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My name is Will Rogers, I'm (roughly) 25 years old, and I'm confused by mostly everything. All I do is write and talk.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Trip to Salem Part 2: Hunting a Ghost

I don't believe in ghosts. I never have.

They are nothing more than an invention by people who can't let go and people who are afraid of death.

The only situation in which I believe in any sort of communication with the dead is when you're asleep. Sometimes people say that their dead relative, friend, or whoever has visited them in a dream, and I can definitely buy into that, though I would amend the statement to be that the sleeper causes the lost person's appearance. Example:

If you read my blog, you're probably aware that a couple of weeks ago, my dog Daisy died. Well guess what, she visited me in a dream! In the dream, I was sitting in my family's living room, when, with no prompting, I went to open the front door, and Daisy came inside! 

I knew it was her, and that there must have been some mistake a couple weeks ago. I must have mistaken another dog for her, and now here she is and everything is okay again!

From that point on, the entire dream consisted of Daisy laying at my side with her paw in my hand as I sat in a chair. Eventually the dream ended. I woke up and had to remember remember the truth. It sucked.

However, here's the bright side. Being that nothing occurred to made me question her appearance and nothing completely absurd happened after that, I had a dream of something she and I would do in real life. I remember it vividly, and I take away from the dream exactly what I would have if it actually happened, so, for all intents and purposes, I got another evening with my dog.

This happened because I conjured an image of the dog in my mind while I slept. And that's the point. We create ghosts for personal reasons. Daisy appeared to me as healthy as happy as she did when she was alive; she didn't "visit" me as some zombified monster version of herself, the way that most ghost-lore seems to present the dead. You never hear that. You never hear some nut-bag talking about how their dead lover visited them and it was horrifying. It's always presented as a comforting presence. 

The scary angry ghosts are always the ones from legends from ages ago, the ones that no one knows personally. It will usually be that someone horrible died, and a person they had no affectionate connection with tells a story of that dead guy coming back from the grave for some brand of revenge. The story passes from person to person, like a game of telephone, until enough people know the story to be part of the public consciousness. From there you have your average paranoid people obsessing on the story, claiming sightings, and your insecure people claiming to have seen the ghost for attention.

I believe this is where ghosts come from. Nothing more than worry or rumor.

You can't actually think that if there were signs that life continued after death, the worlds top scientific minds wouldn't be all over it. And wouldn't there be ghosts absolutely everywhere? Think about how many millions of people have died in the history of the planet. Billions of creatures, and the only people to ever see ghosts are the people you cross the street to get away from. I would love for ghosts to exist, it would be incredible. It would fundamentally change everything we understand about the world, and sadly I have never seen one.

Maybe.

This weekend I was in Salem, Massachusetts with my family, when we were chosen to join a group attempting to make contact with the dead.

The hunt was particularly interesting though. We met up outside of a Harry Potter themed gift shop at 11:00pm on Saturday the 22nd. We stood around with our guide Tim for a while, and he explained that we were just waiting for the rest of our group to arrive before we'd get started. I wondered what sort of place we'd be investigating. Maybe the Hawthorne hotel that we had learned about earlier in the tour? Finally, with the last couple of people arriving, we were about to start. Tim ushered us all into the gift shop and closed the door. We were going to investigate their basement. 

I was already psyching myself up to remain skeptical no matter what happened, but when I realized that we were about to spend our time in the basement of a store that sells novelty stuff including something called Witch Poop (not kidding), I knew nothing was going to happen. Tim explained to us the history of the building while I shifted my weight from foot to foot, started getting hot, took off my jacket, and wondered how much the Witch Poop would cost. He assured us that, for his whole life, he has been in tune with the spiritual world, and has been a psychic. He explained that he has a photographic memory, and even if we come back to the shop in a matter of years, he will remember us. I definitely don't believe any of that, but it's hard not to get intrigued by the concept of it all. Then he told us that, when he was a kid, he was lying in bed when his closet door opened and a pair of tube socks walked out of his room, down the hall, came back, and the closet door closed behind them. At this point, I almost completely shut off.

