by Joshua Hennen
Undisclosed Location in Virginia - With a recent mushrooming of paranormal investigation programming haunting our televisions these days I decided to join an investigation group to see what this is all about (both the people and the paranormal activities.)
The site chosen for our adventure by the group leader was at one time a Virginia plantation mansion. Unfortunately, agreements that I signed during the initial briefing prevent me from disclosing the exact location, but the property was historic with a decidedly violent past.
As for the layout of the site, an antiquated room on the south end of the building at one time served as a county courthouse, a post office, and finally a kitchen for an expanded mansion. This small room with it’s low ceiling and plank floors seemed innocent enough, I said to myself when I entered. It was the iron bars on the windows from which hung slave’s shackles that caught my attention. But the history of the plantation given later that night was even more rattling.
Since I was one of the first to arrive, I had plenty of time to hobnob with our group director, Geoff (some names have been changed). I entered the kitchen and in front of a large fireplace I saw him busily setting up a laptop, speakers, and motion detecting equipment.
"How’s it goin’ Geoff?" I said, striking up a conversation. "Good," he said. "It’s Josh, right?" He hazarded that guess after some hesitation. Like Hollywood’s caricature of a forgetful scientist, his hair was white and standing on end. This, despite the fact that most of it had vacated the premises leaving a patch of pink flesh in its place. The rest remained uncombed and full of static, forming a sort of halo. I wondered if he would have liked his long departed hair to haunt his head once again.
The other members of our group soon arrived and we were told to go to a meeting room located at the north end of the building on the second floor. It was there that Geoff gave the plantation’s history. Slaves were regularly kept onsite and there was once a cellar that may have been used as a holding cell for the old courthouse. The property had also been used from time to time as lodging quarters for travelers when it wasn’t occupied. As for it’s violent past, a nanny died falling down the steps from her third story room that was adjacent to a nursery. But the most distressing aspect of the place was that at the end of the civil war, two male slaves were "made examples of" and hanged in an oak tree that still stands today. Evidently the plantation owners were afraid of a general slave uprising.
Next, accounts of "paranormal activity" at the home were detailed. As we all sat around a long table, I was the only one taking notes as the others sat enthralled with a few "well seasoned veterans" asking technical questions of Geoff to seem important.
One particularly obnoxious woman reveled in answering questions that were not directed at her. And though I’m sure that she was very lovely on the inside, she looked like a hard boiled egg on the outside. Her round, gelatinous body was packed into a sweatshirt and extraordinarily tight jeans. During that meeting I kept a sharp eye on the seams of her pant legs to ensure that if they began ripping, then I would be the first to escape the explosion.
Nevertheless, many accounts of apparitions, unexplained noises, and other phenomena were detailed. "Henry," the name of a ghost of a slave, was the most common sighting. How and why this "entity" came to have that name was never explained, but it was a catchy moniker anyway.
A child, so we were told, once lived in that very meeting room, which at that time was a bedroom. He died after having fallen from an old window that was in the wall immediately behind where I sat.
Finally, a ghostly cat, a few small children, and a woman in a lacy dress have all been spotted and of course, once spotted, vanish.
At that point, our cadre broke apart and reassembled in what would prove to be the staging area for the rest of the evening, the old kitchen. Geoff divided us into two groups, one led by him and the other led by his assistant, a short, blonde-haired woman named Cathy.
The general scheme was this: one team would investigate one side of the house while the other team investigated the other side. Geoff and Cathy would keep in contact by means of walkie-talkies so that all efforts could be synchronized and prevent the teams from working right next to each other.
I was to work with Geoff. The rest of our cast was composed of two quiet sisters, Rachel and Susie; a short, middle-aged man named Donald; a purported clairvoyant named Vicky; and finally Ronald.
It was now ten o’clock in the evening and Geoff was anxious to get started. He dispatched Cathy’s group to the other side of the mansion while we went up to the third story.
It was there that we were to start our first EVP session in what was once a house slave’s bedroom. EVP stands for Electronic Voice Phenomena. Those members of the investigation that were initiated in the field knew the term and what it meant. I, however, was entirely ignorant.
For the reader’s benefit: EVP is when a digital voice recorder is placed in a room and attempts to contact spirits are made by the investigators. And even though nothing out of the ordinary may have been heard or seen at the time, when the recordings are played back sometimes whispers or voices of unidentified "entities" seem to have responded to the investigator’s questions.
Detractors often point out that the voices are usually muffled or indistinct. Not only that, but if the phenomena are distinct enough to be understood, then the responses are typically indirect and cryptic. Regardless, they chalk it up to excited paranormal enthusiasts construing voices from background noise or internal microphone noises.
So without a knowledge of EVP and what to expect in general, I made my way with the group to the third floor to see if we could contact "Henry."
