Monthly Archives: September 2010

At the Broken Places

Be careful with memory, should you ever have the chance to hold one. It’s fragile and hurts. If you squeeze too tight, or not at all, the October wind might catch the pieces, turned to dust, and sweep them away along the floor, passing before a gritty window-framed streetlamp, and silhouette, for a moment, a ghost.

It was ghosts that brought me to Buffalo Central Terminal in New York at the Dawn of October in 2009. Prepared to crawl through sooty hallways and moldy tunnels, I’d signed up to look for them, joining for seven weeks, a pilot reality show consisting of me, four other cast members, and a camera crew no more than fifteen, trucking around in an RV across the east coast. One week gave us 90 degrees in Florida, the next brought our heads down, jackets clenched tight in a fist at our necks while the freezing rain made early appearance for the season in Buffalo.

Like the French oubliettes found across Europe, holes in the ground below many prisons, where men were left to die without food, water, companionship, or sunlight, Buffalo immediately struck me as a place forgotten. The fall colors in the trees would have been more arresting were the day sunny. Instead, raindrops peppered the windshield and the sky was a flat gray that sometimes accented itself with a low-hanging layer even darker than above. A hawk flew over the trees, black against the sky, carrying with it more a feel of a scavenger than a predator.

We came to Buffalo Central Terminal in the late afternoon, saving a few hours before nightfall. The neighborhoods before the old train terminal were vacant and blank, poverty stricken. We guided the flashy black RV through the suburbs, drawing only bored looks from the passerby. Many small homes were boarded up, X‘s spray-painted across front doors in orange and pink easily reminiscent of images of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. The lawns were overgrown with weeds and tangles. Occasionally there were nicer patches, like flowers growing in some forgotten back lot, treading the line between overtaking and being overtaken, prey and predator. Two friends threw a football in a side street where the asphalt was split and cracked against stained concrete.

Coming out of a the section of rundown homes, we hooked a corner under a freeway and caught our first glimpse of the Terminal, towering over the land like the skeletal carcass of some ancient Lovecraftian god, washed ashore and beached dry, forgotten.

The place carried an echo in its natural wrongness. Built in 1929 and abandoned in the early eighties, the terminal used to see thousands of passengers a week. The fifteen story tower rises up from the main concourse, once containing rental spaces, apartments, coffee shops and restaurants. Now it’s empty. The fourth story looks out to downtown Buffalo, bright, the way a city should look from say an airplane or bus, homey, running. Three miles from the city, it’s dark.

Papers are shoved to a pile three feet deep in a corner of the room spreading halfway across the floor, oozing like a sludge broken through a dike. We picked up one of the papers once, studied it; a browned invoice for food from the seventies, pickles and condiments, a kind of clue that lingered in time, reminding us that somehow, forty years ago, people had food to eat here, cooked, warm, served..

For the first night and much of the second, we scrambled up eternal concrete stairs with reels of cable, flashlight clenched between teeth instead of numb, dirty, working fingers. The walls were barely stripped ribs, conduit and wires dangled into depths, bare. We wandered empty apartments, each room indistinguishable from the one preceding, holes in the walls, graffiti across doors, windows too thick with grime to see out. A pentagram and racial slurs coated one wall.

Stairway to Heaven was sprayed in script above a winding stair likely grand in its day. The stairs led another story underground, below the mezzanine and concourse, to a dark trolley lobby, waiting for passengers who’d never arrive. Behind the final staircase was a tunnel we never explored, a black hole that led deeper still below the terminal, where animal eyes would shine in the glare of our lights for a second before losing form and fading into shadow again, where a lonely chair rested before an empty doorway, dusty decorative grapes accenting a memory, where once or twice we thought we heard voices, whispering.

Crew shot B-roll while we began analysis on the evidence, secure in the hotel. They built jibs and rigs, rolling time lapse of the swirling storms as the twilight fell and shooting slow rising angles with the light casting long shadows. Often they were accompanied by a security guard as they probed the deeper corners of the structure where our standard investigation didn’t reach. In these places, the concrete beams had collapsed, littered with rust like a fungus crawling along the girders and the walls from the leakage of the elements, looking more like the innards of that archaic beast dredged from the depths of a sea and left to rest in the sleeting Buffalo autumn.

