Paranormal investigators face dilemmas, quandaries, and philosophical conundrums, but they also must expect tremendous frustration. We tend to forget how long it took for us to become comfortable with what, for many people, is odd or downright weird. My recent trip through the Gold Country and down the CA coast brought this issue to the forefront.
I suppose you could call it the ½ team: Ty and myself, plus investigator-in-training, The Phantom Menace (in case you can’t tell, this is not her real name). The goal was to stay in as many reputedly haunted hotels as we could. The first, Hotel Jeffrey in Coulterville, didn’t impress any of us as particularly ‘atmospheric’; in fact, we felt so comfortable there that it seemed like we were in an extension of home. Not so for the saloon; as soon as we walked in, there was an oppressive feel to it, a heavy gloom that was augmented by the locals’ dislike for strangers in town. Coulterville is no cute, touristy town filled with Wild West kitsch; it is hard baked under a relentless sun, the residents hiding out and keeping to themselves. The homes are not restored for the delight of yuppie travelers looking for an ‘authentic’ experience, but instead betray extreme economic hardship. Some of the homes appeared to be crumbling into the dust, eaten by the tentacles of blackberry vines. The cemetery was a study in tragedy: lambs adorned many of the headstones, indicating the death of a child. Women died in childbirth, men died in their 30s, and very few made it past 60.
The Phantom (referred to from now on as PM) tried to right a fallen cement vase, and in the process it fell on her pinky, badly bruising it. Earlier, Ty was convinced he saw someone walking up next to him when there was no one there. Before we left the Public Cemetery, Ty righted the vengeful cement vase, only to find it back on the ground the next morning. It all seemed somehow to fit with the general sentiment of Coulterville: leave us alone. I had a brief notion that we should buy the old Chinese General Store and retire there, but in retrospect that seems absurd. As fascinating as Coulterville was, it was never a place to call home. We moved on.
We wended our way through Mariposa, Sutter’s Mill, Placerville, Sonora, and countess other towns that used to be vibrant, rowdy, lawless places where overwhelming greed clashed with dream-shattering reality. At the National Hotel in Jamestown, (according to our tour guide, the ‘most haunted hotel in the country’) a bored and uninspired tour guide escorted us through the ex-bordello, explaining in a monotone who died where and how. It was clear that a haunted reputation kept business booming, and attracted the likes of TAPS for an investigation. Whatever might have lingered there was overshadowed by the economics of ghosts: they are good for business, so the truth of their presence is less important than the money the stories bring in.
We stayed at the (in) famous Hotel Leger in Mokelumne Hill the second night. This hotel is famous for its haunts, especially George’s Room, the owner who was murdered by his best friend over a fickle woman (there are, we discovered, many stories along this line). The saloon keep was happy to take us down to the basement where a series of tunnels had been built to help men escape their wives, since—you guessed it—the Hotel Leger was also a bordello. The hotel had actually undergone many such transformations: City Hall, Chamber of Commerce, saloon, hotel, theater, restaurant, house of ill-repute, etc. (not necessarily in that order). The stories might have been true or not; it’s almost impossible to differentiate fact from fiction when everyone has a tale to tell and history has undergone multiple interpretations based upon unreliable memories.
We conducted our first unofficial investigation that night in George’s Room and the haunted suites. All the rooms were open, which greatly aided our nocturnal meanderings. The frustration begins: when we played back our audio that night, there is a clear response to the “shave and a haircut . . .” raps. Two knocks respond to us: not once, but twice in a row!! We’re thrilled, thinking that we have great audio clips for the whole team to consider later. In addition, we heard very loud footsteps walking towards us while we’re in the room, so loud that we are thinking we need to vacate George’s room ASAP. Of course, no one is there; but we have it on audio! However, when I am listening to the clip on the computer, headphones on, ready to be blown away be George’s (or someone’s) response to my knocks and the loud footsteps, I hear . . . nothing. For some unimaginable reason, the clear responses and the footsteps have vanished from the audio clip. How can two people hear the same noises on the audio after sharing the same experience in the room, only to have it NOT BE THERE a few days later?
I don’t know. The frustration and mystery continue at a bed and breakfast in San Luis Obispo the last night of our stay. Notice I do not identify the Inn; that is part of the story. As we entered the bed and breakfast, our gracious hostess escorted us to our room, and then to five other rooms, since I wanted to see them all. At some point, I came out of the closet and told her that I was a member of a paranormal investigations team. Her response was almost wistful: “I wish we had a ghost here. I’m sure we must have something, this place is so old.” I assured her that we would check for paranormal activity later that night, since we had all of our equipment. Her demeanor changed, ever so slightly: “Just be sure that none of the guests see you.” This is, by now, a common theme: “I am fascinated by the paranormal, but I’m also embarrassed by it.” Or, it “freaks people out,” as I’ve heard on multiple occasions.
