Sitting in Ladouceur's home office, team members describe how they conduct their probes. Homeowners who contact them are first interviewed, to determine if mental illness or medications might be behind any reported disturbances. They also present their clients with legal documents promising to respect privacy and assuring property owners there will be no lawsuits if any team members are injured.
Before any attempt to contact an entity, team members join hands while Sztabor leads them in prayer. He brings religious items to every investigation — rosary beads, vials of holy water, Star of David pendants, Native American items. "I'm the religious and psychic protector for the team," he says. "There are no atheists in paranormal investigations. Prayer is our first line of defense."
"Which is very important, for obvious reasons," Ladouceur adds.
"People can come under psychic attack," Sztabor says. "They can be harmed, physically or mentally, by entities good or bad, intentionally or unintentionally."
If team members conclude their equipment has recorded the presence of something paranormal, they can respond in several ways. They've had success, they say, by simply asking a ghost to leave. Or they'll advise the homeowner to live with it, but set limits; tell the ghost, for example, to stay out of the bathroom. On other occasions, they say they've encountered truly evil beings, and used more drastic methods.
"We're talking about angry spirits," Ladouceur says.
"The kind that will grab your hair, or hide your keys," Sztabor adds. "There are measures we can take — prayers, or blessings for the home, sprinkling holy water, burning sage, which is a Native American method. And in some cases, we call in clergy as a last resort. There are several Catholic priests in the area who will work with us and there's a rabbi in the Boston area who has studied Kabbalah."
This isn't the first time Americans have become obsessed with ghosts. Spiritualism — the belief that the dead can communicate with the living — was all the rage in the Victorian era, in both England and America. In fact, Victoria herself attended a séance or two. So did the Lincolns, Horace Greeley, William Cullen Bryant, James Fennimore Cooper, William Lloyd Garrison, William James, and Arthur Conan Doyle. The Spiritualists were progressive types, reformers who also embraced abolition, temperance, and equal rights for woman. According to social historians, they'd come to see established churches as timid institutions because they did so little to advance such causes.
Historians suggest the Spiritualists were also influenced by the astonishing advancements of their time. If the telegraph and the telephone could allow instant communication across a great distance, then perhaps science could bridge other gaps as well. The Victorian séance was an attempt at empirical investigation of the afterlife, or so many participants believed.
Those same sentiments may be at the root of the current paranormal trend. There's no denying religious institutions have been harmed by scandals and their own efforts to regulate morality. What's more, the Great Recession eroded trust in authority in general, as evidenced by the Tea Party and Occupy movements. At the same time, we're witnessing another technological explosion.