"7:21 and 30 seconds, Lincoln Intermediate School," Noah Leigh says, giving a timestamp to my audio recorder when I turn it on. I then fasten it to my arm with a Velcro strap.
Noah is the founder of the Paranormal Investigators of Milwaukee and at this timestamped moment, he’s setting up a variety of cameras, audio recorders and other equipment in science classroom 108 at Lincoln Intermediate.
Joining Noah are his team mates John and Chris, Lincoln Intermediate’s principal, Mrs. U, her friend Deb and six of Noah’s students, myself included. Over the summer, I took Noah’s Paranormal Investigation class, offered through the West Allis Recreation Department. It was an enlightening look at the equipment paranormal investigators use, why they use it and some of the advantages and flaws involved with each item. Before I knew it, I was able to explain why a three-axis electromagnetic field (EMF) detector is superior to a single-axis one.
After Noah’s Paranormal Investigation 102 class, his students join PIM on an actual investigation. It’s kind of like the final exam. And for this graduating class, PIM has chosen to return to Lincoln Intermediate, where faculty and students have reported some strange goings-on.
"We went down to the basement and we heard a woman’s voice right next to us go wer-wah-wah-wah," Mrs. U says, imitating a voice that sounds like one of the adults honking away on the Peanuts cartoons. "It scared us so bad we jumped up in the air." Other noises include ghost footsteps, doors slamming by themselves and shadowy apparitions spotted in the auditorium and in the school’s sick room.
"OK, what do we hear?" Noah asks. We’ve now split into two groups – one led by Noah and another led by John and Chris. Noah’s group is sitting in the dark in the basement. We’re doing a couple of minutes of "control silence" to start with to try to detect explainable background noise. There’s a cricket, a ventilation fan, water dripping. Then we start the electronic voice phenomenon (EVP) session. These sessions involve asking questions (with a ten second pause in between) hoping to hear a response from spirits, or barring that to leave silence so that a response might be recorded on the various audio recorders running during the session.
"What’s your favorite class?" I ask to the pitch black basement in general. I’ve interviewed quite a few unique individuals over the years, but this is the first time I’ve tried to get a snappy quote from the undead. On my first investigation with PIM (the Riverside Theater) I kept my mouth shut because I wanted to just observe. Noah has encouraged his students to participate in the EVP session, so I’m wracking my brain to think of questions to encourage a ghost.
"How long have you been here?" I ask. Ten seconds. Silence.
"If there’s someone here, can you let us know you’re here by moving something?" Mrs. U asks.
At 9:02 p.m., we record a small shifting sound somewhere in the corner. It is an unknown sound, but not necessarily a supernatural one. We head from the basement to the first floor in-school suspension room, which also has a small room in the back for students who are feeling ill. It’s in this sick bay that students have reported seeing ghostly figures.
"Some of the students say they see shadows in the back room. Is that you?" Mrs. U asks.
"Do you know how to use the copy machine?" I ask, keeping an eye on the Xerox.
Nothing happens in the in-school suspension room, and we rendezvous with the other group at 10 p.m. back in the science room. We notice that our group is now one person short and after some joking around, Chris and John reveal one of their students was feeling anxious and bailed.
"Seriously?" Noah asks.
"Yeah, I escorted her out of the building," Chris says. "We were doing the auditorium and after that she said she felt claustrophobic, I think it was just from sitting in the dark."
"Well, it’s not for everyone," Noah notes.
"That’s the exact same thing I told her, too," Chris agrees.
"Being a paranormal investigator, you have to go against some human instincts we have – sitting in the dark is not something you want to do," Noah says. He points out that we’re wired to be afraid of the dark and the things that may (or may not) be in it, stalking us.
"I hear something off to my left," I say. "Like a hollow thumping sound.
For the second half of the investigation, my group heads to the auditorium. Chris says that when his group was in the room, something grabbed and shook the chair he was sitting in in the back row. I grabbed a seat in the same row and the EVP session began. I did hear a weird thud sound, but again, it could have easily been a run-of-the-mill old building sound. We made one more stop, in the upper hallway, where mysterious noises have been reported.
The investigation ended at approximately 11 p.m. and while school started up this week for many people, ghost school had come to a conclusion for us.
Noah teaches Paranormal Investigation 101 and 102 classes through the West Allis and Cudahy rec departments and UW-Waukesha in summer and fall. You can find more info at PIM’s website, paranormalmilwaukee.com.