Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Ghost Hunters

The non-profit S.C. Paranormal Activity Research Association (SCPARA) has been in operation in one form or another since 1989. In that time, their team of volunteers has investigated scores of paranormal incidents across the state, adding incident reports, photos and audio recordings of the unexplained to their growing database. When City Paper met with the lead investigators of SCPARA, who go by the call signs “Gryphon” and “Mystic,” honestly, we weren’t sure what to expect. But, after talking with them for over an hour, we found that they represent a group of hardworking, grounded and genuinely kind people who simply share a passion to explain the inexplicable and whose ultimate goal is to help people understand paranormal activity and how to deal with it.

By Todd Morehead

When we meet the two founders of the organization for coffee, Gryphon, the spokesman for the group, stood to greet us. He was large-framed and tattooed with a friendly laugh and overall sense of benevolence. He introduced us to his wife and fellow investigator, Mystic, who smiled broadly and cracked jokes when we sat down with them. Soon, the caffeine kicked in and the questions started to flow.

CCP: Do you have any upcoming investigations?

GRYPHON: We have one we’re doing tonight. Private residence. A small private residence.

CCP: How does that usually work?

GRYPHON: The client will contact us. What we do is an initial interview-type process where we’ll sit down and listen to what they have to say, we have an investigation form that we fill out, ask specific questions, and then we will tell them that we’ll be back in contact. I’ll take it back to the entire crew and we’ll sit down and go over what we’ve gathered, and we’ll discuss it and we’ll decide: does this warrant an investigation?

CCP: How large is your group?

GRYPHON: Right now we have five core members that usually go on every investigation. The way we work is, once we decide an investigation is warranted I bring some forms to the client, have them sign a Release for Investigation that gives us the permission to investigate. I also bring a form that says we’re not allowed to talk about it, or we can talk about it without identifying information…or there’s another one where they don’t care if we give out identifying information.

We have five core investigators and then we have a pool of about 10 people who all want to be a core investigator. We’ve worked together for years now. When one core investigator can’t go, we pull from the pool. We teach them how to go over photographs… to tell what’s real and what’s not.

Every place we ever investigate, we have 100 percent permission to do. We never go anywhere without permission. Ever. There’s a lot of people out there who will go into graveyards at night, taking pictures and things…that’s not what we’re about. We have to have written permission from a landowner or business owner, homeowner or whoever to do an investigation. Every investigation we’ve ever done we’ve had clients there with us. They usually sit there and watch the cameras.

And this is all done voluntarily. We don’t get paid for this.

MYSTIC: We don’t charge and we don’t get paid.

CCP: No kidding?

GRYPHON: Everything is coming out of my pocket. I’m a business owner; I generally work 12-hour days five to six days a week.

MYSTIC: The gas money, if we have to stay in a hotel, whatever, it’s all out of our pocket. GRYPHON: This is just to help people.

CCP: That’s really cool.

GRYPHON: At one point I put on our Web site a PayPal thing where if you wanted to make a donation…but it lasted like three days then I said ‘I can’t deal with this, I can’t do it.’ There is no profit involved in this whatsoever. I just want to help people, that’s the whole reason why we started this. I want to be there for people who have questions with nowhere to turn. MYSTIC: I want to call it a hobby, but it’s not. GRYPHON: It’s not a hobby. MYSTIC: That’s the only category I can find to put it in, though. It’s something we really, really believe in. We’ve had our own personal experiences and we know there are other people out there who are either just scared to death to talk about it or don’t know who to share it with. And our goal, ultimately, is to get that proof for them.

GRYPHON: And that’s one of the reasons why we keep our clients confidential, because, you know, something like that, you don’t want people thinking you’re crazy. And you don’t want something like that put out to the media. I’ve had personal experiences that I would never tell to anybody. It’s just… it’s a very traumatizing thing to have happen to somebody and they’re putting their trust in you. So, that’s why we keep it confidential.

CCP: When I was younger, part of me wanted to see something like that, cause I never have. Not even close. And I always thought that if I ever saw something like that, would I tell somebody— I don’t know? Because people might think, you know…

GRYPHON: –That you’re weird. Crazy.

