words: Marcus Coker
Images: Marcus Coker and courtesy Arkansas Paranormal Investigations
It’s dark outside, the air is heavy, and the wind moans. Inside an old Victorian house, Jeff Young, forty-nine, steps through the doorway of the attic. A board creaks beneath his weight, and then all is quiet. His heartbeat increases as he prepares to take the next step and readies himself to find a ghost. As his foot strikes the ground, the door behind him slams shut with an echo and Jeff turns on the spot. There’s nothing there.
That day, Jeff, who hunts ghosts with Arkansas Paranormal Investigations (API) in Rogers, Arkansas, determined that the attic wasn’t haunted. “It was a swollen floorboard, and if you stepped on it just right, the door closed,” says Jeff. Sometimes that’s what happens. People hear noises in their home, and it ends up being a squirrel under the porch or a leaky toilet that sounds like mumbling voices in the dark. But Jeff still believes. “I have a healthy skepticism. We don’t take things at face value.”
For each experience that has a rational explanation, there is one that doesn’t. Jeff says, “Once we were at an abandoned hospital on the third floor at night. All of our equipment was off. I looked down the hall and saw what I thought was another team member, a solid figure with light reflecting off him. The woman beside me and I joked that it was a ghost. Well, he took a few more steps and was gone. Then the person who we thought it was walked up the stairs behind us.”
Experiences like that one, called full-body apparitions, are rare. But it’s what got Jeff interested. “When I was younger, I was staying with my grandparents at their old farmhouse. I was in one of the spare bedrooms and saw someone who wasn’t there. And it’s startling to feel like someone is watching you, and then you see this guy who’s not part of the family. My parents told me it was just my imagination, but when something happens to you, you know it’s real no matter what anyone else says.”
When people call API for an investigation, it’s often because they’ve encountered something they can’t explain. They feel like they’re being watched, they hear strange noises or feel a cold spot in their house. Maybe an item has been moved, or their pets refuse to go to a certain part of their home. Jeff says, “People can be sensitive to electricity and old wiring. It can make you anxious. It can make you feel like you’re being watched. It can even make you see things.”
Often, it’s that simple. For example, many ghost hunters use cameras and video recorders to look for something called orbs, which are like round balls of floating light. Usually, it turns out to be light reflecting off a dust particle or insect, which is visible if the image is blown up or if the orb falls, like dust would, on a video. But once Jeff was using a voice recorder to capture what’s called an EVP (electronic voice phenomenon), voices that electronics can pick up that humans can’t hear. And Jeff recorded a male voice saying, “He got one.” Later, when looking at photos, there was a big orb above Jeff’s head. In cases like these, things aren’t so easy to explain. “That’s the kind of stuff we get excited about,” says Jeff.
Jeff has been with API for the last three years. As part of the group, he conducts one or two investigations a month, free of charge, usually at a private home or business. The group shoots for a two-week turnaround and uses equipment including infrared cameras, electronic voice recorders, and devices that monitor changes in temperature and static electricity. “We’re looking for anything out of the ordinary and assume there’s a normal explanation first,” says Jeff. “Some people say, ‘If you can prove my building is haunted, I’ll advertise it.’ But we don’t gain anything either way. We don’t sell a service of ghost-be-gone. We just present them with what we find and let them decide.”
Daniel Brown, who’s twenty-nine, a veteran, and lives in the Arkansas town of Farmington, has been with API for a couple of months. He says, “I got interested when I was stationed in Germany, on leave from Iraq. No one went to the fourth floor of the barracks, but we’d hear doors slamming and people speaking German. Later we found out that the barracks were formerly a German base during World War II. The Allies bombed it, and a lot of guys died there. It made me really curious about what happens after death.”
Along with API, Daniel can often be found at Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park, a site rich with both history and paranormal activity. On December 7, 1862, Union and Confederate forces converged, ultimately ending in a Confederate retreat. By the time it was over, nearly 1,500 were dead.
Daniel says, “I have EVPs of gunshots going off here that only show up on recordings. As a combat vet, I would notice if it were real-time. Sometimes spirits will directly talk to you, answering questions. One time we captured a voice saying, ‘How can you hear me with that [device]?’ We call it a class A EVP, which is different than a residual imprint when you might hear footsteps the same time every night.”
One of the theories about ghosts is that when people die suddenly, they don’t realize they’re dead or aren’t ready to move on. They stay because an area is familiar, or even to protect a person or place. Many simply want to be acknowledged, for someone to communicate, “you’re here.”
In rare cases, ghosts can be angry. “They were human once,” says Jeff. “They have emotions. My wife and I were walking along a paved path at the battlefield one night, and we stopped. But behind us, there were two more steps, and I heard what’s called a disembodied voice, one that you can hear with your ears. It said, ‘Go away.’ It was unnerving. It didn’t sound friendly.”
“We try not to provoke them,” says Jeff. “Still, one time I was physically scratched with no provocation.” At this point, Jeff pulls out his phone, showing a picture of his leg with three scratches, two down his calf and one across his ankle. “It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it feels like a hot sensation. I didn’t even notice at first, but we have video of orbs flying around my leg. We asked if anyone intended to harm us, and an EVP came back, ‘Yes.’ I saw the scratches that night. They say that a spirit can attach itself to you in those instances, but I don’t think that happened. We always pray before and after an investigation that our team is protected.”
As a hobby, ghost hunting is like fishing, which means you can spend as much time and money as you’d like. However, most of the equipment API uses costs twenty-five to fifty dollars and can be purchased locally or online. “People are more interested than you might think,” says Jeff. Then he laughs and says, “But we don’t get a lot of volunteers. For me, the findings let me know I’m not crazy, but I’m not here to convince anyone else. People will believe or they won’t.”
Paranormal, by definition, simply means that something isn’t scientifically explainable. It’s something we don’t understand just yet. But plenty of people, like Jeff and Daniel, want to understand. And as they seek answers, perhaps the rest of us come to understand that the veil is thinner than we think and that death is still the greatest mystery.
For more information about Arkansas Paranormal Investigations, visit paranormalbeliever.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.