JUST SAY "GO" The Paranormal Bikers have had success by simply asking ghosts to leave.
What really frightens paranormal investigators, those folks who go looking for ghouls? Some will tell you it's the uncomfortable feeling they sometimes get when leaving the scene — a feeling that someone, or something, wants to follow them home.
Steve Sztabor, of Woonsocket, knows the sensation all too well. He has always been fascinated by stories of ghosts and hauntings, and several years ago that curiosity led him on a late-night ramble through the city's Precious Blood Cemetery. The old burial ground is in a crowded neighborhood, but after midnight, when the streets are quiet and the surrounding homes are dark, it can seem like an eerie, empty corner of the world.
That's especially true if you know the history of the place. In 1955, when Hurricane Diane turned the Blackstone River into a raging torrent, flood waters tore through the cemetery, washing away the sod and sending dozens of coffins floating downstream.
Sztabor is not the type who scares easy. He's been ripping it up on big cruiser motorcycles all his life, and has spent a good bit of time hanging out with rough-and-tumble biker crowds. Nonetheless, by the time he ended his post-midnight stroll, he was feeling a bit uneasy. He'd seen nothing, but he knew he wasn't alone. He felt a chill prickliness on his skin. The Rod Serling moment came when he got in his car and took off down the road.
A few blocks away he pulled into a parking lot. "I had to stop," he recalls. "I knew there was something in there with me. Finally I opened the car door and told it to leave. Just told it to get out."
Not long after, Sztabor decided to find some friends to take along when snooping for spooks. He teamed up with some of his motorcycling pals and a few of their wives and girlfriends to form the Paranormal Bikers, a group of leather-clad seekers who investigate alleged hauntings. They also offer their services, at no charge, to those who feel threatened by pesky poltergeists and other things that go bump in the night.
The frightened and fretful have responded. In the two years since they launched their group, the Paranormal Bikers have handled more than a dozen cases, and they now have a backlog of requests. That should surprise no one. Ghost stories have been with us since the dawn of time. Yet they've become one of the 21st century's hottest trends.
Everyone in Rhode Island knows that. Over the past seven years we've watched reality TV transform two Warwick plumbers, Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson, into national celebrities. They're the leaders of The Atlantic Paranormal Society — a group of self-styled investigators, just like the Paranormal Bikers — and the stars of the SyFy Channel's Ghost Hunters, with 2.6 million viewers. It's no wonder the tube is now awash with similar reality shows.
Poll numbers offer evidence, too: a 2008 survey by the Associated Press showed 34 percent of Americans believe in ghosts, while a Gallup poll from 2005 put the number at 32 percent. There are hundreds of amateur investigative groups across the country, armed with cameras and audio recorders to capture evidence. Poke around the web, and you'll find a dozen or more groups right here in the Ocean State.