Many times they encountered drifters tucked into these deeper folds. What brought them here, these homeless? I imagined a vagrant on the edge of the interstate, avoiding the crowded, lonely cities with the art-deco architecture that once likely spoke to refinement and class, that now looks gothic. What  was it about this towering, broken structure that called to them in the cold? Was it the spiraling tunnels underground, the broken windows of the sprawled out connecting buildings, tracks little more than split ridges along debris? Security regularly drove past, rattling the locks and walking about the perimeter with a spotlight, but the place stretched too far, towered too high, depths, intricate, security in the labyrinth, a reversal of a mythological binary that so speaks to its dark presence.

“What are you doing here?” A man in fatigues and an old coat asked the crew, squinting against their lights when they found each other in the pits of the building.

“We’re shooting a television show,” the cameraman answered. “Ghost Hunters.”

The man snorted. “There are no ghosts here.”

Indeed, our investigation produced no results to present to our client or the television audience at home, no spectral flickers from hallway doors, no disembodied voices recovered on digital recorders.

There were no ghosts. But this place was haunted. Not with spirits that flicker past in shadows at the end of the hallway, but the kind that echo along the distant empty corridors, the kind that murmur like the crowds that exited the train, excited to finally be at their destination. Now, should there be any excitement, it was to be out of one cold, snowy hell in favor of a different place, a purgatorial place of waiting,

I’m a ghost hunter. And this place scared me.

I use mechanical devices to ease communication between this world and the next, to find some kind of truth in the mystery, the romance in the unknown, picking through only dusty remnants. This place was different. It was not some portal to another realm, where the veil is thinner; it’s a place of brick, stone, and broken concrete. It’s a place that speaks of not a transition to another place after death, but a place itself, dying and forgotten, alone in a dreary world, a standing monument of our own mortality, what was once great, now empty, only barely alive. It scared me the way an Intensive Care Unit scares others, where death has not yet clenched his fist and taken another, but where you can feel him lingering, waiting, a vulture circling.

Everything will be forgotten.

Once, and just for a moment, I moved to a corner, where a window had been busted out, where in the distance I could hear a train slowly pushing through the night, rackety on old tracks, without passengers, only cars.  For a moment I imagined the sounds of the passenger’s feet and chatter, the whistle as the train arrived, looking out atop the Mezzanine above the terminal, sunny afternoon light filtering through the towering three story windows at each end.

For a moment, I kept the place alive.

Photo (c) John Whelchel. More work can be found at:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/tronjohn/

Copyright 2010 Karl Pfeiffer

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My Front Window, an Introduction

I met Katie on Monday, July 5, 2010. The circumstances weren’t unusual other than the pretense alone; a pretty girl standing on my front porch step, looking a contradictory confident and afraid at the same time, asking if we could talk. It took me a month to write this introduction. Another month to share it.

“Some of my friends mentioned you as someone to go to. I’ve been having several… unusual experiences.”

I first wondered who had mentioned me, and I asked as many acquaintances as I could in the weeks to follow. All shook their heads with a funny expression save my girlfriend at the time, Kelly, who told me she’d heard me mention Katie’s name in context of a blog periodically through May and June, to which I have no recollection.

Katie was timid. Humble and quiet, yes, but with something else below the surface, a kind of nervousness  that didn’t express itself in her actions, but in the way she stayed alert, as if waiting. The way a polite man will listen in conversation while something more important waits. I asked if she would like to come inside but she declined, choosing instead to remain outside in the sun, sitting down on the grass, despite the bright white sun at the top of its arc, and the rays of heat that slipped even into the shadows.

“What kind of unusual experiences are we talking about?”

“The unexplainable kind.” She smiled. “I’ve been trying to define them. It’s as if my world has been coming apart at the seams.” The smile fell off.

“I’m not sure that’s exactly something I can help you with.”

“That’s fine. I’m not exactly asking for your help.”

I paused, confused. “Then what is it I can do for you?”

“I want to give you the password and username to a blog I’ve been writing since I moved here two months ago.”

“Why?”

“Because you’d appreciate it.”

I wondered then what I was supposed to appreciate about it. Was she looking for someone to read her work, that a friend of mine had put me in touch with another writer they were impressed with? That perhaps I could supply feedback? Or was it more along the lines of the supernatural? Was the world tearing apart, as she put it, in terms of the spiritual? Did she suspect that something was lingering in her apartment? Turned out it was both, though in ways I didn’t expect.

“I’m sorry I can’t stay long to talk.”

