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Paranormal researcher Chad Lewis enters a room while using a device that detects atmospheric charges. Legend has it that a jilted woman named Sarah took her life while at the Anderson House in the late 19th century. Some speculate that her spirit haunts the Wabasha hotel. Lewis, a volunteer, was at the Anderson House at the invitation of owner Teresa Smith this week in search of evidence. -- staff photo by Kevin Macdonald

A host for the ghosts
07/09/05 - Red Wing Republican Eagle

By Mike Longaecker, Staff Writer, mlongaecker@republican-eagle.com

WABASHA -- It takes balls to be a ghost hunter. No, really.

Spongy little Nerf-like balls. You tape them to the floor to see if a spirit moves them. Easy as that.

The ball technique is one of the lesser-known methods of ghost hunting, but it’s a trick of the trade that paranormal researcher Chad Lewis has come to use often.

Sure, he’s got the snazzy motion and microwave detectors, the laser-sighted temperature gauge, the night-vision cameras and audio recorders. They get plenty of use as he treks from spooky cemeteries to haunted houses.

But he’s found that simple things like leaving out balls and a pen and paper for spirits to move could be just as helpful at turning up ghosts.

Could be. That’s the operative word.

Earlier this week, while Lewis once again began the process of strategically laying out his equipment -- this time at Wabasha’s Historic Anderson House -- he noted how his research can be frustrating.

“It’s like fishing,” Lewis said. “You just have to sit and wait.”

More like fishing in a dead lake. After 10 years of pursuing ghosts in some of the world’s most supposedly haunted places, he’s never seen anything.

Not really. On rare occasions, floating orbs and eerie flashes turn up in photos he’s taken. But that’s about it. He’s never seen apparitions, never been touched on the shoulder by something supernatural.

“I’m still searching for that personal experience,” he said. “Nothing’s said, ‘Here I am.’”

Lewis said he tries to keep his emotions and hopes in check while he’s in haunted places because “it’s foolish to think that this might be the one night” that a ghost will finally appear before him.

And has he ever searched. As he ran an electricity sensor along a wall at the Anderson House, he said the Wabasha trip was one of the more than 500 such area hauntings he’s investigated over the past 10 years.

Five hundred strikeouts. Lewis noted that if he were a baseball player, he wouldn’t have much of a career.

Maybe it’s just bad luck. Or maybe it’s because of the way he treats his investigations.

Rather than running wild-eyed from place to scary place, his mind filled with images of poltergeists, Lewis conducts the investigations in a much more scientific manner.

The method is fairly simple. After he’s through with an investigation he compiles his research and presents what looks soberingly like a businessman’s executive summary.

He provides the ghostlore of the place -- the stories people tell him about whatever haunted territory he’s covering. Then he goes to the nearest library where he does most of his research. Did a 33-year-old man really kill himself around the summer of 1896 at the site? He lets the facts do the ghosthunting there.

Then he reviews all the high-tech gadgets and recording devices he’s laid out over the previous night to see if there’s anything anomalous about their content.

Essentially, he’s looking to debunk the lore with logical explanations -- but with just a tinge of hope that something else lies in the unexplainable.

“By debunking, the cases we can’t explain seem all that much more interesting,” Lewis said.

When he presents his findings -- he’ll let the curious party know and often posts them on his Web site -- there’s nothing that says “this place is haunted.”

“I leave it up to the reader,” Lewis said. “If they come away believing ghosts don’t exist, fine. I’m not trying to convert them one way or another.”

While Lewis arranged his gear for the night, Anderson House owner Teresa Smith fingered some of the photos her sister took during a stay at the hotel.

One of the photos shows an orb floating above a bed. The other photo appears unexplainable. Unknown how it was taken or by whom, the recent photo appears to be an image of a shrouded human face. Or a stone face. Or, maybe, if you turn it sideways, it’s a birdbath.

It’s one of those apparently unexplainable things Lewis says could mean something.

It means something to Smith, all right. It means her hotel is haunted.

Not that she minds.

“I do believe there are spirits here,” Smith said. “And they’re all at peace.”

Comfortable with guests of all dimensions staying at her hotel, Smith said she strives to be polite to everyone.

“I say, ‘Good night, rest well,’” Smith said. “I’m not saying it to the guests. I’m saying it to the spirits.”

Local legend

Lewis is quick to scratch notes when this discussion comes up

says that a woman named Sarah died in the hotel sometime in the late 19th century. Jilted by her lover leaving and never returning, Sarah is believed to have killed herself out of sorrow and now supposedly haunts the place.

Smith remembers traveling the hotel’s hallway one morning when she unexpectedly found a stray dollar bill.

“I said, ‘Thank you Sarah, please send more,’” Smith said she told the empty hallway.

Shortly after, Smith began finding many stray dimes lying about the hotel. She said she mentioned to someone how the spirits had been leaving the small change in her hotel. The person, a true believer in spirits, reminded Smith that she was, in fact, in their house.

“If that’s the case, then fork over the mortgage payment, because these dimes aren’t going to make it,” Smith said she told the person.

The sixth cents

A paranormal investigation earlier this year supposedly revealed floating orbs and eerie voices on recordings. Lewis’ research is still pending.

But he notes that hotels and B&Bs that promote their paranormal activity don’t have a “no vacancies” sign hanging long. Being haunted, he said, can be a major boon for business.

Smith isn’t yet sure if she’s ready to flat-out advertise that the hotel may be haunted. She noted how, earlier that day, two men walked out when they learned what Lewis was investigating.

When guests check out, Smith might query them to see if they noticed anything out of the ordinary. If they ask why, she’ll tell them.

After all, she wouldn’t want anyone to feel left out -- guests or ghosts.

“If they’re here, I just want them to be happy,” she said.

Mike Longaecker can be reached at mlongaecker@republican-eagle.com or 388-2914, ext. 127.


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