A (scientific) look at ghosts and hauntings
This is the first in a series called "Paranormal Files," which will run throughout the spring and summer in the Becker County Record and Detroit Lakes Tribune.
The series is run in conjunction with the Paranormal Files website (there will be a link on DL-Online) which will be launched Tuesday.
For the series, I will participate in paranormal investigations with Fargo-Moorhead Paranormal -- a group that has been doing such investigations in the F-M area for the last two and a half years.
Evidence, summaries and articles will be published on the Paranormal Files website, as well as run in the editions of each newspaper.
The realm of the paranormal has taken on a new identity over the last few years -- it no longer consists of the boogey man, Ouija boards and phantoms that go bump into the night.
Instead, the paranormal is being investigated with a scientific approach, using complex equipment and an open-minded attitude that can translate into some compelling evidence.
The study of the paranormal also has hit the mainstream media, with highly popular television shows such as Sci-Fi's "Ghost Hunters" adding legitimate and justifiable research into that area of study.
Using scientific methods, instead of folklore, to prove -- or disprove -- paranormal activity has gripped open-minded people into believing there can be proof of "the other side."
The "Ghost Hunters" group on the Sci-Fi series is led by T.A.P.S or The Atlantic Paranormal Society.
T.A.P.S has spawned a flood of paranormal society groups which investigate paranormal activity throughout the nation -- with thousands of websites dedicated to their work.
The Fargo-Moorhead Paranormal group is one such group.
Founder Charles Dosh and co-founder Shawn O'Donnell embarked on their mission to investigate paranormal claims in the Fargo-Moorhead area two and a half years ago.
It's been a journey that has produced confounding evidence of the paranormal in their investigations.
Their inspiration was par for most paranormal investigation groups that have formed over the course of the last three years -- T.A.P.S.
"Shawn and I were sitting and watching 'Ghost Hunters' one night and we both thought we should start something like that," O'Donnell said.
It was a decision that set them on a path of investigating the out-of-the-ordinary -- with proof to back it up.
"I've enjoyed it a lot," Dosh said of his FMP investigations. "I really want FMP to succeed and continue on."
There are plenty of challenges running a group like FMP.
First, there's cost. All monies to purchase equipment used to investigate cases have come out of Dosh and O'Donnell's pocket.
They have over $8,000 worth of computer equipment, along with a Sony Hi-Definition digital video camera with night vision, two electronic voice recorders, two digital cameras, an electro-magnetic field detector (to detect electromagnetic fields), an IR thermometer and a pair of two-gig wireless audio monitors.
Add in the fact that the group pays for its own gas, food and lodging during investigations, ad the cost is pretty significant.
"We also have a paid website where we post all of our evidence (http://www.fmparanormal.org/)," Dosh said. "It's an important tool, because that's where about 98-percent of our tips come from for investigations."
Skepticism around every corner
Over the course of the last two and half years, FMP has investigated dozens and dozens of houses or businesses in which there were claims of paranormal activity.
As they start an investigation, FMP and all paranormal investigative groups realize they have a skeptical eye on them, and feel the need to keep proving that their body of work is legitimate.
FMP prides itself on being stringent with the evidence.
"We work hard and we feel we are the best investigative (group) in the area," Dosh said. "First, we respect the privacy of the client, if they don't want their name or address published, we respect that.
"Our clients have been very happy with the results."
Entering an investigation, Dosh and O'Donnell will explain to the client what they do during an investigation. The client is more than welcome to stay during that time or can leave until it's finished.
One main goal during an investigation is to debunk claims of what is wrongfully considered paranormal activity.
There are numerous reasons people can believe they have experienced the paranormal.
"There are pounding pipes, creaking floors and wind creating drafts through windows which can be felt as cold spots," Dosh explained. "We try to do a lot of debunking before we say it's paranormal."
Another big explanation used in debunking is a "fear cage."
A fear cage is caused by high electromagnetic fields in an enclosed area, which is perpetrated by exposed electrical wires or by fuse boxes which emit high currents of electricity.
It's proven that high electromagnetic fields can cause a sense of paranoid feelings, nausea, a sense of being watched and even hallucinations.
Research is another important tool used in investigations.
