Monday, February 9, 2009

Ghost hunters out for answers

Group explores paranormal and hopes to save Fort Wayne building
By Kevin Leininger
of The News-Sentinel

As a boy growing up in Arkansas, Rob Stone thought the old woman he saw at his grandparents' farmhouse was just an “imaginary friend” - until a photograph of his dead great-grandmother revealed a strikingly similar appearance between the two.

As a teenager in Fort Wayne, Paul Walter had a similarly weird experience: the vision of a woman wearing rimless glasses and a dress, who he at first thought was his grandmother - who was in another room at the time. Both got goose bumps when the dress Walters described turned out to resemble his great-grandmother's burial gown.

Youthful fantasies? Memories twisted by time? Bad dreams? Stone and Walter can't say for sure, which is why they and several other local “ghost hunters” have formed an organization designed to disprove or verify the existence of things that go bump in the night.

In the process, they hope to help save one of Fort Wayne's unique but endangered architectural treasures that may - or may not - have ghost stories of its own to tell.

“All of us are active in our community; one guy is an engineer, some of us are in manufacturing or own (a) business. We want people who want to get to the bottom of these experiences,” said Stone, 41. As spokesman for In Nomine Paranormal Research, he doesn't want his 7-month-old organization's serious, methodical search for answers to be hijacked by thrill-seekers whose knowledge of paranormal research is limited to movies like “Ghostbusters.”

“It's neat to try to document the unexplainable. It's a debunking process,” said Walter, 28, explaining that group members use technology to search for answers that often defy human senses and reason.

The group, which was created when like-minded people discovered each other on the Internet, uses devices to detect abnormal electro-magnetic levels and also uses audio and visual equipment in an attempt to record … well, something.

Stone, who administers the information technologies network at Lincoln Foodservice in Fort Wayne, said the quest has taken the 10-member group to an old house in Sturgis, Mich., an old hotel in Sandusky, Ohio, and, more recently, to Fort Wayne's Masonic Temple, which has been the scene of several unexplained events and will host the group's first paranormal conference in May.

The conference will feature sessions on demonology, exorcism and ghost-hunting; presentations of personal paranormal experiences; a four-hour ghost hunt in the Temple; and other lectures. Proceeds will go to the Temple's preservation fund.

As Masons, Stone and Walter are very familiar with the eight-story temple that has stood at 216 E. Washington Blvd. since 1923 but has fallen on hard times in recent years because of soaring maintenance and utility costs and declining membership.

They have also become familiar with several oddities they cannot yet explain, including shadowy forms moving through doorways and elevated electro-magnetic levels, especially near a fifth-floor conference room and trophy case.

As with the group's other investigations, the existence of paranormal activity has not been conclusively documented at the Temple. But Stone said many “rational” explanations for the odd energy readings have been refuted, such as the presence of electrical wires and circuit boxes - a potentially disappointing but necessary step toward proving the existence of paranormal activity.

Stone said his group's ghost-hunting, counseling and related services are free to anyone who has experienced the inexplicable and is seeking answers.

The group also plans to explore local ghostly legends such as the story of the so-called “Waynedale Witch,” a 27-year-old woman murdered in 1965, doing whatever is possible to separate fact from fancy.

What drives the 10 members of In Nomine (Latin for “In the name of”)?

“For me, it's mostly scientific,” Stone said. “But it's also religious. Most of our members are Christian, but we also have one pagan. They taught us in Sunday school that you die and go to heaven. Why are (spirits) still here?

“We feel like we're meeting a need. Not everybody takes this as seriously as we do.”

As Stone, Walter and I spoke in the Temple's partially darkened, cavernous social room, a series of loud clanks came out of nowhere.


“The furnace,” Stone said.

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