MYSTIC: Well, it also depends on what exactly you witnessed. I mean if it picked you up and threw you across the room, then you might be a little bit leery. But if it’s nothing more than… CCP: …A cabinet door opening…

GRYPHON: –Yeah, you hear something rustling or an occasional voice, a whisper, or scratching, stuff like that. But, see, what we do, we don’t go in there trying to prove that a place is haunted. We try to prove that it’s not.

CCP: Oh, okay.

GRYPHON: So we go in and try to debunk everything the person tells us. But back to what I was saying. After we review the case, and after we decide whether the place warrants an investigation, if we all feel unanimously that it’s worth an investigation, then we’ll go ahead and schedule that with the client. And, ah, cause this is all volunteer; we have to coordinate everyone’s schedules, because everyone has a day job. Once we get everything coordinated, we schedule an investigation. We usually try to schedule our investigations anywhere between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. at night. CCP: Do they have a specific time frame? Or do you just go until morning? GRYPHON: It goes with the flow. It depends on how much you’re trying to debunk. If they have a whole bunch of claims of different things that have happened, you’re there to try to disprove every one of them, a logical reason why it’s happening. A lot of them you can disprove; a whole lot of them. “Something will catch me off guard. I mean the last one we did we had a lamp move, kept moving.”

CCP: What’s the most common claim? For instance, somebody says that something particular is going on and you know immediately, ‘Oh, we know exactly what this is: that’s gas in the pipes.’

GRYPHON: One that we had here recently, we went to a client’s house and they said that one of the things that happened…they had a coffee cup on a counter and it moved across the counter. Well, anytime you have a ceramic coffee cup… you’ve seen hydroplaning, you know? You set it down on your coffee table and it will slide. That’s easy enough to prove.

MYSTIC: My biggest thing to disprove fast would be “orbs.” I’d say 90 percent of the orbs that show up in pictures could be written off as dust or bugs. At this one place we investigated, I got a really cool picture of what many would consider to be an orb. It’s gorgeous, but it’s just fiberglass dust from the attic. Beautiful, symmetrical, it looked like a snowflake, lit up in the middle: it was gorgeous. But, I know a lot of people that would look at that a be like “Oh my god, what is that?! What could that possibly be?!” Fiberglass. CCP: So for something to really strike you guys… I mean, you’re saying you’ve seen some things. They must have really been dramatic for you to— GRYPHON: Yeah. CCP: Conclusive. GRYPHON: Yeah. CCP: Now that you’re doing this, have you ever been with a client and both been really scared? MYSTIC: Scared, no. Uncomfortable. GRYPHON: It more fascinates me. It takes a lot to scare me. Startle me, yeah. But that’s not scared. Something will catch me off guard. I mean the last one we did we had a lamp move, kept moving. And it was about from me to you. When I first saw it move: “Whoa, that’s moving!” (Laughs) But, it’s really not that bad.

CCP: And that was unexplainable scientifically?

GRYPHON: Unexplainable.

MYSTIC: We did disprove their scratching theory, which was a bush outside the house. There are a lot of things that people mistake. They’ll hear whatever and right away they’re quick to jump to the conclusion that the house is haunted or somebody is possessed. But nine times out of 10 there’s an explanation. But, we’re not going to go into someone’s house who truly feels that these things are happening and tell them, ‘Look, you’re nuts.’ That’s not what we’re about. We say basically, ‘You know how long we were here, this is the evidence that we collected, and—

GRYPHON: At this time we do not have enough evidence to conclude…’ And usually we tell them that we’re more than happy to come back out and do another investigation. And if you ever have any problems, call us, day or night.

CCP: Do you want to talk a little bit about some of the most interesting ones you remember from the past?

GRYPHON: Well, the last one we went on, we were standing outside talking with the client, and they have a big heavy wooden gate, and it’s really hard to open. And it just popped open pretty as you please. That was interesting. That was fun. The client went and shut the gate and he was kind of freaking out a little and I was like, “What’s the matter?” and he said, “You don’t know that gate. Try to open it.” And I was pulling and pulling on it. I literally had to get a good footing and pull before it opened. But, before… it just unlatched and opened right up on its own. That was cool. MYSTIC: That was the same place we had to discuss whether or not we would label it haunted. Did we catch anything that would be proof positive? GRYPHON: Was it haunted? No. Was there something paranormal? Well— CCP: So, is there a criterion? GRYPHON: The only way I would be willing to label something haunted, I would have to have a full body apparition appear on video where I could bring it to you and go, ‘look.’ And if there was no way you could deny it.

