While serving in the military in Virginia, Mark Waldenberger took a day trip with friends to Petersburg Civil War Battlefield. The highlight of the visit, he said, was watching a re-enactment staged on the battlefield.
The group was so impressed, they asked park staff when the next show would be.
They were told there was no show, no actors in the park.
“Apparently what we saw was not really there,” Waldenberger said.
“We were dumbfounded and didn’t know what to make of what we had seen.”
Since that 1986 episode, Waldenberger has been interested in the paranormal — spectrology, ghosts, hauntings and folklore. While in Virginia, he joined a group that investigated haunted sites.
“I never really had seen anything, and then I started to open my mind to it,” Waldenberger said. “After that, I really started to get excited about it.”
But when he returned to the Coulee Region in 1991, he could not find a similar paranormal organization.
“I really wanted to keep doing this, but it’s not nearly as productive as when you’re doing it with other people,” Waldenberger said.
So the Coulee Region Ghost Hunters were born — three people who got their business by word of mouth, taking calls, responding to letters and investigating urban legends with video and audio recorders rather than the proton packs of “Ghostbusters” fame.
“We’d check everything out, but it didn’t really take off. Not so much because we weren’t into it, but because we weren’t getting people to come forward with places to investigate,” Waldenberger said.
To turn the organization around, the name was changed to the Coulee Region Paranormal Investigation Society, a non-profit group based in Onalaska, Wis. The organization’s primary goal is to document what they see and hear, and help people understand why the paranormal might be in their home or business, which can ease fear and anxiety.
“We see amazing stuff,” Waldenberger said. “We try to act like little kids — and try to see the world of the paranormal — before they get the whimsy and wonder bashed by school, college and work, society and parents and the baggage we pick up as adults. We try to open ourselves up for awhile.”
Waldenberger, who is director and chief field investigator, said the group once had a Minnesota case in which a woman said she sensed something was in her home. During their investigation, the group saw strange mists and balls of light in the yard and house, and recorded disembodied voices.
The group checked into the house’s history and made some suggestions. When he checked back about six months ago, Waldenberger said he got a good report. The owner said she still thought she was being watched, but wasn’t as apprehensive about the basement or as uncomfortable as before.
“We consider that to be a win-win. The phenomena is still going on, but (the owner) understands a bit more and has an information base to draw from that is not as fearful. I think that’s kind of comforting,” Waldenberger said.
To encourage those experiencing phenomena to come forward, the group has agreed to keep their clients’ identities secret.
“People are afraid of being ridiculed and having (others) think they’re kooky,” Waldenberger said.
He said he enjoys more about his job as a paranormal investigator than recording or photographing phenomena.
“A lot of what you do is research … you have to do a background search on the history of the property, the house, the site,” Waldenberger said. “You really go through some extensive searches for information.”
Autumn Grooms, La Cross Tribune