By: Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
It is said that paranormal encounters can be unique from person to person. It can be centralized around one person, or it can be a group occurrence with a number of people experiencing the same phenomenon.
The Oshawa Express was given the opportunity to follow Durham Region’s most experienced ghost hunters, The Paranormal Seekers, as they investigated complaints at a local business.
What follows is the experiences of Express reporter Joel Wittnebel, who documented his time with investigators between the hours of midnight and 3 a.m.
It’s early evening, but the parking lot behind 83 Centre St. S. is dark and bathed in shadows.
A large light is affixed to the back of the building and I shield my eyes against it as a I glance up into the row of three windows looking out the back of the house. All three are black.
Making my way to the front door, away from the back alley and the drab concrete wall of the Masonic Temple next door, I try to think about how this night will play out.
As a reporter, assignments are quite varied – typically, the format is the same: questions are asked, answers are given, and the story is written. Now, I’ve experienced a lot of different situations, dealt with a lot of different people and adapted accordingly. This foundation has never failed me, yet in none of those situations were the questions being directed at someone who is no longer alive.
The house looms over me as I walk up the porch steps and through the front doors. The first thing I hear is screaming.
For Rachel Cross, her initiation into the paranormal started at a young age.
Growing up with her grandmother, she quickly learned that the place she called home was home to something – or someone – else.
“I would see legs running by my windows and nobody would be there,” she recalls.
At night, the protective cover of her blankets over her head did nothing to keep the company away.
“I thought I’d see someone through my quilted blankets,” she says, but adds that when she would peak over the hem, the room would be empty.
“As I got older, I was kind of putting two and two together and got more interested in it,” she says.
Now, the Paranormal Seekers have been walking, running and crawling through Durham Region’s most haunted places for the past 12 years. Cross started the group in 2004 to start exploring the more well known places in the region.
“We started going to the small places,” she says. “Ghost Road in Port Perry, Jester’s Court, and all those little, local-known haunts.”
Since then, the group has driven across the GTA, investigating suspected hauntings in museums, restaurants, theatres and hotels. Well known locations include Lover’s Leap (Albion Falls) in Hamilton, The Screaming Tunnel in St. Catharines and Black Creek Pioneer Village in North York.
Locally, the group has investigated several suspected hauntings at Ghost Road Bush and the Oshawa Museum. Others include the Canadian Automotive Museum and Parkwood Estates. And yes, they’re both haunted., although Cross says the group is sworn to secrecy surrounding the details of their Parkwood investigation.
Along with searching out their own locations to investigate, the Seekers receive calls and emails telling them about places to look. They also receive other calls, but they aren’t to investigate – they’re calls for help.
This was the case at 83 Centre St. S., now home of S. Capers Breakout Zone.
The screams are distant, and in a different room. I judge by the laughter and the atmosphere in the adjoining room that there is nothing to be worried about. My heartbeat starts to slow.
A group sits around a large wooden dining table chatting amicably as I push inside through a set of double doors. I recognize Rachel from our correspondence and after a quick hello, start getting prepped for our interview. Several other members of the crew listen as I question Rachel about her background, the group’s formation and memorable experiences.
During investigations, paranormal encounters are fairly common, the group says. I’m skeptical, at first.
An explosion of screams comes from the other side of the wall behind me as patrons of the escape room encounter something inside.
I’m then introduced to Justin Wentzell, the owner of S. Capers and the building’s owner for the past eight months. He is also the reason the Seekers are there in the first place.
“My staff were afraid of the house,” Wentzell says.
He admits that he was a believer in the paranormal, but skeptical. That was, until he started having experiences inside the house, with doors slamming by themselves, mysterious noises and one particular door that just didn’t stay shut.
Wentzell knew there had to be an explanation, whether it be an old house shifting, weak hinges or a bad latch.
He says he would poke fun at his staff for being afraid.
“(I’d) make fun of them because the door would open and I’d be like, ‘ooh, scary door open’ because I didn’t believe it. Then it popped open in front of me.”
According to the Paranormal Seekers, these experiences are harmless.
“They say it’s very rare that they’ve ever come across anything demonic,” says Susan Wheller, a researcher and investigator with the team.
For Cross, she blames the movies and reality TV.
“It’s all how you take it,” she says. “With the public though, because of what Hollywood has done with the paranormal, ‘oh ghosts are going to get you, they’re going to kill you.’ People immediately think it’s bad, so any type of experience is negative.”
However, the experiences the Seekers have had inside 83 Centre St. so far seem far from positive.
Confident the home is haunted by Edward Power, its former patriarch who died in the home years ago, the Seekers have performed several nights of investigations. It’s also believed there is something else inside the house – something upstairs, in the attic.
The attic is currently being used as another escape room space, similar to those on the first and second floors. I’m told that an armchair sits in one corner and is the hub of paranormal activity.
During a previous investigation, one of the team’s REM Pods, a device used to detect disturbances in the electromagnetic field in a certain area, started to go off in the corner by the armchair.
“It never goes off,” Cross says.
