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Preston Castle Foundation Marks New Ownership with March 21, 2015 Deed Ceremony

Gather around, gather around. Open invitations have been issued to mark the transfer of ownership over at Preston Castle. PrestonCastleInvite-1

About thirteen years ago, the State of California leased the Preston Castle to the Preston Castle Foundation under a 55-year lease. As you might imagine, real rehabilitation strides can only be made with ownership. Now the property can go from preservation to rehabilitation. History or criminology buffs may know the building because it dates back to 1894, when it was the Preston School of Industry. The building pictured below (courtesy of Jerry Funderburgh, Vice President of the Preston Castle Foundation) was actually the administration building.

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The Preston School of Industry was part of the rehabilitation movement to teach juvenile boys useful skills instead of resorting to incarceration alone, and it was in operation through 1960. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Paranormal buffs know the building from local legends and many television shows that have covered the unsolved murder of Anna Corbin, among other mysterious occurrences. I have always said that it would be on my list of locations if I ever get around to writing a sequel to Haunted Asylums, Prisons, and Sanatoriums.

Castle Spirits is the in-house group that coordinates the many paranormal events that the Preston Castle Foundation schedules. In fact, they are hosting their very first paranormal conference the last weekend of May. Besides encouraging the paranormal events, the Foundation offers a wealth of programs for the entire community. They have wine tastings & tours, photographer’s day, flashlight tours, movie nights, and even a golf event planned soon! Such good news out of Ione, California.

To keep up with events over at The Castle, visit their site or “Like” them on Facebook:

http://prestoncastle.com/

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Preston-Castle-FoundationIone-Ca/169888893061409?sk=wall

Nopeming Sanatorium – the “Waverly Hills Sanatorium” of Duluth, Minnesota?

AMENDMENT – posted 11/10/16 – http://www.nopeming.com. They are open for tours!!!

I recently caught the Ghost Adventures episode on Nopeming Sanatorium in Duluth, Minnesota. I don’t watch a lot of television, and I especially don’t watch a lot when I’m working on a new book project, but I am glad I caught this episode. I thought the whole tone of the show was respectful, informative, and tastefully done. The history of Nopeming Sanatorium is very similar to that of Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Louisville, Kentucky. Like Waverly Hills, Nopeming was built in the early 1900’s to serve as a tuberculosis hospital. It was then operated as a nursing home until it finally closed in 2002.

The owners were interviewed in an article for the Twin Cities Pioneer Press (linked below) prior to the episode airing. The building is not open to the public, and that was made very clear in the episode and in the article. Orison Inc. is a non-profit that assumed ownership in 2009. The reported goal was to turn the property into a charter school for special needs children. Funds are low, so the owners have listed the property as available for filming with the Minnesota Film Board’s website and they accepted the offer (it was not listed what their site fee was) from the Travel Channel for Ghost Adventures to film and investigate. My favorite quote from the article comes from Tanya Graysmark, who is on Orison’s Board of Directors: “I don’t think any of us believes it’s haunted, but Orison will gladly accept money from people who would have Americans believe otherwise.” I think that’s exactly the way to be.

People have strong opinions about the paranormal. It really is a subject sort of along the lines of religion, politics, and sex. I recently met a terribly rude lawyer who berated me and insulted my intelligence for writing “one of those ghost books.” He sneered at me and asked: “How can you write about that? I don’t believe in that.” I smiled sweetly and asked him how many books he’s been paid to author. His eyes opened wide, just like his mouth, but he couldn’t make a number come out. To me, the point is not really to prove anything. I am already secure in my personal beliefs and experiences, and my life’s purpose is not centered around trying to convince anyone who is essentially walking around empty and soulless. That’s your personal belief that you are going to have to deal with later, and I really just don’t care. I’m not your minister, your psychic, your healer, or your God. I’m just a fellow traveler, and I really hope if I ever met you that I didn’t try to make you feel like less of a person. I’m getting on a bit of a tirade here, I need to reign this in.

A controversial topic has always been if paranormal investigators are exploiting the history of a location. What Orison is doing is trying to save a building and they are exploring multiple income streams to make that happen. That’s admirable. That’s how businesses survive. If something isn’t working, you try something else. Community thinks you’re crazy for letting the paranormal people come to town? Is the community paying your utility bills?

The National Register of Historic Places contains a few locations that I can think of that have managed to offer full menus of programs to please every type of visitor imaginable. Eastern State Penitentiary, Weston State Hospital (Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum), Alcatraz, Utica State Hospital, and the Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane can all be studied in a lesson on how to transform an abandoned building into something worthwhile. The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum is the one I am most familiar with, so I will talk about them. They have created a museum in the lobby area that relates to historic psychiatric treatment, along with an art exhibit from former patients. They run daily history tours throughout the Civil War wing, and the entire building. They host photography tours, serve as a filming location, and have events throughout the year – concerts, movies, festivals, just about anything you would expect from a cultural center of the town. Of course, they run ghost tours and ghost hunting events at night. The purpose is to become a center of culture and also make a profit while you do that. Those paranormal people will pay anywhere from $1,000 – $1,500 a night to shut a place down. That can sure help make a dent in those utility bills and property taxes.

