“Please show yourself to us,” a psychic says loudly. Immediately, items fly through the room. Blood drips down the walls as unearthly laughter pierces the air. With shaking hands, the ghost hunters ready their cameras just in time to document the arrival of a full-body apparition.
Thanks to the exaggeration of horror films and wide imaginations, some people would consider this an accurate representation of a paranormal investigation. But any real ghost hunter will tell you that a scenario like that—though it might be exciting—is complete fiction.
In an effort to dispel such myths and educate the public on the realities of the supernatural world, the Advanced Ghost Hunters of Seattle-Tacoma (AGHOST) hosted the Fifth Annual Ghost Hunters Getaway Conference Nov. 3-4 in Bellingham.
“Bellingham is a very historically interesting area of Washington,” said events coordinator Sheri Davis in the group's newsletter. “[It's] a perfect spot for a ghost hunter's conference.”
The weekend included educational workshops, a walking tour of historic Fairhaven and an expedition to Bellingham's Bayview Cemetary, led in part by local investigation group Bellingham Observers of the Odd and Obscure (BOOO). But, the two investigations the groups would conduct held the most promise for truly paranormal experiences.
The first investigation was held at the Eldridge Mansion, otherwise known to many locals as “The Castle House” for its French Chateauesque style. The mansion sits on property first owned by Edward Eldridge, one of the four founding fathers of Bellingham. After a series of fires burned down the first houses to occupy the property, the current Eldridge mansion was built in 1926 and is now listed on the National Historic Registry. With a history so rooted in Bellingham's past, the mansion had been investigated previously by BOOO and was a natural choice for the first conference investigation.
More than 15 people gathered at the mansion to take part in the investigation—a few psychics, some experienced investigators and many curious first-timers. The group was divided into the three levels of the house: Team 1, Team 2 and Team B (basement). After half an hour of investigation, each team rotated to another level.
According to Stephanie Davisson, vice president of AGHOST, each person involved in an investigation plays a role in its success.
“The way we structure our investigations is we have a tech person who operates the equipment, a psychic and an observer who will document what happens. [The observer] is very important. I wouldn't want to go without someone to document,” Davisson said.
Though many of the investigation's observers were inexperienced, those with a strong background in paranormal research were on hand to aid in the educational aspect of the event. Andrea Rustad, an investigator from San Diego, Calif., led Team B and reminded others throughout the night to remain clear-headed and do everything they could to confirm what they thought they were experiencing.
“Always take two pictures in a row,” Rustad instructed. “That way you can check for inconsistencies.”
Often Rustad would find natural explanations for chills in the air or abnormalities in pictures that less-experienced observers felt could be attributed to ghosts. Just as often, Rustad would point out things that had gone unnoticed by everyone else, such as what she perceived to be a slight tilt of the floor in one room of the mansion. Rustad suggested that a group member place their flashlight on the floor to see if it would roll to prove the floor's tilt—a simple experiment that led to one of the strangest occurrences of the night.
Once the flashlight was on the floor, it began to roll in a large circle with such speed that group members hurried to lift a rug that was blocking its path. After moving in almost a complete circle, the flashlight stopped abruptly and began to roll back in the direction it came from. Finally it stopped, but rocked back and forth in place for a lengthy amount of time. This experiment was recorded on video and repeated with similar results before the group moved on to investigate another room. They returned ten minutes later and put the flashlight down in the same place to find that this time, the flashlight wouldn't budge an inch.
Team B reported their findings when the entire group came together at the end of the investigation to discuss their experiences with Eldridge Mansion owners Mike and Cis Kennard. Several of the investigators said they felt watched in the mansion's kitchen, which, according to Mike Kennard, is consistent with what other psychics have noted in the past. The presence in the kitchen is reported to be that of a mischievous little boy who once lived in the house.
The second investigation of the night took place in Fairhaven's Sycamore Square. Built in 1890, Sycamore Square has been home to several prominent figures who lived in the building's upper-level apartments, as well as businesses like the Cascade Club, which once drew the likes of President William Taft and Mark Twain.
Paranormal events reported in the building include sounds of laughter and music coming from the area where the Cascade Club was located when no one else was inside and sightings of the “Lady in Green,” or Flora Blakely, a woman who died in childbirth inside the building.
For this investigation, the group members explored the floors of the building and sat together on the fourth floor after late-night patrons had left. Investigators called out to Blakely and the men of the Cascade Club, asking for signs that they were present.
However, after half an hour, nothing unusual had happened to indicate a paranormal presence, though some members claimed to hear strained sounds of old-fashioned music.
While the group as a whole collected plenty of pictures, video and audio material at both investigations, it will take up to two weeks for formal investigation reports to be compiled. According to Davisson, a four-hour investigation means about 15 hours of actual work as AGHOST members carefully examine the material. And even after all that work, there's no guarantee of solid spectral evidence.
“Ghost hunting is boring,” Davisson said. “It's tedious, and you're basically just sitting in the dark for four hours. Then afterwards, you have to go home and review video and audio of you sitting in the dark for four hours.”
Sherry Mulholland, founder of BOOO, agrees. “I want some apparitions, and those are really hard to find,” she said.
But despite the boredom, hours of work and a decided lack of blood-dripping walls, each dedicated ghost hunter, whether for spiritual reasons or just plain curiosity, finds an inner motivation that keeps them coming back.
“I've done this all my life,” Mulholland said. “I do it to keep in connection with my spirit guides. To stop now would be to lose a very important part of myself.”