Since the dawn of time, people the world over have been fascinated with the paranormal. That which is ‘beyond the scope of normal scientific understanding’ strikes a chord in many of us for different reasons—from the delicious thrill we get from hearing, or telling a ghost story, to seeking the truth and an understanding beyond ourselves. Many of us have even experienced strange occurrences at one time or another we couldn’t explain, be they strange intuitions or dreams. And perhaps some of us, up close and personal sightings and/or communications with spirits.
So it’s no surprise that paranormal investigation, or the study of paranormal activity, popularized in recent years by shows such as Ghost Adventures, Paranormal Witness and Ghost Hunters, has in fact been going on for centuries, across cultures, religions and civilizations. Myriad literature, including the Bible, references ghosts. And people from every walk of life have embraced the supernatural in the form of demons, angels, fairies, prophets, gods, apparitions and other phenomena, via rituals, stories, practices, traditions and belief systems.
Today, many paranormal investigators seek to provide proof of paranormal activity by gathering evidence, aided by technology, and by following the scientific method. One such team of investigators is Steel Town Paranormal (STP), a non-profit organization based in western Pennsylvania dedicated to the research and investigation of the unexplained. Recently, I had the opportunity to meet with the organization’s co-founders, husband and wife Chris and Melanie Durish, and paranormal investigators.
Since 2004, Chris and Melanie have been investigating the paranormal. Growing up, Chris didn’t have any profound paranormal experiences, but has always been fascinated with the unknown. Melanie on the other hand, has experienced the unexplained most of her life. While growing up in Saxonburg, Pennsylvania, her parents added on to their house. “I believe that may have ‘stirred’ up spirits, both good and bad,” Melanie explained. “I believe there is a portal there, in the original part of the house. I’ve experienced things such as being touched, hearing Indian drums, and hearing my name being called.”
Melanie explained that she is very sensitive to the energies of spirits. What she told me next had goosebumps chilling me, even on the hot, humid day I spoke with her and Chris. “Recently, I stayed at my parents’ house overnight, as it was closer to work for me,” she explained. “That night, I slept in my old room. At one point, I felt the bed shift, as though something, or someone, was sitting down on it. I also felt covers being pulled off me, and a voice saying, ‘There’s a body in here.’ The spirit was talking about me.”
She grinned, but added, “It still spooks me, even though I’ve been experiencing it all my life. I do ask my angels to protect me.” Melanie has also felt something ‘crawl’ up her, “maybe a cat or a dog,” she said. She’s also heard growls.
As paranormal investigators, attempting to communicate with spirits is key. Chris and Melanie explained one way they attempt this is through what’s known as a ‘dowsing session.’ These ‘L’ shaped metal rods, also used to divine water, help them determine the spirit’s yes or no answers to questions they pose. “All spirits have different ways of answering yes or no,” Melanie said. And it’s up to the paranormal investigators to figure it out. For example, sometimes crossing the rods may mean ‘yes.’ Melanie explained the spirits require a great deal of energy to communicate, and after fifteen to twenty minutes, the spirit may become tired, and no longer able to communicate. Last year, in her parent’s house, they were able to communicate with a Native American girl using the rods.
Chris and Melanie and their team also use a host of other equipment to try to record paranormal activity. This includes a wide variety of photographic, CCTV (Closed circuit television), audio and EMF (Electromagnetic frequency) equipment. None of it is specific to paranormal investigations. In fact, Chris specifically avoids any equipment promoted as such.
Often, when the STP team is contacted to do an investigation, one of the first things they do is research the history of the site where activity is being reported. This helps them determine how they’ll approach the investigation, how they might best be able to get results, their preferred choices of equipment, which team members might best be able to contribute, and so on.
However, there are times when STP has specifically not researched the history of a site, in order to independently validate their findings, and see if what they’re experiencing is the same as what others have experienced. In other words, they want to approach the investigation completely unbiased. An investigation they went into ‘cold’, so to speak, was at the Grove City Area Historical Society in Grove City, PA.
One thing I was especially interested to know when I spoke with Melanie and Chris was, are you afraid during investigations? (I know I would be!) “Not usually,” Melanie said. “But I was during the investigation at the Grove City Area Historical Society.” The STP team set up in the basement, and she could see, via infrared, the dark, six foot shadow of a man. “There were three of us down there, and all of us felt something getting right in our face.” As well, by using EVP, or electronic voice phenomena, and a digital recorder, they were able to record things not audible to the human ear, but that they were able to pick up on after the fact, when they reviewed their footage.
