By Anna Pulley
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Erin Sherbert
By Rachel Swan
By Joe Eskenazi
By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
But no amount of debunking will stop the group's members from lugging their video cameras, electromagnetic field scanners, and tape recorders from cemetery to haunted house to abandoned mine, hoping their diligence rewards them with the Holy Grail of ghost research: an irrefutable piece of data that can stand up to even the most skeptical scrutiny. They do it, they say, because of an unyielding fascination with the greatest unknown of all: What happens when we die?
Although none of the members professes any religious beliefs, the group is actually founded on a leap of faith -- the conviction, even the presumption, that some kind of life force continues beyond the body's demise. And BAPI's veneer of skepticism, while less easily penetrated than that of most ghost-hunting groups, still crumbles next to its quasi-religious belief that someday, somewhere, its members will find the floating phantom to silence all critics. On its deepest levels, in fact, the troupe functions as a sort of faith-based support group, where ghost stories are shared and heard without derision (or close questioning), and an open mind is defined as one that's closed to a single immutable, unspeakable truth: Everyone dies, and there's no evidence to suggest that our energy carries on.
"I don't know if we're ever going to be able to convince the world of ghosts," Boccuzzi says wistfully. "But if I could take a photograph, capture an EVP [electronic voice phenomenon], see something, experience something, then I would be a happy boy."
And if the proof never materializes? Hey, you gotta have a hobby. "I'll be doing this until I'm gone, until they're hunting me," Mosbaugh says. "And then I'm going to come back and hide people's TV remote controls."
"Ha! Got one!"
Minutes after he and McGarty begin snapping photographs of the sanitarium's exterior, Mosbaugh finds his first orb. Clicking buttons on his tiny camera to scroll through the digital screenshots, he stops on a photograph of the building's upper-right-hand corner. "To the right of the window," he says, handing me the camera.
There's no denying it: In the photograph, a pale blue dot glimmers against the night sky, hovering near a darkened window. Although Mosbaugh is concerned about fog condensing on the lens, he doesn't think this orb has anything to do with water. In photographs, raindrops are no more than translucent specks, while orbs -- even if they're merely camera malfunctions or reflections -- appear to be much larger and come in a variety of colors. "Water marks tend to be octagonal, dust tends to be oval-shaped," Mosbaugh says. "When it's a pure, perfect circle, and it looks like there may be something inside it, that's when you know you've got something."
I decide to keep a close eye on that window.
Oblivious to the chill in sandals, shorts, and a loose-fitting shirt, Mosbaugh stands in the spot where he took the shot, trains his camera on the same corner of the building, and snaps a series of photographs.
"Nothing," he reports, clicking through the resulting pictures. "But it wasn't a reflection."
Meanwhile McGarty, dressed for the cold in a black 49ers jacket over a red 49ers shirt, peeks through windows on the ground floor, holding her camcorder against the glass to film the building's gloomy interior.
Then Mosbaugh gives another triumphant shout, his eyes flickering between his camera and the sanitarium. "Wow! Where's that at?"
"That's why we call him the orb magnet," says McGarty.
Clearly excited, Mosbaugh marches over to a tape recorder he's left running on a raised porch, in the hopes of capturing a ghostly voice. After intoning the date and location of the investigation, he adds: "For the record, we're getting a lot of orbs here. I'm going to keep walking around."
There's a tremble to his voice as he whispers, "Maybe we'll get some ecto tonight."
A fascination with the paranormal can be traced as far back as ancient Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilization and the source of mankind's first recorded story, The Epic of Gilgamesh. Inscribed on clay tablets in 2,000 B.C., the tale concerns a heroic king's attempts to learn the secret of immortality, and includes a description of the underworld by the ghost of Gilgamesh's friend and servant, Enkidu. Every ancient culture, most notably the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians, held a fascination with the paranormal, and ghosts crop up in the works of early authors from Homer to Ovid to Virgil. Shakespeare, especially, was obsessed with the notion of the dead haunting the living, and the spectre of Hamlet's murdered father has come to represent believers' most common theory for why ghosts walk the Earth: They have suffered an unexpected or traumatic death, leaving unfinished business behind, and their presence is meant to send a message to the living.
It's no coincidence that the American public first became widely interested in paranormal phenomena following the Civil War, when scores of grieving relatives were left to wonder what happened to their dead soldiers. Although the practice of hunting ghosts was widespread in England -- where tales of druids, witches, and haunted houses stretch back centuries -- the American version of the craft grew out of the Spiritualist movement, an 1850s-era society whose members conducted public séances designed to communicate with the dead. Spurred by Spiritualism, a number of prominent scientists at the turn of the 20th century studied hypnotism, clairvoyance, telepathy, mediums, and ghosts. But not even the encouragement of luminaries like Mark Twain, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Sigmund Freud could help these scientists produce proof of the paranormal.