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By Steve Dunkelberger
The Weekly Volcano (Ranger newspaper)
It's never been hipper to believe in ghosts.
With television shows such as "The X-Files," "Crossing
over with John Edward" and even "Touched By an Angel"
touting the belief in the hereafter and ghostly movies
like "The Others," "The Sixth Sense" and "The Blair
Witch Project" burning up box offices, the belief in
ghosts has apparently hit the main stream at least at
some level.
Ghost hunting clubs and investigation groups are
sprouting up around the country, with a half dozen or
so starting up in the Puget Sound area in just the
last few years.
The largest and most local of them is AGHOST, Amateur
Ghost Hunters of Seattle-Tacoma, which formed about a
year ago. Its members lug their digital cameras,
instant thermometers, tape recorders and other ghostly
gear to historic buildings, vintage businesses and
abandoned structures to learn more about what goes
bump in the night.
The non-profit group that meets in Federal Way gathers
evidence of paranormal activity such as photos of
unexplained images or "orbs," unusual cold patches or
out-of-the-ordinary smells or sounds, as a way to
raise the question that there just might be life after
death. And their activities are falling on welcome
minds.
"I am amazed at the acceptance level," Vice President
of AGHOST Patricia Woolard said. "Of course, people
might believe in the existence of ghosts, but they
initially look at me a little strangely when I tell
them what I do in my spare time. But then they start
to ask questions and seem genuinely interested in our
work. Everyone has a story to tell."
Her own tale to tell involves an "encounter" about
five months ago when she was visiting her father, who
was battling progressive multiple sclerosis and a
brain tumor. He was dying. Woolard held vigil over his
bed, sleeping at his bedside day in and day out. Days
passed. On day three or four, Woolard was sleeping in
a bed next to him and turned her back for just a
moment to relieve a cramp.
"As I laid there, I felt a hand brush my back from my
shoulder down to the middle of my back. My immediate
feeling was one of elation and comfort. I did not turn
around. I knew I would see nothing. I knew that my
father was trying his best to comfort me. I felt
elated because I had finally felt something I could
not explain, and I didn't want to cheapen the
experience by turning around and looking. My father
was in a coma, unable to move, speak, eat, physically
unable to touch me. I know in my heart that during
those seven days, he didn't spend much time in his
body ... My work with AGHOST has made dealing with the
process of dying a lot easier. My belief in the
afterlife has made death a much less 'permanent
state.' I think that when the physical body dies, the
spirit is free to roam"
Ross Allison holds similar views. He founded AGHOST
last fall after posting a message looking for
like-minded locals in a national ghost hunting web
site. He's been researching ghosts and other unusual
activities for 10 years and admits he has yet to have
a "sighting."
"I, myself, have not had an encounter with a ghost,"
Allison said. "But I can honestly say I've had some
pretty weird experiences. I've been in cemeteries and
heard footsteps behind me when no one was there. I've
had someone tap me on the shoulder and turned around
to see nothing. It's pretty creepy when you take a
photo with a digital camera, and you find a smoky
figure right in front of you that you couldn't see
with the naked eye. Or knowing in your gut that you're
not the only person in the room, when it appears that
you are."
The group's meetings include lessons in evidence
gathering, Ghostology 101, the industry-accepted
categories of ghosts and how to investigate an
"encounter." Much of the curriculum comes from "The
Ghost Hunter's Bible," by Trent Brandon. Meetings of
the 50-member-strong group also include briefings on
the latest news from the group's current
investigation.
One such investigation was of the former Western State
Hospital sanitarium located at Lakewood's Fort
Steilacoom Park. After it has been at the center local
folklore as one of the most haunted spots in Western
Washington, the group decided to investigate the
claims and put that question to rest.
"Everyone knows about this place," said Freelance
Supernatural Investigations member Dutch Jackson.
"There have always been legends about this place."
FSI, which focuses on recording ghost "impressions"
through the collection of sensory information --
temperature, smells and observations -- recently
merged with AGHOST, which approaches investigations
with state-of-the-art computer software called SPECTRE
and data-collecting equipment such as digital cameras,
Geiger counter, infrared video cameras.
"With being the most advanced group in the Northwest
by having the higher end of equipment, it allows us to
work in a more scientific way," Allison said.
SPECTRE, for example, collects readings on
temperature, barometric pressure, motion, sound and
other trackable information. The Special Paranormal
Energy Computer Tracking Research Equipment then
compares all the data during "hotspots" as a way to
collect "evidence" of a ghostly presence. These
investigations are pretty heady stuff.
The groups partnered on the Western State Hospital
investigation after Federal Way's Psychic Spectrum
Center owner Skip Leingang and a friend scoped out the
area and came face to face with a ghost.
They were walking around the ruins overlooking Waughop
Lake in the center of Fort Steilacoom Park and felt
chills and began getting dizzy, signs of a ghost
presence.
"Throughout the whole thing, we heard children
laughing and playing, and there was no one there," he
said during a follow-up investigation at the building.

