WASHINGTON – They’re not exactly ghost busters. They have no proton packs; they don’t try to catch ghosts; and they don’t try to get rid of them. They just want to find them and prove they exist.
They are members of the Maryland Paranormal Investigators Coalition, and Halloween is a busy time for them. From people with strange occurrences in their homes, to journalists, to hoaxers, the calls increase in October.
MD-PIC was formed to professionalize and advance the research of paranormal activity, said Vince Wilson, of Baltimore, the founder of MD-PIC who has been ghost hunting for about six years.
Hoaxers come from both sides of the tracks – those pretending to have a haunted house and those pretending to detect ghosts – and Wilson formed MD-PIC to bring together serious ghost hunters who are committed to researching the paranormal.
The members of MD-PIC won’t show up at a house with 30 investigators who follow a psychic leader claiming to “see the ghost of Christmas past,” Wilson said. They scrutinize who is allowed in the group and train them to properly use equipment, including digital thermometers and meters for measuring electromagnetic energy.
Their training ground is the restaurant Bertha’s Mussels in the Fells Point area of Baltimore. Customers and employees of Bertha’s, which is in a building that was once a brothel that dates to the 19th century, claim to see spirits roaming the restaurant, Wilson said.
An empty room on the second floor, where the spirit of a little girl is said to run through, is the staging area for the investigators to set up their equipment, which includes a quad-screen TV and video and infrared cameras.
Plastic bins scattered on the floor contain all the apparatus and props used to entice spirits.
Reproduction money from different time periods is one such prop that might attract a ghost.
“The theory is that ghosts are as greedy in death as they are in life,” Wilson said.
Conditions similar to the past can sometimes bring out ghosts, Wilson said. For example, Bertha’s Mussels has more paranormal activity when it’s busy, he said, because the building was historically an active place.
The coalition has about 20 to 30 investigators from around the state, broken into groups and about three or four sets of people finishing training.
There are rules regarding the set up and documentation for research purposes, said Robbin Van Pelt, a photographer with MD-PIC.
The group doesn’t charge for investigations, but they will ask for donations to cover the cost of equipment and film.
“If someone charges you for something, they’re probably not real,” Van Pelt said.
The group conducts investigations in all locations, including private homes, businesses and battlefields, said Wilson, a cook in Baltimore.
And despite all their training, even the investigators have been known to get the willies.
During a recent investigation at the battlefield in Gettysburg, Pa., Wilson left the group behind to retrieve a camera from the car, and as he walked alone in the dark along the trees, he heard footsteps, but no one was there.
“I’m walking a little bit further, and at that time I hear the sound of at least a dozen people haphazardly stumbling through the grass on my right-hand side,” he said. “After just having heard footsteps before and seeing nothing I was a little nervous – the big, bad ghost hunter scared of ghosts.”
He turned his flashlight again, but no one was there, he said, just a tree branch bobbing up and down in the still night.
As for investigations in private residences, the first step is a phone interview with a list of about 75 questions, Wilson said, that will hopefully weed out the hoaxers and the mentally unstable.
“We’ve actually had people try to get out of their leases in their homes by saying their house is haunted,” he said. The investigators also encountered a home where children had faked a haunting to trick their parents. The investigators caught the youngsters on a hidden camera throwing objects across the view of a visible camera.
The investigators document, record and file away everything they find.
“We hope that one day we can go back and cross-reference all this information and find the big secret,” said Wilson, whose cell phone ring is the theme song from the “Ghostbusters” movie.
Skeptics will say when a person dies, their energy dissipates, Wilson said, but a believer in the paranormal thinks that under the right conditions, a person’s energy can imprint itself into the surrounding environment.
There is nothing in science that shows such paranormal activity has any basis in physical reality, said James Drake, professor of physics at the University of Maryland.
However, as a scientist, Drake said he would encourage anyone to go out and experiment because throughout history, theories that many people refused to believe turned out to be true.
No matter what proof they find, Wilson said, there will always be those who disbelieve.
“There’s people out there that are so skeptical,” he said, “the Loch Ness monster could come up and smack them on the head and they still wouldn’t believe it.”