It's late August when the members of the Paranormal Investigators of Milwaukee visit my Walker's Point home, but the temperature has dropped from its normal mid-80s range down to a brisk 63 degrees. The wind is rushing, bringing the abnormally cool evening air into my house in puffs.
We hadn't expected it to be so chilly, but as it turns out, it's a perfect night for a ghost investigation.
The group's founder and lead investigator Noah Leigh is the first one to arrive, his arms strained with equipment that would soon be set up all over my house. Investigator and equipment specialist Steve Gomon is next, followed by Michael Tovar, one of the group's mediums, known as a "sensitive."
Michael is along for almost every group investigation as a tool of sorts to help elicit some kind of tangible response that the team is able to record, such as a video clip, an electromagnetic field (EMF) reading or an electronic voice phenomenon (EVP). Tovar doesn't claim to be psychic, but says he's able to clear his thoughts and open his mind in order to receive things that may be present.
It's a gift he's had since childhood, and he describes the energy he feels upon entering a potentially haunted space as the "weird feelings" some people get just before a storm.
"There is definitely energy here, and it's positive and it's kind of cool," he tells me once he's seated on my couch. I'm already intrigued.
When Noah sits my husband and I down for an interview about the history of our house, its past owners and any unusual experiences or inklings we have about the property, Michael sets off on his own to tour the rest of my home to see who, if anyone, might be lingering in the spirit world. When he returns, I am shocked at what he reveals.
"There is a blond teenager in your attic," he says. "He's shy but he likes jokes. His name might be Steven."
Without missing a beat, he goes on to tell us about the old woman near the bed in our bedroom, the young girl playing with toys in another bedroom and a middle-aged man he saw in my front hall, who seems to be roaming about the house.
My husband and I immediately look at Noah for clarification, who, seemingly unfazed by the findings, continues setting up his tri-field meter, cell sensor and various cameras.
It's an interesting dynamic. Noah, a graduate student in cellular biology at the Medical College of Wisconsin, is a scientist by trade and insists on making his investigations as controlled as possible, so as to gain credibility with other scientists who are doing research at universities. The overall goal of Paranormal Milwaukee, he says, is to help people who think they might have a problem and the first way to go about that is to attempt to disprove paranormal activity through scientific explanations.
If you tell him you hear footstep or noises above your head at night, he'll go look at your water pipes or he'll turn on your heat and air conditioning to see what it sounds like when they kick in.
"I'm a believer -- I believe that it's out there, but I'm also a skeptic. It takes a lot to convince me."
When I told him that the only "odd" thing that's happened in my house during my 10 months of living there was the time when the powder room faucet was inexplicably turned on one evening when both my husband and I were home, the first thing he did was turn on the water very low -- like a dribble -- to see if the pressure would build over time and eventually come out as a full stream. There was a chance, he said, that we'd not turned the handle completely off that night and the dribble suddenly burst out from the pressure. The night of the investigation, the dribble never intensified.
Noah has never seen anything nor experienced anything in his lifetime that he can declare with full confidence were paranormal. But that doesn't mean he hasn't scratched his head a few times in bewilderment over noises and other recordings he wasn't able to explain scientifically. That is why he sees Michael's job as crucial to the success of the investigation.
"We allow (our sensitives) to use their tools to do things that we wouldn't be able to do on our own," he explains. "There's no guarantee that what they're telling me is 100 percent true, but I don't risk anything by using a name or description that they picked up on. (The spirits) might ignore us if we didn't have that information."
A sensitive's suggestions also give the team a good basis for which areas are "hot" with activity. Around 9 p.m. Karen Kolasa, another sensitive, arrived and, after her own tour of my house, reiterated that my attic was a prime candidate. She too had picked up on a boy, though younger than the one Michael had seen. Eerily, she'd also sensed an older woman near my bed and a middle-aged man, possibly a World War II vet, in my front hall.
We were ready for some evidence.
This first thing Noah asks is to close all the windows to eliminate outside wind or noise. He then hands us each a ultra violet flashlight and requests to kill the power in the house. All goes black and silent.
I ask Noah if ghosts only come out at night and he says no, but that the darkness is for the benefit of the investigators.
"The darkness allows us to use our senses other than sight," he says. "Since only .1 percent of paranormal activity is visual, the other senses become much more important."
All six of us head up into my large attic where we spread out and get comfortable. Noah asks for 10 minutes of silence, after which the investigators begin asking questions to the potential spirits based on what Michael and Karen had reported. My husband and I are encouraged to participate, so I venture, "How old are you?" Of course, we don't get an immediate audio response to any of our inquires (and I don't exactly know how I'd feel if we did ...), which is why the team hasstrategically placed five digital recorders and six video cameras throughout the house, from the basement on up to the attic.
The attic spirit we were attempting to communicate with was what they describe as an intelligent haunt, meaning it is there for a reason, whether it died suddenly and doesn't know it's dead, or died suddenly and has a message. The other type of haunting is a residual haunt. It's not intelligent, it doesn't know you're there and won't respond to you. Michael said he'd found a couple residuals in my house.
As a team we venture from room to room and by midnight we're down in the basement. We've spent hours asking questions to spirits and are ready for the lights to come back on. When the investigation is over, the team goes through the hours of footage and sends a report to the customer. The report I received a month later revealed that there as no empirical evidence of paranormal activity in my residence.
Still, I was very curious about Noah's experiences since starting the group in 2004.
I ask him all the typical questions like, "Why are spirits often associated with a cold or chilling air?" He answers quickly, "The theory is that spirits need energy to manifest and the energy they're using is thermal energy and extracting it from the air."
The same can be said for that Hollywood image of a stormy night in a horror film; the negative ions on the air during a storm produce the kind of energy that a spirit could then use to manifest. It's all a bizarre mix of completely normal and paranormal.
And herein lies one of Paranormal Milwaukee biggest challenges -- to separate those psychological reactions we all have to dark and stormy nights from what is really going on. "It's an uphill battle," says Noah. "A lot of people think we're a bunch of quacks who are making things up."
Paranormal Investigators of Milwaukee are available free of charge for ghost investigations and can be reached via their Web site, paranormalmilwaukee.com.
OnMilwaukee.com staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.
As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When OnMilwaukee.com offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”