man looking at phone

Things that go bump in the building Ghost hunters take readings on the paranormal as sociologists take readings on the hunters.

Ben Hansen of Syfy’s
Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files
sits in darkness in Smith Hall, surrounded by a variety of paranormal people whose roles in our night-long excursion range from academic observers to hypnotherapist, medium, sensitives — and a talking teddy bear.

One woman with lavender hair is holding a night-vision camera with an equally lavender light attached to it. Others fiddle with a multitude of devices that beep, blip, boop, fuzz, crackle and light up. The talking bear lights up, too.

Eventually, with the classroom dimmed, Hansen asks: “If there’s anyone here … we want to make contact with you.”

The haunting of Smith Hall

Chris Bader, Ph.D., professor in Chapman University’s Department of Sociology, didn’t organize the event to meet a ghost. Rather, he and Professor Ed Day, Ph.D., want to meet the people who are trying to meet a ghost.

“I’m studying the human side,” Bader said.

Their sociology research touches on how people react and participate within belief in the paranormal. Who are they, what makes them believe and how do they respond to situations that are deemed “encounters”?

In the recently published Chapman University
Survey on American Fears
, conducted by Bader, Day and Professor Ann Gordon, Ph.D., the team found that
41.4 percent of Americans
(from a survey of 1,500) believe that places can be haunted by supernatural beings. What’s more, 26.5 percent believe that the living and dead can communicate with each other.

“Interest in ghosts has increased in the last couple of decades and seems to be drawing in a diverse group of people,” Bader said.

It was a dark and stormy night

OK, I lied. It is dark, but not stormy. It’s a little after 10 p.m., and over the next few hours I’ll be confronting a slew of my anxieties in rapid, successive combinations: darkness, cramped and crowded spaces, heights. It bears mentioning that I’m short, with poor eyesight and have never enjoyed a crowd. Outside of being at a concert — even then it’s hit or miss.

group in classroom

Chris Bader, facing on left, sits across from paranormal investigator Ben Hansen, of SyFy’s
Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files.
Hansen and others gathering readings, seeking to determine if paranormal beings inhabit parts of Chapman University, while Bader observed the action.

I’m in the upstairs corner classroom in Smith Hall, where purportedly ghostly footsteps have been heard. Hansen and his cadre of paranormal investigators and enthusiasts are clicking and ticking away in their setup. They’re armed with their gear. I’m armed with … half a travel mug of Tetley’s British Blend and a camera of which I’m becoming less confident by the moment that I can effectively wield.

Hansen asks the gathered to, if they make a noise, please identify themselves and the noise they have made.

Bump. Sorry, that’s me getting into my chair in the corner and wrestling purse, camera and tea into place. Sorry, sorry, sorry.

Hansen asks a lot of questions about who the presence might be, how it is affiliated, is it happy. There are a few blips, the bear talks, “Let’s be friends,” but nothing substantive. Hansen asks for repeat blips to confirm it wasn’t a fluke. There are no repeats. The bear stays blessedly silent.

In the feedback, there’s a lot of background noise. People on skateboards outside. Shuffling. Coughing.  More than a few muttered “sorrys” in the darkness. I promise you, not all of them are mine.

Two guys sitting against the wall under the whiteboard report they caught on infrared some glowing orbs coming from around Hansen. He looks, at least to me, somewhat dubious. Maybe I’m just dubious. But then again, I’m almost out of tea.

With a decided lack of activity in the readings, Hansen motions to break the pack in two: one to stay and one to head over to the Waltmar Theatre, where someone had once reported seeing a figure on the catwalk.

Hansen reasons that smaller groups may get more activity. I tail the group headed to Waltmar, jangling bags in tow.

The skeptic in me, the skeptic in you

On the other side of the stats about belief in the supernatural are the non-believers — the skeptics, if you will. Bader’s team reported that 49.7 percent of Americans have no paranormal belief at all. You can look at the stats this way: In a room full of skeptics, you’re still likely to find some believers, no matter how mild. Or in this case, the other way around.

“Ghost hunters do generally believe that the ‘energy’ you bring to the table will influence your experiences.  So skeptics will be less likely to have an experience as they are not bringing the right energy,” Bader explains to me, politely. “So it’s a matter of perspective — a skeptic would say that he/she does not experience anything because nothing was there.  A believer would say that this person was not attractive to the spirits and/or wearing blinders.”

