By JESSICA WELSHANS
LOCK HAVEN - A group of 22 people gathered in the Annie Halenbake Ross Library in late August. In the front of the room stood the five members who make up the Lock Haven Paranormal Seekers.
That evening, audience members had come to a program called "Seeking the Ghosts," where the audience could learn the basics about conducting their own paranormal investigation.
Before the program began, chatter about orbs and other experiences were whispered and discussed. There were skeptics, there were believers and there were probably those who were just a little curious about what the group was going to say.
LHPS consists of six core members: Theresa Brundage, Lou Bernard, Millie Crawford, Jen Geary, Charlie Lannan and Eric McCloskey. The members come from all walks of life, are an array of ages with different points of view and beliefs, Brundage said, adding that the team is what its name represents - seekers looking for the answers to the paranormal.
"I think that is the big thing: we all are out to find answers," said Brundage, group president.
The group was formed in October 2007, and two founding members have since retired.
The group meets about once a month to discuss possible investigations and do some training. They do not charge for their services.
LHPS also is a type of community outreach. With programs like the one held at the library, group members want to reach out to the public and educate them about what they do.
"It's our mission to help educate people and better answer their questions," Brundage said before the program began. "Mostly that it is not like it is on TV."
During her program, Brundage emphasized this point.
"A lot of what you see [on TV] is dramatic. What they don't show you is the hours of sitting and waiting for something to happen," she said.
An investigation that is done thoroughly and correctly can take many hours, she said, because the team looks at each case scientifically, right from the beginning.
"We are not out to persuade anyone to believe," said Bernard, vice president and the member responsible for historical research. "Being skeptical is OK. I see paranormal investigation as a science, a young, emerging science."
The group has investigated local "haunts," including the old jail in Lock Haven, the Yost House and the former hospital.
During the program, participants learned by first-hand instruction how to conduct an investigation. The group used their own experiences in investigation as examples to illustrate points and give tips.
The group also thoroughly reviewed the equipment they used and how to use it properly.
A good example is the use of a digital camera. A common "paranormal" experience caught in photographs are orbs, or balls of light.
Audience members that night chattered about catching orbs on camera before the program started. Those were addressed and quickly explained - most orbs are not paranormal. Brundage said orbs can be moisture in the air, bugs, dust and particles showing up on the camera.
After discussing the difference between residual and intelligent hauntings, the digital recording was discussed. This can be a crucial piece to an investigation.
This segued into an investigation LHPS did in a private home in Renovo.
Brundage said residents reported they were hearing footsteps, their bed was shaking and they had seen an apparition of a little boy.
"When we go into a home, we graph everything," Bernard said. "We try to recreate or debunk things."
She played a digital recording of those footsteps caught while investigators were on the steps of the client's home.
In the recording, the audience could clearly hear a consistent footstep on the stairs. Then Bernard was heard on the recording as he descended the stairs himself to compare what his footsteps sounded like.
The audience agreed: They clearly were not the same at all.
Those ghostly footsteps had a boot-like quality, possibly made by a shoe with a firm heel similar to boot styles of the early 1900s. Bernard said a child lived in that home around the 1900s, which may have explained those sounds.
This is where Bernard explained that part of his job in the group is to research a property and those who previously lived there. This research helps the team find a cause for a haunting, or dismiss the case.
"It's not fact unless it's backed by history," he told everyone.
Another soundbite came from the old jail in Lock Haven. There, a man named Luther Shaffer, was hanged. He was found guilty of committing murder in 1887 and hanged the following April. Shaffer was the only person hanged in Clinton County, Bernard said.
During the jailhouse recording, investigator Geary asked if Shaffer was in the room.
A response was heard, and after it was replayed a few times, the vulgar response shocked many in the audience.
"Sometimes, you can get some of your best evidence with a small camera or recorders," Brundage said.
The group reminded the audience - who were eager to conduct their own investigation - to stay skeptical.
"Always look for something else before you think it's a haunting," Brundage said.
"Always look for explanations first," Bernard agreed.