On the hunt for ghosts of Charm City's past

Convention: Paranormal investigators gather in city in hopes of finding spirits in `haunted areas.'

July 23, 2004|By Scott Waldman | Scott Waldman,SUN STAFF

Ghosts of Baltimore take note: Paranormal investigators from around the country are coming to hunt you down.

More than 100 self-described "ghost hunters" are expected this weekend for the first Eastern Regional Paranormal Conference and National Awards Show.

They'll hear from internationally known authorities on ghost hunting and the paranormal and will spend a couple of nights testing the latest equipment and investigating such presumably haunted areas of Charm City as Fells Point, the Constellation and the Edgar Allan Poe House.

And they'll be giving awards at the Inner Harbor Holiday Inn in categories such as "Best Paranormal Investigation Instruction Manual" and "Best Local Haunt Guidebook."

"You have to have a good sense of humor," said Vince Wilson, a conference organizer. "The first thing people do is make a joke."

Wilson is also the president of the Maryland Paranormal Investigators Coalition. He said he hopes the meeting will help develop guidelines to separate veteran investigators from "glory hounds" and dreamers.

"You see a lot of wishful thinking," said Wilson, who is also a cook at a downtown restaurant.

Wilson, who makes a distinction between urban legends and ghost stories, is still waiting to see his first ghost.

Until then, he said he must be satisfied with some of the inexplicable things he has found during his paranormal investigations. He said he has felt small circulating spots of air 20 degrees colder than the rest of a room, and a door chain that rattled inside an old house despite a lack of a breeze or vibration.

The weekend's talks will cover subjects such as "The Sensitive Side of Ghost Hunting" and "Psychic Skills for Ghost Hunters."

Troy Taylor of Alton, Ill., is an authority on the subject. In his talk, "Confessions of a Ghost Hunter," he plans to recount his humorous ghost-hunting adventures, such as the apparition he says he saw in an abandoned tuberculosis sanitarium in Kentucky in 2002.

"You go looking for ghosts and sometimes you find them," he said.

Baltimore's past makes it the perfect place to hold a ghost-hunting conference, Wilson said. "So much history has happened in Baltimore, how can you say it's not haunted?" he said.

An essential part of ghost hunting is historical research, Wilson said. Paranormal investigators look for events such as murders, influenza outbreaks and fires. They also often talk to property owners and dig through records in local libraries.

Scott Fowler, administrative secretary for the Maryland organization, said he became a ghost hunter after a visit in 1988 to a former school for priests in Beltsville.

Fowler and some friends were walking the grounds with a tape recorder hoping to record a ghost voice when he had a strong feeling of being watched, he said. When he looked around, he and a friend saw a face watching them from a second-story window.

At the time, Fowler did not think anything of the face. Subsequent research showed that the floor had rotted away, making it impossible for anyone to have been standing there.

Fowler said the aim of this weekend's conference is not to convince people that such stories are true. But it will be an orientation for people with an open mind and an interest in the paranormal, he said.

Andrew Laird is traveling from Rhode Island for the conference. Though he originally set out to prove that paranormal investigations were fiction, he changed his mind.

In the 1980s while exploring an abandoned mental hospital in Danvers, Mass., Laird saw a figure dressed in a hospital gown walk from one room to the next, he said. He heard a door slam. When he radioed his fellow investigators to see who was on the floor with him, they said no one else was there. On that day, Laird became a ghost hunter.

At this weekend's conference, he hopes to meet with others who take their paranormal investigations seriously. He figures that the more evidence they can collect, the better their chances of having the scientific community accept them as legitimate.

"It's not like we're running into graveyards with flashlights; we're taking scientific steps," Laird said.

As one of the conference's featured speakers, Taylor is proof that it is possible to make a career out of ghost-hunting. Running an Illinois bookstore and press devoted to ghost hunting, he is the founder of the American Ghost Society, which has more than 600 members in the United States and Canada. He has written 27 books, including The Ghost Hunter's Guidebook, which has sold about 78,000 copies since 1999 and is in its third edition. He gives about 12 to 15 talks a year on ghost hunting.

Taylor hopes that people thinking about attending the conference don't see it as a gathering of "half-nut scientists."

He said his talks are meant to entertain as much as they are to spark people's interest. Some people, he said, might even be surprised to learn that they are closet ghost hunters.

"There are two kinds of people," said Taylor. "There are those who believe in ghosts and those who don't admit it."

For more information on the conference: http://bsprnet.com/ conference/

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