And so, on this fateful night, we did set out to hunt ghosts at the Elms Hotel and Spa. This was not my first rodeo, er, paranormal investigation at the Elms, but it would certainly be the most memorable. We would begin the evening with dinner and drinks with the Posse at Jim's. It was an evening that served as great fortification for the hunting of ghosts in both a physical and spiritual way: dining on Jim's masterful Eggplant Parmesan, artichoke-foccacia bread and cheesecake flan while surrounded by good friends, echoes of laughter and positive vibes. Fully sated, Keith took Ronnie and I to the Elms to meet with the rest of the investigative team.
Earlier in the evening, by my request, Keith took Ronnie and I on a quick rundown of the present state of the Elms. The hotel is closed for renovations and large portions of the Old Girl have been gutted in preparation for the spankin' new spit-polish she's about to receive. I needed to get my bearings and get a quick reminder of exactly where everything was... or where it used to be. We ran into the foreman for the renovation when we arrived and apprised him of our paranormal endeavors. He appeared to smirk in response and as I prepared for a dismissive rolling of the eyes, he instead provided our first surprise of the evening. He told us to "please tell whatever's in there that we're not bad guys and we're doing good things for the hotel. I'm tired of doors opening and getting slammed on the upper floors when I'm the only one here." Ronnie and I exchanged startled glances regarding the possibilities.
When we returned with Keith after dinner, I was introduced to the team of investigators that Ronnie has worked with. Knowing Ronnie's love of all things Scooby Doo and our mutual love of Buffy The Vampire Player, I tend to refer to this group as his 'Scooby Gang'. They actually go by the name KC Paranormal Playground and were as professional and fun as I had hoped. Stephanie is the soft-spoken and seriously tuned-in center of the group, James is her serious and typically more skeptical beau and teammate and Jan is their energetic compatriot. Factor in my deliciously irreverent friend Ronnie and this team makes for quite the investigative force. Its a good thing I felt so positively towards them as we were about to be locked down in an empty, century-old, supposedly haunted hotel together. Yes, that's right...Keith locked the door behind us, bid us adieu and left us to fend for ourselves. Yikes.
Picture this: we're in the empty lobby as the team prepares their equipment. Most of the hotel is dark and there is no heat. I had a list of the areas, including room numbers, on my cell of where paranormal activity had been detected before. We began on the top floor in the concierge lounge in one of the suites. The suite was quiet but a nearby room startled me out of my brief reverie. The instruments were already reacting to...something. Have I mentioned that I've been on a couple of these hunts before? And that, by and large, nothing happened? I just spun it as, well, it was cool to learn about how the equipment worked. Well, here and now, in this empty room lit from the outside, connected to abandoned hallways straight out of The Shining, far more than that would already commence...the devices lit up and it was already time to make contact. A flashlight was placed in the center of the room and was balanced on its end, turned off and pointed to the ceiling. The thought behind this action is that a request will be made to the spirit to either move the flashlight or turn it on. Various questions were posed to the "energy" to no response. Then Jan asked the spirit if they had passed away at the hotel....
And the flashlight came on.
I was gobsmacked, to say the least, but skeptically so and immediately thought it must be a trick flashlight. Other questions were asked and after certain ones, the light would flash its beam again. Only after the question, in fact, never during. Now, if the team were all people I didn't know, I would seriously be trying to figure out how they pulled this off. Ronnie was a member, however, and it was clear by the look on his face (and theirs) that if there be trickery afoot; it was not on the team's part. I was truly floored by this investigation already.
Of course, there were a few noises that were explained...embarrassingly so. Ronnie and I quickly realized that Jim's rich food might not be the best meal to ingest right before an investigation that records every sound. At one point, I was incredulous that the ghostly sounds on the fifth floor sounded like an angry underwater sea creature, until I realized that it was Ronnie's stomach rumbles. We moved onto the fourth floor, where I would experience the "spirit" or ghost box. I'm not sure how it works, but it looks like a foil box that when turned on sounds seriously staticky and is supposed to pick up "spirit voices". We sat in the middle of the darkened hallway and asked questions of the box. When the question was asked of the box if the spirit present was a woman, a distinctly female voice answered "Yes" through the waves of static. Again, despite my growing feelings of trust and warmth towards the team, my mind was searching for logical explanations.
On the third floor, we again visited a suite which remained quiet and then upon entering a nearby room, found the instruments lighting up. Another run with the flashlight yielded startlingly similar results and even more intensely so. Soon, James, Ronnie and I all experienced the sounds of heavy footfalls near us and they seemed so real to me that I found myself looking for friends that I was convinced HAD to be there and were trying to punk me...friends like Kiko who had earlier joked about coming in and pranking us. None were there. At this point, I was almost awash in a somewhat unsettling mix of exhilaration and tension. We were experiencing an almost non-stop stream of otherworldly responses and my attempts at reason were getting outweighed. I found myself looking for windows in order to look out at the back lawn and ground myself.