Suddenly, as the team marvelled at what was happening, something groped the back of Susan’s neck, leaving behind a visible red mark.
Let the investigating begin.
We climb the stairs in a group, there are several Seekers’ investigators and a few members of the public who have purchased tickets to accompany the team.
Our first stop is a room on the second floor. Inside, dismembered heads and bloodied dolls litter the ground and a giant animatronic clown stands in the corner. The escape room is currently marketed as the Nightmare Circus.
I stare uneasily at the clown in the corner, and one of the team members tells me the last time they were in here it turned on by itself. The room is pitch black and I can’t tell if they’re serious or not. I make a lewd comment about my intestinal fortitude being tested and jumping out the window if that happens and the room fills with uneasy laughter before descending into silence.
A small circle of light appears on the floor in the middle of the room where a red cylinder, about the size of three stacked hockey pucks is placed, joined by a voice recorder and a couple other devices used for scanning radio signals. Another device, known as an OVILUS, is what paranormal investigators call a ghost translator, taking changes in the electromagnetic field and translating them into words.
The radio crackles to life and begins its static search for voices on the other side.
“Is there anybody here with us?”
According to Cross, using an array of technology while on the hunt for paranormal entities is crucial, and a way of creating a sense of reliability in an investigation frought with uncertainty. Motion sensors, video cameras, REM pods, and psychics are all involved in the process.
The same kind of detailed practice is used by photographers on the team, who use a “rule of three.” Whenever you take a picture, you take three – that way, it’s easier to detect an anomaly that may appear in one photo but be gone by the next.
“We kind of try to cover every base so we’re not focusing directly on relying on technology or psychics. We try to make it well rounded.”
The array of monitoring, or ways of connecting with the paranormal, also translates when the group shares their investigations online with a massive community of ghost and paranormal lovers on the Internet.
“We try to make sure that everybody that comes to check out our site, look at our videos and stuff sees all these different aspects and can somehow relate to something,” Cross says.
The crew is also keen to make sure that no outside interferences can wreak havoc on their equipment and parade itself as the paranormal.
“The first thing that we try to do is always see what the elements are in the area,” says Vanessa Morrow, another investigator with the team. “If there are people walking around, there could be a furnace turning on and off or an air conditioner or something, dust in the house or something and when we begin our investigations, these are things…we’ll talk about.”
The systems in the house are shut down and the lights are off as the radio continues to crackle.
I start to get intrigued as Vanessa asks if someone is here with us, and what sounds like “yes” blurts from the radio. I can’t tell if it was just interference or an actual word. Some others in the group seem to think they heard the same thing. The OVILUS has announced a few random robotic words to the room, but nobody can make sense of them.
“Who is here with us?” Vanessa calls into the room. We all remain silent. I’m sitting on the floor with my arms resting on my knees when the crackling weakens and one word softly comes through the static.
“Edward,” a voice says.
Did I really hear that?
My eyebrows furrow and my mind races as others in the room gasp and some team members laugh and share greetings with the invisible entity who has apparently joined us in this nightmare circus.
Did I really hear that name? I must have, or did all 10 of us hear the exact same static and turn it into the exact same name? While that could be true for me and the Seekers, who were aware of the houses’ history, what about the two girls who paid to join the investigation? I think they heard it too and the Seekers never share the history with tour members.
I can feel sweat along my back even though the room is kind of cold as we stand and head to the next location – the attic.
As I breach the top of the stairs and step into the attic, a shadow looms in the corner; another of the animatronic beings used to scare patrons of the escape room. I walk past the arm chair, and sit down at the dining table placed in the centre of the room. A Ouija board sits in the middle. One of the team members sits down with me and flips the board over face down.
It’s much of the same as the previous room, a lot of waiting and a lot of radio static. One of the brave girls who joined the investigation actually sits in the arm chair in the corner.
It’s mostly quiet, and the radio is providing little more than crackling noise when the OVILUS speaks up.
Quiet laughter fills the room.
There’s a faint knocking from the far wall and we all turn in that direction. Nobody can determine the final cause.
The OVILUS speaks again.
After a little while longer, we all agree it’s time to go back downstairs.
“You have your personal experiences and then you have a group experience,” Cross explains. “So personal experience is something you know yourself, and then they’ll be the group experience where two or three people will be like, did you just hear that? Or did you just see that?”
I say my goodbyes and give my thanks, but my mind keeps returning to that first room. It’s much colder outside and the wind has picked up, but a part of me is happy to be out of the house, even in the back alley where the shadows are much darker and the windows of the house look down at me as I drop into my car.
Did I really hear that? Cross says it’s not for her to judge.
“If somebody thinks they have an experience, it’s not for us to say, ‘oh no you didn’t.”
Perhaps I really did hear that.
This Saturday, Oct. 29, the Seekers are running a sold out investigation of the Canadian Automotive Museum. On Oct. 30, the group is taking part in a fundraiser for SikcKids Hospital at 51 Renfield Crescent in Whitby, where they will be answering questions and talking with attendees about their experiences and their investigations.