Scientists and other experts continue to disagree about the possibility of paranormal events. But among the differing opinions, one sentiment is common on both sides of the fence: The topic of ghosts is interesting.
When a team from Maryland Paranormal Research came to this university in May 2012 to investigate Morrill Hall and Rossborough Inn for evidence of supernatural activity, the Anne Arundel-based organization was fully aware of the reported ghost legends.
Faculty members across the campus told stories of hearing quiet footsteps pacing the hallways. Others said they interacted with Miss Bettie, the Civil War-era innkeeper who’s been said to haunt the once-tavern on Route 1.
Knowing this, the investigators staked out the buildings and recorded more than 30 hours of video and 17 hours of audio. When they later played back the recordings of Rossborough Inn, they said they heard a woman’s voice.
“Were our findings indicative of ghosts? Yes,” said Hiram Henderson, founder of Maryland Paranormal Research. “Were they proof? No.”
Though the evidence seemed promising to the researchers, Henderson said the group won’t say a building is haunted unless they can prove it beyond the shadow of a doubt — a condition he said they are nearing with increasingly advanced technology but have yet to reach.
“No matter how compelling the findings, until we can undoubtedly say it is a ghost, we won’t say anything,” Henderson said.
The debate on the possible existence of supernatural activity may have begun millennia ago with the first thinking and speaking human beings, and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight for the conversation.
For Henderson, that’s all the more reason for his team to keep trying.
“We’d love to come back and visit Marie Mount Hall,” he said, citing reports of ghostly piano playings as a main point of interest. “It would be fascinating to get Marie Mount’s name in clean audio.”
Ghostly intrigue often gets in the way of logic for paranormal behaviors, said Chip Denman, co-founder of the educational nonprofit National Capital Area Skeptics.
“There is a phenomena that if your brain hears or sees an ambiguous happening, it tries to make sense of it,” Denman said. “And the brain is very accepting of strange messages when it’s told what to make of them.”
An amateur magician specializing in card tricks, Denman said he’s experienced this firsthand in people who have watched him perform. After completing a trick, he sometimes asks his spectators to describe what they saw.
“Invariably, their description was always a better trick than the one I know I did,” he said.
Denman formerly taught a science and pseudosciences class in the University Honors Program, in which students explored the scientific aspect of the supernatural. As a statistician, he observes these strange occurrences in a more logical way — a motivation that embodies the NCAS, he said.
“I really wanted to believe in magic as a kid; science made me realize it was so implausible,” he said. “But I would still love for someone to show that ghosts exist.”
Shows such as Syfy’s hit reality TV series Ghost Hunters have thrown paranormal investigations into mainstream culture — but not necessarily in a positive light, said John Rossi, founder and lead investigator of Shenandoah Shadows, a Virginia-based paranormal research team centered on objective investigating. Rossi said the show has more than anything inspired an influx of ill-equipped investigators.
“Part of the problem is that there’s so much out there that’s fraudulent that people think it all is,” he said.
As a former policeman, Rossi said he knows the value of concrete evidence. Contrary to the credo of some paranormal organizations, Shenandoah Shadows goes into investigations looking to disprove the supernatural, rather than prove it, he said.
“We don’t tell people what this all means,” Rossi said. “We collect data and then show the homeowner or business owner and then let them decide.”
And with $20,000 invested into his own equipment, Rossi said the group pulls no punches in eliminating abnormal findings that could be caused by sub-par recording devices.
Rossi’s passion for ghost hunting took root in his 20s, when he said he saw a full-body apparition of his deceased grandmother one day in his living room. Considering himself mentally unstable, Rossi, who earned a master’s in clinical social work from Adelphi University, went to a doctor for psychological evaluation.
When everything checked out normally, he started reconsidering his disbelief. Still, it wasn’t until he moved into a house he called haunted 10 years later that he decided to get really involved in paranormal research. In addition to his position in Shenandoah Shadows, he was a former co-leader of the DC Metro Area Ghost Watchers.
Despite having more than 20 years of paranormal experience under his belt, Rossi said he has still only scratched the tip of the supernatural iceberg.
“I like to say that if you have a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle, I may have seven or eight pieces,” he said.