Dan Turner, the historian who was featured on the episode, shared this historic postcard of the campus:

Nopeming PC

Like Waverly, Nopeming featured a bat-wing design to optimize light and air for the TB patients.

A modern exterior shot was also provided by Dan Turner:

Chateau roof

The Ghost Adventures Crew was said to be the first organized paranormal team allowed access to the buildings for an investigation. When I heard that, I instantly had high expectations for the show because I know from my own little ghost adventures that these types of places can feel quite intense. Within just a few minutes of the show, when they were still doing their initial walk through, they captured an amazing shadow person in the tunnels! There will always be people who are critical of “evidence” and I am too. I can tell you that the image they showed from this tunnel is what I saw with my own eyes while I was exploring death row in Missouri State Pen in connection with Haunted Asylums, Prisons, and Sanatoriums. Either I saw a legitimate shadow person or my eyes were playing tricks on me. I don’t know which one it was, but I can tell you that it felt legit to me while it was happening. Right or wrong, scientific or not, I am a person who has learned to trust my feelings. If I get a bad feeling about a place or a person, I bail. (This is a priceless life lesson, by the way. It’s okay to walk out – of old buildings, bad relationships, situations that just don’t fit your life anymore, etc. You don’t endure bad things and get a prize at the end. The prize comes when you leave and build something new).

After watching the show, I reached out to Dan Turner to get a comment about his opinion on paranormal investigators and how they can co-exist with the history of the buildings. Here is what he had to say:

“I may be biased because I appear on the episode as a historian, but I thought it was well done. I was impressed that roughly half of the episode was dedicated to explaining the history, interviewing former workers and the caretaker, and spending time speaking with a local Elder. It’s sadly rare to see Native Americans asked their opinion on anything on television, and to give the Elder the opportunity to explain his belief system boosted my overall opinion of the paranormal genre. The episode demonstrated that such shows can be more than ‘ruin porn’ spliced with orbs and commentary. I agree totally that paranormal groups can be excellent fundraisers, but convincing property owners that do not believe in ghosts often seem hesitant to start conversations. My hope is that Nopeming become a sort of northern Waverly Hills, and that historical and paranormal tours can coincide. The best way to teach history is to connect the past to the tangible; there is nothing quite like visiting a place and becoming fascinated with a space to pique one’s curiosity. Some would say that buildings like this do not have any connection to our modern world, but just look at the anti-vaccination movement! I’d like to show them some of the abandoned hospitals built around the country, where countless people died from diseases that we can protect ourselves against now. I want to point at Nopeming and say, “Do you want to live in a world where you get a bug and die painfully in a place like this, away from your friends and family?” Thank god I don’t need to worry about contracting TB or polio or smallpox or measles or diphtheria…”

Well said, Dan Turner. Thank you for your comment and for sharing your photos.

Property owners would do well to keep their personal beliefs out of fiscal decisions. Opening your building for paranormal investigators is the same thing as opening for photographers. Who cares? As long as you open with the caveat that you are allowing people in at their request and not because you are claiming the place is haunted, I see no harm in it. Everyone has a different motive for the form of leisure they select on any given day. We are living in a world where maybe we just want to leave our cookie-cutter houses and go see something new. Maybe we just want to go somewhere where somebody isn’t trying to sell us a McDonald’s hamburger and a t-shirt that falls apart after two washes. Urban exploration tours have been popping up all over the place – Detroit, Buffalo, even Chernobyl. There are a lot of people out there who will pay top dollar to experience something new. Make no bones about it, there is a market for paranormal and urban tourism. We have all seen Disney World. We weren’t impressed. Who is going to step up and compete to win our dollars?

Dan has an awesome website for further reading over at Substreet, that is linked below. His writings and photos concerning Nopeming are compelling, but the entire site is full of the same quality.

Further Reading:

http://www.nopeming.com

Nopeming
Sanatorium
Duluth, MN

http://www.twincities.com/localnews/ci_27370228/spooky-abandoned-duluth-nursing-home-gets-national-ghost

On My Bookshelf: Southern Arizona’s Most Haunted, by Renee Gardner

Bob and I were in Bisbee last month staying at The Copper Queen Hotel in connection with our upcoming book with Llewellyn “America’s Most Haunted Hotels: Checking in With Uninvited Guests.” We booked a tour with Renee of the Old Bisbee Ghost Tour and she briefed us on many of the legends associated with The Copper Queen Hotel as well as many of the historic hotels in the two mile radius of historic downtown Bisbee.

