Probing the veil of the unknown
Local paranormal society takes on the oldest and strongest emotion of mankind – the fear of the unknown
By John Coffelt, Staff Writer
Staff photo and image by John Coffelt -- Above, an exterior shot of the now-closed South Pittsburg Municipal Hospital alleged to be home to numerous documented paranormal phenomena. Members of the Highland Rim Paranormal Society have investigated the site on three occasions.
Members of the Highland Rim Paranormal Society take their research very seriously.
The research, according to the team, provides an opportunity to help people in need.
“We are called in to investigate claims of the paranormal,” said co-founder Brandy Baker. “Things are happening and [our clients] can’t figure out what’s going on. They look for somebody to turn to.”
Part of their help includes discretion. HRP tightly guards the identities of the individuals helped and will not divulge the private locations that have been investigated.
Baker said the team strives to remain objective about a claim, walking a balancing act of keeping an open mind while maintaining the group’s directive of exhausting all natural explanations before calling the reported phenomena paranormal.
“It’s not like on the TV shows, where they make it out like every place they go is haunted,” Baker said. “The majority of our investigations are sitting there in the dark [being] bored.
Even to the team’s most skeptical mindset, some cases defy rational explanations.
“I’ve seen one full-bodied apparition at Waverly Hills [Sanatorium] – a reportedly
Pictured are, from left, investigator Lee Gault, case manager Belinda Bellar, investigator Daniel Stillings, founder and investigator Brandy Baker and Adam Baker, tech manager and investigator.
haunted abandoned hospital in Jefferson County, Ky., that treated tuberculosis patents in the early 20th century.”
The team also reports hearing voices in an old plantation house formerly used to train new members.
There, researchers reported consistently hearing a woman “humming” upstairs.
“We have an EVP re-cording of a little boy saying ‘hello’ just as plain as day like it was right here beside me.”
One member said that before joining HRP he was physically assaulted by an “entity.”
Researcher Daniel Stillings said that while with a different team he practiced provoking, or angering a spirit to get a response.
Provocation, according to team members, is probably the worse thing you could do, especially if you have a malevolent spirit.
While investigating this particular case, members of the team were provoking an alleged spirit reportedly attacking women.
When a female member of the group collapsed, Stillings says the specter attacked him when he attempted to intervene.
“I felt this burning sensation go down my back, but I didn’t think anything about it.”
Later at home, he said he found three scratches running down his back.
[Read more about what Americans believe concerning the paranormal here]
Baker has prohibited the practice of provoking since the team’s beginning in 2009.
Looking back even before starting the society, Baker said she has had a long history of ghostly encounters.
“Every house I have ever lived in, except for one, has been haunted.”
She recalls growing up in an antebellum house in Hendersonville, build by an old judge.
Etched into her child-hood memories are scenes of being 4 years old and standing at the bottom of the stairs listening to spectral footsteps above.
“You would hear people on the steps – it got progressively more pronounced.”
Baker’s awareness of the paranormal goings-on continued into her adult life.
“We moved to where we live now and it scared my husband, [Adam,] half to death.”
But rather than fearing the unknown, Baker turned the tables and started chasing it.
“Once we realized that you could record them, and catch them on video and photographs, we decided that rather than run from them, we were going to make them run from us.”
Other members share similar backgrounds.
Investigator Lee Gault, the team’s go-to amateur “demonologist,” said that he was always skeptical of the paranormal until his girlfriend offered some pretty unsettling proof of the existence of the other-worldly in a tableau reminiscent of the 80s cult flick “The Entity.”
The house where she lived was believed to be home to a spirit she called Little Kirk.
“She would say ‘Little Kirk come sit on my lap,’ and you would see the butt indentations [appear] on her lap. That freaked me out,” Gault recalls.
Now Gault compares belief in he paranormal to the belief in the Divine.
“You may not believe in [ghosts], but if you believe in heaven and hell, believe in angels and … in the Holy Spirit – what is the Holy Spirit but a ghost – why not would you not believe in human ghosts?”
He said that there is an often an edgy tension between researchers and the clergy as to the origins of paranormal phenomena.
“They say that all ghostly [phenomena] are demons, which is untrue.”
Gault doesn’t feel that any of the team’s encounters are demonic, but he says that it is important to be prepared for such an encounter.
“There is going to be an occasion when it’s going to happen.”
Stillings is confident in the existence of lingering human souls after he reports seeing, in his youth, an apparition shortly after the death of his grandfather.
“I woke up at about 2 ‘o clock in the morning and literally saw with my own eyes him standing against the wall.”
Stillings said that he first ignored the apparition, thinking he was only dreaming. Later that night, the phantom reappeared.
He asked the shadow of his late grandfather why he had appeared.
“Clear as day he said, ‘I want you to take care of my daughter,’ meaning my mom,” Stillings recalls.
This type of encounter is extremely rare. In fact, even having a case that they classify an actual haunting is unusual.
Baker said that of over 30 locations investigated, only about five were classified as having paranormal activity.
“But once in a while you get that place that’s amazing, “ she said.
Much of the equipment the team uses is available in a department store electronics section, while other devices are made especially for paranormal research.
“We have a video camera with night vision, a full spectrum camera, a digital camera, voice recorders, a KII meter, a spirit box, a device that measures the vibrations of foot steps and an infrared thermometer.
The KII meter detects electromagnetic fields. These fields are believed to show the presence of a ghost. Because of the likelihood of encountering a man-made signal, the team doesn’t put too much stock in KII readings.
One of their investigative techniques is EVP session or electronic voice phenomena recording session.
The theory is that spirits’ communications can be electronically recorded. The twist is that like with multi-spectrum images, the entity may not register within the range of human perceptions.
According to the team, a spirit box, the team’s newest techno device, listens to higher frequencies. It scans electromagnetic frequencies in the radio range, from 76 MHz to 87.9MHz.
Various paranormal re-searchers, including HRP, have captured voices alleged to be of ghosts.
Another prized piece of evidence is a photo of a full-bodied apparition.
In the now-closed South Pittsburg Municipal Hospital, the team caught an image of an unidentified, dark humanoid shape, called a shadow figure by those in the field.
“That place is epic,” Baker said. “We’ve been there three times. Every single time, we’ve come back with [additional evidence].”
Additionally, each member has returned with experiences he or she was unable to document.
Baker saw what she de-scribes as a little girl’s face in a glass.
Lead investigator Justin Furbee says that he was working on signing in when he heard a woman just out of sight walk past him singing.
Baker, the only woman nearby, was actually on the fifth floor.
She theorizes that hospitals are paranormally active because of the volume of patients to suffer and die there.
HRP members are all volunteers. Investigations are performed at no cost to the client.