Saturday, July 11, 2009

Things I Learned about Myself on My First Ghost Hunt

1. I am nothing like Leia Angeletti, my brave, 17-year-old ghost-hunting heroine.
2. I am a big scaredy-cat.
3. Fear of heights and a cell block with a low railing do not mix.
4. I am not patient enough to hang out and wait for a spirit to manifest.
5. I'm a really bad ghost hunter!

The picture to the right is my favorite from last night. In it, you can see down the long hallway of the West Cell Block at the Manfield State Reformatory. If you notice the cells are on the right, and to the left is basically a cage.

The East Cell Block has no cage. There is simply a hip-high railing, and as you can imagine, several inmates were thrown to their death as a result.

The building itself is amazing. In the video posted here yesterday, a former prisoner compared it to Dracula's castle. That's an incredibly appropriate comparison for several reasons.

The exterior is spooky yet gorgeous. The architecture demands attention and fools new visitors into believing the interior could be palace-like. As you can imagine, though, that anticipation doesn't deliver.

Inside, paint is chipping from the cell bars, walls, and ceilings. Wooden floors in the former wardens' living quarters soften as you walk over them creating nearly as much fear and anxiety as the graffiti on the walls and the violent history the tour guide revealed, which plays in your mind throughout the night.

The Attic
As the stories go, an inmate was helping with work in the attic once upon a time. The guards left him, and he committed suicide by hanging. Although many of the members of Spirited Ghost Hunting have been to Mansfield several times, they had never been in the attic. It was too dangerous - because of the mess, not because of the ghosts.

But after scarfing some pizza, we headed for the attic above the East Cell Block in a group of 8 around 11 p.m. We wandered around in the dark, flash lights bouncing off the walls and lingering on massive holes in the ceiling where plaster was peeling and hanging low, feet shuffling against the mounds of dirt and dust.

Across the attic were what appeared to be shower stalls like this one, which brings me to our first point of investigation.

My husband and I were standing in this stall while other groups were in adjacent stalls. Everyone was doing their best to be still and quiet while we recorded some electronic voice phenomenon or EVPs.

Rachelle, Spirited Ghost Hunting's fearless leader, was asking questions such as why are you here, what year is it, and what is your name?

She asked if anyone was there could they give us a sign. We heard a bang on hollow metal. I recognized the sound immediately. A few minutes earlier another hunter Tonya and I had squeezed through a small door frame to find an old furnace and stairs to other aged heating or water devices. That area is on the other side of the wall from the shower stalls.

Rachelle asked more questions and again asked for a sign, a noise of any kind or movement in the room. At that moment, Dom moved next to me.

"Did you hear that?" he asked.

"Yeah, stop moving," I told him, fearing we were going to get yelled at for improper ghost hunting etiquette. We were supposed to be quiet!

"No, someone threw something at me," he said. I was standing in the doorway of the stall, so it didn't come from that direction.

The rest of the group came into our little stall. We flashed lights on the floor and found a piece of glass. Glass hitting the floor made sense with the sound both of us had heard. I assumed he stepped on something or dropped something, but he insisted the glass either fell through the hole in the ceiling of the stall or the hole on the wall.

Tonya and I insisted no one was in that room. We had just been back there. To investigate, we all filed through the doorway into the next room to find a few other ghost hunters enjoying the joke they'd just played on us!

A couple more things about the attic before we move on. The history in the building is obviously incredible. It was opened in 1896 and first housed youth offenders. They were taught trades and "reformed" before being released. Then around World War I, more serious adult offenders called it home. At one time, it housed Death Row. Although its capacity is 1,100 prisoners, the most it ever held was 3,600. Clearly, overcrowding was an issue.

That's one of the reasons why in the 1970s, officials were pushing to have it closed. The decision was made in 1978, and it took 12 years to transfer all of the prisoners before the doors closed to corrections in 1990. Now, it's privately owned and preserved as a historical landmark.

I'm not sure why so many prisoners were up in the attic or why the place hasn't gotten a paint job for 80 years. I guess it's always possible that someone got creative and jotted some notes more recently than that, but above, you can see one of the many "I was here" notes.

It's hard to make out the details, but it's from prisoner 30890, who was transferred from Cleveland to serve at Mansfield in 1933. Some of the notes included reasons for incarceration.

A number or name. A crime. A date. I guess in their everyday lives, those were the most relevant attributes.

The notes illustrate a desire similar to Brooks' need to be remembered in The Shawshank Redemption, which was filmed at Mansfield. The halfway house Brooks lived in when he left the prison was filmed in one of the prison's administration rooms.

But back to the attic. We had one more experiment for the spirits, if they were with us. Four people set their flashlights in the middle of the floor. We crowded around them.

We got our voice recorders ready, and Jami, a really nice guy and fun ghost hunter, started with the questions. The main request was for the spirit to use the battery power in the flashlights as energy, thus shutting the flash light off. A particular line of questioning yielded a flicker in one of the lights.

"Did your family not visit you? Were they ashamed of what you'd done?"

The flicker was very visible. Not groundbreaking research or ironclad proof of paranormal activity, but clearly visible. After a few questions, Jami went back to the family questions again, but no more flickers, and none of the lights were extinguished.

When you're hoping for something to happen, it's hard not to assume or conclude prematurely. For instance, take a look at this photo of Rachelle and Colleen in the attic.

If you look closely above both of their heads, you see orbs. You can see one to the left of Rachelle (who's in the brown shirt and black shorts) and one right above Colleen's head. Farther above them, you see a few other orbs floating around.

I'd conclude these are dust particles. The validity of orbs carries a heavy debate. Some people believe if there is any color to them, it means they are paranormal whereas colorless orbs are simply dust particles. Others rule them out completely. Some, still, jump at any orb in a photograph and are excited about the implications.

The night wasn't over, but this post is getting lengthy, so I'll cut today's post short and get back to you tomorrow with more details about the music videos and movies filmed at Mansfield, our experiences in the administrative living quarters and pitch black cell blocks. And of course, what's a visit to a prison without time spent in solitary confinement.

1 comment:

  1. it sounds as though your research is going to help you gain perspective into the mind of paranormal investigations. you never know what lies ahead while investigating. kepping an open mind is key to recieving messages from beyond.