If you are ever in the area, I would highly recommend that you book her tour for your evening outing. She will take you on a flashlight walk around the town and if you are in a smaller group, you may even get to go inside some of the other hotels on the tour like we did! She also runs ghost hunting programs inside The Copper Queen Hotel and her book contains many personal accounts from those experiences.

I ordered her book from Amazon when I got home and sent her a few follow-up questions which she has answered below:

Tell us about growing up in a haunted house!

Growing up in a haunted house was fun looking back. At the time it was a little scary. We named the ghost George Hossinfeffer and he seemed to like my sister. I believe it lived in the attic which was accessed through my bedroom. He never hurt anyone, he was more of a nuisance.

Bisbee seems to be sort of weird or paranormally charged, if you will, throughout the town. What are your theories as to why?

I believe Bisbee has a lot of paranormal activity because the town itself sits atop a large source of minerals, especially copper. What is copper? A conductor of energy. What are ghosts? Energy. GET IT?

The Mining Museum has an exhibit that informs visitors that many homes in Bisbee come with their very own subterranean passage-ways. What can you tell us about this?

Subterranean passageways are simply the steps and cobblestone paths that lead to their homes. Some of the homes here don’t have streets, they were built into the side of the hill. Getting to them can be an adventure!

Have you made any attempts to get the Bisbee Queen Mine on board with your ghost tour company taking folks down? I think that would be amazing!

They allowed us to do an investigation inside the building for one of our Paranormal Weekends.  The building use to be where the smelters were. We caught some crazy stuff including footsteps! Going into the mine would be difficult because of all the dusk and dirt, it would cause for a lot of contamination to do an actual investigation.

The story about the boys who claimed to have been saved from a rockslide by the Lady in White – is this one of those legends that has been lost in time, or does anyone know what happened to them when they grew up? Any chance they are still in town?

Yes one of the boys still lives in town. The owners of the Bisbee Inn know his name, at the moment I can’t recall it.

How did you come to start the Old Bisbee Ghost Tour and the hunts over at the Copper Queen?

Bisbee is such a haunted town I was shocked that there wasn’t a ghost tour here already. It seemed like a natural location for one, so I started it! Same with the Ghost Hunt at the Copper Queen Hotel. It seemed like it would benefit both them and us to have a bi-monthly hunt there for guests interested in the paranormal.

Have there been any additional events or personal experiences that have happened since this book was published that you wished you could have updated in a following edition?

I am writing a second book…so you will have to wait til it comes out to find out 😛

Looking back, how hard was it to get your first book deal, and what have you learned over the years about publishing and marketing?

It really wasn’t hard at all to get my book published. My publisher was looking for an author in my region to write stories about the ghosts. I have also learned that unless you are a huge best selling author don’t bet money on making money off your book! I market the book to my guests on the tours and sell most that way, though you can find it on Amazon and in big book retailers in Arizona!

Take us through your writing process for a non-fiction book. (Do you write by hand or always type? Do you keep a writing schedule? Do you have a certain number of drafts you complete before turning in final copy?)

I type because I am a super fast typer and it is easier for me. With the first book I kept a very strict writing schedule, the reason the second book is taking me so long is because I don’t have the same schedule or time as I did when writing the first book. I did one draft then sent it to a gazillion friends to proof for me. Then I rewrote the changes they recommended and then I sent it off to the publisher for print.

Tell us how to keep up with you and about your upcoming projects/happenings. 

I highly recommend everyone to follow me or the tours on Facebook.  Old Bisbee Ghost Tour or Sweet Midnight, or Renee Harper!

Crescent Hotel and Eureka Springs, AK – Blog for Llewellyn Post

I am longing for a second visit to the 1886 Crescent Hotel this spring for our upcoming book with Llewellyn “America’s Most Haunted Hotels: Checking in With Uninvited Guests.” Bob is out flying tonight, and I was remembering the article I wrote for Llewellyn that is linked below, and just remembering that visit so vividly.

http://www.llewellyn.com/blog/2013/10/the-1866-crescent-hotel-and-spa/

Nobody seemed to know about all of the back patios:
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As always, our travels are indexed within “Play,” by Stealth Journals. A sample entry page can be seen below:

Stealth Journals
Eureka Springs: Indexed within our Play Journal, by Stealth Journals

Inside the Jerome Grand Hotel

Ghost Hunting at Arizona’s Jerome Grand Hotel

A glimpse inside our stay at The Jerome Grand Hotel. We were traveling in January 2015 for our upcoming book with Llewellyn “America’s Most Haunted Hotels: Checking in With Uninvited Guests.”

As always, we log our adventures inside our “Play” Journal, by Stealth Journals. “Play,” is an indexed book journal by Stealth Journals that should be used to record all of your good times.

