Paranormal experts recover no evidence in night's hunt

In the fourth-floor attic of an old, empty home, Rachelle Moran whispered a series of simple questions.

 

"Can you tell us your name?" she asked, pausing to await an answer. "Did you live here? Can you make a noise?"

Nearby, on a chair by a dusty window, a doll dressed in Victorian clothes was surrounded by cameras and microphones poised to record the slightest sound or movement.

The toy, Mrs. Moran said, was brought along as an enticement -- just the sort of thing that might lure the shy ghost of a little girl into view.

"We thought we'd try the doll since we'd heard reports of a little girl in the window," said Mrs. Moran, the founder of the South Coast Paranormal Society, whose members spend their weekends chasing things supernatural.

They undertook their most recent investigation Friday night at the Goodale House on Sandbar Ferry Road at the request of its new owner, Wes Sims -- one of the people who said they observed the shadowy apparition of a little girl.

The house, built in 1799, definitely has a supernatural presence to it, Mr. Sims said. "You can just feel it when you come in here. It's wonderful."

The long-vacant, Federal-style landmark's history makes it a prime hunting ground for ghosts, said Josh Wilmoth, a member of the society's team.

"We've been doing research and even tried to pull some deeds and ownership records," he said. "That was just part of our field work."

The home's builder -- Thomas Goodale -- managed a large plantation and owned the ferry at the nearby river crossing. Subsequent owners included Charleston, S.C., merchant Christopher Fitzsimmons, who later gave the home to his daughter's new husband, Wade Hampton Jr. His son, Wade Hampton III, would become governor of South Carolina.

The tools of ghost hunting are mostly high-tech instruments that detect electromagnetic fields, movement and sound. Infrared cameras that work in darkness are helpful, as are digital voice recorders sensitive enough to capture the most subtle sounds.

The team, which also included Mrs. Moran's husband, Tim, and helpers Rina White and Thomas Swindol, has conducted similar investigations at places as diverse as the downtown Miller Theatre, Magnolia Cemetery and an antebellum mansion in Taliaferro County.

Those inquiries have yielded some interesting images and sounds that defy explanation, they say.

"When I started out doing this it was just a hobby," Mr. Wilmoth said. "Then when you start experiencing some of the things you cannot explain, it really gets a grip on you."

Mrs. Moran, like most people involved in paranormal detection, was inspired by personal experience from her childhood.

"Growing up, at my parents' house in upstate New York my sister and I saw things -- and heard things -- that no one could explain. A lot of what we do today is try to make sense of things people see or hear."

It's much easier to disprove a haunting report than to prove one, she said, noting that some investigations have led to simple explanations for noises, sounds or sights reported by people who believe they might have experienced something supernatural.

Then there are the occasional things that were not so easily written off -- including a shadow recorded behind a team member at Magnolia Cemetery.

At the Goodale House, a night of hunting failed to find any hard evidence of the paranormal, but the team still plans to spend a week or more reviewing recorded images and sounds -- just to be sure.

Hunting for ghosts, Mrs. Moran said, is also something beneficial to a community, regardless of whether it proves -- or disproves -- the presence of something supernatural.

"One of our goals is to bring more awareness to history and old places that need preservation," she said. "When you think about it, why do people, even people here in Augusta, flock to old cities like Savannah or Charleston? It's because of the history and the ghosts. Lots of places there are reportedly haunted and the owners make no bones about out. People love it."

Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119, or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.

ON THE WEB

Rachelle Moran says she started the South Coast Paranormal Society as a hobby, but the group's Web site is evidence of how it has grown. To learn more about the Augusta-based society and read case files about past investigations and ghost hunts, go to http://southcoastparanormalsociety.com