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The new paranormal: Investigators look for spirits at plantation house
By Charles Swenson
As the bright sun streams through the ballroom windows on the second floor of the Litchfield Plantation house Steven Hicks sits at an antique desk and stares at a grainy video playing on a laptop computer. This is the grunt work for a paranormal investigator.
But it will be dark in a couple of hours.
Hicks is the founder of Lost Souls Paranormal, a group of 26 investigators with chapters now in Savannah, Atlanta and Aiken, where Hicks lives. He and five other members spent the weekend at Litchfield Plantation’s colonial home looking for signs of the afterlife, the spirits that have made generations of visitors at least a little uncomfortable if not downright fearful with a medley of ringing bells, footsteps and things that go bump in the night.
It didn’t take long for the Lost Souls to connect with the tradition. They were sitting in the living room Friday night after setting up their seven infrared video camera. There was a distinct chill in the room, centered on a particular chair. “It was cold as ice,” Hicks said.
A device that measures magnetic fields was placed on the chair. Glenn Zimmerman of Edgefield, the newest member, but an old hand at things paranormal, was reading aloud about Alice Flagg, a legendary spirit from Murrells Inlet. The device, known as a K2, lit up.
That was only the start. The cameras serve two purposes: watching when the investigators are occupied with other things and providing playback for those “did you see what I saw” moments. Sometime during the night a ball of light moved across the camera trained on the top of the stairway. An insect? A reflection? Or what investigators call an orb?
The Lost Souls don’t know, but they have the tape to study.
And along with the video, there’s a soundtrack. Recorders capture sounds beyond what the human ear can register. Friday night, those sounds included a series of “pongs” that, when played back on a computer, may also have included a voice.
Again, they don’t know for sure, but the recording came from a room that used to belong to Dr. Henry Tucker, the plantation’s best know spirit.
“We got some intelligence,” Hicks said.
Dr. Tucker was the third generation of Tuckers to own the property. He lived there until 1897, when he sold the plantation. He was said to ring a bell outside the plantation gate when he returned at night from visiting patients. Some believe the habit continued after his death in 1904.
“If there is a ghost, I want to know about it,” said John Miller, president of Litchfield Plantation Co. He and a group of investors bought the property in 2011. He was referred to Lost Souls by a historian he consulted about placing a conservation easement on the historic home.
Ghost isn’t a term favored by Lost Souls members. Spirit is preferred.
“We’re investigators, we’re not Ghostbusters,” Hicks said. “We’re here to listen to them. We respect them.”
His interest in the paranormal began when he was a child. It was fueled by a photo he took on a Charleston cemetery tour that he said showed a “full body apparition.”
Zimmerman said he’s perfectly willing to rule out strange occurrences when they can be traced to a normal cause. “Paranormal really just means ‘above normal.’ The question is, what is normal?”
He investigated a home for a couple who reported hearing voices at night. He said the source was a leaking toilet that caused the pipes to vibrate.
“You always assume it’s not paranormal,” he said. “That’s why going over the evidence takes so much longer.”
Lost Souls will go over hours of video and audio recordings before writing up a report on Litchfield Plantation for Miller.
“If they can come back and show me some proof, I might be willing to buy into it,” Miller said.
He was at the house Saturday night when Lost Souls launched into the second night of their investigation. Hicks said he doesn’t doubt that the spirits or the energy he believes exists are active during the day, but nevertheless it wasn’t until after sunset that their work began.
“You can see we’re getting excited. The adrenaline is flowing,” Hicks said.
He installed a K2 meter in the attic of the house and set up a video camera to record where it lit up. With cameras and recorders covering other parts of the house, the team gathered in the living room.
Miller was in the chair that went cold the night before. Zimmerman sat on the floor in front of a K2 meter with a notebook. Other members settled on a pair of facing couches. Then they turned out the lights.
What followed was a question-and-answer session, with the Lost Souls posing the questions and the lights on the K2 serving as the answers. And the lights did come on after a while, though not always in sync with the questions.
The team members invited Dr. Tucker or whichever spirit might have been at hand to come into the room, offering assurances that they were there with the best intentions.
“We’re not here to disrespect you,” Hicks said.
Nicolle Gradzki, who came from Atlanta for the weekend, encouraged whatever force caused the meter to light up to follow with a knock on the wall or even a tug on her ponytail.
She said afterward that her hair was pulled during an investigation at an old jail in Georgia. “I was asking for it,” she said, admitting that she had taunted the spirit.
The session was recorded on an infrared camera until the power died. The team suggested that a spirit had drained the battery to get some energy. They installed a replacement. It too ran low on power.
Hicks said he could feel the spirit enter the room. Some team members said they heard footsteps and voices, though some also admitted their stomachs were rumbling.
They asked whether the spirit was male or female, black or white, free or slave. “If your name is Arthur, go up to at least the orange light,” Zimmerman said, indicating the colored lights on the K2 meter. Arthur was a name in his notes on the history of the property.
After about an hour, they decided to take a break; the team did but apparently not the spirit because the lights continued to flash on the K2.
“They’re just poking around,” Gradzki said. “Trying to see how to manipulate it.”
“I’ve never seen that level of activity before,” Zimmerman said. “There’s only one other place I’d compare this to.”
He has a degree in electrical engineering and tries to keep a scientific perspective on the investigation. He records temperature, humidity and other data. He looks for patterns. “If you do the same thing over and over, you should get the same result,” he said.
Miller said he was impressed.
“I think there probably is something there. I wouldn’t doubt it,” he said. “I did feel a little funny.”
Though the investigation resumed as the clock ticked toward midnight, the team didn’t find the level of activity they saw earlier. But Hicks said after they moved upstairs the house seemed to get brighter, even though they had the lights switched off.
What else may have been going on will be checked on their recordings.
“It’s really hard to determine sometimes,” Hicks said. “If we’re not certain we won’t tell the client.”
The Litchfield Plantation Co. will just have to endure the suspense.