I nodded, still unsure of what to say.

Her eyes wandered about the world in a way I’ve never seen before. As a person who’s always had trouble maintaining good eye contact myself, I recognized that hers was only in part shyness, flickering around the yard and parking lot as if watching a parade of the unseen. It wasn’t until I’d read her entries that I wondered how much truth there might have been to my thought.

I finished reading the blog in two sittings over the next two evenings. I couldn’t be sure what to make of it on its own. Katie shares revelations and meaning, weaving her history into the work almost too subtly to notice, finding cracks in our world generally unseen. She laces her experiences with a kind of rich intensity often leaving me unsure where metaphor ended and the supernatural began, which while practically lacking any evidence or structure, was functionally magical.

Anthony Steinbock considers the difference between the divine and the scientific in terms of horizontality and verticality, where the divine cannot be described in human terms the way the tangible can, itself an abstraction, an emotion, unquantifiable. And in so blending a world seen, unseen, and only experienced, Katie has done something here that looks far deeper, as she says in her own introduction, calling herself a medium, suggesting that “Maybe there’s something greater, insightful, meaningful beyond me, through what I say, some realization reached through abstraction, where you the reader and I the watcher come together through my words as fellow friends, fellow human beings.”

Inherently related, reality is a recurrent theme in the blog, extended even into her echoes. The day after she visited, I called the complex office, asking if they had a Katie P listed as a tenant. They didn’t. I asked about a Kyle and Mark sharing an apartment. They had a Kyle and Mary, but no Kyle and Mark.

“How about a tenant who moved in on the twenty-eighth of April?”

She said she was uncomfortable giving me the information. Unless I could produce some way of knowing her or something professional…

I thanked her for her time and hung up the phone.

I wondered what to make of all of this, having come at me so fast, so fragile in my hands. Was she real? Did she only change her name or did she change the facts too? Was there a hint of truth to any of her story?

I can’t know. There’s no evidence. She even says in the first line of her introduction,

“I’m not real.”

Is she not? Is she no more than a product of a story? I don’t know. I’m not sure I can know, or if it should even matter.

I followed her final five entries over the next ten days through the internet, feeling a strange disconnect, as if a part of myself were writing the entries, having come so immediately into my life and then so suddenly retreating into the darkness again. She was like a friend made then lost, like passing strangers on an airplane or bus.

The end of her blog roots itself in a kind of lingering ambiguity, the kind that prompts a paranoia, that welcomes the possibility that on a day some months down the road I may pass her on the street and she might nod and smile or continue on her way unaware, or that equally as likely she’s watching me now, peering through a crack between two worlds the way a child peers through a crack between a door jamb and a doorframe.

For the two weeks following the last of her blog entries I kept a careful eye on the local newspapers and kept a steady inquiry with friends in local law enforcement should they discover the body of a twenty-something from the east coast, but nothing matched. I gave her a month but after another uncomfortable querying phone call to the apartment office, they claimed to be in contact with all notable unpaid residents.

It was not as if Katie had simply upped and disappeared. She has covered her tracks behind her so thoroughly that I can’t help but wonder whether she ever existed in the first place.

*

“Katie?” I said to her while sitting on my front porch. “Can I help you with anything? Are you alright?”

She refocused her gaze on me again and in an instant seemed to ground me to the concrete. But then she smiled.

“I’m okay, Karl.”

I smiled back and watched her turn to walk away, seeming to blend in elegant fashion against the small prickly bushes and grass, lighting up in the sun like a beacon against the asphalt and cars in the parking lot.

I never saw her again.

You can find her blog here: www.myfrontwindow.wordpress.com

Copyright 2010 Karl Pfeiffer

08.20 The Stanley Hotel

If I remember back to my earlier days as a paranormal investigator – no, farther than that, when I was still just fascinated with the field, the ideas of spooks and ghosts, aliens even, eating up as much as I possibly could, devouring books, scouring the web for anything I could find, (Usually through some white-text-on-black website with a .gif ghost or flaming skull at the bottom of the page), I can remember the feeling of excitement to come across pieces of evidence teams had uncovered and posted to their site. What was happening on that video clip? What was that clear voice coming through underneath a team member’s? I remember when TAPS used to post clips to their website, before the show got so big. I remember eagerly presenting the clips to my friends with a smile and a shrug, in much the same way I present my own pieces of evidence to my friends today.

