Ghosts of Ohio
About Goo

Ghost hounds

By James Hannah—Associated Press Writer

URBANA, Ohio -- As midnight approached, a grassy field where the old train depot once stood pulsed with activity.

About 90 people dodged night-vision cameras atop tiny silver tripods and avoided remote sensors connected to a computerized surveillance system.

They awaited the Lincoln Ghost Train, which some people think passes the western Ohio city on the anniversary of the 1865 trip that carried the president's body to Springfield, Ill.

Throughout the nation, ghost-hunting groups are swelling with members -- their popularity fueled by TV shows, the Internet and the increasing availability of high-tech equipment.

"Academics pooh-pooh all of this usually," said Julieanne Phillips, an assistant professor at Urbana University who invited the ghost hunters and organized the vigil, which included about 80 students and area residents.

"I'm hoping for some vindication that there might be some type of paranormal activity surrounding this."

On the spring night, there wasn't.

"Ghost reality shows have really opened the door for people to get involved themselves," said James Willis, founder of the Ghosts of Ohio, the group watching the tracks for the paranormal train.

The airwaves are populated with series such as Ghost Whisperer, Medium, Paranormal State and Ghost Hunters.

Viewership of Ghost Hunters, a reality show on the Sci Fi Channel that chronicles investigations by the Atlantic Paranormal Society, has doubled since it premiered in 2004 -- growing from 1.3 million viewers to 2.6 million.

The Rhode Island society has about 80 affiliates in 44 states -- twice the number of affiliates it had two years ago. And there are about 800 individual members within those affiliates, up from 300 three years ago.

Brenda Shupe -- who in 2004 founded Ghost Hunters Ohio Search Team, or GHOST, in Columbus -- has seen how programs such as Ghost Hunters affect her business.

"When they have a new season, we get a lot of people thinking they have ghosts," Shupe said.

The shows give an air of legitimacy to the quest, said Renee Piccola, a case manager and senior investigator for the Ohio Ghost Hunters, based in Cleveland.

"I think that it's broadened people's minds; it's opened them up to the possibilities," Piccola said. "Before, a lot of people, if they believed in ghosts, they sure as heck weren't going to tell you. Now, if you tell somebody, 'Oh, my house is haunted,' you'll run into a hundred people who have their own ghost story."

Even the U.S. Air Force has gone along, inviting Ghost Hunters to investigate reports of unusual occurrences at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton. The episode showed a flashlight turning on by itself, unexplained knocking and doors closing.

Other groups are feeling the surge of interest in ghost hunting.

A Midwest Haunting in Macomb, Ill., offers October tours of buildings, cemeteries and other sites it has investigated and considers haunted.

The number of people taking the tours has tripled, jumping from about 600 in 2006 to 1,800 last year.

Forty of the 60 people who attended a recent dinner in Erie, Pa., featuring the Paranormal Study and Research Group asked whether they could join the group or tag along on hunts.

After a similar event the previous year, only two or three asked to be involved.

"People used to look at us like we were absolutely insane, and now they want to come along with us," founder Pat Jones said. "It's almost like every day is Halloween."

More than 500 people have registered to post and read messages and articles on the Idaho Spirit Seekers' Web site since the message board went up in November.

"That really shows the interest that people do have and that it's becoming more acceptable to talk about," executive director Marie Cuff said.

Thirty-four percent of Americans say they believe in ghosts, according to a survey conducted in October by the Associated Press and Ipsos.

Joe Nickell, senior research fellow with the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry in Amherst, N.Y., said he has investigated dozens of reported hauntings since 1969 and has turned up no evidence of ghosts.

Equipment being used to try to detect ghosts is not designed for that, Nickell said. Ghost hunters often arm themselves with electromagnetic detectors, thermometers that can identify cold spots and wireless microphones that eliminate background noise.

Orbs of light that show up on photos, he said, are often tiny particles of dust or moisture close to the lens of the camera; "voices" picked up by tape recorders can be radio signals or noise from the recorder; and electromagnetic detectors can be set off by faulty wiring or microwave towers.

"The least likely explanation for any given reading is, it is a ghost," he said.

Willis' group, which has grown to 30 members since it was founded in 1999, includes both true believers and total skeptics.

"If you want to be taken seriously in this field, you have to acknowledge that some of the stuff out there is not real," he said.

"They're looking for answers, one way or another."

Dispatch Reporter Andy McCullough contributed to this story.

"People used to look at us like we were absolutely insane, and now they want to come along with us. It's almost like every day is Halloween."

© 2008 The Ghosts of Ohio