Angela Reule is in charge of researching the history of the site where the investigation is held.
Much can be learned through the history, such as past owners, violent happenings or tragedies that have taken place, and even names of people who have inhabited the residence.
One such investigation by FMP involved Ceres Hall on the campus of North Dakota State University.
In her research, Reule discovered the hall had quite a tragic history.
She learned from the NDSU archives that a janitor hung himself in the basement of Ceres Hall.
"I was also able to find a picture (of the janitor standing) in front of Ceres Hall," Reule said.
Reule found another documented article about the suicide (by hanging) of a female student after finding out about bad grades.
Yet another told of two young females dying in a fire while Ceres Hall was a women's dormitory.
The activity in Ceres Hall during the investigation included seeing shadows, physical touching from an unknown source on investigators, and numerous electronic voice phenomena (EVP).
EVPs are disembodied voices and sounds which come up on audio equipment, despite not being heard during real time by the human ear.
They are the most common evidence gathered during an investigation, while the "holy grail" of evidence for investigators is capturing a full-body apparition.
During the investigation, experiments are done to debunk claims -- thus offering an explanation to the client.
But if the claim cannot be debunked, FMP will start to delve into paranormal explanations. Questions will be asked throughout the night, while holding voice recorder equipment.
Video cameras with infrared technology are set up in "hot spots" where paranormal activity is said to happen.
Investigators will also determine what kind of potential haunting it is -- intelligent, residual or demonic.
Intelligent hauntings are ones in which the entity can interact and answer questions.
Residual hauntings involve a psychic imprint of a scene, which is repeatedly played out -- kind of like a record in time being played over and over.
Demonic hauntings are defined as hostile entities of non-human origin.
The historical research provided is also a handy tool in explaining potential paranormal happenings.
But not all places that have paranormal activity necessarily have a morbid history behind them.
"You can investigate one house which a murder occurred in and get some stuff, then investigate the neighboring house, which also had a murder or violent act in it, and nothing will be there," Dosh said.
Paranormal activity can also be explained by the land a house sits on or even proximity.
For example, a house investigated in Lisbon, N.D., had a history of being a girls' room and boarding house, with rooms for 14 residents.
It was built in 1905. Historical records discovered by Reule showed that a child died in a creek located near the house.
"It had a weird history," Dosh said.
One of the best of all the EVPs obtained by FMP came from that house during an investigation, which came after O'Donnell asked the question "Are you the little girl who haunts this place?"
After listening to the recording, O'Donnell received an answer from a voice sounding like a young girl, saying: "Ya, maybe..." followed by laughter.
"It just came out of the blue on the recording and it was pretty clear," O'Donnell added about the EVP. "One of our investigators who was going over the evidence heard it, and almost fell off the couch."
Dosh and O'Donnell -- who both volunteer for the Fargo EVAC team -- realize they are walking a tightrope in this field of study.
Skepticism is heavy when it comes to the paranormal, and FMP knows if it is going to submit evidence, it needs to authentic, not exaggerated, and it needs to be sound.
"If it doesn't convince us that it's paranormal, we don't use it as evidence," Dosh said.
Dosh and O'Donnell have appeared on KFGO radio several times, where they answer questions from listeners about the paranormal.
"After we were on KFGO in 2007, it just exploded," Dosh said of the interest.
Overall, FMP wants to help the client, either by debunking potential paranormal claims, or by just giving them peace of mind.
"We give all the evidence to our clients to keep. Giving them evidence gives them peace of mind," Dosh said.
"Information is a powerful thing. We can recommend some things to help a client out if they are still scared to be in their home, like house cleansing, or tell them to go to their (clergy) for guidance.
"If things get worse, they can always call us again. Usually, we tell them, if you don't want the entity there, you have to take control and tell them to leave and that it's your home, not theirs."
In some cases, though, after evidence is given to the client and there is proof the entity isn't a threat, the homeowner will not do anything and begins to feel more comfortable in their home.
All investigations are done for free by FMP, with donations accepted if the client chooses to do so.
Paranormal is no longer an underground study, it's made it to mainstream America.
It's a field of study that challenges one to keep an open mind -- one that also can provide real answers to the unseen.