"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 26 October 2000. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Hit & Run 10.26.00



Dale David Kaczmarek is the president of the Ghost Research Institute. He spoke with us from his office in Chicago.

It seems like famous people never become ghosts. Why?

There are quite a few actually. The ghost of Abraham Lincoln is thought to haunt the White House to this very day. He's been seen on a number of occasions in the Lincoln Room, by people ranging from White House staff to Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands. He's been seen as a tall figure wearing a stovepipe hat, standing in the doorway. According to some reports he's been picked up by presidential dogs, including Nixon's dog. And I believe Reagan had a dog who did not like that area.

But what about show business celebrities, whom you'd expect to crave attention? Even at the Dakota apartment building there's a ghost, but instead of John Lennon, it's some creepy little girl.

I've heard about that vaguely. But in fact some people claim to have seen Lennon's ghost, near the spot where Mark David Chapman killed him. It's not something that's reported on a regular basis, but there have been reports of that.

I don't know what you'd consider famous, but if you go to England and Wales there are a lot of famous names from the past. Henry VIII has been seen in the Tower of London and at Hampton Court Palace, as have several of his wives. Sir Walter Raleigh has been seen on the battlements of the Tower of London.

That's going back quite a few years. Don't ghosts usually fade away after a few centuries?

That hasn't always been the case. There have been ghosts that have lasted some centuries. Ghosts are usually not seen but are often heard. There are records that go back centuries. The United States is not that old a country. We only have a few hundred years of history here, which is probably why we don't have as many cases as they would have overseas.

What about American Indians?

Reports are pretty vague. American Indians believe that's very sacred, so you don't get too much reporting from that avenue. But you do get reports, for example of the Custer mass massacre at Little Big Horn. There's almost a reenactment of the battle.

Does that happen around the Fourth of July season, when the battle happened?

It's not really tied to an anniversary. It's been seen throughout the year. Usually ghosts don't have to keep to a schedule. Here in Chicago we have events that happened on specific days, such as the Saint Valentine's Day massacre. There have been reports of figures seen there, most often heard — sounds of gunfire, automatic gunfire, sobbing and moaning sounds coming from that site. And animals pulling their handlers away from that area. It doesn't have to be right on the anniversary date, but it does happen in that area.

Have you been to that site?

Yes I have. I've done a lot of research into that site. I've talked to people who had experiences there, including members of the Chicago police department who have been called there to investigate the sounds of gunfire. Sometimes a K-9 unit, these highly trained animals, will bark or snarl at something their handlers can't see but that they're picking up. There has been an interesting recent photograph from that site that shows some orbs of light in the area.

Is the original building still there?

No, the old garage was torn down in the 1950s, but there are stories about the bricks from that garage, and the people who collected them. Some of those bricks had bullet holes, as you can imagine, and some were spattered with blood. And some of the people who collected those bricks were plagued by bad luck, sickness, injury, divorce, and all kinds of bad omens and bad luck.

Does tearing down the building ever have any effect on a haunting?

Usually when we say a place is haunted we don't mean a building so much as a property. Whatever happened on that location can be impressed forever on the fabric of time and space and replayed like a residual haunting — like playing back a videotape over and over. It may not be associated at all with the structure, but with the property, the ground where the event took place. So if the building is torn down, that area can still remain inhabited by spirits.

Does a change of ownership have any effect on haunting patterns?

Not so much change of ownership; but if there is a structural change to a building as a result of change in ownership, that may have an effect. We have several examples in Chicago where a Victorian restaurant has been changed to a Mexican restaurant, so the whole atmosphere is somewhat different, and because of those changes, sometimes the ghost is stirred up. Sometimes if a building is completely renovated — at least this is what I've been able to determine through research — the spirit wants the area to remain as he or she knew it when they were alive. So alterations confuse spirits, and as a result they become more active.

Is there really such a thing as ectoplasm, and if so is it the same ectoplasm that's found on the outer portion of the cytoplasm of a cell?

Ectoplasm got its beginnings back in the time of spiritualism, in the 1870s. Many so-called mediums were able to produce a filmy white substance, sometimes from the fingertips, sometimes from the mouth or the ears or nose. This material would transform into a spirit. So this was thought to be a living, organic substance that could be used by the spirits to materialize. However, many mediums were exposed as frauds. But to this day there are still some reports of ectoplasm seen by people, or appearing on film. It doesn't have to be found by a person to be filmed. It's quite different from cell structure, and it's thought to be organic material.

Have you ever examined any?

I've never actually had a chance to. I have spoken to other parapsychologists who say that if you try to collect this substance it evaporates very quickly, and it's very hard to collect. A lot of this goes back to a time before we had good forensic and investigative techniques. There has been no more recent attempt to analyze this stuff. It's quite rare to come across this substance.

Do you perform exorcisms or is your work strictly research?

I basically stay on the scientific end of the spectrum, using high tech gear and gizmos to find out if there's something in the environment causing the ghost. As far as getting a spirit out of a home, we don't really get involved in that, mainly because we're rarely called for that purpose. Most often, people are curious about what's going on and they want reassurance from somebody outside their family that they're not crazy, that there really is something going on.

On the flipside we do occasionally get people who are so terrified by what's going on that they want the spirit removed. In that case we do work with professional psychics, who don't perform exorcisms but basically through trance-like states or their own clairvoyance communicate with the ghost and convince the ghost to move on. Because the most often repeated scenario is that the ghosts don't know they've died because of the way they've died — very suddenly, unexpectedly and violently.

