Experts hunt ghosts in New York

Photographs, videos, recordings used to find evidence of paranormal

October 31, 2002|By Robert Dominguez | Robert Dominguez,NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

NEW YORK - On a rainy, windswept night In Yonkers, Dr. Fran Bennett is walking the darkened corridors of a 300- year-old mansion hunting for ghosts.

It's a typical Saturday night for Bennett, a paranormal investigator and founder of the New York Ghost Chapter, who for 16 years has been documenting what she claims is evidence that spirits walk among us.

Most weekends find Bennett and her small team of investigators wandering in the dark and searching for spirits in an assortment of "haunted" locales - historic houses, museums, private homes, cemeteries and even restaurants - while armed with electronic equipment that includes digital cameras, infrared video, tape recorders, motion detectors and specially designed electromagnetic field meters.

Not `ghostbusters'

"We're not `ghostbusters' like in the movie - we don't get rid of your ghosts, we don't zap them with rays or stick them in a box," says the thirtysomething Bennett about a common misconception regarding her work.

"Our sole purpose is to document evidence scientifically and help further research in this field," she adds.

"The evidence is a collaboration of all the data we compile, which is photographs, video footage and recorded voices.

"If we get 50 percent of the puzzle completed, we've done an excellent job."

On this night, Bennett, joined by chapter members Frank Hatfield and John Alfano, is conducting an investigation at Philipse Manor Hall.

The historic Yonkers house, built in the 1680s in the downtown section of the city, has long been the site of strange occurrences that have spooked many an employee over the years.

During a preliminary interview conducted by Bennett, site manager Heather Vaughn recounted the many weird happenings.

Several security guards on the midnight-to-8 a.m. shift, says Vaughn, have heard whispered voices and the sound of footsteps on the creaky old staircase at times when the large old house was supposedly empty.

There have also been instances of foul odors lingering in the air, as well as the hall's alarm-system motion detectors repeatedly going off for no reason.

In addition, there was a woman who lived across the street who often told of seeing people walking around inside during the dead of night.

Taken together, all the strange doings are enough to convince Bennett of paranormal activity. But what seals it for her is an eerie tale related by a former high-ranking employee of the hall.

The employee, who didn't want her named used for this story, says that 10 years ago, she saw an apparition of a man standing by a window in the second-floor ballroom - in broad daylight.

"He was dressed in goldish-color pantaloons, with a vest and a lacy white shirt," she says. "My initial reaction was that I felt very calm and I wasn't frightened, because it wasn't scary."

It's time to find some ghosts. After having the lights turned off throughout the mansion, Bennett and her team, flashlights in hand, begin setting up their equipment in the main room.

Almost immediately, Bennett's hand-held meter emits a series of high-pitched beeps. The needle jumps.

"It's been specially designed by the manufacturer for our purposes," says Bennett of the meter. "It filters out normal electromagnetic frequencies, like [those] from radio waves or phones or even a human body, which can give false readings for what we're looking for."

The incessant beeping, she explains, "means it's picking up a frequency of paranormal origins."

Using digital cameras that allow you to instantly see photographs, Bennett, Hatfield and Alfano take flash pictures in all directions as the meter continues to beep. "We definitely have a ghost," says Bennett matter-of-factly, looking in the camera's viewfinder.

Both Bennett and Hatfield, in fact, have recorded "orbs" in their photos. To a layman, they simply look like balls of white light floating in the air. But Bennett explains that orbs, which come in all sizes, are the most common evidence of a spirit's presence.

"Orbs are the easiest form for us to capture on equipment," she says. "It's also the easiest form of energy for a spirit to manifest itself. ... As the [photographic] technology and equipment gets better, we're seeing more documentation of them."

Evidence aplenty

Before the night is through, the hunters will capture plenty more orbs in photos. The team also will gather loads of more evidence that, to them, demonstrates the presence of ghosts at Philipse Manor.

Bennett leaves a motion detector in the hall's main room, then heads upstairs to the ballroom, where the apparition was spotted years ago. She mounts an infrared video camera on a tripod and positions it in the doorway, facing the massive ballroom, then turns on a microcassette recorder and places it underneath the videocam.

As everyone waits in the dark, Hatfield walks around the ballroom, politely asking that any spirits present give a sign that they're around.

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