CCP: Has an apparition ever conclusively been caught on film? Anywhere in the world? GRYPHON: I don’t honestly know that answer. MYSTIC: You’d have to prove so much. The type of equipment that was used, you have to know who the person [photographer] is and do they have the ability to Photoshop, which has been a horrible thing for us. See we stay away from touching up anything; all we do is turn it [a photo] into a negative. GRYPHON: Our biggest things, our main goals with SCPARA are to research, investigate, and educate. And document. Again, we’re here to help people. Not to be an actual counselor for them, but when they do call us, a lot of times they’re scared, and that’s when we go in and we investigate and if there is something paranormal happening, even if we don’t label it haunted, we try to decide: okay, is it going to harm them, do they feel comfortable staying in the house, and if they don’t, then it’s our job to talk to them, reassure them that it’s not going to harm them. Now, we don’t know 100 percent, but— MYSTIC: If you’ve live in the house for twenty years, and have dealt with these experiences, and no one’s been injured, chances are, you’re not going to be harmed. It’s just kind of a residual; it’s doing its thing and you are doing yours, and– CCP: –What’s a residual? GRYPHON: A residual haunting. It’s kind of like a movie playing over and over again. It’s just a psychic impression in time. MYSTIC: Now, an intelligent haunt can interact with you.

CCP: That’s interesting. GRYPHON: There’re four classifications: “Residuals,” like a movie playing over and over, ‘Intelligence,’ which is… I’m very leery to say that it’s someone who died and it’s their spirit, because that can’t be proven. There’s not technology out there that can 100 percent prove it. But, it can interact with you— it can move small objects. Then there are ‘poltergeists,’ which are usually manifested psycho-kinesis, usually by pre-pubescent children, usually girls. And the best way to test for those is… if you have one that you’re investigating and there is a small child, remove that child for a day or two. Take them to Grandma’s or something and see if the activity stops. That’s the best way to test. Um… and there’s what they call “demonic” haunts. Those are nasty. Those are the ones where people get really hurt. CCP: Seen any of those? GRYPHON: I have not. I hope I never do. CCP: Fair enough. MYSTIC: We’re fairly stoked about that one… that one house, when all of us bluelagoonexotics.com

SCPARA Crack Creeper Classic Thong is available at www.scpara.com “…and there’s what they call “demonic” haunts. Those are nasty. Those are the ones where people get really hurt.” are very intently covering their assigned positions and then everyone hears, (mimicking demonic voice) ‘Get out!’ Then what are we going to do? We’ve always joked about it. Are we going to scramble over one another to run out or will it be, ‘We’ve got to go find it!’ You just never know until that situation comes up. Half of us might freak out and go one way and the other will be, ‘Where is it? Where is it?’ Personally, I don’t know how I would react to a demonic haunt. (She and GRYPHON both share a long pause as if considering it.)

MYSTIC: Luckily, I sit at a station that is generally by the front door (Laughter). Just in case.

CCP: Have you guys ever gone to any of those online databases that show the most haunted cities and states in the country?

GRYPHON: We have, but you’ve got to understand a lot of that is just college students freaking each other out. They’re not big into actually going out and doing investigations. A lot of them [the places listed on the sites] are places like “Cry Baby Bridge” or the “Devil’s Stomping Ground.” You know. I’m not taking my $5,000 cameras outside to some bridge to play in the mud. I’m not doing that. I mean we have high dollar equipment: IR [infrared] cameras that can see 60 feet in total darkness, and we usually run about four of those during an investigation. We use Sony Hi 8 camcorders, digital audio recorders, analog audio recorders, EMF readers, which measure electromagnetic fields, digital thermometers to test for temperature fluctuations, motion detectors, laptop computers. And pen and paper. (Chuckles) Pen and paper are the biggest ones. Goes with me everywhere.

MYSTIC: Flashlights.