 

On My Bookshelf: Fractured Spirits, by Sylvia Shults

In Fractured Spirits, Sylvia Shults weaves historical research, firsthand accounts, and interviews with other investigators to explore the haunted Peoria State Hospital. Sylvia will introduce a cast of characters to you that once called the asylum home. Meet Dr. Zeller, Rhoda Derry, A. Bookbinder, the White Lady, and even the Angel of God. Some tales will warm your heart. Some will turn your blood cold. She also addresses the local rumors. As you might imagine, there are many.

I always find it fascinating to read about the real-life stories of the people who once lived and worked in such a place. The section about the elimination of work therapy having a devastating impact on the patients had me nodding along in agreement. Leave it to the U.S. government to abolish work (in many cases, work or occupational therapy, was the only thing the patients had to make them feel a sense of purpose) and honestly believe that decision won’t destroy the human spirit.

There are wide beliefs and reasons for what constitutes a haunting, and Sylvia navigates this beautifully. What I found to be very compelling reasons that she notes is that the Bowen is reported to have been carved from limestone from the oldest quarry in the United States, and the Illinois River is very nearby. Further, she reports that the cottage plan resulted in many patients feeling at home in the hospital. When the place shut down in 1973, everything was left in the cottages just as if the patients had never left. Perhaps these spirits truly believe they are coming home.

I was also pleased to read about her experiences using the Ghost Box. She seems to feel the same way about the ghost box as I feel about watching a couple of flashlights react to questions! I recently read this book for the second time and loved it even more, so I sent a few questions over to Sylvia to see if she might share some more details with me. Words from the lovely Sylvia Shults:

Can you remember your first undeniable proof moment of paranormal phenomena? Was it in the basement of Pollak Hospital or was there something even earlier in life that stuck with you?

I’ve been reading ghost stories all my life, but I never had any paranormal experiences until I was quite grown up. (It’s probably a good thing too, because I was a big chicken growing up.) I clearly remember my first “holy cats, this stuff is real, and here it is, happening to me” moment. I was doing research for my first nonfiction book, Ghosts of the Illinois River, and I went to explore the Peoria Players Theater and to meet their resident spirit, Norman Endean, a director at the theater who passed away in late February of 1960, when he was just 34 years old. I stood in the backstage area of the theater and spoke aloud to Norman, asking him to do something to let me know of his presence there. (I had come to the theater on a break from work, and I hadn’t brought any equipment with me, no camera, no recorder, nothing.) I didn’t experience anything — yet. I happened to see a small desk sitting next to the back stage door, with a stack of plastic shot glasses sitting on it, for mixing paint for details on the stage sets. I plucked the top glass from the stack, thinking hey, it’s light, a spirit would have no trouble moving it. I put it down on a board and again, asked Norman to move the glass. Again, nothing.

A theater volunteer came up to me and introduced herself at that point, and we chatted as she gave me a tour of the back stage of the theater. We made our way back to the place we had started, and I spoke again to the air. “Okay, Norman, Pam’s given me a tour of your theater, but I have to go now, and I don’t know when I’ll be back. If you want to let me know that you’re here, this is your last chance.” Suddenly we both heard rustling noises coming from the catwalk above the stage, which is where Norman is known to hang out during performances. I said, “Oh, Norman, thank you so much!” I was totally stoked. Then, since I was raised to put things back where I found them, I picked up the plastic shot glass from where it was sitting on the board, and went to put it back with the rest of the glasses …

…and the stack of shot glasses was gone.

Flustered, I said, “Pam, there was … did you … ummmm … okay, there was a stack of plastic shot glasses here. You didn’t … you didn’t move them, did you?” I KNEW her answer was going to be “no”, because she’d been with me the whole time. She shook her head “no”, and we both started grinning. I told her about my experiment, asking Norman to move the cup, and pretty soon we were both laughing in sheer delight. “Norman’s a trickster,” Pam gasped. “He’s always doing things you don’t expect. “To be fair, you DID ask him to move the shot glass!”

I went back to the theater a while later, and did an hour’s worth of recording, just chatting with Norman in the hopes he would answer back. I only got one EVP out of that whole session, but it’s one of my all-time favorites. I sat on the stage, got myself settled in a cross-legged position, and said, “Hello Norman, it’s Sylvia, I’m here again … and I am SO happy to be here. And in that small pause, between “I’m here again” and “I’m so happy to be here”, you can hear a softly whispered okay.

You write about Rob Conover releasing 28 spirits from the Bowen building. Can you tell me more about that (any idea how, or any opinion about that theory?)

I am very accepting about the things other ghost hunters say they have done. Who am I to say any different? Rob claims that he can encourage spirits to go to the Light. Whether they actually do, is a matter of personal opinion. Now, I have read elsewhere that Rob did another “cleansing” (of an antique store here in Pekin). The owner of the store put his hand on the wall where Rob said the spirits had gone through their portal, and he felt that the wall there was significantly warmer than the rest of the building. So who knows? I’m certainly not going to tell someone they’re wrong, just because I happen to be a bit skeptical.

Are the tunnels open and accessible to tour groups?