The modified investigation began around 10 PM or so, after most guests were tucked away in their rooms. The guest list indicated that there were only two parties in addition to us on the second floor, both towards the front of the old staircase. We wandered around taking EMF readings and pictures, recorders running. Nothing much happened until we went downstairs by the former owner/manager’s room, which according to our hostess is so creepy that the maid refuses to clean it. Indeed, that room was oppressive; I would not stay there. Around that hallway, the digital EMF meter started behaving erratically. It jumped up to as high as 3.6 from a baseline reading of zero. It wasn’t consistent; whatever was causing the spikes in the readings seemed to move with us and around us. We began asking questions; at one point, just when we were about to move on, P.M. says, “if there’s anyone here with us, we’d really like to hear from you,” and then the noises start. At first, it appears to be footsteps walking across a wood floor; then there are sounds of someone dragging furniture across a room. At the end of the recording, right before we run upstairs, it almost sounds like drumming fingers. We were so amazed by this that we head upstairs to find the source of it, only to realize that the rooms above us are not guest rooms, but supply closets. There are no noises upstairs, and upon returning to the downstairs hallway, there is complete silence. We have the odd noises on audio, I think, so we will astound all who hear it! Thus ends our investigation, and we are both very pleased, thinking that perhaps we have found a ghost for our hostess and her beautiful, old hotel.
Once we’re home, I send the clip to the other LAPA team members and to our hostess at the Inn. Opinions vary; some insist it’s the copper pipes in the walls and ceilings. Others have no idea, and find it intriguing. Our hostess, who was very interested in hearing the clip when I contact her by phone, informs me later that she played it for everyone at the hotel, and no one heard anything at all. Her tone is a mixture of disappointment and irritation. I have the fleeting impression that she thinks I tricked her, or worse yet, that she had been a victim of a nut case with an EMF meter. I tell her that audio clips tend to degrade in quality when they are sent out over email, and that she needs headphones, but she is not impressed. I don’t know what she really thought, but I do know that several days have passed, and she has not contacted me with her impressions of the audio, after promising to listen to it with headphones at home.
Am I reading too much in to her response, or lack thereof? Probably. As an investigator of the odd and mysterious, I want others to believe that what I hear, see, or experience is real: it’s the truth, because it comes from me. I am reliable, and I am objective. End of story . . . however, it’s not the end of the story, far from it. In reality, it’s just the beginning of the story, and that story never ends. The end of the story is absolute proof that everyone can accept. That is not going to happen. Ever. It’s difficult to accept that what I perceive as ghostly footsteps might be pipes expanding in the ceiling. I don’t agree with that interpretation, but then again, I might be wrong. If fact, all of us could be wrong. There may be an answer as to the source of our multiple, fascinating EVPs and AVPs, but I am no longer sure that we will ever find that answer. That’s the dilemma, not necessarily the frustration; the frustration is how these phenomena sometimes appear to play with us.
Yes, play with us. That’s how it feels sometimes. At the site of the Rialto Historical Society, Brian and I were 100% sure that we heard a girl singing up on the stairs by the stained glass window. We both heard it; our recorders were both running; yet, neither one of us captured it. How is that possible? This has been a recent occurrence: sounds that I hear, or two people hear, are not showing up on audio. That is beyond frustrating, since it reduces what happened to a personal experience, with no evidence whatsoever. My pride is hurt; my enthusiasm is dampened; my professionalism is damaged; most of all, I start wondering if there is something wrong with me, but then I remember that other team members are having the same experience. I can’t begin to offer an explanation for it, other than shared auditory hallucinations, but that seems even more far-fetched than the “stone-tape” theory or the intelligent haunt phenomena.
Bottom line? I’m back where I started. Instead of posting multiple, amazing, convincing audio clips, I’m confronted with hours of useless data. Once again, I can’t do what I always hope to do: astound you with evidence of another world. Perhaps I should stop expecting to accomplish such a goal; maybe I have too much ego wrapped into this desire to impress people with what I found, and that could be the reason that my evidence ceases to exist when I search for it. If spirits speak, then are they possibly telling me to take myself out of the equation and be patient? I’m not the one who will reveal anything to anyone; that is an individual quest. One makes up one’s own mind, clip or no clip: I hear the footsteps of the dead, someone else hears expanding pipes, and yet a third party hears nothing at all.
And we close the loop: life and death appear to be matters of interpretation. There is no Moses and the burning bush, and even if there were, dear reader, you might tell me to put out the damn brush fire.
Kirsten A. Thorne