There's the East Coast Paranormal Research Team, Searchlight Paranormal Investigations, Greenville Paranormal Research, ECLIPSE Paranormal Team, Misguided Souls Paranormal Investigators and New England Anomalies Research. Members of the last group recently helped start a second organization, the Big Rhodey Research Project, that's hunting for a Bigfoot-type creature whose habitat is said to be a Cumberland swamp.
All that probing has yet to turn up any solid proof, and most scientists still dismiss the paranormal as so much twaddle. "I call it mystery mongering," says Joe Nickell, a staff investigator with Skeptical Inquirer magazine. "Their argument goes like this: We don't know what's making the noise in the old house, therefore it must be a ghost. It's illogical."
GAUSSMETERS AND THERMAL SCANNERS
The Paranormal Bikers are typical of the new breed of ghost hunters. The group has seven to nine members, depending on who's around. Most are graying boomers. Several are in the building trades. They note that years of working in old New England homes has trained their ears to understand the creaks and pings heard in such structures. As with most groups, there are also several members who believe they've been blessed with a special sensitivity.
"I'm clairsentient, 'clear feeling.' It's a family trait," says Sztabor. "My grandmother had it. My mother had it. I realized it when I was about 15 years old. There was an old house in the neighborhood, and everyone said it was haunted. I thought I was a tough guy. I said I'll go in. I came out terrified. I saw something — an old woman in turn-of-the-century dress, with a stare that went right through me."
Today, however, there's more to ghost hunting than picking up vibrations. Almost every paranormal group relies on electronic gadgetry. The theory is that spirits produce energy or use it up; tune in to that, and you might find something. A gaussmeter, a device used in geophysical surveys, can measure electro-magnetic fields. Another handy device is the thermal scanner, a thermometer that can pick up temperature changes from a distance. Cold spots, it is said, might indicate something invisible is nearby. An audio recorder is also a must. Paranormalists will tell you ghostly voices are made up of electrical waves, not acoustic waves, which means a recorder can pick up spooky utterings that ears fail to detect. The recordings — called "electronic voice phenomenon" — can be swapped on the internet as mp3 files.
The Paranormal Bikers have all that gear and more. Member Chuck Ladouceur, a resident of Blackstone, Massachusetts, runs his own business, a studio for video, audio and photography services, and his equipment goes along on investigation. That means laptops, sophisticated microphones, night-vision cameras, and more.
Ladouceur says his interest in the paranormal was sparked when he bought a house built in 1905, and discovered it was haunted. "I heard bangs and booms," he says. "Something would shake the bed or the couch. I'd wake up to something that sounded like a box of bricks tossed down the stairs."
Eventually, he found an old receipt in his home, and in the ink blotches on the slip he discerned the face of a frightened child. A medium told him it was the face of a woman who'd once lived in the house. She had returned only to encounter another spirit — a man who had abused her as a child. The medium contacted the male spirit, and walked him out of the house. The hauntings ceased.