28 Feb 2010
Paranormal 'team' investigates weirdness
By VANESSA McCRAY
TRAVERSE CITY -- By day, these guys' lives appear normal.
One is a cook, another manages a store. One drives a truck, and the fourth is a disc jockey. But at night, these men search for the paranormal.
Roger Geraci, brothers Daniel and Dave Mackin and Justin Hawkins make up the Michigan Area Paranormal Investigative Team. The Traverse City-based group investigates spooky spots for hauntings, mysterious activity and unexplainable phenomena. Geraci is the Mackins' cousin, and Geraci and Hawkins are brothers-in-law.
The Mackins trace their interest in the paranormal back to their family's former home in Manistee.
"The house we grew up in, even from the day we moved in, strange stuff would happen," Daniel said.
He said he would lay in bed at night and hear breathing, or return to his padlocked bedroom to find his things strewn across the floor.
Hawkins took note of the supernatural after he said he saw a glass move by itself: "Ever since then, I've been into the paranormal," he said.
Geraci and the Mackins formed the team in 2006. They asked Hawkins to join last year after he earned the group's trust.
The team started by investigating cemeteries. They owned some digital equipment and had watched ghost-hunting shows on TV.
"In my experience through my life of being scared when I was little, there's not much that scares me now," Dave said.
Turns out, ghost hunting isn't always the action-packed, goose bump-inducing thrill ride portrayed on TV. It can get boring, standing around in the dark, staying up all night, waiting. Downright "tedious," Daniel called it.
"You got to be dedicated," Geraci said.
The team first tries to disprove a haunting and find a rational explanation other than paranormal. The group heard stories of ghostly children's noises at Pere Cheney Cemetery, located near Grayling, but determined it was the sound of coyotes.
"It's just intriguing," Dave said, of their investigations. "I love the finding of the stuff, but you have to question it."
Another memorable hunt took place at the recently restored City Opera House in downtown Traverse City. Opera house General Manager Diana Barrie said there's been reports of ghosts haunting the old building. Two stories are repeated: One of an older woman with long hair and the other a little girl. One night while Barrie worked alone, she said the lights mysteriously went down low and then back up. She was curious to know what the paranormal team might uncover and accompanied the group during part of the night.
At one point during the ghost hunt, Barrie and others went to the lobby after hearing noises. Someone in the group asked, "Are you here to protect the opera house?" Suddenly, as if on cue, a door slammed shut, Barrie said.
"It was incredibly interesting, fascinating and scary all at the same time," she said. "I have to work here, and it's almost like you'd rather not know."
Listening back to audio recorded at the opera house, the team said they heard a voice whisper "I love you." Daniel swears something unexplainable touched his arm when he was there.
"We really feel that something in there is trying to send a message to someone," he said.
Usually the team investigates at night because it's dark and quiet, making it easier to see strange lights or hear odd noises. They bring digital cameras and video cameras, flashlights, voice recorders, infrared thermometers and electromagnetic field detectors. Sometimes, they set up "control objects" and mark the position of each item to see if the objects move, but have not had much luck with that technique. They don't use psychics or Ouija boards.
An investigation usually requires six to eight hours or more at a site. Most of the possible paranormal activity is discovered after they leave, when the men spend hours examining video, photographs and audio recordings.
The team would like to investigate the old state hospital in Traverse City.
"That's like our Holy Grail right now," Hawkins said.
The group also wants to do more investigations at private residences. They don't charge for their services and will keep results of their investigation confidential, if the owner wishes. It's a priority to make sure the property owner trusts them, so they keep the size of the group small.
"Who wants a bunch of strange, and I emphasize strange, men in their house?" laughed Daniel.
They stress that they will listen to anyone's story, regardless of how far-fetched it sounds.
When they do find something abnormal, the team isn't always sure what to make of it.
"To accept it, you have to admit a lot of things about life and death," Daniel said. "(I) ask myself, what is this? Is this a departed person? Is this someone who never existed?"
He encounters a range of reactions when he tells people about his paranormal pastime.
"Five will be total skeptics, and five will be believers..., but everyone has a story," he said.