June 6, 2007 Edition

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A photograph of former Powhatan Male and Female Academy teacher George Matthews catches the attention of Spirit Seekers co-founder Allen Lowe (left) and investigator Ramon Marter. The pair uses an electromagnetic field meter to measure a spike in electric activity, which was later determined to be caused by a circuit breaker on the other side of the wall.

A 'spiritual' journey

Investigator Teri Giovannangeli takes digital photographs inside the Powhatan Jail. Giovannangeli said she felt a chill while inside the cell, but the digital temperature gauge only showed a variation of one degree.

Investigator Teri Giovannangeli (left) shows park interpreter Kristyn Watts (center) and tour guide Vesta Smith a photo taken inside the Powhatan Jail. Photographs, along with temperature readings, digital sound and video recordings and electromagnetic field readings taken in the jail, will later be analyzed for scientific evidence of paranormal activity.

Guest writer Shelly Tomlinson uses a set of divining rods to try to contact a spirit.
Photo by Corinne Fletcher
Photos and text by
Shelly Tomlinson
Special to The TD

Midnight is usually referred to as the "witching hour," but for me, this weekend it was a "ghosting hour."

Last Saturday, I had the unique opportunity to join Spirit Seekers, a paranormal research organization, as they conducted an investigation at Powhatan Historic State Park.

I arrived at the courthouse about 7 p.m. to watch a DVD presentation of how Spirit Seekers organize their hunts. I met Alan Lowe, director of the Little Rock-based organization, who explained to me how he began his ghost-busting career.

About 15 years ago, Lowe witnessed an event that changed his life. He said his wife, Angela, has psychic abilities and had been trying to convince him that spirits existed in their house. One evening, she woke him up and led him to their living room, where he said he witnessed an argument between a male and female spirit.

"After that, I realized all the stuff I had seen over the years was not really a product of an overactive imagination," Lowe said.

The Lowes later formed Spirit Seekers, which is a group of volunteers who bring their time and talents to the investigations. Some team members conduct the scientific investigations, while others concentrate on communicating with spirits.

Lowe said in the beginning, people ~ including some members of his own family ~ thought he was crazy. It was difficult to get people to talk openly about ghosts and spirits. Now he feels fortunate to have a group of people who believe, as he does, that spirits exist.

"In the beginning, we were calling people ~ begging them to let us come and do investigations," Lowe said. "It was hard to get a gig."

Powhatan Historic State Park Superintendent Corinne Fletcher said Lowe called her in April of 2006 about conducting an investigation. Fletcher said she was glad to allow the group access to the park.

"This state park is all about the Victorian time period," Fletcher said. "People in the period were fascinated with the paranormal. Having Spirit Seekers come here fit like a hand and glove. It works perfectly with the mission of our park."

In addition, several park employees had reported seeing ghostly images and hearing noises in the courthouse. Some of the park employees were reluctant to tell me exactly what they had seen, for fear of being thought silly. Lowe, however, believes what the staffers saw was real, and he hopes to prove it.

"I believe the courthouse is haunted, because I believe in [our] psychics," Lowe said. "We're hoping to find the scientific evidence to back it up."

Lowe explained Spirit Seekers' three-point rating system for determining if a structure is haunted. Scientific evidence, such as photographs, digital sound and video recordings, electromagnetic field meters and temperature measurements, count for 50 percent. Sensory evidence and extrasensory details are combined to complete the tally.

To collect the scientific data, eight volunteers spent Saturday night at Powhatan Historic State Park. I joined the volunteers as they used night-vision video cameras and digital cameras to take pictures in the courthouse, the jail and the Powhatan Male and Female Academy. The group also collected data in the Ficklin-Imboden House.

At one point, I was sure we had found something. Investigator Ramon Marter was taking electromagnetic field readings in the school building. In the dark, I could see that a particular photograph had attracted his attention. He explained that the field around a photo was generating a field nearly eight times higher than normal. Upon further investigation, however, we realized there was a breaker box on the other side of the wall.

"Well, we debunked that theory," said Marter.

I was also able to observe two of the psychics in action. In the courthouse attic, one woman was sure something evil lurked in there. Two of the psychics felt psychically ill just by touching the door.

Several group members used divining rods to "talk" to the spirits through yes or no questions. As they spoke to a spirit, the rods would cross for yes and uncross for no. I tried using the rods myself and felt them cross on their own accord. Nothing can quite prepare you for how eerie that feels. (I'm not sure what, exactly, was moving those rods, but I can tell you I wasn't doing it.)

Next, we spent several hours taking photographs and making digital recordings. During the next two weeks, team members will look at every photo and listen to every minute of tape. A computer program will be used to filter out background noise from the recordings and to analyze the videos and photographs for orbs. Orbs are thought to be balls of psychic energy, said Lowe. The computer can help determine if a photo actually contains an orb, or only a reflection from dust or pollen.

Sunday morning, when I was reviewing my pictures, I found a ball of light at the top of a photo of the jail. I took several pictures from the same spot, and it only appears in one of the photos. I am planning to forward the photo to Lowe so he can analyze it for me. I am anxious to see what he has to say.

Once the group compiles all the data, they should be able to say once and for all if the park is haunted. Lowe said he hopes to have the report available in about two weeks.

Spirit Seekers is a non-profit organization, operating off donations and fund-raisers. For more information, or to view a copy of the report, visit www.thespiritseekers.org.

(Note: Shelly Tomlinson is a former TD staff writer and is an English teacher in the Marion School District.)

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