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Paranormal activity finds mainstream acceptance

By Henry Hanks and Nicole Saidi, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Television, social media have made the paranormal more widely accepted
  • Groups of investigators have cropped up around the world
  • Interest in the unexplained varies from childhood fascination to gadgetry
  • iReporters shared ghost stories from far and wide

(CNN) -- For Peaches Veatch, it started early, after watching an episode of the TV series "That's Incredible!" as a child. "They had an episode on Toys "R" Us being haunted and Sylvia Brown the psychic did a séance."

Veatch, having also learned of her family's interest in the paranormal, began recording "ghostly" sounds by age 9. "I had some experiences when I was a kid that were very interesting," she said.

By 2000, she had heard of formalized paranormal investigation groups and looked for one to join, finally finding her home in the California Paranormal Private Investigations in 2007.

The group, founded in 2006, is one of many such groups around the world (though Veatch estimated the number of "serious" groups only in the dozens). "Paranormal Activity" may have brought in mass audiences to theaters -- for two years in a row -- but stories of ghosts and those who investigate them are becoming more socially acceptable in the real world.

When CNN iReport asked for stories of ghosts that had been passed down through the generations in local communities, many of the iReporters who shared the stories said that they believed these legends to be real.

iReport: See more local ghost stories around the world

Just like Veatch's story about "That's Incredible!" mass media is increasing this interest in the unexplained, and especially in groups like hers.

"Due to all the TV shows that have come out [SyFy's "Ghost Hunters," A&E's "Paranormal State," and the Travel Channel's "Ghost Adventures" among them] people are willing to open up about their experiences, and before, it was taboo. No one wanted to talk about the unknown," she said. "We've reached out to people on Facebook in other countries and they're fascinated with it as well."

In the three years that Veatch has been with the paranormal investigations group, she has noticed a growing acceptance of what it does. "Linda Vista Hospital [a supposedly haunted location in Los Angeles, California] is now being opened up to paranormal groups to come in," she said. "Before, it was very hard to go in there."

Veatch said her group investigated Hollywood's famous Comedy Store in September. "It took us quite a while to get in there," she said. "We were surprised that they were willing to let us in, and they even mentioned it online for Halloween."

iReport: Investigating the paranormal in southern California

The biggest aquarium in the world has enlisted the services of paranormal investigators. Roswell, Georgia, Paranormal Investigations spent the night in Atlanta's Georgia Aquarium two years ago looking for evidence of haunting during the "Titanic" exhibit.

"Without the national exposure of shows like 'Ghost Hunters,' I'm not sure that would have been possible," said Dan Bernstein, a member of the 3-year-old group.

Bernstein became interested in investigating the paranormal nine years ago.

"I unintentionally captured what is known as an 'EVP' (electronic voice phenomena, a disembodied voice that cannot be heard by the human ear at the time of recording, only on playback of recording equipment) on a videotape while out with a bunch of friends around a supposedly haunted location in Virginia," he said.

"It was too dark to capture anything on the video recorder, so I only had about 60 seconds of footage. Upon playback, there was a whisper voice which said (in drawn out fashion) 'hiiii.' I was holding the camera and know for certain this was not one of us."

The Roswell group has also been a member of the The Atlantic Paranormal Society family, the seal of approval of the "Ghost Hunters," for two years. Recently, the groups have become more organized.

"We attend a lot of conferences and they'll bring out new equipment to try out," said Veatch. "In the industry we all talk to each other, so it's all word of mouth. They'll say, 'This really works and you'll really like it.' "

The equipment necessary to be a good ghost hunter varies depending who you ask. "Despite all of the fancy equipment that people see on television, the only real necessities are a good flashlight, digital voice recorder for conducting EVP sessions and a digital camera," said Bernstein. "Electromagnetic frequency detectors can also be helpful to communicate."

Vaughn Hubbard, founder of Seattle, Washington's Paranormal Investigations of Historic America, has an elaborate setup to look into unexplained phenomena, including a "command central" van, an infrared camcorder, an ambient temperature meter, a motion detector and a "static parabolic dish listening device" of his own creation.

A retired mechanical engineer, Hubbard was drawn into paranormal investigation by the technology and computer programs used by those on shows like "Ghost Hunters."

(Skeptics say there is no evidence that such instruments can be used to detect supernatural phenomena. Bernstein told CNN, "Our team never relies solely on EMF readings as evidence of the paranormal.")

After joining an existing group and finding what he says were similar results to those he saw on the shows, Hubbard set out on his own in 2009.

iReport: Paranormal Investigations of Historic America investigates

"Because I have a passion for history and developed a curiosity about the paranormal phenomena, I decided to invest the money necessary to start my own organization. I also wanted to try and connect some of the paranormal activity that we were recording to actual documented historical events and people," he said. "By limiting our investigations to museums, public historical sites and historical communities in Washington state and working with the media, we were able to have these historical sites featured and that encourages families to visit these locations."

Indeed, paranormal investigators see what they do as a public service. "It is very rewarding to both validate claims of home and business owners, as well as debunk and give very natural explanations if we can," said Bernstein. "We always present only evidence that we can capture in a form that allows us to present with either audio or video. We never tell a client that a place 'seems' haunted or present any of our 'feelings' about a location."

iReport: Investigators examine "ghostly" image

For every success story the investigators have, they sometimes come up short. Hubbard, who counts the Lewis County Historical Museum in Chehalis, Washington, as one of the most haunted places he has ever visited, said, "We were at the Log House Museum in West Seattle where there had been numerous reports of paranormal activity over the years. After hours of investigating, we came away with absolutely nothing. I really felt confident that we would be successful there, but it just didn't happen."

As for those who aren't "ready to believe you," Veatch said, "I know that a scientist would have to copy something elsewhere to prove it exists, but you can't always use the scientific method in this field."

Bernstein put it this way: "Those who do not believe in the paranormal are not going to be convinced otherwise until they have an experience for themselves. On the flip side, it is also difficult to convince a hard-core believer that there is a natural nonparanormal explanation for claims found during an investigation, as well as people that believe that every bump in the night is paranormal. Our advice is to just be open to the possibility that this is real, and if one day you have an experience, you will know it to be true."

 
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