Are you scared?" "Do you know who we are?"

"These are just people," Jungles says. "You speak to them just like you would to any living person."

The most important thing is to allow 10 or 15 seconds of silence to elapse so the spirit has a chance to respond and be caught on tape, Oram says.

It's entirely possible you won't hear or see anything, but you may feel or sense something, Jungles says. Sometimes voice frequencies are high and can only be captured on tape, he says.

If you have an EMF, the presence of a ghost could activate it, Oram says. The meter has a green light that flashes yellow, orange and red when it picks up nearby electromagnetic changes, he says.

Finally, pay attention to your surroundings, Oram says. You might be experiencing paranormal activity if you smell flowers or perfume or you suddenly feel a chill that makes your hair stand on end, he says.

How do you know?

So, you're back home, armed with your photos and tape – now what? When you're reviewing photos, Jungles says, look for figures – although those are "very rare" – and ectoplasms that may show up in the form of smoke or mist, he says.

You might also see shadows or a vortex, which sometimes includes a glowing tail, Oram says.

If you capture what some call an "orb" – a sort of floating globule – you can pretty much dismiss it as dust, insects or some other type of natural phenomenon or camera glitch, all three ghost hunters says.

When listening to the tape, you're looking for sounds you didn't hear when you recorded it, Jungles says. Sometimes it's a word or an answer to a question; sometimes it's just a sound, he says.

Be willing to look for explanations to what you see or hear rather than leaping to a conclusion that there's something there, the investigators say.

The problem with all of this, of course, is it's open to debate and can't be reproduced in any sort of scientific way that will allow you to prove what happened, Oram says.

"I believe there is a scientific explanation for all of this," he says. "It could be something as simple the person has gone into a fourth dimension, but we just don't understand it yet."