Ghost hunters take job seriously

05/12/02 - Janesville Gazette
Many claim encounters with paranormal
By Norm Starks
Special to the Gazette
The popular conception of a ghost hunter as some freak in a space suit with a zap gun wasn't borne out Saturday afternoon at the conference at the Best Western Inn in Janesville.
The Southern Wisconsin Paranormal Research Group, headed by Janesville resident Jennifer Lauer, presented the seminar for about 100 persons interested in paranormal phenomena.  For the most part, both the presenters and those in attendance were normal people who either have had paranormal experiences or know someone who has.

Blake Cahoon traveled from Zion, IL., to attend the seminar.

"I've been an avid ghost hunter for about 20 years now," she said.

"The people here seem to be very professional. No one is trying to mislead anyone."

Cahoon said she has had several personal experiences with paranormal phenomena, most recently after her mother died last January.  She said her mother was a heavy smoker, and one recent day as she was driving her car alone, the interior of the car filled with cigarette smoke.

"It was just a sign to me that said my mother was checking in on me, basically just a "hi, how are you?" kind of thing," Cahoon said.

Cahoon said she accepted nothing at face value when it came to ghost hunting.

"You have to look at everything from a skeptical point of view," she said.

Most times there is a rational explanation to what has happened, but every now and then, there's an unexplainable event that occurs that causes her to believe, she said.

The speakers at the conference agreed with that approach.

Chad Lewis received his masters degree in applied psychology from UW-Stout on Saturday, missing his graduation ceremony to be at the seminar.

Lewis showed pictures of several supposedly haunted locations here in Wisconsin, including fire station No. 10 in Eau Claire where "Alex" has been seen by about 80 percent of the firemen who work there.

"Pots and pans have flown off the wall there when someone says they don't believe in Alex," Lewis said.

He also displayed pictures of a Lutheran church in Amery.

Pastors called him there to investigate several phenomena that occurred, including parishioners hearing the sounds of a congregation laughing and talking in the empty sanctuary and of a dinner going on in the empty basement.

"I have no feeling of sensing spirits or energy," Lewis said. "I'm pretty much neutral.  So the first thing I do is rule out any obvious or natural answers."

Most of the time, he's able to do that, but he has documented a number of experiences that he feels evidences "another world" out there.

He displayed photographs taken in a cemetery with a small orb of light and what appears to be a line of light passing through the picture.  A man who was with him who claims psychic abilities said he sensed "spirit energy" in the cemetery.  Lewis sent the photos and negative into Fuji film for analysis.  The company reported that what was in the pictures was not due to malfunction of the camera or film, and that whatever in the pictures was apparently there at the site.

Lewis said he attempts to bring his investigations to a scientific level, but doesn't expect it to reach that classification.

"In order to do scientific studies, you have to be able to bring the experience into the laboratory and duplicate what happens, and you can't do that with paranormal phenomena." he said, "But a lot of the scientific community is becoming less skeptical and more supportive of what we are doing."

He said he was searching for an answer to an intriguing question.

"Does seeing a ghost result in believing in ghosts, or does believing in ghosts result in seeing ghosts?" he asked.   "That's a very interesting question to which we don't yet know the answer."

Lauer, the founder and director of SWPRG, has been doing investigations for about five years.  She said that most investigations can be ruled out as natural phenomena, as many as 80 - 90 percent.  But it's that 10 - 20 percent that can't be explained that keep her investigating.

She said her organization tries to be as realistic and careful as possible in their investigations in order to validate their findings.

"People are more open than they used to be to paranormal phenomena, but there are still a lot of skeptics out there," she said.  "Careless investigators contribute to that."

Paul Hutto is a psychic from Janesville who has done psychic readings all over Wisconsin for the past six years.  He said he has experienced paranormal phenomena since he was a child.

"I see things most people wouldn't see, and I know things most people don't know." he said.

When he was about 20, he started getting what he called visions of national events before they happened, foreseeing a plane crash in Washington, D.C., and an Amtrak derailment.

"Now I don't usually see world events unless they're associated with a client," he said.

Hutto said he believes his abilities are a gift, as some people are gifted in other areas.

"I can't sign a song or even hum a tune, but other people can sing and play beautifully." he said.  "Everybody has their own gifts and abilities.  I don't believe in coincidences."

Hutto said the fact that about 100 people were at the seminar indicated a popular interest in the subject.

"Einstein said that energy doesn't end; it changes form," he said.  "People are looking for some answers."

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