Ghosthunters look for spirits on Danforth campus
On the evening before Halloween, a small group of Washington University students entered Graham Chapel armed with a few gadgets and their five senses. Their mission: determine if paranormal activity was present.
Graham Chapel was the first stop in a cross-campus ghost hunting experience led by Brian Cano and Chris Mancuso, producers from the paranormal documentary series “Scared!” The group also checked out McMillan Lounge and Holmes Lounge.
Cano and Mancuso provided students with equipment such as electro-magnetic field (EMF) detectors and temperature-measuring devices that they could use to check specific spots for paranormal activity. The group started by testing the devices on electrical outlets and light fixtures, where electro-magnetic fields would be expected, and then moved on to other areas to test for supernatural activity.
In a hallway of McMillan Hall, one student’s EMF detector went off with a loud buzz when placed near the floor, but there was no reaction when the device scanned the nearby walls or ceiling. Other students rushed to his side and discovered the pattern only occurred in a straight line. Cano explained it was most likely a wire and commended the students’ instincts in investigating.
After initial measurements were taken, the group did a “Shack Hack session,” where the ghosthunters attempted to communicate with any spirits that were present.
According to Mancuso, ghosts can manipulate radio waves to communicate with living beings. An AM radio was reconfigured to cycle continuously through stations, and those present asked questions about the identity of the spirits. Several students heard the name Cheryl in response to the question “What is your name?” Others heard Mildred or other names.
Cano and Mancuso assured those present that the device had worked well at the University of Florida the day before, but in each of the three Wash. U. locations, the scanner kept stopping. This could have been a sign of paranormal activity, but the scanner failed to stop at a specific station at the request of the ghosthunters.
The skeptics remained unconvinced at the end of the night. “What we did with the radio was cool,” junior Alexandra Barger said. “But as far as I’m concerned, you could hear whatever you wanted in a radio that’s randomly skipping channels.”
Organizers had trouble finding on-campus locations with a history of paranormal activity either through hearsay or documented incidents, according to Kendrick Durham, assistant director for programs at the DUC.
Only the Whittemore House—formerly a private residence that was built over one hundred years ago—had potential. But Durham was unable to get access to the building, which is located on Forsyth Boulevard. “Supposedly there was even a séance at one time trying to contact spirits that lived in the house,” Durham said.
Prior to the hunt, Cano and Mancuso gave a lecture explaining their investigative methodology, equipment and experiences.
Mancuso was upfront about how his skepticism about the supernatural was dispelled by an experience at the Grand Midway Hotel in Windbar, Pa., seven years after the group began. “It was the first time in all these years that everyone that was there agreed there was something there,” Mancuso said.
The student audience appreciated this interactive, honest approach. “I was glad these guys presented themselves as skeptics because it makes the whole debate more interesting,” junior Jesse Levine said. “It wasn’t like they were trying to convince us entirely that ghosts are real.”
When asked, some audience members cited electronic voice recordings as the proof needed to convince them that the paranormal existed. One such phenomenon from the Grand Midway Hotel sounded like “Exit the circle of fire…die,” according to the producers. “That’s evidence that can’t be disproven,” junior Lindsey Waldenberg said.
The show was created by a group of friends in 2002 as a short film project. The original “Scared on Staten Island” was meant to be a 6-episode limited series, but the overwhelming positive response resulted in dropping the geographic limit and undergoing more investigations, according to Cano.
The two had plenty of advice for amateur ghost hunters, which ranged from using common sense to finding a mentor and being cautious about jumping to conclusions. “A lot of people go out there and provoke, trying to make the spirits react in some way,” Mancuso said. “Just because they’re dead doesn’t mean they don’t have feelings.” This caution was given to Wash. U. students before they began their hunt.
Students also got a brief lesson in patience as they sat in silence and acclimated to McMillan Lounge. For more than 90 seconds, all that could be heard was the hum of the building’s systems, snatches of conversation from partygoers outside and gusts of wind from open windows.
“It took me seven years to actually have an experience, but it was worth the wait,” Mancuso said. “When you’re ready to have the experience, you will.”