Underwater paranormal investigations, forensics techniques applied to ghost hunting, and a discussion of demons were among the topics at the just-completed 2010 Haunted America Midwest Conference, June 25-26 at Lincoln Theater in Decatur (IL).
The American Ghost Society-sponsored event drew a crowd that included experienced ghost-hunters and paranormal researchers as well as numerous respected authors as presenters. Lee Ehrlich’s one-of-a-kind group engages in undersea paranormal research. Ehrlich says they commonly focus on seaside hauntings which are linked to sunken ships. One investigation was in the waters below a Florida bridge which collapsed after being struck by a tanker resulting in numerous cars falling into the water with loss of life. Staking out the wreckage-studded seafloor at night with no lighting, Ehrlich says they saw a beam of light in the shipping channel. He had no explanation for it. Who knew there could be paranormal occurrences underwater? An investigation of a lake where a lady ghost walks the shoreline led to a search of the waters. A mobster-built lakeside mansion which had housed a gambling operation where deaths had reputedly occur ed turned out to be a false trail. However, a rumored burned house that might be the source of the haunting was confirmed when submerged ruins were found. Ehrlich says they have plans to dive on some Caribbean cenotes, sacrificial wells in use in ancient times. He said they also have plans for an isolated Florida sinkhole which is inaccessible and may never have been explored which they have targeted. One interesting tidbit Ehrlich shared was about the exploration of a sunken ship by a group of divers and when they entered the pilothouse, they all heard the voice of someone talking to them. Not in their radio headsets worn under their gear, Ehrlich told me later, but through the water, through their ears. (I didn’t even know that was even possible.) Ehrlich also shared a photo after completely darkening the theater. The photo was taken in a cave that led off, if I recall, a sinkhole explored some time before by two divers who failed to resurface. The completely black picture did show one image: the slightly lighter outline of what was unmistakably a diving mask.
Prolific author Rosemary Ellen Guiley, whose books include Encyclopedia of Demons and Demonology, as well as a contributor to Fate and TAPS Magazine (that’s the ScyFy Channel’s Ghost Hunters magazine), discussed demons. Her opening comments reminded me of Clive Barker talking about his Hellraiser movies, to the effect that Pinhead and his fellow Cenobites are from hell, but it’s not necessarily a Christian hell. In a similar sense, in regarding demons, don’t hold yourself simply to the Christian perspective. (Writers have often noted that aside from the spirits of humans who have died share the other side with spirits of those who have never lived.) Guiley talked about the various gods of other religions that were co-opted into Christian myth as demons, as well as about a few cases of exorcism, including the St Louis boy whose case was the loose basis of the William Peter Blatty movie.
Alan Brown, author of numerous books of ghost accounts, including Stories from the Haunted South, discussed the ghosts of Gettysburg. His presentation included a quick review of numerous photos of haunted sites at the battlefield where North and South faced off more than 150 years ago in a cataclysmic event from which the Confederate army never quite recovered. Almost all the houses in the village of Gettysburg served as field hospitals, many two-story houses also harbored rebel snipers. Many ghost stories are connected with these events. Other hauntings involve the sites of desperate fighting like Devil’s Den.
GHOSTHUNTER AS FORENSICS INVESTIGATOR
Forensics psychologist Katherine Ramsland wrote a couple books I read with interest some time back including Ghost and Piercing the Night, the latter being an account of a Goth sub-group made up of people who identify themselves as vampires. (I bought a copy from her to reread, the original reading left an impression). A specialist in serial killers in her profession, Ramsland has also written books on forensics investigations including a couple books relating to TV’s CSI and gave a great presentation in which she suggested applying forensics investigation techniques and evidence collecting with paranormal investigations. (For all Gil Grissom’s pronouncements about truth as goal, CSI is pure Hollywood. In fact, to maintain objectivity, Ramsland said, scientists examining evidence do not know what case the evidence they are examining relates to, at odds with the CSI mythology).(They also question witnesses which is strictly the province of detectives. The real experts simply gather and examine evidence.)
AND MUCH, MUCH MORE
Long-time Chicago paranormal investigator Dale Kaczmarek discussed Ghosts on Video and showed interesting examples he had acquired. Michael Esposito, a descendant of a partner of Samuel Morse who teamed to develop Morse code, and of an assistant to Thomas Edison, discussed theories involved electronic voice phenomena.
Troy Taylor, who’s written more than 70 books, and co-author Rene Kruse, whose latest book together is And Hell Followed With It, discussed the subject of their book, major disasters which resulted in hauntings. That includes the fiery Hindenburg disaster, major high-rise fires and weather disasters.
Troy, who hosted the event, ended speculation about the future of the event by announcing that the next year’s event will be held in Jacksonville, Illinois.
Len Adams, who leads ghost tours in Lebanon and Alton, in Southern Illinois, raffled off a straitjacket he used as a gag a couple years ago when he was wheeled in, strapped to a dolly, wearing the jacket and a hockey mask. The raffle raised $300 for the Mermaid Inn in Lebanon, a historic building where author Charles Dickens once stayed during an American visit. That beats the $200 raised last year for breast cancer when Len raffled off two large plastic, pink owls under the heading Hooters for Hope.
There were after-hours ghost hunting seminars and local ghost tours, as well, of course. Outstanding weekend event.