Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Getting to Know HPIR, Volume II

Several months ago, I started a series of interviews with HPIR members, attempting to ask thought provoking, off the wall questions about their involvement in the field of paranormal research.  While I'm waiting for the next member to send in his answers, I thought I'd take a moment to "interview" myself!  This entry is less of an interview, however, in that I won't be asking and answering specific questions.  Rather, this will be of a more biographical, stream of consciousness piece on how I got involved in the field, and what it means to me. 

I cannot say with any certainty that if conditions had been different, I would have found myself on a different path, but it truly does seem like this was a field that I was literally born into.  As a very young child, I had a habit of seeing things that no one else could see.  My maternal grandparents, both coming from a strong, superstitious and spiritually open Appalachian heritage, embraced my "gift."  They always let me know that they believed me.  They also were my earliest resource for paranormal study, teaching me that what I saw was not going to hurt me, and even how to turn it off if I needed to.

Further, my grandfather in particular, loved to tell me ghost stories.  He and my grandmother both had many stories from their youth that I would beg for them to tell me at any chance.  When I would spend the night with them, I'd get the stories about the three bears and all that...but then I'd also get the stories about the bloody pillow found in my grandma's attic that belonged to a murdered woman who still walked the stairs in her home. 

My grandfather was well versed in local ghost legends, and while out driving around, he'd point out the houses where ghosts were said to roam.  I don't think he ever actively went ghost hunting, but always told me that as soon as I was old enough, he was going to take ME ghost hunting with him.  Around this time, I was also starting to read chapter books.  While most little girls my age were reading The Babysitter's Club, I was devouring Hans Holzer's works, as well as a volume by Arthur Myers that my grandparents owned.  Also of great interest to me were the folkloric ghost stories collected by authors such as Ruth Musick and James Gay Jones.  I had a whole collection, which would be the seed to my massive paranormal library of today, lol.

Television was another great source of information for me, as the late 80s into the 90s had plenty to offer.  Of course, Scooby Doo was one of my favorite cartoons, but I also religiously watched Unsolved Mysteries, and a host of other paranormal shows that were popular.  I knew before my 8th birthday that I wanted to be a parapsychologist...which was a more common term than ghost hunter or paranormal investigator at the time. 

When I was ten years old, we moved from Hurricane to Winfield...and right into a haunted house.  The level of activity goes through massive shifts, but when we first moved in, it was at its peak, and there was a definite feeling of malice involved.  I won't get into those hauntings, but I will say that I was so terrified in the house, that I was well into high school before I would even stay there alone.  It was so bad, that I couldn't get up at night even to go to the restroom because of the heaviness in our hallway.  Friends would spend the night once, and never come back, saying that they had seen something in the night.  Even my long-term boyfriend just refused to step foot into my house any longer after a series of what he perceived were attacks.

It was during the period between my 10th and 15th birthdays that I REALLY hit the interest in the paranormal hard.  I knew something was happening to me that I could not explain.  I figured not everything that was going on was paranormal, but was not happy with the blanket, skeptical explanations that I was given, and sought out my own.  I learned a LOT about natural explanations that can mimic paranormal activity, but I also learned a lot about paranormal activity in general.  I read anything I could get my hands on, which was made much easier when we finally got a computer with internet access in 1997.

I knew that I had to use my experience, but also my research, to one day help others who were going through something similar.  I started out doing free-lance "investigations" of cemeteries and other public places, using nothing more than a film camera and a micro-cassette recorder borrowed from my mom's work.  Any chance I got, I visited historic places that were said to have a haunted reputation.  My friends and I took ghost tours, explored cemeteries, and just researched the hell out of how to do paranormal investigations in anticipation of the day I turned 18 and could apply for a REAL group.  One of these "investigations" that my friends and I did early on was an outdoor exploration of the Ridges in Athens, Ohio.  It was that trip that may have been my first brush with being touched by an entity.

