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Phantom tales


A door creaking open on a windless night. A barely audible whisper in a deserted corridor. A faint, translucent figure floating in a graveyard. Ghost stories have fascinated for centuries, and Halloween is perhaps a favorite time for these phantom tales.

Of course, for those who claim to have had an otherworldly experience, calling it a tale could incite quite the protest. Unlike legends of old, some people claim to have actually sensed a spirit, heard a ghost or even seen an apparition.

And the members of South Jersey Ghost Research? They claim all three.

“I love a good healthy dose of skepticism,” said Sharon Vincz. “Our goal is not to convince anyone to believe that ghosts, spirits or hauntings exist, but to present our findings. It’s the old adage — can you prove they don’t exist?”

Vincz is a librarian by day and an SJGR certified investigator by night. She also serves as the group’s public relations coordinator. The group’s roots date to 1955, when Ghost Hunters of America conducted investigations throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania. In 1998, GHA merged with two other similar groups to form South Jersey Ghost Research. The membership base and investigation coverage now covers the entire Delaware Valley.

SJGR has investigated hauntings and happenings in private residences and public buildings — including in the Pinelands — and aims to aid individuals in dealing with or understanding their possible ghostly situation. Right now, the group boasts 29 members, and investigators are equipped with top-of-the-line equipment when out in the field.

“We continually grow by enlightening the public with new evidence we discover because of the advancement of the equipment we use,” Vincz explained. “Today, using the infrared cameras ­– with an IR flood light — or the full spectrum cameras and camcorders — with the use of the full spectrum flood light — we are able to capture full-bodied apparitions.”

That’s right — photographs of ghosts. A look through the SJGR website at www.southjerseyghostresearch.org catalogues not only these eerie photos, but supposed audio recordings (or Electronic Voice Phenomenon) of the spirits, too. While most pictures don’t depict a full-bodied apparition, many show orbs, thought to be balls of energy indicating the presence of a spirit.

Of course, SJGR evidence is still questionable to many, but as the group states on its website, “this is not an exact science.” Members encounter skepticism for their work — which is all-volunteer — in their everyday life, too. But for them, there’s no question about whether or not there is spirit activity out in the world.

“If I didn’t think there was something there, I wouldn’t be driving two hours to an investigation to sit for three hours in the dark and two hours back if this was all pretense,” said Tracie Casey, SJGR certified investigator. “If I’m faking evidence or making things up, I don’t think I would be putting that kind of time into it.”

Casey has been with the group since January, and she said the experience has been great to date. It’s not, however, always exciting.

“It’s a lot of work,” she said. “A lot of long hours sitting in the dark doing nothing. But when you do find some evidence, it’s worth it.”

Investigators like Vincz and Casey go through three months of extensive training. Applications are accepted twice a year — including right now — and, once submitted and follow-up questions answered, applicants are interviewed by the board of directors and team leaders. From here, they are selected and notified.

“After you have passed the three months of training and passed the written test, you become a member — a member on three months of probation,” said Vincz. “All this training ensures that the SJGR member is well-equipped to help our clients who are bothered with hauntings.”

Checking out a haunting is a lengthy process, one that gets started once an individual or group requests SJGR’s services. Vincz said the process is to ensure it is a legitimate haunting and to ensure the safety of its members.

Clients first fill out a questionnaire. A preliminary visit is conducted by two investigators and an investigation date is set. A team leader runs the investigation, which covers the entire property thoroughly by pairs of investigators. A contact person keeps in touch with the clients following the investigation while evidence is analyzed. From here, SJGR decides on a course of action to help the clients understand their paranormal events.

“Once you experience it, you know it’s for real,” said Bridget LeConey, an SJGR assistant director and team leader. “Being there and actually experiencing it, you can’t refute it then. But I can’t make someone believe it.”

LeConey — who said she is not “sensitive” to paranormal activity — said one of the coolest aspects of an investigation as a team leader is visiting different groups throughout a building and finding out they are experiencing the same things.

“When I find they’re reporting the same exact things and it’s obviously in different places — it’s validating for me to hear them getting the same kind of impressions,” she said.

As a nonprofit offering its services free of charge, SJGR relies on donations and fundraising events like lectures to keep it afloat. All donations are tax-deductible. While SJGR events occur all year, October and November are especially busy. The group will be visiting local libraries with a lecture covering the different elements of investigating as well as equipment used, culminating in a question and answer session. Upcoming events include visiting a haunted library and a ghost hunting experience at a historic site.

“October is a jam-packed month of paranormal happenings,” said Vincz. “Events of this nature gives the general public access to explore the paranormal and to help them better understand the unknown.”

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