Ghost hunting at Providence Academy
Here’s a 2002 story from The Columbian archives about ghosts inhabiting the old Providence Academy building, built in 1973:
SPIRIT-SEEKERS POKE ABOUT LOCAL LANDMARKS BUOYED BY THE HOPE THAT THEY JUST MIGHT HAVE … A CHANCE OF A GHOST
BRETT OPPEGAARD, Columbian staff writer
Publication Date: December 27, 2002
As the dozen local ghost hunters hurriedly scattered throughout The Academy’s basement, a few of them found a white cloth that they used to cover a worn, waist-high cabinet.
One brought out a Ouija board, another an invocation spell, and the seance began while the rest of the group’s members busily explored other rooms and stairways, rapidly snapping digital picture after picture as well as shooting streams of video.
A bare floodlight in the middle of this expansive basement provided a couple of candles worth of illumination in the dim corner where the ceremony took place. The quartet involved each touched a hand to the board’s planchette, and participant Kori Cully asked, “Is there somebody here who would like to speak with us?”
“We started doing this just for fun,” said Christine Bridges, president of the year-old Ghost Hunters Alliance of Vancouver. “We were getting some really good results, so we decided to organize ourselves and just go from there.”
The group since has conducted about 100 investigations of haunts in the Vancouver-Portland metropolitan area, ranging from the disturbingly creepy (David Douglas Park where Westley Allan Dodd abducted and killed two Vancouver boys) to the refreshingly festive (Slocum House, the home of Vancouver’s oldest theater company) to various historic landmarks around the area, including many of the McMenamins’ establishments, such as the Grand Lodge, Edgefield and St. Johns Pub.
“Spiritually, (the outings seem) to help everybody in this group face what everybody has to face, their own mortality,” Bridges said. “It helps us to believe that there is something more than death. We’re looking for answers, and if we can find proof, if we can get something tangible, maybe a picture of somebody (in spirit form) walking across the room, then we can say this really does exist. That’s what we keep going for.
“We do take this quite seriously,” she added. “But sometimes we have to laugh, too, and have a good sense of humor, because some of the things we find can be downright scary.”
On that recent night at The Academy in downtown Vancouver, the Ouija Board summoning appeared to contact a spirit named “Sonter,” who said he was a maintenance worker in the landmark building from 1935 to 1948, eventually dying in 1967.
A McKenzie’s Restaurant & Pub cook had asked the ghost hunters to find out if spirits were at play in the eatery’s kitchen. So they queried, and Sonter acknowledged he had been watching over the situation.
One of the ghost hunters asked the spirit, “Did you try to communicate with the cook?”
The response was “Yes.”
“What did you want to tell him?”
Slowly, the planchette moved over the letters as the wait to see what would be spelled raised tensions. First a “P,” then an “E,” two more times on “P,” then “E” again, then “R.” That caused a group guffaw.
Later in the seance, when the quartet was asking Sonter about uneasy feelings they were getting from a stairway, one of the ghost hunters, Jennifer Fuller, suddenly groaned, then collapsed to her knees. Combined with more information from the Ouija board, a gradually recovering Fuller said she was receiving visions from the spirit about some kind of medical condition, heart attack or stroke, that caused the death of a friend named “Santos” on that stairway in 1939.
“That should be on some kind of public document,” ghost hunter Casey Smith said, implying that the group will try to confirm the findings at some point.
It’s common for these ghost hunters to report having such visions as well as being touched by spirits, feeling chills, getting goose bumps and encountering energy forces (positive and negative). Their cameras get filled with pictures of what they deem as floating orbs or wisps of ectoplasm that they consider signs of spiritual energy miraculously captured in the frame.
“We have a couple of images that really do appear to be people,” founder Bridges said. About 40 percent of the material they gather gets put on their Web site, www.ghosthuntersalliance.com. The rest is being saved for a book that members plan to self-publish in 2003 or the documentary being shot by volunteer Tom Bellas of Portland.
Bellas says there are strict rules in place for the group to ensure that the evidence they present can withstand outside scrutiny.
So the ghost hunters of Vancouver always take more than one shot of each image to lessen skepticism about sun spots, dust particles, light reflections or other explainable anomalies. For the same reasons, they don’t shoot outside in rain or snow, and they not only avoid smoking cigarettes around the cameras, they also try to hold in their breath when snapping images.
“There are skeptics everywhere,” Bellas said. “We’re always trying to prove ourselves.”
Bridges acknowledged, “Like many things, it’s a matter of faith. You either do or do not believe.” She says such a spiritual quest goes beyond just transcending mortality, though, or chasing ghosts into the realm of religious intellectualism.
Another one of the ghost hunters, Mike Blake, puts it this way: “There’s got to be something out there. When you die, you don’t just go away. A person has so much energy, that has to go somewhere. It just doesn’t vanish.
“Everybody has their own beliefs,” he added. “Some people say there are no such things as ghosts. Some people believe we’re the only ones out there. Some people just try to be polite (and not comment). But there can’t be just us, so I think we’ve all got to keep an open mind about things.”