Nope, sorry. There is a tunnel entrance under the sidewalk next to Stone Country (the former gymnasium). You pull up the wooden sidewalk and boom, there it is. But the guy who showed it to me didn’t offer to take me down there. And the tunnel entrances in the basement of the Pollak are blocked off. The entrance in the basement of the Bowen is actually filled in with solid concrete. This is because when the city of Bartonville put in Pfeiffer Road in the mid-1980s, it was felt that the traffic over the tunnel might cause the road to collapse. So they filled part of it in to avoid any accidents. Incidentally, the tunnels at the Peoria State Hospital weren’t used to transport patients (or, God forbid, to keep patients incarcerated in the darkness). They were steam tunnels; the hilltop had its own power plant. The tunnels were big enough for a human to crawl through, simply for maintenance purposes.

Have you ever had an experience where you brought someone home with you? (I swear this happened to me after Yorktown when I forgot to make my announcement prior to departure!)

I honestly don’t think I’ve brought anyone home with me, although I have heard PLENTY of stories from people who have! People have experienced cereal boxes pulled out of cabinets and the contents scattered over the kitchen floor after a visit to the state hospital. I’ve heard stories of empty passenger seats reclining and car radio stations randomly changing on the ride home from the asylum. When a ghost hunting group was at the Pollak, one of our volunteers looked out and saw an elderly man sitting in the ghost hunters’ van, apparently waiting for a ride off the grounds … but all of our guests were inside the building.

But me, I’m about as sensitive as a dining room table. Someone could be walking around behind me carrying their own severed head, and I wouldn’t notice. If anything DID follow me home, I think it would leave on its own after a couple of weeks, just because it would be bored stiff! That being said, I do a lot of presentations on the history and hauntings of the Peoria State Hospital, and have been told several times by sensitives that there is a nurse who regularly comes to those presentations and hangs out with me on the stage as I lecture. That gives me a great big happy.

Do you do any type of shielding ritual to protect yourself before you go into these places?

I don’t do any sort of ritual, but if I’m going into a place where I’ve never been, and especially if I think it’s going to be very active, I make myself a cup of guarding tea. I have a quart jar of water that has sat outside under the light of the full moon, and I make myself a tea of protective herbs, like comfrey, sage, nettle, a pinch of cinnamon, with honey for more strength. If I get squirrely during the investigation, I just picture the bright white light of the full moon and internalize that thought, and I feel better.

Dianne is quoted in the book as saying “It can affect your moods, if you let it.” I have certainly had that happen to me! Have you ever felt anything?

Like I said, I’m about as sensitive as a brick. There have been times when I’ve felt things, but they are few and far between. I will share a very powerful experience i had, though. This happened, again, at the Peoria Players Theater. I was at the theater with a couple of friends of mine, and Mid America Ghost Hunters (MAGH). Anne Pritchard was leading the group, and that’s who we stuck with all evening. I spent most of the evening in a state of pleasant interest, since I got to hang out with Norman, who is one of my favorite spirits.

But all that changed after we took our break, then went back to investigating. Anne told us that we were going to go up to the far corner of the backstage area, above the woodshop. Now, Norman is not the only spirit at the theater. There is also something very malevolent and nasty — and it likes to hang out in that particular corner of the theater. The four of us — Anne, my friends Gail and Allie, and I — climbed a set of wooden stairs to the loft over the woodshop. There is only enough room on the platform for four chairs, so we sat, and turned off our flashlights.

Immediately I felt like I wanted to crawl out of my skin. I was SO twitchy and SO scared, but I didn’t want to act like a little wuss, so I gritted my teeth and clenched my hands and swore to wait it out. But it took all my concentration and will power to sit in that chair and not go careening down the stairs in blind panic. I reached into my pocket and grabbed a smooth piece of rose quartz and started rubbing it, hoping to calm myself down. After only a few moments, I realized, Hey, this ain’t so bad. In fact, I think I’m starting to feel a little better. In fact, I said that aloud: “Hey, I’m starting to feel better.” Gail answered with a tight, “Mm-hm.”

At about that time, I noticed something very strange. Remember, we were on a platform, which put us about ten feet above the stage. I looked over to my right, and I could just see the stage area (the stage lights were on, but not the house lights, so the stage was clearly lit). At about eye level to where I was, ten or so feet above the stage, there was a snarling, irritated ball of rusty barbed wire, slowly rotating. I couldn’t look at it directly, I could just see it out of the corner of my vision, but it was definitely there. I told the other three about it, just because it was so weird.

On the way home, Gail told me why she had responded to me with a knowing “Mm-hmm”. “Norman was in several different places in the theater tonight, because there were several groups working there. But when you said you were starting to feel better, that’s when Norman came to us, up in the corner, and chased that evil entity away. My jaw dropped. “So that rusty barbed wire stuff I saw, that was the nasty spirit?” Gail nodded. “Norman chased it away, and put like a protective bubble around us so that it would stay away.” Then she gave me a funny look. “Sylvia, don’t you get it? Norman likes you.”

