The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Features

October 29, 2011

Investigating ghost stories

CLINTON — For Steve Danielsen, malevolence was rarely found with the paranormal. Entities, spirits or manifestations of residual energy from past events, tend to be oblivious, confused or even frightened. An openly hostile entity was the exception to the norm.

Unfortunately, Danielsen had found himself an exception.

The entity had been harassing the younger of two boys living in the residence. The mother was at her wits end, discovering scratches on the boy’s back, and hearing stories of a phantom heat, burning him at night.  Mississippi Valley Paranormal had been called in to investigate, leading Danielsen to the boy’s empty bedroom.

Communication with paranormal entities is far from an exact science. Given this spirit’s aggressive tendencies, Danielsen tried antagonizing the entity, inviting it to challenge someone bigger and stronger.

“Why don’t you attack someone your own size,” Danielsen said. “Come scratch me.”

But, hours later, Danielsen had recorded nothing but a few sudden temperature spikes. He retired to his home to rest and evaluate the evidence, and hopefully come up with some answers for the distraught mother.

It was when he was getting ready for bed that he noticed the fresh scratches covering his back.

THE TEAM

Everybody likes hearing a ghost story. Few people want to live them.

But ghost stories are exactly what the investigators at Mississippi Valley Paranormal, or MVP, eat, breathe and live, dedicating their free time to investigating all aspects of the paranormal.

The group began four or five years ago, when Clinton resident Becky Connor visited the site of the Bell Witch haunting. Since then, Connor said she was “hooked” on studying the largely unknown world of ghosts and spirits.

Connor, along with co-founder Bryce Carlson, recruited a team of paranormal enthusiasts from the area, and began MVP. The group provides free consultations and investigations at homes and business throughout the area, asking only that evidence collected be posted to the group’s website, mvparanormal.org.  

“Our goal is just to try to further our understanding of what’s going on, and to help people,” Connor explained.

Members come from all walks of life. Aside from dues collected at infrequent intervals, MVP investigators pay for their own equipment and travel costs for the investigations. Their only compensation is a further understanding of the paranormal world, and how it affects us.

There are about ten members in MVP, each one contributing unique skills or perspectives. Danielsen is the tech guru of the group, and also keeps up to date on the world of paranormal investigations. Stephanie Adams helps with the social media aspects and conducts client interviews. Terry Enright, a relatively new member of MVP with about a year of investigations under his belt, helps with Danielsen with equipment, and evaluates much of the collected evidence.

MVP is usually alerted to potential clients through Connor’s email. Typical clients are frightened, confused, or simply curious about events that they can’t explain. Common “paranormal” complaints include strange noises or sights, or uncomfortable feelings.

“Almost always in the email there’s something that says, ‘I just want to know I’m not crazy,’” Connor said. “People want validation that it’s real.”

THE INVESTIGATIONS

Once an obscure branch of investigative techniques dismissed as a silly pseudoscience, paranormal investigations have gained massive popularity over the past decade thanks to shows like “Ghosthunters,” and “Paranormal State.” Now, legions of amatuers armed with digital recorders and night vision cameras invade old or abandoned buildings across the country, hoping to prove that there really are things that go bump in the night.

Unlike the amateurs, MVP investagations are methodical and well disciplined. They usually begin with an interview, wherein the client will explain what prompted fears of paranormal events, and where the majority of activity has taken place.

MVP investigations try to maintain a practical approach. Rather than claim that every creaky stair is evidence of a haunting, they like to identify and weed out any false positives from their investigations.

“You try to rationalize it first,” Conner said.

“If we find nothing, we tell the client that we didn’t find anything this time,” Adams added.

Any noises made by investigators are noted so they can be excluded from being considered evidence. The investigators also search for alternate causes of paranormal occurrences, in case there is a logical explanation for whatever is happening. Maintaining an ivestigative calm and carefully scrutinizing evidence is the only way to ensure an accurate understanding of what’s going on.

“If you were to ask me, ‘Do I believe in ghosts?’, at this point I’d say I’m a believer,” Adams said, “but I can still be skeptical.”

Once the investigation is complete, the data gathered must be analyzed. This, for some of the MVP investigators, is the only undesireable part of the process, as every second of audio or video recordings must be carefully examined. If the investigators record 12 hours of audio, they spend at least 12 hours analyzing it.

Luckily, investigators like Enright and Danielsen have the fortitude to be thorough. After all, the payoff can be great.

“It is tedious, and it can be boring, but I tell you what, it’s worth it,” Danielsen said.

THE EQUIPMENT

The rewards of a non-profit paranormal investigative team come in the form of information and proof. But to properly document this proof, recordings must be made of the investigations and the findings. And to properly document, you need the right equipment.

According to Conner, the most common piece of equipment is a digital recorder. Each investigator has one, as they are relatively affordable and invaluable to investigations. Recorders are placed in idle locations, or carried with investigators as they probe the site of the supposed paranormal activity.

Electronic Voice Phenomenon, or EVP, is one of the more common pieces of evidence produced by ghost hunters. Disembodied voices or strange, unexplainable sounds, often appear on audio recordings of haunted sites. It is believed by paranormal investigators that the recorded medium can pick up communications from entities that exist outside the physical realm.

Usually these recordings are garbled or unintelligible voices, but every now and then the MVP crew said that they come across something special. Sometimes they are even able to record answers to questions asked by investigators. Examples of these EVPs can be found on the website.

Fans of ghost hunting TV shows are no strangers to the view from behind a night vision camera. MVP Investigators use similar cameras in their work, but financially, getting equipment comparable to what is show on TV is impossible. Still, they make due with what they have.

One of Danielsen’s prized possessions is his camera which is capable of taking pictures in three light spectrums. Different lens filters allow him the switch between spectrums, which literally cast the world in a whole new light.

“It’s said that ghosts or apparitions, the reason we can’t always see them is that they appear in a light spectrum not visible to the naked eye,” he said.

This camera has helped capture images of shadows and apparitions, most of which can be seen on the website.

Though MVP’s gear shows similarities to what is seen on TV, one of their primary pieces of equipment would not likely be found on any other ghost hunting team. A small toy, modeled after a character in the James Cameron movie “Avatar,” lights up when sound is detected. It is often used as a sound detector in otherwise quiet rooms.

THE SCARES

Ask the 10 members of MVP to recount their scariest encounters, and you’ll likely get 10 different stories. For Conner, it was the white mass that appeared out of nowhere and approached her and Adams.

“We both saw it,” said Adams, who admittted it was one of the few times she screamed loudly.

Danielsen believes he once antagonized a malevolent spirit into following him home, where it stayed for a few weeks, tormenting him. Enright has heard voices on EVP that would have chilled any civilian to the bone, though his experience has steeled him against fear.

So why, after repeatedly coming face to face with what some only see in nightmares, do the MVP investigators keep at it?

“It’s fun,” Conner said. “I love doing it.”

To learn more about MVP or to request an investigation, visit mvparanormal.org. They’d love to make a believer out of you.

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