GRYPHON: Digital cameras, 35 mm cameras, I have a kit that I keep with me that has all of that equipment in there. Right now I’m trying to save the money to buy a 16 channel DVR. Right now we’re just using VCR, but I want to do DVR because it’s much easier. I’d rather have the DVR so I can burn it all to disk. It would be easier. Plus, storage space…

MYSTIC: …We have six kids.

CCP: Wow! MYSTIC: And of the six kids, we have one that is a complete and total chicken. She has seen and she has heard and she has experienced and she is terrified of it. She’s now 17. And with her, it’s so funny, cause we’ll come across something we’ll be questioning— especially with EVPs— and we’ll listen and listen and listen and she’s my testing rod. ‘Cause if she walks into the room and she hears it and wigs out— GRYPHON: We know we got something good. (Laughter)

MYSTIC: The EVP where we asked a question and actually got an answer was with me. I asked the question, but of course you can’t hear it [the answer] until playback.

CCP: Is that the one [EVP] on your Web site? MYSTIC: No.

GRYPHON: That’s a different investigation.

CCP: How does that work?

MYSTIC: I just sat down and was trying to test the equipment because we had just gotten the digital recorder. I was sitting in my room and I was trying the different sound effects for background noise [to drown out other distractive noises in the background]. I have a waterfall, crickets. I chose the cricket one cause that’s the one we sleep to. I sat there for probably about, I don’t know, 15 or 20 minutes asking random questions. Nothing. Well, I asked about the cat. We have a cat that frequents our house, that we call the “ghost cat.” One time, I was carrying in some groceries, and you know how a cat will bat at your feet, playing? I felt that. But, we didn’t have a cat. Then it darted away. The kids were behind me and saw it dart away, but I was the one who felt it. The cat still bops in and out. But, it’s not a cat, OK, it’s just there.

So, I asked about the cat [into the digital recorder], whether it’s a spirit cat. …And something answered.

GRYPHON: Clear as day it said, ‘spirit cat.’ And it’s in a man’s voice. And she was the only one home.

MYSTIC: I can’t hear it at that point, so I go on and ask another question—

CCP: —so you can’t hear it until you play it back?

MYSTIC: Right. So, upon playback, I decided that the crickets were not a good choice ‘cause it’s so shrill on the digital and I’m trying to figure out what else we could use and it’s playing and playing and then I heard the voice. I really got excited and I called him [GRYPHON] at work. The kids came home and I asked them to listen and my chicken kid, oh my God, she wigged.


CCP: What do those letters stand for: EVP?


MYSTIC: Electronic Voice Phenomenon. That one will eventually go on the Web site, but like I said it was the wrong choice of background or white noise. It almost hurts your ears.


GRYPHON: EVPs are a lot harder to get because when you’re listening to the playback, you’re listening to a conversation like we’re having right now, but you’ve got to listen through all that for the whispers you might catch. You’ve got to take an audio program, like Goldwave or Audacity, and try to enhance it and bring it up, filter out some of the front noise and grab what’s coming out of the back.

MYSTIC (to CCP): How often do you use a digital recorder? CCP: Mainly just for interviews like this.

MYSTIC: You’ll have to go back and listen to some of your recordings, but not listen to the conversation. Tune out what the people are saying and see what you can hear in the background.

GRYPHON: You’d be surprised.

CCP: What do you think about the TV shows about ‘ghost hunting’ that are on right now? Like with the mediums…

GRYPHON: We don’t use mediums, psychics, any of that. Never. Because then you’re just taking their word. Do I believe that those people exist, sure, I believe they do. But I’m not taking someone into your house or your business to sit there and go ‘Oooh, I feel spirits.’ What does that prove, that doesn’t prove anything. I want to show you pictures, I want to show you concrete pictures that you were with me when I took these pictures so you know. I want to show you video or give you audio that’s concrete, because that’s what we’re about—proving. Beyond a shadow of a doubt.

CCP: Would you ever want to be on TV for doing this kind of work?

GRYPHON: No. We’re not trained monkeys. We don’t perform on queue.

CCP: Would it be possible for us to come along on an investigation?

GRYPHON: (long pause) We’d have to clear that with a client.

CCP: Well if you ever do… let us know.

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