Night neared, so they decided to leave. There it was.
As they drove away, they saw the image of a boy --
showing signs of mental retardation -- waving good-bye
to them.
"We described him separately, so we knew we saw the
same thing," he said. "He was just smiling and waving
at us."
Call the AGHOST Line at (206) 769-1223 or visit:
AGHOST.com for more information.


The AGHOST Challenge:
A.G.H.O.S.T. is looking for three people who consider
themselves skeptics but are willing to keep an open
mind to the idea. The skeptics will then spend a
weekend at a haunted place with an A.G.H.O.S.T. team
member. The group will supply the skeptics with tools
of the ghost hunter trade and train them on how to use
them in an effort to sway them to believing in the
world of the near after.

Local haunts:
Fort Lewis: At night, sightings of ghost apparitions
have been reportedly seen in the woods on North Fort
Lewis. A few people say they have seen mysterious
cloaked spirits, along with spirits of Native
Americans.
Spanaway - Spanaway Junior High School, where lights
reportedly flicker and alarms go off when no one is
around.

Steilacoom - ER Rogers restaurant: Many employees have
reported abnormal occurrences with in the building.
There is a lot of history behind this mansion. One of
the owner's wives killed herself in the mansion and
reportedly still haunts it, but it has been reported
that multiple ghost reside there. It was a
bed-and-breakfast during the depression as well as
served as a boarding house for soldiers during the
First and Second World War.

McChord AFB: A C-141 transport aircraft that was
assigned to this base was used to transport bodies
back from Jonestown, Guyana, South America after Jim
Jones had ordered the mass suicides there. Maintenance
personal have reportedly experienced hearing voices
and footsteps. The auxiliary power has goes on and off
when no one is around.

Tacoma - Puyallup Tribal Administration Office is an
old hospital on a hillside overlooking Tacoma's
waterfront. It is said that many people died of
tuberculosis there. In the basement, there is an
incinerator, which they reportedly used to incinerate
the bodies. Noises of someone walking have reportedly
been heard throughout the building. On the 5th floor,
a woman reportedly cries for her child and/or husband.
The elevators move from floor to floor on their own.
Children's voices can be heard. In the basement, which
used to be the morgue, a woman complains of being
cold. The fifth floor is known to be the most
spiritually active.

Tacoma - University of Puget Sound: It is widely
believed that serial killer Ted Bundy murdered his
first victim and dumped her in the foundation of a
building being built at the time on campus: Thompson
Hall. Although her body was never found, people have
reported seeing a girl - believed to be her - walking
the halls of the building and making strange noises.

Lakewood - Thornewood Castle: Chester Thorne was the
builder of Thornewood Castle, and he has reportedly
made several appearances over the years. Lightbulbs
will be unscrewed in his room, after the lights were
turned off and no one else was present. Some guests
have seen Anna, Chester's wife, sitting in the window
seat of her room overlooking the garden. Some have
claimed to see her reflection in her original mirror
in the room she occupied, which is now the bridal
suite. The Thornes son in law shot himself in the gun
closet, and his ghost has been seen. Another ghost is
of the grandchild of a former owner who drowned in the
lake. Occasionally guests of the bed and breakfast
that operates the castle will rush down from the
Grandview Suite concerned because there's a small
child alone by the lake, and then find no child there.
A Stephen King miniseries titled "Rose Red" was
recently filmed in Thornewood Castle. The six-hour,
made-for-television ABC/Disney miniseries aired in
February 2002. The miniseries is from a pre-accident
script. A movie crew worker died of heart troubles
during filming.

Lakewood - The old Western State Sanitarium: On some
rainy foggy nights when the moon is full, you can hear
moans and footsteps in the late night to early morning
hours. This is believed to be patients that were once
institutionalized there. The place is in ruins now,
but there remains an underground boiler room where
most the sounds are heard. The fence around the place
also shakes for no reason, when no one else is around.
--courtesy of AGHOST