Saturday, November 26, 2011

Listening For Ghosts

Last weekend I visited a haunted house. I don't mean the commercial kind that springs up in your town before Halloween. This was Selma Mansion, an 18th century house with a long history of unexplained phenomena. In fact, the building's been studied by 3 different paranormal investigative groups.

Last Saturday, to raise funds for restoring and maintaining the old landmark, the Norristown Preservation Society ran historical tours of the place, followed by presentations by the Pennsylvania Underground Paranormal Society (P.U.P.S.).

Now, I admit, I do believe in ghosts, the same way I believe in God and the afterlife and black holes and other things I haven't seen. But I also believe in scientific method and the kind of good deductive reasoning you find in a great murder mystery, so I'm likely one of the biggest skeptics of what constitutes "evidence" of ghosts.

I tend to ignore photos of "orbs" (what looks like bubbles of light). In my experience as an amateur photographer, orbs are always cause by odd light angles and reflective surfaces in just the wrong spot. I was glad to hear P.U.P.S. say they didn't bother with orbs.

They did play some recordings that sounded like wood cracking. Yeah, in the silence of an abandoned house in the middle of the night, a loud crack of wood can be pretty unsettling. Yesterday morning at about 4 am, I heard a loud crack out in my hallway. Not a ghost, but the wood of one of the balusters on my stair railing, contracting as it cooled. My stair treads and some of the floating panels on my doors do the same thing. In an old house, especially after several layers of paint make it hard for wood to naturally expand and contract, cracking sounds are every day events. So I wish paranormal investigators would ignore them, too.

They showed some infrared videos. Except for one film, I either couldn't see the extra shadows or lights they claimed were there, or I thought they could be attributable to optical illusions. One did show a light that seemed to go on by itself. That was cool.

What did fascinate me were the digital audio recordings. I have pretty good hearing and, trained as a musician, I think I can separate individual sounds out of cacophony fairly well. On some of the recordings, I wasn't convinced that the "ghost voices" P.U.P.S. said were present really were. However, on a lot of their recordings, I distinctly heard faint words, some even seeming to answer direct questions. Assuming there was no hoax involved (and I hope there wasn't, because the investigators all seem to be genuinely nice people), this was impressive. The house also contained old servants' bells and buzzers, all disconnected, but I could hear an occasional tingle or buzz on the recordings as well.

Whether or not these recordings prove the existence of ghosts at Selma (or elsewhere where similar voices have been recorded), I have to say I was completely intrigued by the visit. And of course, it's fodder for my writing.

Paranormal investigation of Selma Mansion will be featured in the coming weeks on the Ghost Detectives TV show.

Happy Haunting,

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