For Blount Today
Some people are scared by horror movies. Others get unnerved by ghost stories or a treks through a haunted maze.
One group of Blount County residents doesnt run from the
paranormal. Members of the Blount County Appalachian Fortean
Society make it a hobby to look for ghosts.
The group got together in the fall to tour Southland Books on East Broadway Avenue. Although paranormal activity had been suspected in the past, no proof of the paranormal was found that night. According to group members, a large part of dealing with paranormal activity is, it doesnt happen on command.
Southland Books owner Lisa Misosky says staff and regular customers often feel like there is paranormal activity at the store.
"There have just been occasional strange happenings," she says. "There have been strange shadows and footsteps. At night it can be a little scary, but once you recognize it for what it is, you try to track it down and try to verify it. You want to see if something is actually there."
Regular customers at Southland come to know the spots where unusual things happen, says Misosky.
"It has never been malicious or mean, its just there," Misosky says. "People who are sensitive avoid that area. Its kind of neat to share a space with some sort of ghost. Its an old building; youre going to have strange stuff in here."
Fortean Society chairman Jason La Follette says fear shouldnt
work into the equation when investigating the
paranormal. "Theres nothing at all to be afraid of," La Follette says. "In a haunted location, youre more likely to get hurt by scaring yourself and twisting your ankle than by a ghost."
Since being founded about a year ago, the group has investigated a dozen or so locations that were believed to be occupied by ghosts or some other unseen entity.
"So far weve only been on ghost hunts," La Follette say. "But were certainly not opposed to investigating claims of UFOs, cryptozoology or any other unexplained phenomena."
Over the course of their investigations, La Follette and his fellow AFS members say they have had a number of personal experiences and have even caught some interesting things on film. The most notable of these is of a phenomenon known as an "orb" - a ball of light that appears on film even though it wasnt visible when the picture was taken. Orbs are frequently caused by lens flare or dust particles, but this time the orb in question is halfway behind a table leg. "There was definitely something going on there," La Follette says. "I cant tell you what it is exactly, but I can tell you what its not."
However, actually capturing something substantial on audio or especially video is rare. More often than not, as Eddie Robinson, vice chairman and lead investigator of the AFS, says, even if one does manage to get something it can usually be explained. "Most times its something natural," Robinson says. "Ive actually found raccoons in the attic before."
"Our first priority is to determine that there isnt anything out of the ordinary going on," La Follette says. This approach of eliminating even the slightest possibility of natural causes includes the search for not just physical sources but also mental and emotional ones as well, he says.
Before the AFS begins their search for paranormal phenomena, the parties requesting the investigation are required to fill out a lengthy nine-page questionnaire. Included on this form are inquiries about any past experiences with the paranormal, how the different people occupying the site get along and whether any one has a history of mental illness, La Follette says.
"Mental health problems are certainly not an instant
disqualification, but it is something we need to know about," he
adding that it has been speculated that people suffering from certain emotional disorders have a keener insight into the
supernatural. "Some of the questions seem kind of nosy," La Follette says. "But its all stuff we need to know in order to narrow down whats going on."
Once the group has a clear picture of the history of activity and the people involved, the AFS Investigation Team arrives at the location around 10 p.m. in order to set up their equipment. The tools they use to hunt for ghosts range from expensive digital cameras and camcorders to cheap audio amplifiers. Each piece of equipment helps the team monitor any activity that might be out the ordinary.
According to La Follette, what they look for varies. One of the best ways to capture evidence of paranormal activity is to collect EVP - or Electronic Voice Phenomenon - data. This can be done using any normal tape recorder with a microphone. EVPs are sounds - usually voices - that can be heard on recordings but were not audible to the human ear at the time of the recording. Even though the sounds can rarely be understood, it is difficult to dispute that they do sound very much like a human voice, La Follette says.
La Follette says unusual activity is sometimes accompanied by fluctuations in the electromagnetic fields, or EMFs, that exist naturally around us. All objects, whether animate or inanimate, produce an EMF, and it is thought that ghosts and poltergeists do as well. By utilizing EMF meters, the Appalachian Fortean Society can track down the causes of unusual electromagnetic fields which are often caused by things as common as refrigerators, he says.
In order to collect an accurate reading, the team must first determine a houses "base reading." By knowing what the meter should read normally, the team can identify spikes in the fields when they happen. But most times when a field is detected, the source can quickly be determined. Electrical outlets, air conditioning vents and even someone standing too close to the meter can cause a spike in an EMF, La Follette says.
The team moves through the entire site at least two or three times over the course of an investigation, collecting as much data as possible. Once they feel they have what they need, they take everything theyve caught on audio and video and start analyzing it, a task that can take a long time. At the end of it they sometimes have something and they sometimes dont., La Follette says.
"Just because youre there with cameras and tape recorders doesnt mean the ghosts will perform," La Follette says. And even if they do find evidence of a haunting, the AFS cant do anything to get rid of the ghosts. "We do not make any claim of being able to end paranormal activity," he says. "What we can do is help people determine if there is something out of the ordinary going on."
The Appalachian Fortean Society provides their services to the community for free. In addition, the AFS is hoping to add new members to its roster. Weekly group meetings take place Tuesday nights from 6 to 8 p.m. at Southland Books in Maryville, located at 601 East Broadway. For information, visit www.appalachianfortean.org.