'Haunted' museum to host Halloween tours - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

'Haunted' museum to host Halloween tours

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Posted: Tuesday, October 27, 2009 6:18 pm | Updated: 3:11 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

A girl's voice humming. A flashlight that appears to respond to questioning. A woman feels like she's walking through cobwebs, but there's nothing there.

A team of paranormal hobbyists recorded or experienced these things during a long night spent last month at the Gilbert Historical Museum, but they say further study is needed to determine if the building is truly haunted. On Halloween, would-be ghost hunters will be able to see how the hunting for haunting is done.

Chandler resident Andy Rice, lead investigator of the West Coast Ghost and Paranormal Society, said the group goes to great lengths to debunk claims that a building is haunted.

If the equipment records enough sound or movement from what doesn't appear to be a living person in the room, and gadgets can't detect other phenomena that might influence human perception, you could be encountering paranormal activity, Rice said.

"The definition of paranormal is not necessarily ghost activity; it's something beyond normal that we don't understand yet," Rice said.

The group intends to return to the building for more tests.

"We weren't able to debunk anything, and we were able to capture some activity, but it wasn't enough to push us over that threshold," Rice said.

But conditions probably won't be ideal for that study on Saturday, since mortal museum visitors will be taken on tours of the museum to see the infrared cameras, electromagentic field detectors, audio recorders and other devices the West Coast GAPS uses to record activity in places where possible spiritual activity is reported.

The tours will not go down into the basement, where most of the unusual activity was reported, for liability reasons.

There will be trick-or-treating from room to room within the museum and prizes handed out for carnival games, along with a costume contest.

Museum director Kayla Kolar emphasizes that the event will be family-oriented - think "Casper," not "Poltergeist."

"We're not going to turn all the lights off and go around trying to scare people," Kolar said.

The idea to call in the "ghost hunters" or "ghostbusters," as the team is called at various times, came from Bobbi Smith, a museum volunteer, urban farmer and parks board chairwoman.

Smith read about their exploration last year of Monti's La Casa Vieja restaurant in Tempe and thought a similar event might pique interest in the museum. Monti's is one of the two locales the team has labeled "haunted," while the other is a bar in New Mexico.

She got to lead the society members through the museum during their Sept. 5 investigation of the building, and while she didn't hear any of the disembodied voices herself, "I did hear the recordings, and they were pretty eerie," she said.

Suspicions that the museum building, opened in 1913 as the third home of Gilbert's first elementary school, is haunted date to at least the early 1980s, when former Gilbert Unified School District Superintendent Brad Barrett had an office where the gift shop is now located.

Now director of the Arizona branch of the anti-drug organization notMYkid, Barrett emphasized that it only happened one time and claims the story has been "embellished" in the run-up to Halloween. But he then talks in vivid detail, with sound effects, of hearing floorboards creaking loudly and furniture sliding, noises that continued as he high-tailed it out of there but stopped when he did.

"They didn't need to call the West Coast nobody," Barrett said. "I could have told them that place is haunted."

His prevailing theory, bolstered by former Gilbert mayor and historical society board member Dale Hallock, is that a school nurse who previously occupied the office was responsible for the mayhem. Today, he's glad to be able to claim some sort of scientific vindication for his experience.

Debate probably will always rage about the soundness of the science that underlies ghost hunting, but public interest is clearly sky-high given the popularity of the "Ghost Hunters" show on the SyFy cable network.

Rice said footage from the Gilbert museum is being used to produce a pilot for a possible new show, and the popularity of the series has made it more socially acceptable to believe in the paranormal.

"Everybody wants to be a ghost hunter now," he said.

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