Afterward, they learned that the previous owner of the building, who was at that time in his fifties, lived there growing up. He recalled his mother hating to go into the basement to do laundry because she was afraid, and felt a presence.
After nearly thirteen years as a paranormal investigator, Chris explained that it is in fact, quite rare to experience true paranormal activity. “Maybe ten percent of the time it’s real,” Chris said. And, as Steel Town Paranormal has been featured on Travel Channel’s Paranormal Challenge and Biography Channel’s My Ghost Story, Chris can attest to the fact that investigations are, in his experience, often not as they appear on television. In fact, he feels this might be the biggest misconception people have about the paranormal.
“Much of what we do is tedious, painstaking and may yield no results,” Chris explained. “That includes hours of watching footage and listening to recordings. That tedium is a love hate relationship. It can be boring, time consuming to set up the equipment, but the payoff is in the ten seconds you actually get something. That’s why we love it, why we continue to do it. At the end of the day, you just never know. And it’s what keeps us coming back for more. Too, we’ve traveled to some really interesting places we never would have otherwise, including Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Louisville, Kentucky and the Moundsville Penitentiary, located in Moundsville, West Virginia.”
STP has also conducted investigations at local landmarks, all located in Pennsylvania, including the North Country Brewing Company and the Old Stone House, both in Slippery Rock, the Harmony Inn, the Harmony Museum and Museum Gift Shop, both in Harmony, the Hotel Conneaut in Conneaut, and the Hotel Saxonburg in Saxonburg.
While Melanie is very sensitive to the energies of spirits, Chris is not. Both take a scientific approach to their investigations, which is a major shift in the modern study of the paranormal. They gather evidence—to prove, and disprove. Much of that scientific approach centers on energy. “It’s basic thermodynamics,” Chris explained. “Spirits need energy in order to manifest themselves, to maintain their characteristics, emotions and communications. To get that energy, spirits sometimes draw on both people, and equipment. When they do, it’s not uncommon for equipment to fail, and for people to feel dizzy as a result.” As well, to obtain that energy, for paranormal activity to occur, conditions have to be perfect. “That includes atmospheric conditions,” Chris said. “We’ve seen an increase in activity at Melanie’s parents’ house during a new moon, give or take three days, versus a full moon. As well, we believe the sun may have more powerful an effect on conditions than the moon. Solar storms, or eruptions on the sun, create more electromagnetic energy. All of this natural energy enables spirits to manifest themselves more easily.”
Chris and Melanie speak at numerous events throughout the year, and depending on the audience, can gear their presentations more toward storytelling, or more toward the scientific aspects of the paranormal. Always, though, they promote education and awareness. “I strongly encourage people to be aware of ways in which spirits may be trying to communicate with us. There’s so much going on in our world, in our lives, all the time, it’s easy to be distracted and miss it.”
What questions do they hear the most about the work they do? “Are ghosts real? What is a ghost?” Chris said. After talking with them, I’d have to say the answer is…yes!
On Saturday, October 8th, Steel Town Paranormal will proudly present “An Evening in Haunted Harmony II” at the Harmony Museum in Harmony, Pennsylvania. The event will take place during the annual Harmony/Zelienople Sleepy Hollow Festival. Proceeds will benefit Animal Protectors of Allegheny Valley. A huge draw for the event is not only the guest speakers, but the guided ghost walks through town.
The Psychic Vincent Sisters, featured speakers for the event, were recently featured on an episode of the show, Six Degrees of Murder, on the cable channel Investigation Discovery. The Vincent Sisters will be discussing their work and conducting a gallery reading.
Also speaking at the event is Patty Wilson, who has researched and written about the paranormal and the history of Pennsylvania for over twenty years. She is affectionately known throughout the Keystone State as The Ghost Lady of Pennsylvania.
Drake Bowan, a paranormal investigator with 14+ years of experience, will also speak at the event.
Join me at the October 8th ‘An Evening in Haunted Harmony II” event, where I’ll be signing books and hanging with STP, all of their guests, and lots of other cool vendors!
Rebecca E. Neely is an author of romance, the paranormal and suspenseful kind. 🙂 Visit www.rebeccaneely.com