Fortunately, he began to explain the situation. When he moved to town about six years ago, he and his business partner decided to open up a shop. After buying that particular shop, Tim created an office for himself at the end of a hallway in the basement. He was working late one night when he fell asleep. In the middle of the night, Tim woke up because he heard a sound in the hallway. Nervously, he investigated, but found nothing, though he was always uneasy about the basement, perhaps rightfully so.

There have been numerous sightings of a young girl in the basement, usually by someone unfamiliar with the place. One time a delivery man was dropping of a shipment of merchandise. He went into the basement, put down a few boxes, and came upstairs, asking Tim if he knew there was a young girl down there. Having heard about the girl before, Tim simply said he knew, and he has had say it to many more people since. She is just a harmless kid who haunts the place, but there is another spirit who is more troublesome. Tim's basement office no longer exists thanks to this spirit who once threw the door shut and ripped all of the shelving off the walls and knocked down all the ceiling tiles. Furthermore, Tim feels this spirit standing directly behind him whenever he goes down there, so he mostly tries not to.

Back to us. As Tim is explaining the equipment to the room, such as the EMF reader for any electromagnetic changes, and a temperature gauge, my girlfriend Allie, my sisters Karen, Lynne, and Kristen, my nephew Robbie, my niece Audrey, our family friend Janet, and I decided to volunteer to check out the basement before the other group. We were told by Tim that he specifically picked us for the hunt because, as a family, we had a better chance of contacting a spirit due to our shared energy. Ok, sure, let's find a ghost.

Down in the basement, Tim took us into a primary room, which we all squeezed into. He told us that an average reading on our EMF's ought to be an orange light, yet our lights were green, which he said was abnormal. In the darkness, my family and I stood cramped together as Tim twisted a small flashlight on. Then off. Then back on. Gently off. He set up the flashlight so that it would require just the faintest twist for the light to come on, and then he placed it across the room from us, with an EMF reader beside it. He backed up to stand with us. He didn't speak for a moment, and I did my best to look around the room, though I could hardly see anything aside from the shadows that were my family members. Being the scary story enthusiast that I am, I started imagining how awesome it would be if I saw the shape of a child down the long dark hallway, but I started to creep myself out, and more than that, I suddenly remembered how staunchly scientific I wanted to be for this. I steeled myself, and glared at the flashlight, ready to doubt anything. When Tim spoke, it was in his usual Boston accent, and he asked the air if there were any spirits present, and if so, "Could you please turn on the light? Could you just twist the end of that the flashlight -- that black thing? ... ... ... I know it's hard, but could you just --"

The light turned on. I won't extrapolate what that means right now, but the flashlight turned on. My family gasped, and I stared at my EMF: orange. Normal. Why? The flashlight had to have been coincidence. And the platform it was situated on was not even. I assume it was just slowly sliding down it, and while sliding the head twisted and it turned on.

Tim asked if the spirit would please turn the light off. It turned off.

The lights on the EMF reader in my nephew Robbie's hand all began to flash. I wondered if maybe he only just turned it on, because I noticed the lights on mine doing the same thing when I first turned mine on. I pressed the power button and it made a loud clicking sound as the unit turned off. I turned it back on and the lights flashed the way Robbie's did, but it also clicked loudly again, which his had not.

Tim, the platform, or a ghost proceeded to turn the flashlight on and off a second time. At this point I didn't know whether to be impressed by the uncertainty of this display or annoyed at the intricacy of the trick. All I can say is that I noticed when Tim picked the flashlight up again, even though he didn't touch the head, it flickered on. I stowed this observation away for later.

We moved on to the chair room, an even smaller area with a child's rolling chair in the center of it. Tim told us that when they first bought the store, he noticed that the chair would move from room to room on its own. One night it would be in one room, the next another. No explanation. Except that after a little while, one of his associates admitted he'd been moving the chair himself. Chilling stuff.

