Saturday, October 30, 2010

Halloween a paranormal hunter's holiday

Clare Toohey
According to locals in the know, the ones who will talk about it, the Sun Inn in Bethlehem, Pa., is one of the more renowned haunted locations in the area. Situated in the town settled by the Protestant Christian Moravian Church in the 18th century, the restored 250-year-old building witnessed pivotal moments of our nation’s founding and hosted founding patriots such as George and Martha Washington, John Adams, John Hancock, Samuel Adams, Ethan Allen and Marquis de Lafayette.

Now, the Sun Inn recently hosted a group of ghost hunters, including yours truly, to investigate a very special landmark poised to become the next big thing of paranormal tourism, and I was invited by the small investigative group largely as a witness or documentarian of sorts.

But as I got dressed, assembled my collection of gear and began the exploration of the preserved guest rooms and kitchen – searching for a “vortex” in the basement or shadow people in the attic or an elderly woman in the second-floor dining room – I became aware of how consumed I was with a childlike excitement.

To say I was like a kid on Christmas Eve is to appropriate the wrong holiday. No, I was a giddy kid on Oct. 31.

Everyone’s fascination with the paranormal can be traced to something personal. It may be an unexplained experience or the search for proof in the afterlife following the death of a loved one. Or, like me, the connection is linked to the paranormal pop-culture stories of movies, TV shows and comic books.

Regardless of the varied paths that led each of us to the paranormal community, it’s nearly a requirement that we all love Halloween. Spirituality and ghosts and/or ghouls roaming the earth aside, the holiday is just a big investigation that involves much of the country, and paranormal cases are really like a late night of trick-or-treating.

Dressing up as Clark Kent, Ash, Indiana Jones, Shaun of the Dead or even Vincent Van Gogh requires research and preparation. You have to have all the facts for your costume, such as it was the left ear lobe he cut off. Equipment needs to be lined up ahead of time. After all, a Daily Planet press pass, hand-mounted chainsaw, non-bondage bullwhip and golden Chachapoyan idol, bloody regulation size cricket bats and severed ear ain’t exactly easy to come by - and don’t forget the extra batteries for flashlights.

Plus any kid worth his candy corn knows you need order to trick-or-treating for a successful night. Who will drive you to the ritzy neighborhoods with the best candy? Which blocks have the most kids and competition?

That’s similar to the research that needs to be done leading up to a paranormal investigation. Before a scrap of evidence can be collected, investigators need to know when and where to look.

Courtesy, Charles Schulz family
Also, some paranormal investigators are happily playing Halloween dress up during cases. There is a very enthusiastic contingent of monster/ghost/UFO hunter that rocks branded logos and outfits, hardcore tactical vests and head-mounted IR cameras with multi-setting flashlights. They look like they’re taking part in a life action roleplay game of Master Chief leading his space marines in a battle against the Borg.

The trick-or-treater moves in groups for safety purposes and to ensure a higher rate of success. A team decked out in odd outfits shouting loudly at the inhabitants of a building is harder to ignore than one kid, and the team helps to look out for the mean weirdo out to do harm.

The same theories are carried over by investigative teams – especially, it would seem, the loud shouting according to some recent trends.

Although though trick-or-treating can be done in the day time with success, and is gaining popularity, it just isn’t as exciting. Speaking from the point-of-view of a child who had the misfortune of being the Frankenstein’s monster during a nighttime mosquito encephalitis scare, I know the day robs all thrill of the trick-or-treat - especially when all the imperfections of your costume are exposed in harsh sunlight.

Likewise, of course ghost hunters can investigate during the day. But where’s the fun in that? A large part of paranormal investigating is to find the truth – the other large part is to freak out friends and experience the exhilaration of roaming around at night.

For those that say trick-or-treaters have it easy compared to investigators, and don’t suffer the same pain of endless waiting, I direct you to Linus van Pelt. In It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie’s Brown, the blankie-obsessed boy misses every Halloween pursuing his own paranormal entity. And his bald, melon-headed friend Chuck only got a bag full of rocks.

Which reminds me, it’s not all treasure and glory for little Halloween candy gluttons but seasoned trick-or-treaters don’t always expect to get something good. Some houses are duds and give out pennies and nasty pink chalk bubblegum, if anything at all. Unfortunately, even with experience and instinct, you can’t necessarily tell where you may hit the surprise candy motherload.

It’s the same with evidence; although an investigator can sharpen their skills or follow a few tips, they must search everywhere without prejudice. Their efforts may not yield anything, or hardly much worth having, but once in a rare while you get a king-size Snickers bar.

That kind of score (not to be confused with Skor toffee bar) can be immediately obvious or hiding at the bottom of the pillowcase full of root-canal causing loot. That’s why trick-or-treaters dump it all out after a long night, divvy it up, trade amongst the teams, and examine all of it.

Like evidence analysis, after an investigator has discarded much of the worthless pieces and finds something really tasty, all the fatigue that set in gives way to a sugar high that has them bouncing off the walls.

That is when paranormal investigating is the biggest treat.

As for my own trick-or-treating at the Sun Inn, the excitement of a night spent exploring the historic landmark never abated, even into the early hours of the next day. The best treat was served up in the attic, where we definitely did some bouncing off the walls. But you’ll learn more about that investigation in the near future, as I have more details.

Until then, I advise you get dressed up in your investigative gear and hit up the neighbors. You may end up with either a client or a sack full of candy.