And so I figure, when I’m on these investigations now, the ones that aren’t private for families locally (in short supply now that my local team has disbanded), and the ones that aren’t for the show (also in short supply, being without GHI still), I’d love to share my evidence with you, my readers. I’d love to hear your input, get your feedback. Hell, they’re here for fun. Without having been there or comparing the sounds to hours of other audio, most small sounds you can’t even fully trust unless they knock your socks off. But why not?

I’d love to make this fairly regular on visits, even though they’re a bit rare lately. And what better way then to start with my investigation at the Stanley Hotel on August 20th.

Despite having lived it Colorado for the last sixteen years, it took me until Chris McCune, my close friend from Ghost Hunters Academy, and his girlfriend Andria visited to finally get me up there, and thank god I did. We first visited Estes Park and toured the Stanley on a rainy, chilly Thursday afternoon that just hinted, almost teasingly at fall weather – at ghost hunting weather, before heading back to Fort Collins for the evening. Friday morning I awake to a tweet from the Stanley Hotel on the web saying that had they known we were visiting and in town, we could have investigated.

We’d already laid plans to hit New West Fest and see Colorado-based band the Flobots that evening, but upon hearing this news Chris, Andria and I looked at each other, shrugged, a glow beneath our faces, excited at the prospect, but afraid to get our hopes up. “Estes is barely an hour away.” “You guys do leave tomorrow, what better way to end the trip?”

And so we tweeted back, “Well, what’re you doing tonight?”

The rest was history.

Loaded up with my few supplies (EMF, K2, SLR, flashlights, and H2 for audio), we reached Estes by nightfall and slipped into the Carriage House with our guide, staff paranormal investigator Callea, her friend Vinny, and our close friend Kelly, making six in total.

The Carriage House is rapidly becoming one of the more notable haunted areas of the hotel. The small building by the parking lot entrance stands largely forgotten against the prouder main building, the Manor house, and the Concert Hall. The inside is practically condemned, one wing slightly more picked up before reaching further back in an L-shape, getting messier as it goes. The walls are naked with breaks scattered all around, allowing a funny kind of lightplay from the passing cars. The floors are lined with old framed prints from when the building used to be a motel. The floor is rotted in many places, stacks of paint cans and boards scattered all around.

This wasn’t what we expected when we imagined investigating the Stanley Hotel. But it was everything we love as ghost hunters.

*

Sitting together in a circle, all lights off save the glow across the room, in the corner, from Vin’s voice recorder, we quickly adapted to the room. We stayed put for a good two hours, first letting the room settle, learning the sounds from the outside, voices of the wedding reception in the Concert Hall echoing down to us, distinctly outside, distinctly beyond the tattered walls of our room.

We realized fast that we weren’t alone.

Any investigator who’s stayed in one place for more than an hour knows how fast you adapt to the sounds of the room. That night was Kelly’s first ghost hunt. A skeptic by heart, but open to possibility, after being critical of the reactions to distant sounds heard on the television, she realized right away the difference between sounds outside, sounds of the building settling and popping, and sounds that weren’t natural.

My first piece of audio is the first of two sounds we heard over a half hour period from the back of the farther wing. It’s very clear and you hear us react to it.

Hear that crash in the back? We never did find out what that was. But it was followed by another, of a bit different sound some twenty minutes later. The best we could do to recreate it was to rattle a roll of sheet metal.

Another example of some of the odd sounds we continued to hear. At one point in the first hour of the investigation, I heard a rattling sound right next to my chair. We turned a light on to see that there was a pile of thin boards that had obviously been the source of the sound barely two feet to my left. What moved them? Nothing indicative. But take a listen to the audio. You can hear the boards shake two separate times.

There are a number of other clips of bangs and sounds that we were startled by and couldn’t explain, but I won’t share them all here. This next however, strikes me as very odd. All six of us had by then moved deeper into the back wing, and were sitting amongst the beams in another circle. In this clip (best with headphones) you can hear a bleeping almost like a walkie talkie being turned on, followed by a clatter. There was no one else with us in the building and no one knew what the beep was.

And yes, I still stand by my assertion. Spiritual back massages would not be relaxing.

Here’s two more examples of loud taps right amongst our circle of people that went unexplained.

I’ll note that if you do hear any voices in the background on these sounds, they were only the sounds of the wedding reception of the hill, and they’ve already been ruled out.

But enough of these taps, however startling.