To prove that the flashlight was not a trick or prop, he had one of us set it up this time, and then he placed it on the chair beside an EMF reader. This time, it did not turn on at all. However, Tim informed us that he felt a presence standing directly behind him, the same negative presence he had described earlier. In addition to that, all of our EMF readers started flashing green, orange and red, clearly there was something in there with us! No, wait, Tim asked if any of us had our cell phones on. We all did. When we turned them off, the lights went back to normal.

The final room was Tim's former office, though you would never be able to tell. The smallest of the three areas, I was not able to really get a good look at it, as I was standing in the doorway of it, due to lack of room. Tim mostly just explained that they now call this room "the bad room," after a spirit destroyed it. There wasn't much of anything to look at or do in that room. It wasn't very scary, except at one point Allie shouted and twitched, because she felt something touch her arm. It was me. I'm her boyfriend.

We went upstairs while the other group took their turn. We tried on several hats. When the second group returned, Tim brought us back down, this time with a digital recorder to try and get an EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon). We started in the main room again, but unfortunately the flashlight wouldn't turn on for Tim at all, and our EMF readers didn't pick up on anything significant. He seemed almost disappointed, but went ahead and asked some questions to the voice recorder nonetheless, being sure to note any explainable sound (such as footsteps from upstairs) so that when he goes back through the recording, he can eliminate those sounds from the investigation. We moved back to the chair room, when Tim asked us if any of us felt anything. My sister Karen sincerely offered, "Well I don't really feel anything, but I kind of think I smell something." My niece Audrey replied, "Not to be funny, but I think somebody farted."

Maybe it was the ghost.

We ended it there, because Tim didn't want to record in the bad room, and so we went back upstairs and waited while the other team tried their luck.

The only thing I know about ghost hunting is what I've seen on shitty reality shows like Paranormal State. I hate that they never come up with any concrete evidence, but whenever something occurs that they can't personally explain, they suggest it may have been a paranormal event. I certainly can't explain what happened with the flashlight, but just because I don't know why it happened doesn't mean that it had no cause other than that a ghost turned it on and off. It may have just had such a hair trigger that it wavered between both states, although I must admit that, if that is the case, the timing of the lights against Tim's requests was remarkable. So I don't know what happened down there, but I certainly don't explain the flashlights as being ghostly anymore than I blame that fart on a ghost. I'm annoyed at myself for writing that. 

I walked out of the Harry Potter store feeling thoroughly entertained, but certainly not enlightened. Even Tim admitted to us that he does not truly believe there to be the spirit of a child down there. I was shocked to hear him admit it all to be a hoax, but he followed up very genuinely with, "but I do believe there is a presence down there."

What is the distinction? What is the difference between the ghost of a girl and a general presence? Does one have motivation and the other doesn't? Is one a human imprint and the other just a floating emotion? Tim seems to think there is something down there, certainly, and I think that even some of my family left there thinking "what if." Am I the odd one out? If the majority believes, and I don't, am I on the wrong track?

There's something very comforting about the idea of ghosts. They suggest that not only can we interact with our lost loved ones again, but maybe we also don't have to be afraid of dying ourselves. They suggest that there is something after life, not necessarily a heaven or hell, but just that death is not so final. I think it's a pleasant notion, but one that's dangerous to get carried away with. I'd love for Daisy to be able to float around and visit me, but I'm also afraid that to concern myself with the afterlife of my loved ones is to build a sort of apprehension of where they are and what they're doing. ...And why aren't they here? In that way, the method of coping with death can become unrest and obsession. How do you live, being so concerned with the dead?

Not to be heartless or blunt, but the dead are gone, and the memory they've left with us is more than enough. It's all we can have from them.

Better to just leave it alone.

I'm back in New Jersey a few days removed from the hunt, and I still don't believe in ghosts, but I'm thinking about them.

The company the hosted the ghost hunt is Salem Ghost Tours, and they can be found at www.SalemGhostTours.com and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Salem-Night-Tour/106653419408752 and I definitely recommend both the tour and the hunt, they were both great, sincerely.

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