Eighteen came and went with a big disappointment, lol.  At the time, there were only two well known groups based here in West Virginia.  One, which I would later learn was led by someone with some severe legal troubles, took my $20 membership fee and I never heard anything back.  This was more of a club that organized ghost hunts.  The other was what I thought a legitimate group.  It took months of trying to contact them before someone rudely replied that they were not interested in hearing my plea.  THAT really jaded me for awhile, but I still feel a sense of vindication when I was able to successfully debunk a photo they had posted on their website.  Anyway, I took that hurt I felt at their rejection, and put it into researching how to become the best investigator I could be, and vowed to never treat anyone serious about paranormal investigation like that.  Over the years, I have upheld that promise, acting as a researcher and consultant for groups all over the country, many of which who have gone onto great things in this field.  I also started hitting the free-lance investigations hard.  One of my favorite places to investigate during this time was the old Lakin Industrial School for Colored Boys, outside of Pt. Pleasant, where I have many fond memories, lol.

It wasn't until 2005 that I was able to meet up with a group of people who shared my interests and were willing to take me on as a member.  In the interim, I started collecting more "high-tech" equipment, still researching anything I could find, and really started hitting the historical aspect of hauntings hard, trying to find factual information to combat a lot of the misconceptions that were being posted online about local haunts and legends.  I still have folders full of ghost hunting tips and historical research with a date stamp of pre-2005 (some as early as 1997) on them, lol.

Anyway, I became involved in this group, and hit if off really well with all the members.  I was able to attend a handful of investigations with them, but when the investigations became fewer and further between, I just happened to stumble upon a newly formed group in the Huntington area.  I immediately sent them an email, and shortly thereafter, was invited to attend an investigation with them.  That happened in September of 2006.  As of that date, I have proudly served as an investigator with Huntington Paranormal Investigations and Research.  In early 2007, I was made Research Manager, where I really got to put my love of historical research to good use.  I had obtained a paralegal degree along the way, so I was well versed in different types of research, especially how to do title searches at the local courthouse, and it was a good fit for me.

I take my role as research manager for HPIR very seriously, because I firmly believe that historic research is a HUGE part of what makes an investigation successful.  Giving someone documentation to back up what they experience, or what evidence collected is a huge step in giving credibility to a field that is still considered a fringe science at best.  It's also fulfilling on a personal level, as every case presents certain challenges and roadblocks.  Getting past those results in a feeling of accomplishment, and of course, can totally alter the outcome of an investigation.

Even though I'm going on my sixth year with HPIR, I have not yet lost my passion for the paranormal.  There is not a day that goes by that I am NOT doing something paranormal related, whether it be researching an upcoming case or entry for my blog, watching something on TV, or reading a book on whatever paranormal subject catches my attention at the moment.  At times, my daily involvement may simply be to visit and post on my favorite paranormal message board, TAPS 18+.  Although I was never a huge fan of the show, there are a lot of great investigators on this site, and I've learned a lot.  I've also made some great friends and contacts over the years, which allowed me to be interviewed on several different radio shows, guest investigate at places such as Prospect Place, and simply, to share ideas with those coming from a wide range of backgrounds and expertise.

I am so grateful that I had that chance meeting with HPIR founder Melissa, and that the team allowed me to join them.  I have grown a lot with HPIR, and feel like this is exactly where I should be, and what I should be doing with my life. I did not get into this field for fame and fortune.  I got into this field because of a desire to help others, and a desire to find the truth, no matter what that truth may be.

Currently, I am finishing up several books on local hauntings, and afterward, hope to put to pen and paper some of the many folkloric and historic ghost stories that were passed down to me from my grandparents.  I am also serving as a tour guide for HPIR's Haunted and Historic Guyandotte Tours, and raising my son, who hopefully follows in my footsteps!  My goal is to continue my work as historic research manager with HPIR, and continue to grow my personal research library, in hopes of one day turning it into a working lending-library for those researching the paranormal and/or WV history.

The photo above is of me, visiting the gravesite of the Greenbrier Ghost.  I was VERY pregnant at the time!

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