A truly spirited undertaking

Ghost Hunters of Baltimore will be happy to check out a haunting. Just don't ask them to set traps

May 21, 2000|By Emir Salihovic | Emir Salihovic,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Drive along College Avenue in Ellicott City at midnight and strange things happen, says a folk tale from this 250-year-old town.

Actually, in the folk tale, this road is called by its old nickname, Seven Hills Road. If you drive it fast, it can feel like a roller-coaster, going up and down exactly seven times. And if you do that precisely at midnight and look into your rear-view mirror just as you hit the top of the seventh hill, it's said that you will see a spooky figure of a horseman, a ghost who supposedly haunts the road near the place he was killed.

The tale doesn't say what you are supposed to do when you see the horseman. Drive faster, maybe.

On this trip, we were not driving the road at midnight. Instead, it was late afternoon and three of us in one car and two more in another were leaving Ellicott City. We'd just visited some of the places in town that are said to be haunted: the Judge's Bench Pub across the street from the old firehouse; the cemetery where the founders of the city are buried; the Patapsco Female Institute, a ruin open to the sky where a ghost called Annie can be seen sometimes.

The other two in my car were James McClenahan, 22, Web designer for a small computer company in Baltimore, and his wife, Katie, 21. They are the founders and the true heart and soul of what they say is Baltimore's first-ever society for the research of paranormal phenomena, the Ghost Hunters of Baltimore. In a Jeep behind us were Erik Huprich, 25, computer operator, and Gina Huprich, 27, who is in the military. They are a couple of investigators of the paranormal who joined the society several months ago and are among its most enthusiastic ghost hunters.

"As an organization, the Ghost Hunters of Baltimore have set their goals on becoming the leading and most respected name on the subject of paranormal research and education," James McClenahan says in the organization's explanatory leaflet, "Are You Ready To Believe?" "Achieving these goals will be done ... using up-to-date, readily available scientific equipment to accurately prove and document the existence of paranormal activity."

It was not a coincidence that there were five of us on this outing. According to the Ghost Hunters' policies and procedures, ghost hunts or investigations of paranormal phenomena require a minimum of five people on a team. Not only for scientific accountability, the Ghost Hunters say, but also for safety.

It seems a curious rule. Assuming that ghosts actually exist, it seems pretty strange that an incorporeal ghost could hurt an actual someone physically, no matter what all those horror films suggest.

"It is possible, but very unlikely," says McClenahan. "Ghosts are not here to do harm like the movies perceive them to. Ghosts or spirits have a purpose or just simply do not realize that they are deceased."

Growing membership

McClenahan founded the Ghost Hunters of Baltimore in January 1996 and recently registered it as a nonprofit organization. The group finances its activities with donations and has applied for a grant from the Parapsychology Foundation Inc. in New York, an organization established in 1951 to encourage and support impartial scientific inquiry into paranormal phenomena. At present, Ghost Hunters of Baltimore claims to have several thousand members and contributors worldwide, including about 200 in the Baltimore area.

Of course, not all of those members are active, since the organization has grown mostly thanks to its Web presence (www.ghostpage.com). Most members have joined by filling out a free online application form (there is no membership fee, although contributions are strongly encouraged.)

"When we published our Web site, we were surprised how many people visited it," says McClenahan. "They e-mailed us, asked questions, asked for instruction, asked to join us. ... Now we have about 5,000 members worldwide, including Ireland, South Africa, even Pakistan."

The Ghost Hunters offer a range of services. They conduct investigations of supposedly haunted sites, research and try to find the causes of paranormal phenomena, and disseminate information on general parapsychology through seminars, training and public lectures.

The first ghost-hunting training class took place in January this year, and classes every three to four months are planned. Those interested in exploring the gloomy world of ghosts will learn how to use various kinds of detection instruments (among the standbys are electromagnetic field detectors and thermal scanners), as well as how to analyze the data gathered during an investigation to determine the real causes of the observed phenomena.

The Ghost Hunters also offer their services to those who want strange phenomena in their own houses examined. For no charge, Ghost Hunters will come, investigate the site and try to determine what's going on.

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