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13 Oct 2010


LIFE ON THE COUCH: Paranormal encounters spook 'Ghost Adventures' trio


If there's something strange in your neighborhood, you're still probably going to want to call the Ghostbusters. Assuming you'd actually like to get rid of whatever it is that's haunting you.

But if you're just interested in documenting its existence, seeing what it has to say, or getting it all riled up to experience its full door-slamming, disembodied-screaming fury, consider the guys from "Ghost Adventures" (9 p.m. Fridays, Travel Channel).

Paranormal investigator Nick Groff and equipment technician Aaron Goodwin have called Las Vegas home since 1999, and host and lead investigator Zak Bagans, with the exception of three or four years spent in his native Michigan, has lived here since 1995. But it was that time back in Trenton, Mich., that laid the groundwork for "Ghost Adventures," now in its third season of sending the trio to some of the most terrifying places on Earth.

During what he calls a "dark time in my life," Bagans awoke to hear an old woman screaming his name. This continued for a week, Bagans says, always at 3 a.m. "on the dot." On the seventh night, he says he was pinned down on his bed and saw something standing at the foot of it.

"The figure was looking at me, and I was looking at this figure," he says. "And after our eyes connected, that's when everything in my life changed." He calls that the first time he felt "there was use for me, from a higher power. I know it sounds kinda crazy, but it's true, though. I know that in my heart."

Back in Vegas, Bagans was hired to DJ Groff's wedding, and as the two got to know each other, Bagans shared his ghostly encounter. Rather than fleeing the scene and leaving a Groff-shaped hole in the wall, Groff, who describes having "slight experiences" with the paranormal as a child, was intrigued by Bagans' tale. "When Zak started telling me that," he says, "I was, like, 'Wow, that's something I wanna experience.' "

As the two hatched a plan to document Virginia City's haunted hot spot the Washoe Club, they realized they needed a cameraman who would work for free. That's where Goodwin, whom Groff met in his film classes at UNLV -- Groff having actually enrolled in the university while Goodwin sneaked into seminars -- entered the picture.

Goodwin says he never thought about ghosts until the crew filmed a full-body apparition at the Washoe. "It kinda changed me. And I was out," he admits, laughing. "I just was like, 'I can't do this no more. It's too scary.' " But he soon returned. "You get addicted quick to it," Goodwin explains.

A typical episode finds the trio locked down from dusk till dawn in some rundown, spooky hellhole, without a fancy production crew to assist them. Footage is captured via night-vision cameras that are either hand-held or left in spots with the most reported ghostly activity.

The team "communicates" with the apparitions via digital audio recorders -- the static is later enhanced to reveal messages such as "get out" or "I'm gonna kill Zak" -- and fancier equipment such as the device that lets spirits channel their energy into phonemes and resembles a supernatural Speak & Spell.

But "Ghost Adventures" is perhaps best known for the way Bagans -- who comes across, and I mean this in the best possible sense, as a sort of Criss Angel of the paranormal world, with his fist bumps, tight black T-shirts and intense persona that's a little scary itself -- calls out the various spirits.

"Come on out and show yourself!" he'll challenge ghosts in a manner that falls somewhere between an Old West sheriff rousting an outlaw and a drunk in a bar looking for a fight.

Bagans explains the technique by comparing entering a haunted venue to walking into a house party: "You're not going to interact with anybody if you just stand in the corner playing with your cell phone. You gotta go in there, you gotta talk to the people. You gotta know their names, you gotta know who they are. Start talking about some inner stuff about them to trigger some activity."

Occasionally, that activity is more than they bargained for.

During a trip to the Italian island of Poveglia, "all of a sudden, it's like some dark energy took over my body and wanted to use my body," Bagans says. "And I just wanted to beat the (expletive) out of Aaron." He stops short of calling it a possession, preferring the term "manipulation."

Then there's the team's recent visit to Bobby Mackey's Music World in Wilder, Ky., after which all three of them say something evil followed them home.

"Whenever I'd bring a girl over to my house," Bagans says, "it seems like something would attack that girl." At one point, he says his date's rosary was ripped off her neck and thrown into another room.

And Goodwin blames whatever they encountered there for breaking up his marriage. "After stuff following me home, things happening in the house," he says. "I just got fearful that the more I was gone, the more things would happen to her."

But locals don't have to travel nearly that far to find some of their favorite haunted locales: the Pioneer Saloon in Goodsprings, Fox Ridge Park in Henderson, and the Oasis Motel on Las Vegas Boulevard where "Suddenly Susan" actor David Strickland and poker legend Stu Ungar died.

They even have upcoming episodes set in the La Palazza Mansion in Las Vegas' Scotch 80s neighborhood (Nov. 12) and the Amargosa Opera House in Death Valley Junction, Calif. (Nov. 26).

In the interest of ever sleeping again, I don't want to believe in any of this. But I also don't want anything demonic to show up to try to make a believer out of me. Since these spirits seem to like digital recorders so much, I'm even tempted to burn the one I used for this interview just to be on the safe side.

The "Ghost Adventures" crew, though, insists everything they encounter is legit, and their certainty can be pretty convincing.

"This stuff is real. It can have a real effect on you, and it can wreak havoc in your life," Bagans says. "There's big risks with what we do. But it's in our blood."

Christopher Lawrence's Life on the Couch column appears on Sundays. E-mail him at clawrence@ reviewjournal.com.

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