We’d also set up the standard flashlight experiment on a chair at the edge of our circle, asking for the spirit to turn the light on for us. While in the near wing, in the first two hours of the investigation, the light only turned on once, as if to say hello, before it faded away again. Callea and Vin said this was common, and to expect more later. They were right. As we moved back into the deeper wing, the responses began to come in time with feelings of claustrophobia, pressing blacknesses that moved about the group, and an abundance of shadow movement. The events came in an almost perfect sequence each time; the room got darker, we’d begin to hear sounds, the feeling would press in, we’d see motion sometimes behind the group, sometimes within, and finally the light would turn on. Almost as soon as the light blinked out again, we’d have an easier time. The room felt brighter, our chests lighter.

At one point, Chris said, “You know, it feels like one of those lead vests they put on your chest at the dentist’s office before an X-Ray.” We were all shocked at the accuracy of the analogy. That was exactly what it felt like.

The audio evidence was a bit more subtle during the case, and there are only a few instances of voices I’m interested in enough to share. The first comes halfway through the audio track. Almost as soon as our laughter dies off, there comes a whispered voice, almost of the kind a person makes should they be mouthing words to someone else, with some sound slipping through. But we were in the dark and no one in our group made such sounds. You’ll have to listen very closely with good headphones.

I’m not sold on this one, but I find it very interesting.

While I did catch some other clips I’m not very impressed with, this final one that I’ll present is my favorite. It’s one I want to throw out because it’s so clear I feel it has to be something explainable, a voice from one of our investigators inside the room. But I can’t.

But the clip comes at the very end of the night, so I won’t give it to you just yet.

*

After finishing up our four hours at the Carriage House, we moved into the Concert Hall, which had just been tossed after the wedding receptions of the Friday in preparation for the two more on the following Saturday. The building was empty save for us.

We began in the downstairs hallway, where Callea pointed out rooms with activity and reminded us the best stories of the ghosts there, Lucy and Paul.

I didn’t run audio in Lucy’s room, where we started, because we wanted pitch black and we were each searching for personal experiences. It’s not always necessary to run your equipment on these kinds of investigations. We weren’t there for a client or for a television show. Our only audience was ourselves. I was there because I was looking for the experience that defines an investigator, the kind that solidifies their belief, that every investigator searches for to make each night after quiet night worth it. We joked about it through the night even, that it was a shame “nothing much was happening,” amusing in light of the near-constant sounds and knocks and flashlights flickering on.

In Lucy’s room, almost immediately everyone began to get a feeling of relaxation, of cheer, a giddiness or lightness. I, on the other hand, began to feel exhausted. A weight pressed on my chest, far worse than our earlier experiences in the Carriage House. I had trouble breathing, my voice often broke, and my hands and teeth were chattering as if with cold. I’d by lying if I said I wasn’t a bit frightened. But I’d be lying still if I said I wasn’t also excited.

It felt like there was someone there with us.

Multiple times, the flashlight with us turned on in the middle of the floor, not on command, but with a closeness to the stories that Callea was sharing that seemed beyond coincidence, turning on at the start of the rising action, and blinking off at a moment of a bang, or a good end to each story. Never in between.

Vinny and Callea suggested opening the door, and encouraged Lucy to push it closed. The door floated shut easily enough on its own, but in order to start, needed an effort to push against the carpet at its base.

For the next twenty minutes we heard the kind of quick creaks a door makes when you push against it ever so softly. With each click, we felt that it would be the final needed to give the door the shove it needed to close. With each click we thought we’d see Lucy’s handiwork right before our eyes. But it never came.

“You can take a break if you’d like,” we suggested. “You’ve been putting on a great show for us so far. If you need a moment to gather your energy, go ahead.”

The creaks promptly stopped, and didn’t come again while we were in the room.

But shortly thereafter, a loud bang came from outside, in the hallway.

“If that was you, could you do that again?” The traditional follow up question was followed by a second, more faint clatter.

After one of our first sounds on command all night, we asked once more, that if it would make the sound again, we’d follow into the hallway. Once is interesting. Two could be a coincidence. Three?

The sound that followed was even louder than the first. I was to my feet almost in an instant, wide eyes and a grin across my face. “Well, if it wants us out there…”

The hallway sounds were followed by clatters and a racket inside a small closet storage room a few minutes later, while some of the team were taking breaks to gather more equipment or use the restroom.

