Aghost in the U-District
Conor Haggerty / The Daily
Standing outside the University Heights Center, members of AGHOST survey the building after their investigation.
by Nathan Warne
It was past 10 p.m., and there were only a handful of people left in the University Heights Community Center, since it was already past closing time.
The lights inside the building were still on, which gave some sense of comfort no one would want to be there alone after the lights go out. During the day, the center is harmless enough, alive with classes and activities.
But dont stay there too late at night.
According to Stephanie Marshall and her Amateur Ghost Hunters of Seattle, Tacoma (AGHOST) cohorts, the center is haunted.
AGHOST is an organization of volunteers who conduct pro-bono investigations of possible ghost encounters. Its second anniversary is this Halloween; in two years it will have grown from a membership of 10 to 60 people. There are 20 active members who conduct investigations, and 40 other members who participate in meetings and are involved with the group in other ways.
All members of the group have jobs or go to school, and they volunteer their time to do the investigations.
The important thing to remember, said David Daughty, one member of the group, is that we are just investigators, not busters.
Mark Akey, the lead technician for the group, added, If people want to get rid of a ghost, we can point them to some other people, and say, These people might be able to help you out.
Before an actual investigation, AGHOST conducts a walk-through of a site a preliminary survey of the premises. Then the investigation takes place.
Kendra Demuth, the expedition director and a UW alumna, said, Except for those who went on the walk-through, investigators go in cold, which means that they dont have any information prior to the investigation they dont even know where they are going.
They do this to avoid contaminating the investigators and screen out anyone who might research the site prior to an investigation.
Marshall attends about 90 percent of AGHOSTs investigations, and has been to the University Heights location several times.
This is one of my favorite haunts, she said.
Marshall, the secretary for AGHOST, led the tour, and told the stories behind the haunting. While Marshall explained the history behind the hauntings, Demuth wielded an electronic device called an electromagnetic field detector, which measures fluctuations in the Earths electromagnetic field. Two other members of the group were taking photographs and recording the tour on a digital video camera.
At one point, Demuth held up a strange-looking cylindrical object that flashed different colors.
When asked what it was, she said, Its a glow-in-the-dark pen.
AGHOST members thoroughly research the background of a location to help substantiate and support their other methods of investigation. The group employs psychics and sensitives during investigations, but also uses scientific instruments to obtain objective data.
We get a lot of our EVPs (electronic voice phenomena) from [the teachers room], said Marshall. It is one of the more active rooms.
Investigators use audio recorders to pick up unexplained auditory events, or EVP. It is one form of evidence that AGHOST uses to support its investigations. The investigators use video cameras, photographs, thermometers, EMF detectors and a slew of other instruments.
Its most common evidence is field and video sequences, or photographs of orbs, small glowing spheres that move around irregularly.
During the tour, Akey caught an image of an orb on video; it looked like a small marble and darted up from the floor and onto a shelf.
You can get pictures of orbs and EVPs all you want, Akey said, but the real incontrovertible proof is a picture of an apparition.
AGHOST said that an apparition was reportedly seen in Room 107 of the community center by others, but the group turned up nothing during its recent investigation. At one point, though, with a closed and empty building, and no wind, the door slammed shut by itself.
Other reports of activity were from the north end of the building, the opposite end from the teachers room. According to AGHOSTs psychics, there was a suicide attempt in the bathroom.
Near that bathroom, Marshall pointed out a locked closet and relayed a story she had heard from the owner of the center.
A boy was put in there for punishment, and they forgot about him over the weekend, Marshall said. When they found him on Monday, he had suffocated.
Besides the teachers room, the other major area of activity was the basement. AGHOST was originally called to the center when the night watchman heard banging downstairs. When he went to investigate, he heard more loud banging on the other side of the boiler-room door.
The police came and found no one, but the strange activity continued even after they arrived. There was more banging and doors slamming, even though no one was there.
The previous night watchman no longer works at the center, but Demuth said that he didnt mind the ghostly activity.
Brian Buncichen, an employee of the center, said, I havent had any weird experiences; Ive just heard a lot of stories.
But Ive only been working here since July, he added.
When other employees were questioned, they denied any direct experience, but none of them work late into the evening. The night watchman who works weekends is the one who originally contacted AGHOST.
This summer, AGHOST held a conference at the center. The members were joined by other ghost-hunting organizations from Oregon, and there were guest speakers on various topics such as ghosts, spirituality and the paranormal.
This Halloween, AGHOST will hold a Halloween party at the University Heights Center, marking its two-year anniversary.
The AGHOST Web site is www.theresaghost.com.