It is believed that there are 32-36 different active spirits in the Bowen building. Do you think they were all affiliated with the hospital in life, or do you think some travelers pass by from time to time? (While researching and traveling for Haunted Asylums, Prisons, and Sanatoriums one of the tour guides at Mansfield Reformatory opined that they had been experiencing more frequent reports of “travelers” – spirits believed to be passing through without any life ties to the prison. I believe that might be the case in a lot of buildings that host ghost tours and hunts).

Sure, I’ll buy that for a dollar. The Bowen volunteers are very excited about doing tours in their building, same as we are about the Pollak. I have no doubt that their enthusiasm acts as a draw for all kinds of spirits in the area. Now, whether or not they can be traced to the asylum is a whole other proposition. I think your hypothesis is a good one.

You talk about seeing an apparition of a girl coming up the stairs behind you in the Pollak Hospital. Was this your first time seeing an actual apparition? What are your thoughts on that in hindsight?

That was my first and, so far, only time seeing an apparition! But I swear she was there. I know she was there, because I made darned sure that there was someone behind me. I didn’t want to be the last in line coming out of a dark basement! I know what kind of spooky stuff is down there! I will always be intensely grateful for the experience. I have no idea who that girl was, or why she chose to appear wearing a blue puffy ski jacket (to blend in with the other investigators in the chill of a basement in early spring?), but I am so totally jazzed that I can finally say I have indeed seen a ghost.

Do you have a wish list of other locations you would like to investigate?

I would be keenly interested in spending the night in the U-505, the captured German submarine that is now housed at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. It might be interesting to spend the night in the Egyptian exhibit at the Field Museum too, but I’m not at all sure my nerves could stand it! I’d have to be with a group. (I DON’T do mummies well. Okay, I don’t do mummies AT ALL. Bleargh.) I’m also really looking forward to investigating a private residence in the Quad Cities. There’s a bathroom in the basement of the house that females tend to get trapped in, even though there’s no lock on the door. And there’s really creepy stuff going on with the attic. There are three large attic windows at the front of the house, and the homeowner said she put a piece of plywood over the window on the inside, because she got tired of turning all the lights off, leaving for the evening, and coming home to see all the lights on and a figure standing in the attic window. (My friend, who lives across the street, has seen the figure in the attic himself.) So she took a piece of plywood, propped it up against the window in the attic, and pushed a dresser against it to hold it in place. I noticed, while looking at the house, that five of the diamond-shaped panes of glass were missing out of the window. I commented on this, and the homeowner said, “Yeah, we’ve found those missing panes. They turn up in the attic … sitting on top of the dresser on the other side of the plywood.” Creepy!

What are you currently working on for your next non-fiction book?

A ghost hunter, who also happens to be a devout Christian, came to me with a hair-raising story that she wanted me to write and bring to the world. She was working very hard, going on a lot of investigations, and not getting up the next morning to attend church. She ran afoul of three demons, and ended up with a severe case of demonic attachment. This poor woman went through three exorcisms, but they didn’t do any good, because she wasn’t possessed — she was being demonically oppressed, which is different. Feral Trinity: A Ghost Hunter’s Encounter With Evil is her story. It should be out by the spring of 2015.

After that, I’ll be working on a book that’s very dear to my heart — I’ll be doing a book just on Rhoda Derry, a patient at the Peoria State Hospital. Shattered Love: The Rhoda Derry Story will be a look not only at Rhoda’s life, but at the effect her story has had even after her death.

Tell me about your writing process for Fractured Spirits.

Fractured Spirits was a lot of fun to write, but it was definitely a challenge. The whole concept behind the book was to collect people’s experiences at the asylum, but it quickly swelled to something much deeper than just a bunch of ghost stories. I collected stories for about six months, I guess, all while having my own experiences out there too. Then I was faced with a huge stack of papers, with stories from all over the asylum — the Bowen, the Pollak, the cemeteries, other buildings … I knew I had to collect all of this information and boil it down into something coherent.

That’s when I figured out that when you’re writing a nonfiction book, colored Post-It notes are your friends! I chose a color each for the Pollak, the Bowen, and the other buildings. I decided to count the ravines and cemeteries as one section, since they’re both outside, and pretty close together. Then it was a simple process of going through the notes and tagging each story as to which section it should go in, by color. That made the actual writing SO much easier.

While doing the research for the book, I figured out pretty quickly that you can’t understand the hauntings of a place without knowing something of its history — they’re inextricably intertwined. So that’s why the book starts off with a look at the history of the asylum, and at some of the patients of the Peoria State Hospital: Old Book, since his story is the most famous ghost tale to come out of the asylum, and Rhoda Derry, as her story is just SO compelling, strange, and sad. And the history of the Peoria State Hospital — and its methods of treating their patients — is unlike any other haunted asylum anywhere. The reason it’s so haunted is simply because the patients got such compassionate care there. It’s really an anomaly; a haunted asylum where patients weren’t abused. It’s such a fascinating place, and I’m so very lucky to be a part of the asylum family.