The sounds were loud enough for me to swear. I looked at Vinny. “What the hell was that?”

We pushed open the door to see what was inside, what could have made such a sound. Inside was only an ice maker and coffee machines on shelving. Some glasses and lids that sounded close to our noise.

Upon exiting and closing the door, we almost immediately heard the sound again. Vinny and I opened the door and looked around. Again, everything as before, right down to the ice in the machine.

Again, we closed the door, and again we heard the sound barely minutes after. Deciding to see if it would come again, we left the door open, the machines humming into the hallway.

But no sound.

*

As the three o’clock hour approached, we decided to break the rules and try out a fresh method, one that had worked for Callea and Vinny a week earlier that they were excited to try again. A non-traditional method. A parlor game sometimes that worked for us with frightening results. Table tipping.

We started with a tall table, the kind they have at many bars, that partygoers stand next to rather than sit. Covered in a table cloth, each of the participants put their fingers lightly on the table and touched pinkies, forming a circle. You then ask for the spirits to push the table top one way or the other.

There are many loose theories as to the effectiveness of the experiment. Some will say that the spirit uses the collective energies from the group to build the strength to move the table, others suggest that if it is indeed supernatural, that it may only be an example of telekinesis, a byproduct of the group concentrating their energy on making a single object move. Skeptics will say that someone is too easily pushing an unstable table.

For the first few minutes, there was nothing. The lit flashlight on the top of the table did not move, nor indicate even the slightest movement. Standing there, in the dark, staring at a single point on the table, watching carefully for a hint of motion, you quickly find that your knees being locked adds a funny sway to your stare, and you widen your stance to ground yourself, a light feeling overtaking you. It’s easy to get lost in it. We often had to let people out of the circle who were feeling slightly dizzy and needed a break.

But then, beneath our fingers, the table started to move. A few giggles and concerned questions. Had it moved? First clockwise and then counter? In the slightest?

Then it did it again. Back and forth. A gentle, slow motion, barely an inch. We encouraged the spirit on, if that’s what was behind the action.

And move it did. Over the next forty five minutes, the table clicked back and forth, rocked toward us and away, always ever in the slightest, not so far as to impact us, but with enough force that were any one of us doing it with our fingers, the bunching of the table cloth would have given us away.

In fact, the longer it went on, many of us lifted our fingers, already so light to the touch, from the surface of the table entirely, so that maybe one at a time would have contact with the table, and yet the table continued to rock. We even broke the circle, moving our fingers away from one another one at a time. After about three broken connections, the motion stopped.

I came away skeptical, but surprised, mightily surprised.

My skepticism came not from distrust of the investigators, for I trusted them all very much, but more in a lack of a control. I’d like to do the experiment again sometime, but hopefully without result. I’d like to be sure that it couldn’t have been some build of momentum beneath our fingertips, that we weren’t rocking the table to life ourselves.

Yet I continue to be drawn to the lack of effort our light fingers left on the surface, and the way the tabletop jerked back and forth with enough energy to nearly send the flashlight rolling across the surface…

*

We finished the night with a half hour in Paul’s room. I turned my audio back on for the final room. We were all at this point very tired. I was drained. Anyone who’s been on more than a handful of cases, both fruitful or not, knows the sensation. It’s early in the morning and your concentration starts to run. After a particularly exciting case, with your nerves and your guard up for hours and hours at a time, you’re bone weary.

We went into Paul’s room on a feeling after the last room turned quiet. Our spirits remained high, and we entered the room all talking. You can hear in the audio clip, each of our voices save Andria, who was quiet at the moment. You hear each speak in turn. Callea describes the doorknob that often locks itself, Kelly says it smells of food, we all comment on the reception leftovers, Chris talks behind me as I say, “I’m gonna steal me some Easy Street, that’s, that’s my beer.”

Listen after I say the word “beer.”

You ask me? It’s a male voice in the distance, as if in the hallway outside (hear the echo?) that says, “Hey!” As we pushed our way into Paul’s room, began to talk of drinking his alcohol, there’s a voice that exclaims from behind us. Coincidence? Something else? You be the judge.

*

And that was the gist of it.

Of course, I have to apologize for giving you the Reader’s Digest version. I felt, writing this, half like a car salesman, the other half like a hurried summary-writer, but I wanted to give you the best impression of the night without going into too much detail.

