At first, he says, most people he reached out to didn't take him seriously. But one day last spring, Webb found a kindred spirit: Marlon Orozco, a local photographer and videographer who shares his reverence for the supernatural. Orozco says he loved Webb's ParanormalHood pitch, and they've been working as a team ever since.
The duo quickly expanded into an amorphous entourage of inquisitive characters, including some of Webb's friends who also grew up in Boston, and who spend their days in an array of non-ghost-hunting jobs that range from Zumba instruction to fire-fighting and retail.
The ParanormalHood team call themselves HooDeez — and each has a nickname that could double as a rap handle. (Webb started calling me "Sprite" after my first investigation.) All HooDeez come with some personal form of prior paranormal experience — and a hunger to learn more about the world beyond the physical.
As I got to know the team, I began to realize everyone has a ghost story. I met most of the seasoned HooDeez, like Daneja (pronounced "Danger," with a Boston accent), a firefighter and military vet with a wry sense of humor; J'Riggs, executive director of a nonprofit; and Renaissance, a personal trainer and health and wellness coach. They range from skeptics to firm believers. The bond uniting them is the desire to explain the inexplicable.
"I'm looking to see if we can find a way to prove there's an afterlife," Orozco says, "to get more answers to questions like, 'Is this it?' " He says he'd be upset if it is.
The HooDeez roll with heavy equipment to detect the presence of ghosts. On investigations, Webb hauls a duffle bag full of everything from supersized night-vision goggles to a spirit box (used to contact ghosts through radio frequencies) to various EMF detectors. The most popular one is the Ghost Meter Pro, which retails on Amazon.com for around $30 and comes with an "All New Exclusive Ghost Dialog Mode," in which "the ghost can answer 4 to 9 questions in a yes or no format."
Tonight, Webb spreads out the ghost-hunting gadgets on a stone bench by Park Street station just before we embark on our ghost-hunting expedition. He tells us we can each pick one to hold during the investigation. I pass and clutch my notebook tighter — but the HooDeez jump right in.
"That's cute," says Daneja, grabbing an infrared thermometer that looks like a handgun and has a laser sight.
Then things start getting weird. Daneja begins laughing — it's like he's being tickled.
"Something's buggin' me out." He's a grown man giggling. "I'm scratchin' like crazy."
Orozco, always a sweet-talker with the spirits, asks out loud: "Are you still here?"
He's not talking to us living folk, and a cheap flashlight-turned-ghost sensor flickers brighter without human contact. We flash each other glances that ask whether it's a coincidence.
Webb has a theory about ghosts.
According to Webb, the bonds people form with their loved ones and possessions can make it difficult for them to let go of the physical world.
"A lot of mansions are haunted," he says. "Why? Because rich people are very, very territorial. They work hard to be rich. They become very, very anchored, very attached to these things . . . so it's easier for you to be trapped here, because you're worried about your car, you're worried about your mansion, or you're worried about your girlfriend, or your cat, or your dog, the money hidden in your wall that you should have spent."
He didn't grow up with that feeling of attachment, he says — just the opposite.
"Young black people, including myself — I didn't believe I was going to live past my 20s, my early 20s. So if somebody would have told me 20 years ago, before I started my business, when I was wild in the streets and just doin' whatever, that I'd be 42 years old, I would have never believed you," he says. "There's almost a feeling of hopelessness with some black kids who just don't care. It's like, 'Okay, this is the life, I'm a gangbanger, and if I get shot and die I don't care.' There's no attachment."
That's not to say that you aren't as likely to find ghosts in Mattapan as in Middleboro, he adds.
"We don't know what is there; that's the whole great thing about this," Webb says. "This is new territory. We're exploring something new. I have a hundred stories, and I grew up in the 'hood. There are other people in the 'hood with stories. That's the whole point, to reach out and get those stories so people will understand it's not relegated to one area. You're giving a voice to people who no one is talking to."
As the Ghost Meter Pro buzzes and flashes in the dark of the Common, Webb continues asking questions.
"Have you been here a long time?" The lights blink yes.
"Are you enjoying playing with these lights? Can you make them go off?" The light flickers.
He asks why the ghost has been tickling Daneja. "Are you touching him?"
"This is bugging me out right now," says Daneja.
"Is it because of his hat?"
"Does my hat remind you of somebody?"
They determine that Daneja's hat looks like a soldier's hat.
"Were you hung here? Were you murdered here, maybe by a soldier, someone wearing a similar hat?"
The light blinks.
"Were you yourself a soldier?"
The light flares brightly.
"Did you fight in a war?"
"Did you die in a war?"
"Are you native? Are you Indian?"
"Can you make those lights blink?"