ESPANOLA – On a cool dark night, the faint howling of nearby hunting dogs could be heard at the Espanola Cemetery.
It was the only sign of life here, where hundreds are buried, their graves covered with overgrown weeds and fallen branches.
Four twentysomethings, each equipped with an electronic device, walked slowly along a dirt path, guided by flashlights. These brave souls, members of a Palm Coast group called Central Florida Ghost Research, were conducting an investigation.
Their so-called “scientific based, paranormal investigative agency” and a few groups in Volusia County are among many in a ghost-hunting movement sweeping the nation. These folks scoff at seances, tarot cards and Ouija boards. To them, they’re too impossible, too intangible, to prove.
They prefer the method seen on the Sci Fi channel’s new TV show “Ghost Hunters,” an “alternative reality show” that documents the adventures of TAPS, The Atlantic Paranormal Society. Nearly 1.7 million people watched the show’s debut last year.
But those methods have skeptics and outright detractors, too.
The local researchers think they are pioneers of a field ahead of its time, testing theories dealing with life after death.
Parapsychology, the study of the paranormal, is making its way to some higher-education course catalogs, including the University of Central Florida’s.
Group does its homework
Before jumping to paranormal conclusions, members of the Palm Coast group do their homework. They research the history of the building or the area, look for nearby sources of electricity, cracks that could cause cold drafts – anything that could rule out the possibility of ghosts.
Tom Iacuzio, the 26-year-old founder of the group, started the tour by distributing the equipment. Jason Shepard held the gauss master measuring the electromagnetic field and the thermoscanner measuring temperature. Kayla Benefield held the digital camera while Tesha Shepard took notes.
The team noticed a spike in activity. The indicator line of the gauss master jumped back and forth. Benefield snapped a photo that revealed white circular forms, which they believed to be balls of energy called “orbs.”
But what these ghost-hunting groups call evidence, skeptics such as Pat Linse call “crapola.” Linse is co-founder of the California-based Skeptics Society, a 12-year-old group that examines unusual claims and debunks them in the name of science.
“Scientific jargon doesn’t mean that what they’re doing is scientific,” Linse said. Her fellow group member, Tom McDonough, is an astrophysicist and former lecturer at the California Institute of Technology.
McDonough said changes in the electromagnetic field can be caused by numerous factors in the environment, including power lines and underground pipes. He also dispelled the myth that “cold spots” or sudden temperature decreases could signal the presence of a ghost, stressing that drafts are common in old buildings.
As for the photos that these ghost researchers think illustrate orbs, Southeast Museum of Photography Director Kevin Miller says the white spherical images easily could result from a software glitch.
But technology, ghost hunters argue, is the key to pushing the field of ghost research into a more exact science Tallahassee.com