Whether it's Scooby-Doo or the crew on "Ghost Hunters," the formula is fairly simple you gather your group (usually in a van), drive out to a supposedly haunted site, poke around to find out the history of the place and then go see if you can spot your specter. Everything pretty much gets wrapped up in half an hour or an hour, unless you happened to catch a Halloween special or a movie.
And, as with most things that show up on TV, chasing ghosts in real life is nothing like the televised adventures.
The Whispering Spirits Paranormal Research Society, based in Farmington, recently conducted an investigation at The Daily Times building, beginning (appropriately) on Friday the 13th and continuing into the wee hours of Saturday morning.
The ghost gang of eight whose members spend their days as deli workers, oil field workers, construction workers, or stay at home to take care of the kids arrived around 11 p.m. to set everything up. They carted in several boxes of equipment, ranging from night-vision cameras to digital audio recorders to the "ghost box," an AM/FM radio that constantly scans stations to create white noise to allow for spirits to have their voices heard.
The group has only been operating for about two years, but in that time they've heard and seen things that some of them feel were genuine contacts from the other side.
"The first investigation, it was a sing-song "hello,'" said Natasha White, one of the group's co-founders.
Though no whispering had been reported, the group had asked to check out The Daily Times because of several reported incidents of unusual activities, sights, smells and sounds over the years. Examples include strange popping sounds, and even a full-body apparition in the press building.
Armed with their gear, the group set to work. They paired up and sent one set in at a time, armed with whatever gear they felt might be best for picking up the scent of a spirit. The de facto leader of the group, Mel Hepner, coordinated things from "base," where all the night-vision video cameras fed into a single monitor so the members of the group not in the field could still keep an eye on things. All the video was recorded digitally on a sort of ghost TiVo so it could be replayed and analyzed later.
It's not quite as thrilling as the portrayals on television. The video feeds, which are in negative black-and-white, look strangely similar to underwater video shot of the Titanic, as dust mites and bugs (which show up as small, glowing balls) drift back and forth in front of the camera lenses.
The process gets a little tedious. Those not at base are typically walking around with some sort of device in hand audio recorder, electromagnetic field reader while essentially talking out loud to the darkness. "Are you here? Show us that you're here. ... I don't even believe that you're here. Do something to show us that you're here."
Back at base there's no audio feed, so the watchers just keep their eyes glued to the different feeds, calling out if they see something cross in the front of the camera that's particularly large or whose movements are erratic.
The group is religious, saying a prayer before and after every investigation. Though you might expect a paranormal investigative group to be actively seeking out the paranormal, most of the group sees it as their mission to rule out the normal.
"We don't want to go in believing there's something there, but we don't want to go in believing there's not something there," said Krystal Hepner, Mel's wife and the founder of the group. "We just go in and try to figure it out."
They wrapped up their session in the main building sometime after 2 a.m. There wasn't a whole lot of activity recorded, though one pair did capture on audio what could have been a knock that answered their own. They won't say anything definitively, though, until go back and pore over all their data and information.
The time aspect, the analyzation of all the data captured, is the part you don't see on TV. The group had varying interpretations on how long it takes to go over everything, but the lowball estimate was three or four hours per hour of recorded data.
"We did one that was probably a 6,000 square-foot building," said Mel, recalling a past investigation. "It took us about 30 days to go over eight hours worth of audio and video from that place."
At this point, not even a weekend removed from the investigation, there's been no determination made as to the haunted nature of The Daily Times. But then, the point never was really to prove it one way or the other.
For the group, the point of the investigations is twofold: To have fun (they're a nonprofit) and because people want an explanation.
"We're normal people, we all have day jobs," said Stephen Deal, one of the group's members. "We like to do it and we like to help."
Whispering Spirits is always on the lookout for more stories of hauntings and spooky places to investigate. And they don't want anyone to worry about seeming nuts they've heard it all. In fact, it's kind of the group's whole credo.
"My saying, as far as our motto for our group, is "You're not crazy we're the ones chasing them,'" said Mel.