A Haunting in Jefferson? Paranormal Team Investigates The Old County Courthouse
Published: 10:16 AM, 05/19/2011
Last updated: 11:08 AM, 05/20/2011
by Jesse Campbell
As dusk fell at the Museum of Ashe County History on a Friday evening, members of the 3P Paranormal activity team began to unpack their high tech ghost hunting equipment and prepare for a long night of well, sitting and waiting.
The team of local ghost busters and myth debunkers had recently been granted permission by the museum's governing body to see for themselves if the 100-year-old building had any eery stories to tell.
Until the turn of the century, the crimson-colored building had served as the county's mecca for all things judicial and during its heyday, it was center stage for local politics and court day in Ashe was treated as a countywide social event.
If the old courthouse's walls could talk, the team was there, willing to listen.
"We never go into a place with the preconceived notion that it is haunted," the team's leader, Jennifer Bumgarner said moments before beginning her investigation.
"We go into a place because the likelihood or probability of something being there is high," Bumgarner continued. "Like the courthouse - the building is over a 100 years old, so the probability of something being there is high."
Bumgarner agreed that the countless number of lives that hung in the balance - along with the building's proximity to where the gallows once stood - could tie into the building's living past.
The museum's curator, Don Long, also joined the team Friday night to ascertain if the building's ghostly reputation could live up to the hype that had surrounded it for so long.
Long had heard countless stories of courthouse employees who reportedly had seen phenomenon transpire throughout the building.
"There is nothing that I can document with any certainty or rigorous proof but there has always been ghost stories of folks who worked there in the old days," Long said an earlier interview.
One recent account that sticks out in Long's mind is the case of a college intern's close encounter last summer.
"When I came back from lunch one day, he [the intern] had eaten lunch in the conference room and asked me, 'Does the building ever make any noise?'" Long said. "I replied, 'Yes, it is a 100-year-old building, it probably has a lot to say.'"
While Long was gone, the intern said he heard the telephone ring upstairs and someone walk across the room to answer it - even though the student was the only person present in the building.
"I told him it was probably Tam Bowie (a well-known lawyer of the early 1900s) or Will Banks (the last man to be executed in Ashe) answering the phone," Long said with a chuckle.
But if there are any leftover spirits or entities still walking the creaky museum floors, the paranormal sleuths said they have the equipment necessary to track them down - and this is no amateur hour.
The team set up four stationary infrared cameras in the building Friday night - two in the dusty, untouched main courtroom in the upstairs and two more downstairs including the main hallway.
They also used electromagnetic field (EMF) detectors to determine if the building had any "hot spots" or exposed wiring because as Bumgarner noted, "high amounts of EMF can cause paranoia and make people see things that are not there.
"We are not trying to necessarily disprove something, but look for an explanation."
Infrared thermometers are also a part of the team's arsenal during any investigation to measure ambient and surface temperature readings.
The team also came prepared to decipher the courthouse's code of secrets with an innovative cache of ghost hunting equipment - masterfully assembled by what Bumgarner calls their "MacGyver" of ghost hunting, Brandon
Blackburn, founder of the now defunct paranormal group - Into the Dark - has emerged as the connoisseur for all types of ghost gadgetry including the "ghost touch" which is a rigged flashlight that requires just the slightest amount of pressure to turn on. So, if a ghost or entity is given the opportunity to make its presence known, the simple switch of the flashlight is all it takes.
Voice recorders are also a favorite with the investigators: They allow investigators to review audio recordings of possible electronic voice phenomenon that they did not hear during the night.
Throughout the course of their investigation, the team was broken down into two groups and took turns canvassing the building and searching for answers.
Headquarters for the entire operation were located in a back workroom on the first floor where the team could watch on a split-screen video monitor what would unfold that evening.
Friday's investigation was one of the group's few high profile type cases although they have searched in earnest at more than 30 locations throughout the county, including the old Jefferson hospital. During that particular chilling experience, the group encountered audible shouting, the ding from an elevator in a building where there hasn't been electricity in years and orbs of light hurling itself at their cameras.
The up and coming group of supernatural fanatics is not in this effort for the thrill or rush of being scared, but they want to help people and test theories in the paranormal community, like are there better times during the day that are more conducive to investigating? What equipment works better under certain conditions?
There is also an appeal to more of a civic duty to their community and helping those who may truly be living with ghost-like phenomenon.
"Not everyone is happy they live in a haunted house," said Bumgarner.
With the cameras turned on and all final prep work coming to an end, the group readied for nightfall.
As the last glimmers of light reflected off the darkened windows of the museum, a chill in the air took over and the group settled in for a night of work.
If there is a presence in the old Jefferson courthouse, 3P Paranormal readied them once and for all to unravel the truth of the local legend.