The onetime bedchamber was nothing more than an attic that had been converted to a room at some point in the indefinite past and was at that time being used as extra storage space. The rough cut wooden steps leading up to this 10’ by 15’ domicile were of unequal height and width as well as being unlevel. It’s no wonder, I thought, that so many people fell down flights of stairs back then.
After shutting off the lights, we each found a spot and sat down in the partial moonlight that filtered through the window into that rustic little cubbyhole. Digital voice recorders were set down on the floor as Donald held a digital thermometer and Rachel an EMF (electromagnetic field) meter.
The methodology that followed was used throughout the night in every room that we investigated. First, Geoff communicated with the other group via walkie-talkie and we synchronized our sessions to begin and end at the same time. Then the electronic equipment were turned on and each of our group began asking questions, trying to communicate with "spirits."
Partway through that session, Vicky—the purported clairvoyant—said that she felt a cold spot where she was sitting. Geoff gave a follow up question to the entity that he supposed caused this, saying, "If that was you and you’re trying to communicate, please give us another blast of cold air." At this, Donald, who was standing next to Vicky, reached his hand down to try to sense the cold air and felt nothing. He then held the thermometer in front of her and found no difference from the surrounding temperature. Our clairvoyant friend sat there with her legs crossed, eyes closed, and hands outstretched, claiming that she felt it again.
So after twenty minutes, we packed up and moved to another room. Since nothing unusual transpired in most of the rooms (other than unexplained taps and creaking sounds), I’ll focus on those interesting events that happened as the night progressed.
One experience involved Ronald, who was more of a skeptic because, as he said, he had never had a paranormal experience. He was about 5’ 5" tall and wore a stoic face that was exceptionally flat with a prominent chin. His voice was deadpan and his eyes unexcited and dull.
As a way of introducing this incident, I’ll set the stage. I, along with Donald and Vicky, went to the parlor on the other side of the house and waited for the rest of the group. It was Geoff’s intention to have an EVP session there. But he, Ronald, and the sisters Susie and Rachel, lingered in a long hallway that connected the front door of the mansion to the back door. After making small talk, Donald and I finally decided to see what had been taking the rest of our company so long. It was in the hallway that we found Ronald with a flushed face and excitedly babbling about a door latch moving. The sisters were also quite moved by something.
After asking a few questions, this is what happened: the quiet Susie, with her heavily shadowed and perpetually downcast eyes, was standing next to the back door with Rachel beside her. These sisters noticed the door latch (about two feet away from them) jiggle very rapidly for about five seconds. Then Ronald was called to see and the door latch jiggled again.
his greatly delighted our flat-faced friend, who thereupon conducted an ad hoc investigation by opening the door, looking outside for pranksters, and trying to jiggle the door latch himself. He was not able to duplicate the exact way that the handle moved. He attributed the phenomenon to a spirit. So much for skepticism.
Our next set of incidents took place in the dining room. It was approximately 2:30 am and most in our group were becoming visibly tired and punchy. Geoff was bleary eyed and talked with some difficulty, seeming to nod off to sleep between sentences.
Nevertheless, he was able to express this much: the dining room had been the place where multiple people saw apparitions of blond-haired children playing and laughing.
So we took seats around the long dining room table and soon the questions began, all of them being phrased as if we were interrogating children. The first fifteen minutes were uneventful, so much so that Geoff made good on his previous gestures by falling asleep in his chair with one leg crossed over the other.
It was I that then queried in the air, "Did you ever get into trouble?" Again, we were assuming that the "entities" were children. There ensued a fifteen second silence as the stillness seemed to linger in the room.
Suddenly Geoff bolted upright in his chair as if he had been stuck in the rear by an electric cattle prod. No one had noticed that our fearless leader had dozed into a restful slumber until then. "Something just pushed my leg!" he said with a sorely troubled tone in his voice.
Only seconds after this startling turn of events, the walkie-talkie that he still held in his right hand began emitting a loud and continuous "static sound." Completely flummoxed, he turned the device and examined it to see if the "transmit button" had been pressed and had somehow become stuck in that position.
"I don’t know what’s wrong with it!" he cried out, now visibly frightened. What happened next caused the man’s eyes to open so wide that he could have easily won a staring contest with a squid.
He held the walkie-talkie and while looking directly at it (as we all were), a twenty second series of "dit-dah" sounds were clearly heard over the static still in the background.
"It seems like morse code," I whispered to Donald who was actually standing next to me. Unfortunately, no one knew morse code so no definitive answer could have been given at that time. But Donald caught the whole matter on his hand held camcorder to be reviewed later.
The ordeal was so humorous because of the look of terror in Geoff’s eyes. It is quite possible that he thought that the device was capable of leaping out his hand and attacking him. I surmised this from the way he held the walkie-talkie as far from himself as he could, the way a zookeeper handles a venomous serpent.
There were many other incidents of lesser significance that took place that evening, like fully charged camera or camcorder batteries suddenly and inexplicably losing all power or tapping sounds in response to our group’s questions. It was all very interesting, to say the least.