Local paranormal investigators aim to explain the unexplainable
By day, Noah Leigh is a scientist, working in a shelter with little to no cell phone reception. By night, he is the lead investigator of the Paranormal Investigators of Milwaukee, which aims to find answers to the unexplained.
When Leigh learned about stories of strange activity at Ripon College where he attended school, it rekindled his interest in the paranormal from back when he was a young kid, reading ghost stories in his grade school library.
After he had received his bachelor's degree in biology and moved onto receive his master's in epidemiology, he discovered that he had more time on his hands than originally thought. During this time in 2005, the TV show "Ghost Hunters" was bringing paranormal investigation into the mainstream. He decided to use his extra time for the paranormal.
"I saw a preview for that and thought, 'Well, if there's a couple plumbers that can go out and look for these things, why can't I?'" Leigh said.
He started investigating and co-founded a group in Milwaukee that's no longer in operation. Two years later in 2007, however, he founded Paranormal Investigators of Milwaukee, a team that consists a swath of people from different professional backgrounds.
Going in, he knew that he wanted to apply what he's learned in school and apply it towards legitimizing the research in a scientific way. He has applied this concept to every investigation, which ranges from 30 to 40 total every year.
"We focus more on explanations of things and less on the fantastic aspects of them," Leigh said. "We try to go in with an open mind meaning that we're willing to accept any possible explanation as long as the evidence we're able to gather fits that explanation."
During an investigation, Leigh and the other investigators attempt to control the environment as much as they can to make sure they're not getting any extraneous air currents, temperature changes and people or animals that can be mistaken as paranormal evidence.
To do this, they use a lot of scientific tools at their disposal to help them keep track.
"They're not designed to capture or detect ghosts, but they're designed to detect different environmental factors," Leigh said. "What we're trying to do is see if we come across a piece of anomalous piece of activity whether it would be video or audio or something that we experience if we can somehow correlate that with some sort of environmental factor."
It's this scientific focus that makes PIM stand out from TV shows like "Ghost Hunters," according to Leigh.
"We're not sensational, meaning that we don't take claims of activity at face value," Leigh said. "We always investigate everything thoroughly, and the methods that we use during an investigation are much more scientific than what you'll see on TV. Our goal is to find out the truth about what's going on, not to make an entertaining TV show."
If there's anything that PIM does have in common with "Ghost Hunters," however, it's the goal to help people who are experiencing problems with activity inside of their homes or places of business.
PIM has conducted a lot of investigations across the city, many of which are hotspots that you'd see if you did a Google search for haunted places in Milwaukee.
Out of the investigated locations, Leigh recalls two theaters for having the most activity.
"One is The Riverside Theater, which we've investigated three times," Leigh said. "Two of those times, we've had some sort of audible evidence come out of it."
The other location that they've found the most activity is The Paradise Theater located in West Allis. When they investigated the theater, it had been abandoned for nearly 20 years. On two separate occasions, they captured unexplainable evidence on a digital voice recorder.
"We've caught what appeared to be voices that were very close to our recorders that we know weren't ours," Leigh said.
When they aren't investigating at a landmark, they're usually inside of residential homes of families who contact them because they believe there's activity that cannot be explained. PIM helps them to try to figure out what's going on so that they can give a sense of security and rational explanation with evidence to back it up.
Most of the time, they're successful in doing just that whether it's investigating or instinctively knowing that there is an explainable answer. According to Leigh, the client is usually more than happy to accept those explanations so they can move on.
If you're looking for the same answers that PIM are looking for, then there will be chances to do so. For two nights this month, PIM will be hosting two guided investigation tours for the general public at the Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear, which is located on 839 N. 11th St. in Milwaukee and at the Brumder Mansion, 3046 W. Wisconsin Ave., on Friday, Oct. 31.
Although PIM usually does not charge for investigations, there will be a ticket fee for each guided tour. The funds that will be raised will be donated to both host locations with a small portion going to PIM for operational costs.
There will be two sessions running two hours, starting at 7:30 p.m. and again at 10:30 p.m., on the first and second floors of the museum to investigate claims of strange noises and other strange occurrences.
"The museum itself, if you aren't familiar with it, is full of artifacts and basically collectables that Avrum Chudnow collected when he owned the building," Leigh said. "After he passed, his family donated it to the city to be turned into this museum, which would be used to showcase all the things that he collected throughout his life."
The historic Brumder Mansion, which was built in the early 1900s by George Brumder, a prominent Milwaukee business leader, is now a bed and breakfast. However, on Halloween night, it'll be a place where only the brave would be daring enough to enter. The investigation starts at 10 p.m.
"It has a sorted history and sort of a seedy past with an illegal bar downstairs and possible brothel action going on," Leigh said. "There used to be a tunnel that ran from the basement of the mansion through underneath Wisconsin Avenue to an outhouse where they brought in the booze. There are lots of claims of activity there."
For each of the guided tours, the equipment will be set up like any other investigation, and guests will be guided through the location.
"We'll show them how different pieces of equipment work, go through EVP (electronic voice phenomena) sessions with them and then we allow them to participate," Leigh added.
Although Leigh revealed that 95 percent of their investigations end without startling evidence of the paranormal, there's always a chance for something spooky to happen to guests.
"Last year or the year before, one of the guests felt like their chair vibrated," Leigh said. "They got pretty spooked by that. I don't know what exactly happened; I wasn't present when it occurred. Over the years, they've heard voices and they've seen things, but nothing that we were able to capture on evidence unfortunately."
"We're going to be seeing if on Halloween night, there's any difference in the activity in the location," Leigh continued. "We've never investigated on Halloween before. There's supposed to be a difference, but I'm not sure how much truth there is to that."
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