Normally I’ll be on a case and I can sit in every room all night and not hear more than two knocks out of place, if that. I’ve sat in Eastern State Penitentiary without an odd sound, two nights running. I could write a blog post in three paragraphs for those two nights, for most nights, for too many cases.

But the Stanley hotel, one evening, one late morning, yielded more evidence and personal experiences than I’ve gotten in a year.

So forgive me if I neglected to mention my more skeptical thinking, if I didn’t bring up all possibilities of what each whisper and bang could have been. Don’t doubt that my mind wasn’t in the right state while there, or while I sat with my hands pressed over my ears studying the evidence, but this isn’t a novel, and it’s already run long as it is.

Please feel free to discuss and give feedback on how you liked the post, the evidence, and the stories. Share your own if you feel so inclined, I’d love to hear.

And please, if you haven’t been to the hotel to visit, I highly encourage it. Sign up for a ghost tour, or a late night investigation with Callea. Tell her I said hello!

And maybe if you’re lucky and you happen to pick the right weekend, you’ll get to investigate with me!

Or luckier still, you’ll meet the ghosts that make the Stanley such a very, very special place.

Science at the Edge of All Light

Paranormal investigation has always squared off against the dogma that knowledge is restricted to matters of the material alone, that the spiritual should be left in a corner under the assertion that faith is of what cannot be known. But should the spiritual be left in the corner? Or should there even be walls at all?


Oscar Wilde said, “Religions die when they are proved to be true. Science is the record of dead religions.”

For the last two weeks, my philosophy of religion class at Colorado State University, under the direction of Dr. Idris Hamid, has been studying the interconnectedness of religion and science as we try to define this thing called ‘religion’ and our western interpretation of those elements that make it up.  As we took stabs in the dark to define this largely unquestioned belief system, we realized quickly that many common perceptions were actually misconceptions leading to deeper issues still, misconceptions that have guided us into a stubborn kind of ignorance, particularly in terms of the spiritual and from that, the paranormal in general.

For too long the paranormal has been so widely regarded as impractical science, a pseudoscience, at its most criticized, just a bunch of teenagers and middle aged people scaring each other in the dark. No one takes the work seriously. Scientists consider the field fruitless. Skeptics feel that there either is no afterlife or there cannot  be knowledge of such.  And much of the public feel simply that ghosts are not real.

I’ve said time and again that we are at an exciting moment of possibility for the field of spiritual investigation. Knowledge is up (and as an unfortunate but necessary side effect, so is ignorance). Thanks directly to shows like Ghost Hunters, the supernatural is a fad. It’s “in.” People enjoy getting their scares and equally the questions such possibility poses.

But despite popularity being up, the field is not being taken seriously, even seems hopeless to a good many amateur investigators. Here’s why:

Supernatural and preternatural investigation is a faith-based pseudoscience. I say that it’s faith-based because those in the field believe in what they’re chasing, they feel very strongly that what they follow is really out there and they are searching for evidence. It’s important to define pseudoscience, as the word carries two separate and significant denotations. The first definition I’ll use is the one I prefer, and is more accurate, where the pseudoscience is a “methodology claimed to be scientific that does not adhere to appropriate scientific methodology.” Indeed, paranormal investigation does not follow the classical scientific method in that investigations cannot be completed in a laboratory setting. Discussion about adaptation of methodology in non-laboratory settings is extensive and arguable, but isn’t the direction of this blog at the moment.

But what equally needs addressed is the second denotation of the pseudoscience, where it’s suggested that pseudoscience is an “activity resembling science that is based on fallacious assumptions.” By this definition, calling paranormal investigation a pseudoscience is acting on an ignorant assumption that belief in the supernatural or preternatural is false. A bold assertion (albeit common). The careful scientist should be open minded, which isn’t to say non-skeptical, but only that propositions should not be discarded until they are proven one way or the other, and that requires investigation.

Yet paranormal investigation continues to be ruled out from the very start, in exactly the same way that religious belief carries the dogma that the afterlife and the divine must necessarily be forever unknown.

The misconception goes back to the roots of Traditional Christianity, who’s primary concern above all else was human salvation. The means; faith. But there has grown this split, a divide between knowledge and faith, that the two must be different. This divide has grown more and more solid past the Enlightenment (the 18th century movement that pushed forward-moving science and fact-based thinking aptly called the “Age of Reason”). The age brought with it the Industrial Revolution as we knew it, this mechanical love-fest that only gets sleeker with every passing year. Thin laptops, microchips so small they become nearly invisible.

