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CANNELTON - "This house intrigued us because so many people have had experiences here, even people who were just driving by," Mark McQuinn said as other members of Hoosier Ghost Hunters prepared electromagnetic-frequency detectors, infrared cameras and other equipment for a long night of recording.
The team spent the night Oct. 19 at the 205 Taylor St. home in Cannelton described in resident Jill Harris Newton's book, "Ghosts of the Virginia Place."
"We go about it as scientifically as we can," McQuinn said.
Electromagnetic voice phenomena "is the most common evidence we've come across; you can pick it up with digital (audio) recorders," said Jeff Weber, identified by McQuinn as "the team's tech guy."
"It's every ghost hunter's dream to catch video evidence, but that's the most difficult to get," Weber continued.
The first time he felt he'd had a paranormal experience, he said, was in a graveyard, when "I felt like somebody flipped me in the back of the head. That freaked me out for a few days."
McQuinn said the graveyard is in Thorntown. Team members stopped at a boy's grave there and asked, "Does anyone here want to talk to us?"
"He said, 'you coward,' " at the same time Weber felt the "flip," and followed the explorers as they walked away, McQuinn said. "We asked again, and he said, 'I'm right here.' "
The team works to prove the existence of ghosts, but also serves to rule them out when they're not really around. Wiring or circuit breakers in a wall can radiate enough electromagnetic energy to cause people to feel like they're being watched, Weber explained, and their equipment can identify such emanations.
For the Hoosier Ghost Hunters, who call Lafayette home, all-night sessions are a hobby. In their Cannelton visit, they went room-to-room, watching their equipment for readings as they tried to coax ethereal residents to reveal themselves.
"Come on out," McQuinn invited repeatedly, "we just want to confirm your existence." He mixed other messages into his exhortations, including some intended to show sympathy for a spirit's pain.
"I understand why you're angry," he said in hopes of getting into the good graces of former resident and Civil War officer Thomas de La Hunt. "I'd be angry too, if somebody had shot me six times."
If a home's residents are willing, they're asked to participate. Spirits may be less shy with strangers, because "they don't belong," McQuinn said, or they may be more open to those they know.
Sisters Susan Bryant and Alice Sandage ("Ali" in the book) were willing, and at McQuinn's urging, helped by chatting about experiences they've had. It wasn't long before they were confirming with each other the entities they knew were present, like the pair of children moving from room to room, who may have been responsible for knocking over a tripod-mounted camera.
Bryant said the spirits are felt rather than seen, "like if you're in a restaurant and you feel like somebody's watching you."
She said the ghost hunters returned the following day and demonstrated some voice phenomena they'd captured. They asked a question about a baby being killed, and got "Oh, yes!" as a response, Bryant said. That kind of evidence "is really scratchy" on ghost shows, but "this one was as clear as you and I talking," she explained.
She and her sisters seem convinced the ghosts of the Virginia Place are real, but she likened belief in them to that applied to horoscopes. Many people read them daily, but few take more than entertainment from them, she noted.
"It's fun," she said of the apparitions sharing her home, "not serious, serious stuff."
On the other hand, "Something's happening around here," she said.
Although the team had time only to review a small part of their 44 hours of videotape, 63 hours of audio tape and more than 400 still pictures, "I feel totally comfortable with saying that the Virginia Place is a true haunted house," McQuinn told The News by e-mail Wednesday.
Weber said the task of reviewing the evidence will take months, and the team's findings will be assembled onto a digital video disk.