An attempt at contact in a first floor room proved fruitless and after a break, we moved on to the lower depths, as it were. We walked what was once the cafe and amphitheatre and the vast, dark, cold, gutted room was creepy to walk, to be sure. To add to the disconcerting feeling, several holes existed in the concrete floor where pipes had been removed. As the lights were actually on in the room below, narrow beams of light rose from the pitch-dark floor. Once again, like the lockdown scenario and The Shining-like atmosphere upstairs, it felt like the perfect horror film setting. We also had strong instrument reactions in the tunnel that was once behind the maintenance shop. Long rumored to be the tunnel where bootleggers ran their stash, it seemed to be a hotbed of activity, but other than some dancing shadows, none of these spirits were conversing.
We moved on downstairs to the unique indoor pool area. Always a fascinating area, with a circular lap pool as the centerpiece, this has also been where the most paranormal activity has been detected from previous investigations. The lore surrounding this area concerns the supposed ghost of a young boy. Ronnie had recorded big band music from the 20s on his iPod and played the songs, in hopes of stirring the spirits. That music from a bygone era that once saw this hotel in one of its heydays was certainly eerie echoing off those limestone walls. An occasional rush of water from hidden, underground pipes would make us a bit jumpy to begin with, but when Ronnie turned off the music, the energy heated up even more. Stephanie, long sensitive to the spirit world, felt almost overwhelmed by the feeling of a child-like spirit nearby. A small voice, sounding certainly like a young boy, seemed to bounce from the walls. It almost felt like the scene from Poltergeist when you could hear the young girl's voice from the TV sound distant and then get stronger. Soon, it started to sound like a party was going on above us; with adult conversation. Once again, it sounded and felt so real that I was convinced that my friends had found their way in and were playing a practical joke on us. No one was there.
Returning to the lobby to regroup, I was haunted, certainly, but realized that I no longer felt scared. Instead, I felt calm and completely excited. We had a brief look into the Grand Ballroom, which revealed little and finally moved on to the final location: the Library Lounge. This charming bar area overlooking the outdoor pool has also seen a lot of ghostly activity and all of it pretty much the work of prank-playing poltergeists. Doors would be locked by managers who would return minutes later to find all of the glassware lined on the bar....that sort of thing. The ghost story attached to the lounge involves an Elvis impersonator who supposedly died at the hotel and the ghost is often seen as and referred to as The Man In White. Research yielded the real story...the impersonator's agent had actually gotten a bit loaded and fallen to his demise off a balcony, apparently. Expectantly at this point, the devices lit up and we settled into a circle in the center of the floor. Ronnie played the vintage music and the flashlight was brought about again and soon was lighting up in response to questions again:
Are you a man? Yes.
Are you a musician? Yes.
Do you like the music we're playing? Yes.
Are there any other spirits here in this room with you? Yes.
How many? One? Two?
Nothing again until the count reached twelve. The light came on again.
I was impressed as 12 is significant...this particular building was constructed and re-opened in 1912 and this year will be its 100th anniversary. The others were amazed due to the more mystical connections of the number...12 astrological signs, etc.
The spirit box was brought back out. Questions were asked again. A male voice answered.
Are you a man? Yes.
Are you a musician? Yes.
Are there still 12 spirits in this room? Eight.
And then more insistently..
This time it was my turn to react to the repeated number. Eight was a very significant number for the hotel. The original building was erected in 1888. The frequent-stay program is named the 1888 club.
Strangely, as this was happening, I was almost relaxed with all of the activity. I had grown almost accustomed to it but was far from bored...I was so giddy to share the experiences of this amazing night that I was fumbling with the camcorder to try to film these moments. In the meantime, one of the team members asked the spirit if they knew anyone in the room? After a teasing attempt at Stephanie's name, others were asked...
Yes? Indeed, I've been employed with the hotel for a few years and helped co-host monthly wine tastings in this very room. Then the voice returned..
I looked up from the camcorder. Did "he" just say my name? Judging by the shocked looks on my compatriots faces, I hadn't imagined it.
That time was clear as a bell, I thought as I nearly came out of my skin. What do I do? Talk to "him", my friends replied!
"He" was asking for help. The team members heard it clearly and in fact, like me, felt incredibly moved by the plea. What could I do to help? I remembered what the foreman asked of us early in the evening and just started babbling:
Don't worry about the renovations, it will be a new beginning for the hotel and help it survive another 100 years.
Or something like that. It may have just come out in a series of nervous hoots and clicks, I'm not sure. However it was presented, we agreed that the message was received. No more was said. The voice was done. And so were we.
Packing up, we reviewed the evening, all of us giddy from this astounding experience, despite the late hour. I was what you might call an open-minded skeptic before and now I am, well, much more open-minded, let's say. Outside of Ronnie ,I had just met the Paranormal Playground folks that night but now feel bonded with them for life after this shared revelation of a night. Also, I had always had a great affection for the Elms, but now, feel a much deeper connection with the hotel. People tend to fear the unknown, but for me, the more I experienced, the warmer I felt toward the Elms. Truth be told, I'm still reeling from this night a week later.
Let the spirits move me.