This divide-sparking movement has come as a point of discussion often with me, particularly with my friend Kelly, who served too often my counterpoint as an engineer to my English major, the rational to my abstract. She often brought me back down to earth after outright attacking modern science for its disregard of the supernatural, when really what had me bothered was the misconception that came with the movement that produced this science.

Faith is not of the unknown, but is instead only another point on a spectrum of belief.

If we were to illustrate this spectrum it would look something like a range that starts at Acknowledgement (or acceptance), followed by Faith (a strong belief inside), followed by Awareness (in which the subject is more indicative and suggestive toward fact), followed by Knowledge (sufficiently justified true belief with evidential support), which is followed still with Certainty (the knowledge of knowledge; you cannot have certainty about something that is false).

Traditional Christianity has had just as much play in the construction of the misconception, in that it is a framework for salvation as a function of faith. And so, if one loses their faith, they are damned. In the search for knowledge, the searcher must be prepared to throw out their hypothesis, to accept that they may be wrong. So if you begin your search for God, for the afterlife, for any sign of the abstract behind the world that we know, your process and your proper intentions could lead to doubt, and following that doubt; damnation. So, traditional Christianity laid a framework that said that seeking matters of faith is heretical.

With the progress of knowledge in the last three hundred years moving forward like an advancing army, we’ve been conditioned to look at knowledge as explicitly scientific, and faith as something that cannot be known, and so the searcher, the one thirsting for knowledge, walks away from the spiritual.

Faith makes no distinction between matters spiritual and matters material. Most systems began with principles one assumed were true but did not know. You begin with faith each time you construct a new hypothesis. It’s faith that motivates every scientist on every project that starts with a theory.

It’s a misconception that religion is stuck at the faith stage, that no matter how one tries, (should they try) they cannot move past simple faith. But it’s a simple epistemological point that faith is only a point on a spectrum of belief, where one can not assume impossibility of knowledge merely because of the subject matter.

We live with a dogma that knowledge is restricted to the material and faith to the spiritual.

It’s not.

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I’ve never been of the mind that those with strong religious backgrounds should be excluded from the search for the paranormal. I believe that what we are doing as we push into the shadows should be open to the religious and not offensive. I’ve seen no need for that. Many investigators I respect very much come from strong religious backgrounds. There’s room. Our exploration into those things spiritual is not damnable.

Before traditional Christianity, Gnosticism understood the mission of Jesus as one of salvation, that Jesus saved us by dying on the cross. The Gnostics said that salvation then is a function of knowledge, not faith, and in turn damnation is a function of ignorance.

The binary nature of early understanding is that we have all things good against evil. and they lined up as salvation, spirit, faith, and knowledge against damnation, matter, the body, doubt, and ignorance. Modern post-enlightenment thinking sees this as backwards. Religion has caused problems, they say, and gets in the way of knowledge. So they flip spirit and body. Now, the spirit has become a realm of doubt, whereas on the other hand, we can gain knowledge in terms of matter, and further human good through technology. We’ve adapted to this new mindset that the good of the human being cannot have doubt, ignorance, or faith relating to our forward thinking, whether that be economic, political, or scientific.

The solution here is to reverse the modern reconstruction of the binary and look at the entire situation from neutral perspective, as people open to knowledge and spirituality alike.

Yet even after my argument, my call for the world to open its eyes and minds, I worry about this information. I worry about this perspective. It’s good fodder for a novel, really, and I may copy down the ideas here and consider them for future stories of whatever length. It’s terrifying really, to think about we knowledge-thirsty mortality-fearing human beings tearing into a world we know nothing about with the gusto and cocksureness we approach most matters of the material.

Exciting as it may be to probe the dark corners, to realize what may exist beyond the stars and shadows, I wonder if it might be best to leave it with we select few, with our cultish excitement and resolve, a faith built on deep rooted romance and past experience, rather than the idealist, with a lust for things of a darker abstraction, if at all.

I’m afraid that we humans are too corrupt to tear into the world of the gods and so I’m left to wonder if maybe the contentment in leaving matters of the spiritual at the point of faith isn’t maybe for the best.

It’s a decision that might become very serious sooner than we think. It all depends on our collective mindset and how open we are to change.

Copyright 2010 karl Pfeiffer