Keeping up with Sylvia:

People who are on Facebook can find her at the following Pages: Fractured Spirits and Ghosts of the Illinois River.

Website: http://www.sylviashults.com

A sampling of accolades:

As seen on the new season of Ghost Hunters! (Season 9, Episode 3, “Prescription for Fear”)

“Sylvia Shults’s FRACTURED SPIRITS is a fascinating, touching, creepy, riveting read — a sort of Central Illinois Ghost Adventures — set in the defunct chambers of the Peoria State Hospital. Shults is a natural story-teller, and she gets at something deeper and more poignant here than mere phantoms…”
– Jay Bonansinga, New York Times bestselling co-author of THE WALKING DEAD: THE ROAD TO WOODBURY

Q&A with Ryan Dunn, Savannah Author and Owner of Afterlife Tours

I am very excited about Ryan Dunn’s book that is coming out in March 2015. The book is entitled Savannah’s Afterlife: True Tales of a Paranormal Investigator. In addition to being an author and paranormal investigator, Ryan also operates Afterlife Tours in historic Savannah, Georgia. He was kind enough to let us tag along on an 8:00 tour last Friday night.

The locations we visited included: Twelve West Oglethorpe, the Foley House, Savannah Theatre, Colonial Cemetery, the Olde Pink House, and Moon River Brewery. Since moving to Savannah a year ago, I have been captivated several times by the old dilapidated home at Twelve West Oglethorpe.

Twelve

I have heard many various stories about the home, but Ryan’s tour is unique in the fact that he has not only personally investigated each location, he has actually done extensive research with the Georgia Historical Society and other sources to tell the truth about the history of the locations. He is not just standing on a corner spouting recounts of local legends. He’s telling visitors what the documents actually show. I respect that a lot.

The other unique characteristic about how he runs his tours is that he shares evidence that he’s personally collected during investigations. You may see a combination of photographs, videos, and hear Class “A” EVPs.

Ryan has been featured on A&E’s My Ghost Story.

Five Questions for Ryan Dunn:

What made you interested in the field?
I became interested in the field when I moved into a haunted house here in Savannah’s Historic District in April of 2010. I began doing paranormal research as a hobby, but soon started catching very compelling evidence. It soon became a full time business and also evolved into a ghost tour company too.

Any dream locations to investigate?
My dream locations would be 432 Abercorn Street here in Savannah, Waverly Hills Sanitarium in Louisville, Kentucky, and the Winchester Mystery House in California just to name a few.

Can you talk about the pilot you are filming at Central State Asylum in Milledgeville, Georgia?
The upcoming investigation in Milledgeville will be a filming of a pilot for a new paranormal show based here in Savannah that we will be pitching to national networks as part of a 5 episode package. We intend to embody the flare of Savannah itself and the fact we live in the paranormal hotspot of the United States. Not only do we do investigations, but we live this day to day.

Do you have a favorite place to investigate in Savannah?
One of my favorite places to investigate in Savannah is the Savannah Theatre because we always capture great evidence there. Also, the Moon River Brewery always gives us great results too. We will be doing our 8th investigation there on October 19.

Any plans for a second book?
I am currently conducting research for a sequel, and intend to began writing that one this fall.

Thank you to Ryan for having us out. I am particularly interested in getting an update about the Central Asylum investigation!

Further reading:

http://www.afterlifetours.net/

http://www.schifferbooks.com/savannahs-afterlife-true-tales-of-a-paranormal-investigator-5639.html

https://www.facebook.com/3DGhostHunters

http://savannahnow.com/accent/2013-12-14/savannahs-very-own-ghostbusters#.VAuAlcJ0xMs

Lingering Spirits at The Ellis Hotel in Atlanta, Georgia?

The Ellis Hotel
The Ellis Hotel

The Ellis Hotel on Peachtree Street in Atlanta, Georgia is a luxury boutique hotel. There is nothing creepy inside, nothing whatsoever that would give a guest any inclination of what happened here on December 7, 1946. In fact, the commemorative plaque is actually hidden away behind a Marta entrance on the side of the hotel. A place where few people would happen upon it, in my opinion.

Winecoff Plaque
Winecoff Fire Plaque in Front of The Ellis Hotel

In The Winecoff Fire:  The Untold Story of America’s Deadliest Hotel Fire, Sam Heys and Allen B. Goodwin call the hotel Atlanta’s Titanic. The Winecoff was built in 1913 and had been boasted about as being fireproof (even though it lacked fire alarms, sprinklers, and fire escapes), just as the Titanic was said to be unsinkable. But on December 7, 1946, a mysterious fire broke out on the fifth floor and claimed 119 lives. Technically, the building was fireproof. The people inside the building, however, of course were not.

