If you’ve aimlessly channel-surfed anytime in the last 15 years, you’ve seen ghost hunting shows.
Their manufactured action, however, has nothing on the real thing.
“We have no respect for Zak Bagans,” says Helen Terrell, a member of the Bench Breaking Broads Ghost Hunters. She’s referring to the star of Ghost Adventures, a popular paranormal investigation show on the Travel Channel.
“They take a week’s worth of evidence and cut it down to fit that hour,” adds Maggs Williams, Helen’s sister and co-ghost hunter.
They’re keeping an eye on various machines and sensors as they talk, ensuring that they won’t miss any signs of an otherworldly presence. Both wear sweatshirts that say “Never Mess With a Ghost Hunter, We Know Places Where No One Will Look For You.”
The Bench Breaking Broads got their name on one of their first hunts; a ghost sat down next to them on a bench, which promptly broke. They’ve been conducting paranormal investigations for about 15 years.
When faced with the Broads’ willingness to laugh at themselves and what they do, it’s hard to fear anything that goes bump in the night.
This past Saturday, they took on the Buchanan Log House, a Nashville-area house that appears on the National Register of Historical Places.
“We’ve been here about a dozen times,” says Williams. “Some nights, the ghosts just don’t want to talk to you.”
This was not a problem on Saturday.
From the sounds of footsteps to flashlights lighting up by themselves, the action at Buchanan could have convinced any skeptic that spirits walk among us. ______________________________________________________________________
For those who don’t believe in ghosts, it always comes down to proof.
“Can you prove that there are ghosts? That’s a tough question,” muses Matt Zoccola, a founding member of the Paranormal Scene Investigators of Middle Tennessee, another ghost hunting team. “When I hear someone say ‘I know’ or when they talk about facts, I have a hard time believing that because I don’t think there’s a lot of hard facts in this field. I think it’s all theories.”
It’s not that he doesn’t believe in ghosts. The Paranormal Scene Investigators just see their ghost hunts as collecting data to support a hypothesis.
“We try to take a more scientific approach,” says Zoccola.
Zoccola, along with team members Mike Cole and Ruben Murguia, investigate locations like Waverly Hills Sanitorium and Old Charleston Jail.
They have been asked to do house calls but, as Cole says, “We don’t do demons.”
As funny as it sounds, the study of ghosts is practically a science.
“We’re investigators,” says Zoccola. “We want to document evidence.”
To document all this evidence, a ghost hunter has an array of devices that can sense ghostly activity.
Electromagnetic field detectors, or EMFs, pick up energy. Theoretically, ghosts are made of energy, so when the EMF meter lights up green, you might have a spirit on your hands, Cole and Zoccola explain.
There are even ghost-hunting apps.
Williams frequently refers to Ghost Hunting Tools Pro, which generates words that the ghosts might be trying to communicate with and has a radar that lights up red when a spirit is near.
“A lot of these apps are just stupid,” says Williams. “But we’ve tried a few out and we’ve gotten results.”
The Broads use small balls that light up at the slightest touch. Of course, these leads to many off-color jokes.
“We may not be mature enough to use the balls,” jokes Terrell.
If you’re worried that this lighthearted atmosphere won’t lure any ghosts, never fear.
“Come on, touch one of my balls,” Lisa Murray, another Broad, jokes and the rest of the team laughs. The light-up balls flare red and blue.
A ghost is here.
The Paranormal Scene Investigators take a less humorous, but still casual approach to talking to ghosts.
“If I were a spirit and people came in every night asking ‘what’s your name, what do you want,’ I would be bored out of my mind,” says Cole. He says they get more results just by chatting, not asking if a spirit is here.
This theory is proved true at the Buchanan house when, after a spirit turns on a flashlight to indicate that yes, he was alive during the 70s, someone jokingly asks him if he misses smoking weed.
The flashlight quickly turns on, along with one of the light-up balls, and the room erupts in laughter. ______________________________________________________________________
The Bench Breaking Broads have been sitting in an upstairs bedroom at the Buchanan Log House for about an hour without any contact from an otherworldly presence. It’s creepy enough, though; a cradle at the foot of the bed has a baby doll laying in it and a 1800s-era dress on a mannequin will make you do a double take, sure that you’ve just seen a ghost.
“It’s a lot more boring than people think,” Terrell says. “But it’s the exciting moments that make it worth it.”
These exciting moments can include anything from a light turning on by itself to a ghostly nurse trying to give you a check-up.
“I was physically attacked by a ghost,” says Williams. She and the rest of the Broads were investigating Waverly Hills Sanitorium when she felt physically ill.
“I had to get out of there or something seriously bad would happen,” she says. After leaving the room that had caused her nausea, Williams noticed a puncture wound on her arm “right where a nurse might try to stick an IV.” There were also bruises, as if she had been grabbed hard.
“It was so cool,” says Terrell.
“Maybe for y’all, but I was the one being attacked!” Williams says, pulling her hair into a bun. “I always put my hair up,” she says. “I don’t like getting it pulled by the ghosts.” ______________________________________________________________________
For most people, the thought of communicating with the dead is a spooky thought, but for a ghost hunter, it’s just like any other conversation.
“You can’t treat it like a haunted house,” says Cole. “You’re trying to talk to someone who walked this earth and has passed on.”
The Broads have the same respectful attitude towards the ghosts, addressing each one by “Miss” or “Mister.”
It’s clear that they think of these spirits as friends.
“Oh, Sue will go in that front room and talk to Miss Lucinda all night,” says Terrell, referring to one of the ghosts they have previously contacted. Sue Olson, one of the Broads, has established a rapport with Miss Lucinda; she’s usually the only one who can get her to start talking.
Throughout the night, they mention each ghost by name, refer to previous conversations and even leave out a small bottle of whiskey and some cigars.
“One time we promised to bring them the alcohol and the cigars and we forgot,” says Williams. “And they were mad about it the next time we came!”
Taking a break between investigations of each room, the Broads gather in the kitchen.
They stand around the table and share stories of their paranormal experiences, going over the greatest hits, from seeing full-bodied apparitions to being on the receiving end of a ghostly sneeze.
“We had fun on our first investigation and decided we needed to do this once a year,” says Terrell. “Now we do one every three or four months, so what does that tell you?”
Their ghost hunts have taken them throughout Tennessee and on to Alabama, Mississippi and Kentucky.
“Once you really start getting evidence, it’s sort of addictive,” says Williams.
“Hunting ghosts is hard on us old ladies,” says Terrell as they finish their coffee and pass around a bag of chocolate chip cookies. “We have to keep our energy up.”
By midnight, the Broads have made direct contact with four spirits, some familiar and some new.
“We’re never talked to that guy from the ‘70s before, so we’re not really sure who he is,” Williams says, flipping through her notes.
The Broads do extensive research before investigations; each one brings a folder full of floor plans, property lines and family trees.
They plan to move their investigation to the Addison House, a small log cabin that was moved onto the Buchanan property.
“You know what’s funny about Addison?” says Williams. “The spirits don’t like it when we just walk in. We have to knock first.”
The Broads finish checking their equipment and they head out.
“Remember to lock the door,” Williams says. “We don’t want anyone coming in here.”
“Yeah, it’s not the ghosts you have to worry about,” says Terrell. “It’s the real people.”
It’s the scariest thing anyone, ghost or not, has said all night.