This translates to: I’m probably not a ghost magnet.

Up in the air, at center stage

basement with furniture

Chris Bader sits at the end of a hallway in the Waltmar Theatre. if you look closely at the right corner, you can see an old-time hospital gurney.

Let’s take a minute to recall those things I mentioned earlier about me being, we’ll call it “highly anxious,”  about dark, confined spaces and heights. Remember that part? Good.

At the moment I’m on a catwalk above the Waltmar Theatre seating. That’s tolerable. I can hang, even thought my allergies are firing up for what  turns into sneeze-pocalypse later.

Hansen says, “Hey, can we turn off the lights? Let’s turn off the lights.”

Oh please let’s not. My silent wish goes unheard and with a plastic-y tick, we are plunged into darkness. So now, a little closer to midnight, I’m up high, in the dark. Squinching my eyes shut, telling myself, “Be cool.”

It bears mentioning that I’m now also totally out of tea.

Hansen asks the darkness more questions. There are not a lot of answers, just the occasional cough or wheeze from the crowd stuffed onto the catwalk. There’s something like a thump around the area of the stage. The lights come back on and we shuffle off to the next stop: under the stage.

Single file, we wander down a series of stairs until we hit the bare-bulb-lighted recesses of Waltmar. OK, not so bad, lots of plush prop couches, chairs …  and a gurney that looks like it’s left over from
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Down another flight of stairs and now we’re squeezing through the cramped storage space of below stage. I am roughly center, hemmed in by towering stacks of chairs draped in plastic. It’s dusty, musty and I can’t turn around comfortably. I am proffered  a plastic-topped chair. Crinkle, crinkle, I sit. Crinkle, crinkle, I breath. Crinkle, crinkle, I’m sorry.

Again, away with the light bulb safety-blanket as Bader slightly unscrews them in their wire cages. I look at the spot where I should see the floor and my feet and try not to think about running back up the stairs where bulbs are still blazing and I can turn in a circle.


group of people in basement

The crew of people winds through the under-stage part of Waltmar Theatre. Do you see how cramped and dark this is? Do you see all that dust?

Crinkle. Sorry.

“Did you hear that?”

“Yeah, what was tha … “

“Shhh! There it is — that was definitely something.”

I don’t hear anything other than the crinkle of my infernal plastic.

Someone hears footsteps. Someone hears a dragging whump sound on the stage itself.

Then silence.

Undaunted, the troupe goes upstairs. We get situated onstage, the investigative team hoping to catch a something of the thing that went
in the wings.

Infrared cameras click on, cell phones come out and I’m about ready to throw my camera into the seats. If anyone experienced any electronic interference, I believe there may have been a dark spirit tampering with my camera ISO because that thing would work for no setting.

Suddenly, there’s something. Hansen sees a light floating in the infrared, up near the catwalk. Everyone immediately crowds behind him, eyes glued to the iPhone screen in his hands.

The light settles. Then expands. And begins to move. It responds with movement to questions as it wanders back and forth behind a post in the control room.

And then someone on stage moves. I promise it was not me. Hansen asks, “Hey, you, can you move again?”  The person (again, not me, seriously) moves. “Do it again.” Moves.

It was a reflection. It’s a bust. Team two meets us in the audience. Apparently, the last hour or so back in Smith has been wild with readings all over the place. They did not have the burden of a skeptical, plastic-crinkling, tea-less campus representative.

Bader, Hanson, myself and a few others make our way back to Smith Hall. We traipse into a tight basement hallway, again in darkness. Again with similar quiet results. Hansen talks about previous hunts where the activity is off the charts, things go flying off the walls.

One last shot at the upstairs classroom. Mostly quiet. Hansen wraps it up, talks with Bader for a while and we disperse for the night. Maybe there will be something on the feedback run-throughs that we missed. Maybe there won’t.

It would seem that where I am, ghosts or otherwise are not.

Maybe I can market that.


At top: Ben Hansen grins at activity seen via an infrared camera attachment on his phone.

Brittany Hanson

Brittany Hanson

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