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Still on my quest to come face-to-face with a spirit, I recently went on my first ghost hunt. I have been to my share of haunted places, but I have never gone on an actual investigation where the owners of a place were seeking help with their ghostly tenants. I contacted Andrew Laird, a ghost hunter for the past 28 years and the founder of The Rhode Island Paranormal Research Group (TRIPRG), and I went along with members of his organization to investigate the Captain Peter Greene house (circa 1720) in Warwick, Rhode Island.

I certainly had my reservations about going on a "ghost hunt," because the very idea can conjure up images of thrill-seeking teenagers running through graveyards with Ouija boards and trying to scare each other. My fears began to subside when Laird emailed me his group’s "code of conduct" and handed me a confidentiality agreement upon arriving at the investigation site.

I arrived at the house just prior to 9:00 P.M. on a Saturday night. Inside, I met the owners, whom I will refer to only as Christine and Dennis (to protect their privacy). The house is incredibly charming — the couple are currently restoring the house to look as close as possible to what it must have looked like in the mid-1700s. There are wooden plank floors, low doorways, steep staircases, and the individual rooms are bathed in low candlelight. The outside of the property features two unknown graves marked only by blank fieldstones in the backyard near a wooden fence.

To prepare for the ghost investigation, I spoke to Richard Southall, author of How to Be a Ghost Hunter (2003, Llewellyn). I asked Southall why one would want to be a ghost hunter and he said, "Sometimes people want to do scientific investigations of it — they want to actually be able to capture the apparition on film and on audio. Then there is the psychic aspect of it — trying to communicate with the spirit. Others may want to do it for the historical research — they may want to try and identify the ghost."

Southall’s advice for getting into this field was, "A membership to an organization is very important. To be affiliated with an organization adds to the professionalism and the credentials of the people doing the investigations."

The reasons for being a ghost hunter vary among each individual doing the research, but a common thread I have found is that most seem to have had a personal experience somewhere in their lives that got them interested in learning more. But what about the people who are suffering through a haunting and are seeking a ghost hunter? What should they be looking for? Southall said, "Level-headedness. I’ve seen a lot of ghost hunters in the past jump to conclusions and automatically make a worst-case scenario out of something. A haunting victim should get respect and be able to express their concerns, their fears, and their story."

Certainly some people want independent verification that they’re not crazy. Christine told me about some of the experiences she has had since she and her husband bought the Captain Peter Greene house two years ago: "A lot of activity focuses around my baby daughter. Music will play in her bedroom, her mobile will spin — and the batteries are completely dead. The house is uneven, so a lot of the doors automatically close [on a spring], but there’s been times when the doors will open — and you have to push it against the spring for it to open. You can hear voices and footsteps walking around the front hallway and the stairs."

Watching doors open, hearing voices, and seeing things out of the corner of your eye are things you can second-guess, but seeing an apparition in your home when you expect it to be empty can be alarming. Christine and Dennis have experienced such an apparition in their home in the past. She said, "We pulled in the driveway and happened to look upstairs toward the window, and I saw a man. I got scared because I thought someone broke into the house, so I sent my husband in to check it out."

When members of Laird’s group had assembled at the house, he distributed several hand-held radios for individuals and teams who would be exploring different parts of the house. "Our signal for trouble is to hit the ‘call’ button on the radio three times and announce ‘code red’ — that’s everyone’s cue to get out because something has gone wrong," Laird said. The "call" button makes the radio ring like a telephone for a brief period.

Laird went over some of the equipment he and his team would be using with me. The group had with them: tape recorders — for recording electronic voice phenomenon (EVP); cameras — for capturing ghosts and spirit energy on film (or digitally); and a laser-guided thermometer that can record temperatures at a specific point in the room from several feet away — to look for cold spots and temperature spikes that may be influenced by ghosts or spirits. Laird also carried an ELF (Extra Low Frequency) meter and others had EMF (Electromagnetic Field) meters — to detect a ghost’s energy field. Laird did not bring his closed-circuit video and some other filming equipment on this particular investigation. All told, he believes he has spent around $5,000 on equipment.

Among the TRIPRG members present were two sensitives who were using ghost hunting equipment as well as their psychic abilities. On this particular night, we found ourselves moving quickly around different areas of the property as the members radioed in readings they were getting. Laird’s ELF detector periodically rang its warning beep throughout our three hours at the Captain Greene house. Later in the evening, the radios began sounding the three-alarm warning, but no "code red" was announced. Repeatedly, Laird asked the group over the radio if they were hitting the call button, but each time, the group individually answered that they had not. "That’s the emergency code. That bothers me. They’re messing with our emergency code," Laird said. A moment later, he announced to the group that the new emergency code would be four rings. A few seconds later, the radios rang out four times. 

"Frustrating — they’re playing chase," Laird said. "We know they’re there, they know we’re here. We’re catching hits, but what we’re looking for is something stationary — where it stays long enough for us to say what’s going on, what kind of emotion is behind the energy — where we can get a fix."

On this particular ghost hunt, I noticed there wasn’t a lot of fear in the owners of the house. They didn’t mind if the ghost stayed, they just wanted a better understanding of the entities present. If ghost hunters can provide that understanding and ease some stress on a family, then they are truly providing a valuable service. Given that TRIPRG, and many other groups like them, don’t even charge for their services, it’s not a bad deal at all.

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