Contents of this
feature:

Preamble

Tools of the Trade

The Investigations

Audio Analysis

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The Transcript Project

 

"Who Is the Third Who Walks Always Beside You?": Ghost-Hunting in Rural Tennessee

by Patrick Lane
Posted on January 9, 2002

Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
- But who is that on the other side of you?

--T.S. Eliot, "The Waste Land" (359-365)


A Preamble, Containing More Ghostly Occurrences Than the Actual Investigations

A couple of years ago I had the immense good fortune to be able to study in Britain for about six summer weeks. While there, I visited both Stonehenge and Loch Ness, thereby experiencing firsthand the two places which most occupied my imagination from the ages of 8 to 13. With these goals fulfilled, only one great childhood dream remained -- to see a ghost. And out of the entire world of paranormal and occult phenomena I believed in as an adolescent, only ghosts still linger on the fringes of my belief system undismissed. A good (and very credible) friend of my family has seen ghosts on three separate occasions, and my own father has a story about seeing what may have been the resident ghost of the Orpheum Theatre here in Memphis while rehearsing a play.

Living in a less than spiritually active slice of suburbia and not wanting to have to experience the death of a loved one, I realized that if I wanted to have a ghostly experience then I would need to bring myself to them. One problem with this plan, though: it assumes I am not a gutless coward who can barely check out books from the literature stacks of his college library because they are on the eminently creepy sixth floor.

The Burrow Library

In my defense, a number of people I have spoken to also believe that the Burrow Library at Rhodes College has a certain evil aura. I don't actually recall feeling particularly creeped out on the sixth floor until my Junior year (but of course, the amount of time I had to spend there increased exponentially in my Junior and Senior years), but once I was aware of it, it did take a serious force of will to make myself mount that last flight of steps every time I needed to double-check a Barth quote. And then a friend of mine described how whenever she started down the stairs from the sixth floor it always felt like there was a pair of hands hovering just centimeters above her back, ready to give her a good hard shove. After that, I had trouble leaving the place, since I realized that the uneasy feeling I had been experiencing was also just like that of malicious hands.

To my knowledge there is no historical reason to expect the Library to be haunted (although there are a few vaguely Masonic connections which campus conspiracy theorists like to expound upon), and more likely the unwholesome atmosphere has more to do with the architecture and the way the books muffle ambient sound to create a unnatural stillness. But does this make me feel any better? Of course not.

Most of the reputedly haunted locations in Memphis would have required not only awkward permissions to gain access to but also an amount of courage I was not fully prepared to produce. The Woodruff-Fontaine House in Memphis' Victorian Village is said to have a few resident spirits, though I doubt its curators would be very keen on having a thoroughly amateur ghost-hunting team clomp around through it. Also, again, the Orpheum, in addition to its more famous auditorium spirit (a little girl in white), is said to be cursed with an unusually high injury rate in its kitchen and sports a basement in which investigators have allegedly been attacked by an unseen force -- this latter information coming from an acquaintance who had done some work at the theater, though I must admit it has never been corroborated by a second source. For most of my childhood I had believed in the notion that ghosts were as harmless as projected images. They might be sad, they might be playful, they might be startling or creepy, but (despite Hollywood) I never thought that they might be actively malevolent. The knowledge that my notions could be wrong certainly did not increase the courage quotient.

A further detriment was a perceived lack of proper investigative equipment. I had seen "ghost-hunting" kits for sale before, featuring digital thermometers and electromagnetic field detectors, occasionally thermal imaging equipment -- I had none of this, nor the money to spend on acquiring it. Leave the hunt to the professionals, I decided. Or at least to the fanatic and financially-able hobbyists.


EVP

I'm beginning to hear voices and there's no one around
--Bob Dylan, "Cold Irons Bound"

And then I found out about EVP: Electronic Voice Phenomena. While bored at work during the summer of 2001 -- on average I was having one or two students/customers coming in a week -- I began scouring the internet for good amateur ghost-hunting societies, hoping to read some interesting anecdotes or see some compelling photographs. And while there were these (though the photos were by and large a disappointment), what really caught my attention were the groups who spent their time hunched over tape recorders, trying to make out messages from beyond the grave in the whispers of tape hiss. And then, most excitingly, posting their findings on the web as audio files which really creeped out a certain person who had to spend his days totally alone in a cubby-filled space.

Some EVP Links:
(Just do a search for "EVP" and you'll find plenty.)

EVP

International Ghost Hunters Society

Ghostwave.com

The Anomalist

The premise of EVP is that dull human ears cannot hear ghosts, but microphones can. The actual physics of this situation are fuzzy at best - some claim the sounds are recorded below (or sometimes above) the frequency we can normally hear or reproduce with our own vocal cords. But with some enhancement, these sounds can be heard off of a recording. Others argue that the phenomenon is electromagnetic in nature, and that either the ghosts' EMF energy influences the microphone or that the message is directly imprinted on the magnetic tape in the cassette -- this supposedly can occur even while the tape is packed away somewhere, not being recorded upon in the least.

This last notion I find patently ridiculous -- it would require the spirit to somehow etch its message on the wound tape spool in exact concordance with industry standards for playback speed if the result were to be at all intelligible. Of course, listening to some of the online samples, intelligibility is apparently a very relative term. I find some of the purported ghostly communications to be clear cases of wishful thinking, some have been "enhanced" and manipulated by computer to a ridiculous degree, and others sound like distorted background noise. There also seems to be a clear risk of recording errant radio signals which are also inaudible to the human ear -- I, for example, happen to own a CD player that plays the radio broadcast of some unidentifiable station very, very faintly in the background whenever the power is turned on. I don't trust all investigators' equipment not to have the same problem at times.

However, there are some, a very few, that are genuinely chilling. And, most frighteningly, these tend to be the more malevolent ones, voices cursing the investigators for their intrusion, hissing demands that they leave, or warning them of the presence of some other, dangerous entity. Hearing some of these made it especially difficult to feel comfortable working alone all day. When I played them back later for my friend Nathan Ragain, many seemed far less convincing than when I first head them. But still, EVP recording presented me with a very cheap, practical way to conduct some ghost-hunting of my own. I asked Nathan and his wife Missy if they were interested in joining me, and they said that they were. Certainly, I could not have done it without them -- even if all three of us may be somewhat skittish by nature (each to his or her own degree, of course), together we could summon a modicum of courage.

[Onward, to Page 2: Tools of the Trade]

 

 

 

 
©2001-2002 Patrick Lane