By JAMES A. FUSSELL
The Kansas City Star
Digital cameras, dowsing rods and other gadgets used to gather evidence of incorporeal spirits from another century?
Check. Check. And check.
That’s exactly what investigators from the North American Paranormal Research Investigation Society, or NAPRIS, were doing a few days before Halloween at the John Wornall House — checking sitting rooms and kitchens, back bedrooms and creaky hallways as a cool rain fell outside.
It was a dark and stormy night!
What better time to come together and search for ghosts?
Only a year old, NAPRIS is the newest paranormal investigations group in town. It is one of two local groups that proprietors of the Wornall House and other historic places popular with ghost hunters say have set themselves apart.
The other is Ghost Vigil, a 3-year-old group headed by a Kansas City police sergeant who’s skeptical about the way many people collect paranormal evidence.
But on this day it was NAPRIS’ turn.
As darkness enveloped the historic house, investigators grabbed their gear. One member checked a black bag and pulled out holy water and a metal crucifix.
“The only time we’d use those is if we had a demonic presence,” assured Piper Desmond of Lee’s Summit.
Piper and her husband, Sean, founded the nonprofit group after moving to Lee’s Summit more than a year ago. The Desmonds have personal experience with the paranormal. A previous home in Jefferson City was haunted, they said.
“It was horrible,” she said. “On the mantel over our fireplace pictures would just fly off and break. When we’d lay our son down to sleep, and I’d go in to check on him later, his crib would be on the opposite side of the room. And my son started getting scratches on him, and he was too young to do that to himself.”
Unable to explain it and fearing for their son’s safety, they moved.
‘Cross the rods’
Today they try their best to help others explain the unusual.
Inside the Wornall House Sean Desmond and a group of investigators entered a sitting room and closed the door. It was dark inside, the kind of dark where you can’t see where you’re walking and tend to bang your shin against pieces of furniture.
“You got your DVR rolling?” Sean said.
“Mine’s rolling,” a voice said.
“Let’s start an EVP (electronic voice phenomenon) session,” Sean said. Investigators turned on digital tape recorders.
Soon soft voices came from all corners of the room.
“Is there anybody here with us here tonight?” Sean asked.
Moments later, others joined in.
“Can you give us a sign?”
“Did you die here?”
“Can you move something?”
And then a loud noise echoed through the darkness!
“That was me running into a piano stool,” Sean said.
Minutes later Mike Esposito, an investigator from Chicago, broke out a pair of thin, metal dowsing rods and grabbed the bent ends in his closed fists. He aimed them forward, looking like he was holding two guns with long thin barrels. Just then he felt a spirit in the room. As he asked it questions, the rods moved back and forth.
“If you were a slave here, cross the rods,” Esposito said.
The rods made an “X.”
Then it was gone.
“Lost him,” Esposito said.
But in the next room he was on the trail again. Pulling headphones over his black curly hair, he waved a parabolic microphone around the room like a laser gun. Hearing something, he ripped off his headphones and pressed his ear against a wall. In the next room he sprawled on the floor and pointed the mic in front of him with two hands like a cop drawing a bead on a perp.
“Did you say, ‘Yes, that was me?’ ” he said.
“No,” someone said.
“Female, that direction,” he said, gesturing toward the corner. “High-society woman.”
Sure, Piper said.
Proof of the paranormal?
No. She’s looking for proof. A moving candlestick would be great. A sighting on video would be better.
A reading reveals
All team members are looking for proof. They’re believers. The group’s case manager, Shannon Hall, is typical. She has been interested in the paranormal since she was 13, when her just-deceased great-grandmother appeared in her bedroom. Such visitations, called “crisis apparitions,” have been reported across all cultures.
What about people who think it’s all a bunch of bunk?
“The skeptics are good for us,” Sean said. “They keep us on our toes. … What they’re doing is helping you correct the deficiencies in your research.”
Mark Stinson, founder of Ghost Vigil, believes in crisis apparitions. But when it comes to dowsing rods, parabolic mics and other kinds of “paranormal theater,” he’s a skeptic.
“I’ve watched dowsers, and they’re moving the rods,” he said. “I’d be completely impressed if they set up dowsing rods in a wooden rack and they moved by themselves. It’s like a Ouija board. Once a human agent is introduced, it opens the possibility of someone purposely or subconsciously manipulating the device.”
And parabolic mics?
Too sensitive to be of any worth, he said. Simple sounds can be misinterpreted.
Personally, Stinson said, he has never found anything to change a skeptic’s mind.
“Almost all ghost photographs, ghost video or audio are errors in the use of the equipment, misinterpretation of the evidence, light anomalies or wishful thinking,” he said.
Stinson, whose group hosts ghost tours and teaches community classes at UMKC, believes all experiences of the paranormal are “mind-to-mind communication.”
That’s not to say he hasn’t witnessed paranormal activity he can’t explain.
“Walking through the 1859 jail I saw a toddler wearing a long, white embroidered sleeping gown,” he said. “It looked very real, and then it was gone. I swear I saw this. But I can’t eliminate the possibility that it was imagination or my subconscious. The mind is much too complex to say that every time I see something that it’s a ghost.”
Back in the Wornall House no ghosts made an appearance. But a team member did report being mysteriously shoved in an upstairs bedroom. And in the kitchen, an investigator said she was hit in the knee by a small rock. A psychic reading at the end of the investigation revealed there was something there!
So is the Wornall House full of demons?
“I believe there definitely are spirits there,” Piper Desmond said. “But I don’t believe they’re demonic.”
In other words, you can leave the holy water at home.
To reach feature writer James A. Fussell, call 816-234-4460 or send e-mail to jfussell @kcstar.com.