Within days of the tragedy, building and fire codes were changed all over the country to prevent something like this from ever happening again. So many things went wrong. In addition to the failures mentioned above, the Winecoff only had one central staircase (which essentially turned into a chimney during the fire). The Atlanta Fire Department only had ladders that reached to the eighth floor (of a fifteen story building).

To date, this is the worst hotel fire in North America.

Before visiting, I thought a place that had seen such tragedy would surely have some lingering effects. I felt nothing here. For the first time in a long time (on a ghost hunt that failed to produce evidence of the other side), I was glad. I told myself that these fire victims were not trapped here re-living that horrible night over and over again. They were finally able to escape the Winecoff. I gave them an internal cheer and paused to reflect upon all of our fleeting lives.

Further reading:

http://www.winecoff.org/

http://www.winecoffhotelfire.com/index.html

http://www.ellishotel.com/

A Night at The Myrtles Plantation

Last month, Bob and I had the chance to investigate The Myrtles Plantation on a private overnight stay (this was complete chance, as it was a Sunday night just after the New Year’s holiday). We were booked in the General Bradford Suite for the night, and had the run of the upstairs as well for the entire night. I was surprised to see that the entire house was covered in Haint Blue paint!

The first thing we did after we checked into the room was take the Mel Meter out for a walk around to see if we could get any hits or changes in temperature. Right off the bat, Bob watched the Mel Meter jump to a 6.8 when he held the device against the door leading into our room off the front porch. When we completed our circle of the property, we checked the meter against the door once more. No changes occurred. Also during our walk around the property, my phone went from 60% to completely shutting down. When we got back to the room, I was able to plug the phone in and power it back up. It was immediately at 61% power!

Porch views – day and night shots:

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The stay included a tour of the house, and some of the ghost stories are told during this tour. I have read a lot of criticism about these stories, but I am going to reserve comment on all of that for now. I will share our personal experiences for what they are worth.

We spent some time investigating the upper floor, in particular, this creepy blue doll room that I was drawn to. But nothing happened. Not one blip on a meter, not one strange noise, not even a weird feeling to speak of.

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Bob speculated that maybe these highfalutin aristocratic ghosts might not be impressed with my requests to “turn on the flashlight.” He makes an interesting point. Asylums and prisons seemed to be filled to the ceiling with entities anxious to make contact. But here, well, we were in someone else’s home. Maybe there were different rules. We cooled it with the ghost hunter schtick and returned to the General Bradford Suite.

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Besides sleeping in a real life haunted mansion, all alone, without a living soul in sight and no snacks to speak of, the night passed uneventfully, or so I thought. Bob would report otherwise.

My first strange experience was being awakened around 5:00 a.m. to the sound of clothing rustling near the bed (specifically – rustling skirts), followed by heavy boot steps approaching the room to the door via the front porch. I then heard what sounded like about four wild cats just losing their minds, howling like they were facing death itself out there, while at the same time maintaining a constant run away from whatever was on the porch. By this time I was realizing just how cold the room was. It was down to around 55 degrees but the heat was still running. The front parlor was down to the mid-sixties. The heat was just fine at 72 degrees when we arrived and the time we went to bed. People hear weird stuff when they think they are awake, but really dreaming. Old wooden houses get cold and old heaters break. But why in my almost 33 years on this planet can I not recall a dream where I have had auditory hallucinations? Do I only hallucinate while sleeping in haunted mansions, or was something really going on FOR REAL? Who can say. The mind is a powerful thing (especially mine – I just inserted that to check and see if you are still reading this post, Bob).

Seeing that I was awake also, (and freezing), Bob let me in on what happened to him earlier during the night while I was sleeping peacefully. Bob drifted off around 11:30 p.m. and was awakened by a howling wind. He heard the large shutters banging against the house. He felt the room get noticeably colder by the second, so he reached over to the bedside table and switched the Mel Meter on. He watched the temperature drop 6 degrees right before his eyes. He eventually fell back to sleep, but left the meter on. When he next awoke, he looked at the meter and saw that there had been a 6.8 spike some time in the night. RIGHT BY HIS HEAD.

I noticed a large and very fresh scratch on his head (the right side, closest to the table where the meter was kept) and asked him about it. Neither one of us could figure out how he could make a scratch like that in his sleep. I guess it’s possible I did it somehow, although usually my nails are kept proper ghost hunter style (read:  bitten to the quick).

An entry from my journal on the morning of our departure:  “When I woke up this morning, I felt really sad. All these places we’ve gone to, I’ve never really felt my own death, but it was very much on my mind this morning, and I was concerned about losing Bob. Wonder if I was being an empath to one of the widows – Mary Catherine or Sara Woodruff? We’re both feeling better as we get further and further away from The Myrtles.”

 

 

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