Calling in the ghostbusters
Inexplicable bumps in the night are reportedly on the increase and more people are turning to ghost-hunters for help. Shabnam Dastgheib speaks to a group of paranormal researchers who make house calls.
There were many nights Auckland mother Aileen Wild lay in bed listening to heavy footsteps stomp around the upper level of her house. In the dark, she heard children run about and a toilet flush several times.
Over several weeks, she and her partner heard bangs, saw lights turn on and off and doors open and close. Flowers moved and rustled in their vase on a still night.
Wild, 30, lived in a large, newly- built brick house in Pukekohe with her children, partner, cousin and cousin's children.
But at these times, she and her partner were the only ones home. The family became so frightened that they refused to sleep upstairs.
"I was really, really scared - my partner doesn't believe in anything at all," Wild said.
"People thought I was crazy and I thought I was crazy, but we were hearing these noises. One night it was horrific and scary and we thought: 'what are we going to do about this?"'
The family called paranormal researchers Haunted Auckland for help. The group is currently at its busiest, with more calls than ever coming in from around the country.
The 10 members have been brought together by lover of the paranormal Mark Wallbank, founder of the group. They arm themselves with electromagnetic field metres, cameras and torches and prepare to document the paranormal or allay fears by explaining the seemingly inexplicable.
They couldn't explain everything happening in Wild's home and the family has now moved.
"I just think there's more out there than what people think - scary things can happen. I fully believe in ghosts, I think you can have good ghosts and bad ghosts," Wild said.
Stories like these are constantly reported to Haunted Auckland. Wallbank said there had been a big jump in the amount of "energy" around since late last year but he couldn't explain the reason. "A lot of people seem to be having very similar activity in their house. There is the overwhelming feeling of something in their house, people are seeing apparitions and shadows. Quite a few kids and young children are seeing things and being touched. It's all over New Zealand."
Haunted Auckland has visited eight private residences this year already, all at the requests of the home-owners or tenants. "This year we have had a lot more calls, a lot of people very concerned. It's not just the odd feeling now," Wallbank said.
Palmerston North-based Core Paranormal has also noticed a rise in reported activity in the past six months, which founder George Shiels puts down to increased development in the way of subdivisions and renovations. "The spirits that are hanging around don't like what's happening, but that's just my theory."
The group had attended 19 private home investigations nationwide this year and was often booked months ahead of time. Shiels said the goal was to document hard evidence of anything outside of the ordinary, which could include anything from movement caught on infrared cameras or a physical touch.
Wellington's Strange Occurrences co-founder James Gilberd said he was sure people experienced ghosts, but what ghosts were remained a total mystery. "Our team is hopefully fairly balanced between a scientific approach and being open minded about the paranormal. We are inclined to find natural reasons for ghostly experiences, which can leave some people feeling disappointed and others relieved."
The goals of the groups are similar though methods vary slightly. Haunted Auckland undertakes three types of investigations ranging from a few hours of observation to full overnight vigils with cameras, digital recorders, EMF metres and a team of up to 10 people.
On these vigils, the group films the investigation continuously and measures electromagnetic field data at hourly intervals to check for any anomalies. A few communication sessions are held, these are called electronic voice phenomenon (EVP) and all are digitally recorded.
The team hears stories of footsteps, doors slamming without reason, a shadow darting across a wall. They have witnessed the inexplicable movement of objects and recorded strange noises. Doorbells ring on their own and distant giggling can be heard when nobody else is home.
More often than not Haunted Auckland encounters a simple explanation for the activity which is frightening the client - something like a powerbox near where someone slept could lead to hallucinations or uneasiness. But there are other times, which Wallbank and his team look forward to, where the team leaves with more questions than answers.
There is no demographic for clients and Haunted Auckland has attended call-outs in suburbs of varying wealth. "Every case is different, every house is different. People react in a different way, some people are more panicky about it while others are more laidback and quite happy for a little spirit girl to be in their house.
"We have had a few unexplained call-outs recently where you go through with your EMF meters and can't explain anything. We've gone through in the past and found houses completely clean of any electric field, everything is as it should be but people are still seeing hearing and witnessing the activity."
The team has just concluded a three-part investigation into Kingseat Hospital in South Auckland, the site of a former psychiatric hospital and one of the most notorious for spooks and hauntings. Investigators were unable to pinpoint anything paranormal.
Wallbank is first to point out that he may not know exactly what he is doing so services are free of charge.
"It's a pseudo-science. It's not classed as a science yet because, though we know ghosts exist - we know people are experiencing them - we don't actually know what they are. It is a matter of being in the right place at the right time and having the equipment in your hands to capture something."
Through his time he had seen unexplained shadows and felt strange hands touching him. "If we are dealing with dead people, which is one theory, then we need to be respectful of them. They were once people too."
Does he ever get frightened by what he sees, hears and feels?
"I don't get scared any more. You get used to the dark."
Electro-magnetic field meters: These measure changes in electromagnetic fields which are a direct result of electrical appliances in home, cell phones, power lines outside and fluctuations in solar activity and weather. The theory behind the meters is that ghosts can manipulate the fields when trying to appear or interact with the human world. The team takes base readings and then compares the figures for any changes in the case of a paranormal event.
Cameras and video equipment: The more eyes the better when trying to document the paranormal.
Digital voice recorders: These are used to record any possible audible contact between the ghost world and the human world. The main rule with Haunted Auckland is that no members are allowed to whisper in case their voice is mistaken for that of an entity.
Torches: All types of torches are useful as ghost-hunters will generally be working in the dark, including infra-red, green light and UV torches.
Motion sensors: These are good for sensing movement when there should be none. Assuming a ghost gives off heat like a person, the detector can capture its motion and sound an alarm.
NZ's HAUNTED SPOTS
Napier Prison: Reported ghost sightings include unexplained footsteps, disembodied faces, doors opening and closing, and the sighting of a murderer's ghost on the anniversary of his execution.
St James Theatre, Wellington: Reported spirits include Russian performer Yuri, who supposedly fell to his death from several metres above the stage; the "wailing woman" is often sighted and the ghost of Stan Andrews can sometimes be heard backstage at night as he checks on his ushers. A boys choir is said to haunt the auditorium.
Riccarton Racecourse Hotel, Christchurch: It is said the ghost of former licensee Donald Fraser, killed by a shotgun blast as slept, walks the corridors of the hotel looking for his murderer.
Larnach Castle, Dunedin: William Larnach's favourite daughter Kate died of typhoid and her ghost reputedly haunts the ballroom.
Waitomo Caves Hotel: A young man, staying at the hotel in room 14, felt what is reputed to be the ghost of the Maori princess spirit passing through him. After telling the tale to several guests staying at the time, he went back to his room and committed suicide. He is said now to wander the corridors as well. Moving lights have been reported in room 12 as well as guests having bed sheets pulled away and toes tickled during the night. The ghost of a young boy who burned himself to death in the kitchen is reported to be heard giggling and skipping. The staff call him Daniel. Objects move in 12A while room 25 is associated with screams and movement of objects.
Source: Haunted Auckland