Ever Seen a Ghost?

Spirit hunters like Lisa Olive prowl local historic sites, searching for haunted souls

Driving down a darkened Red Oak street with rain pelting the windshield, I almost miss the turn. At the last minute I see an iron arch that reads "Reindeer Manor" and swing into the narrow drive. It winds uphill for what seems like a long time, and just when I think I must have passed it, the house looms up ahead. Reindeer Manor is used as a haunted house at Halloween, and according to the attraction's Web site, it has an unfortunate history. The original wooden house burned down in 1915, killing an entire family of sharecroppers. After the owner rebuilt it using steel, brick and concrete, his son, James Sharp Jr., moved into it with his wife, who was active in the Spiritualist movement. Sharp lost his fortune in the Great Depression and went insane, and his wife became convinced that the house was cursed. She employed séances, potions and incantations to rid the house of the hex, but she and her husband eventually turned up dead in a murder-suicide—she was found poisoned in the house, he hanging from a noose in the barn.

A group is assembling in the Manor parking lot. Four women who belong to GIRLS (Ghost Investigators and Researchers of Legends and Sightings), an offshoot of the Fort Worth ghost group, are readying headlamps, infrared video cameras and recording devices for the hunt. Waiting to take us into the house are a bearded PR representative for the Manor who frequented the house as a Boy Scout growing up, and Alex Lohmann, a mohawked 30-something in a Dungeon of Doom T-shirt. Though he owns a different haunted house on the property and analyzes audio recordings for another ghost-hunting group, he calls himself a skeptic. His specialty is EVP, or electronic voice phenomena, which along with photographs of orbs and other images is a hallmark of ghost hunting. "People from other groups send me recordings to spectro-analyze," he would later tell me. The frequency has to be below 300 hertz for him to investigate paranormal evidence, he says, because humans can't speak below that level. He's not convinced he's ever come across a ghostly voice, though. "Everything I've gotten below that I've chalked up to anomalies."

Watching as the women prepare their gear, I recall what I'd heard the week before at the group's meeting. I'd listened to EVPs that a veteran hunter told me she'd captured at historic Revolutionary War sites in Georgia. A boisterous woman with long, gray hair who spends much of her free time roaming cemeteries and other haunted places of renown, Lisa Olive had set up a laptop. She handed me a set of headphones and pressed some buttons. I heard her voice and the voice of another woman talking, asking questions of any ghosts that might be present. "We're here to help you. You know that, right?" What came next was like something out of a horror movie—a pair of breathy, whispered voices answered, "Yessss" and "Heyyy." I heard the women chatting away, apparently oblivious to the voices, while a low, male whisper growled, "Get off me." Goose flesh rose on my arms, and I handed the headphones back. "Those can be pretty creepy, huh?" Olive said. An analyst such as Lohmann would likely write the recording off as an anomaly, something unexplained but not necessarily attributable to ghosts. That's the thing about investigating the paranormal—there aren't many answers, just questions, assertions and beliefs. And of course, goosebumps. Which, despite the cheesy haunted house skeletons and signs that read "Graveyard members only," is what I feel as we walk into Reindeer Manor.

One of Lisa Olive's orbs at night
Lisa Olive
One of Lisa Olive's orbs at night
This photo was taken by Michelle Nunez at the White Rock Lake Boathouse. Against a wooden window frame, the shadowy image resembles a boy in a shirt and vest.
Michelle Nunez
This photo was taken by Michelle Nunez at the White Rock Lake Boathouse. Against a wooden window frame, the shadowy image resembles a boy in a shirt and vest.

The house is roughly hewn, made to look like some old, abandoned haunt filled with cobwebs and the macabre evidence of evil. Phyllis Clark, a middle-aged woman with bright blue eyes, shows me her standard tape recorder and points out the attached microphone. "This is the best kind to use for EVPs—it helps the sound," she says. The table in the front room is covered with random plastic limbs and creepy doll heads. Above it hangs a skeleton, suspended face down, with a plastic intestine trailing down onto the table in Nazi doctor fashion. Amy Wainwright, a 30-ish mother of two who acts as the group's organizer, sets up a tripod. "The last time I was here, I was standing there in the doorway talking to the owner, and I saw a man—that's why I'm setting the camcorder up here," she says. "He was old and creepy—like something you'd see on The Twilight Zone." She used to date a mortician, she tells me, and one evening while they were in the funeral home they saw a "black, winged thing" that came toward them and pushed them up against the pew. They ran out and never spoke of it again. "Part of me thinks I was just hallucinating, and I want proof," she says. Soon after, she found the ghost group online.

We walk through a narrow hallway and into the living room, which the public relations guy explains used to be the entry room. He doesn't say much more, because the women want to see what they can glean about the history on their own. There's a coffin with a skeleton inside and shelves lined with books and skulls. The women talk about how their hearts are pounding or their scalps are tingling, and Clark says she has a weird taste on her lips. I don't feel anything, but as one of the women shows me a crated wall space where at Halloween they keep rat snakes, I remember why I've always hated haunted houses. We walk into the back room, and one of the women sets up the tape recorder. Donna Hawkins, a stock trader who says she's always had psychic abilities and has worked on missing person cases, walks the room's perimeter, shining her flashlight on the walls.

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