Was Ghostbusters an accurate representation of your line of work?

Up to the point of trying to store ghosts and catch ghosts, pretty much everything else was fairly accurate. I mean the fact that they were using high tech gear to gather evidence and photograph ghosts and gather some physical proof. But something as ethereal as a spirit, at least to my knowledge, can not be captured or contained in the way they were doing in the movie.

Would it ever be possible to build ghost-capturing tools or weapons?

If I did I'd be a millionaire. Even just coming across the spirit is just one thing. Just trying to find something that's in that ethereal form, out of body, in some other plane, that's the main stumbling block. So to develop equipment, we have to first come across something we can study in some kind of controlled environment.

How about if you go to a plane crash site or a train wreck — wouldn't you get enough spirit activity to test out the weapons?

Most often when we do get involved in locations where there's been massive death, there is energy there, but the energy is very random, displaced, and free-flowing, rather than in some collective form. There are many theories about what a ghost is. The first of those, and the one we've most often encountered, is the residual haunting, like a playback loop.

The other, much more rare type is an apparition, where there's an intelligence behind the spirit, and that spirit or soul can interact with the living.

On the topic of inventions: How about better communications devices, either wireless or cable?

Even Thomas Edison had plans, just before he died, for a device to be used in spirit communication. Those plans were somehow lost or misplaced. We know that Edison was a genius, and invented the light bulb and so many other things. To this day, people record spirit voices all the time using tape recorders or other devices. That's known as EVP, or Electronic Voice Phenomenon. But there's not much actual two-way communication. There are communications through séances or Ouija boards or mediums. But those are very transitory. That doesn't provide much definitive proof.

Do you avoid Ouija boards and other Psychic Friends type stuff?

Yes. We don't get involved with Ouija boards, séances, or black magic. On our site we discourage people from using these sorts of techniques. Anything like that is opening the door to something you don't know is there. Using a Ouija board is like picking up your phone and dialing a random number. So it's an unpatrolled type of communication. There's no doubt that séances and Ouija boards can work, but we prefer using a trans-medium who can contact the spirit him- or herself without having to use spooky Ouija boards and so on.

Have ghosts started using the internet?

Not to my way of thinking, so far. There have been reports, some 10 or 15 years ago, that ghosts had been seen on computer screens, that there were some messages typed electronically. A Canadian group tried to create a ghost back in the seventies; that was covered in a book called Conjuring Up Philip, which was a bestseller in the 1970s. They created their own ghost using their own abilities, and were communicating with it. There have been experiments by other groups with turning the TV to a white noise channel, and picking up some evidence that was more than just bleed-through from other channels.

What kind of equipment do you bring on a Haunted House Investigation?

We bring an entire arsenal. We have several suitcases full of equipment. From Geiger counters to negative ion detectors, magnetometers, infrared cameras, other devices that pick up different forms of anomalous and electrical energy.

What piece of equipment do you never leave home without?

The trifield meter. It picks up electromagnetic disturbances in homes that are most often thought to be caused by spirit activity, because of a change in electromagnetic energy.

In cases where you investigate restaurants, are people looking to get rid of the ghost, because it's bad for business?

Actually, here in Chicago there are about half a dozen restaurants that have activity going on, but they don't want to get rid of it, because people are curious, especially around this time of year. One in particular was called That Steak Joynt, which closed a few years ago. But the owners were very open about the activity and appeared on local television documentaries with me, because it was good for business.

How about Chicago Flat Sammy's? Any ghosts there?

Not that I know of.

Hamlet's father is forbid to tell the secrets of his prison house; why are ghosts never allowed to talk about the next place?

Usually there's not much verbal communication at all with the spirits. Usually it's just one or two words, not a full sentence. When people are doing EVPs, the usual process is to ask a question, then leave two or three minutes of blank space. When they play the tape back sometimes they get answers, but usually there are just random voices. In some cases, the spirit is cognizant of what's going on, but usually it's oblivious.

Any type of voice you usually get on an EVP?

There have been all types of voices recorded. People have picked up voices from children to females to older people. Sometimes there are even mechanical-sounding or computer-sounding voices.

Does that make you suspicious, when you hear a mechanical-sounding voice?

I'm always suspicious of EVPs, because it's much harder to fake something on film than on an audio tape. So unless I'm there at the time of recording, and I can work the controls, I'm very suspicious of somebody just sending me a tape and saying "Here is a spirit voice."

Why is it that your organization does not allow for a Board Of Directors nor will it ever?

We've seen how other organizations have worked once they put a board in place and board members began to argue among themselves. It's easier just to have a basic set of guidelines, and not have any squabbling in the ranks. I don't want to give out any names, but two very good, successful organizations in the United States have fallen by the wayside because of squabbling among the boards of directors.

How many people do you have in organization?

We have about 168 members. It fluctuates from subscription to subscription. But in the Chicago area we have a good core group of about 20-some members, who go with us on investigations. And there are a number of people from France, England and Japan who have been members for a long time.

What's the most difficult Investigation you've done?

I don't really consider any investigation difficult. We don't change our MO on any of our investigations. We go into an investigation with a set of guidelines — how we get set up, who does what. There are some cases that are more difficult because of the size of the area we're monitoring, the number of rooms, the lack of electronics in the buildings we're investigating, or other factors that might make it difficult to do our jobs.

Ever been on any dangerous jobs?

Not particularly. There have been a few that spooked my researchers, because something unexpected happened. We try to prepare, but you never know when something might happen. You might hear a sound or catch something on tape that you weren't expecting to happen.


We have a case we're still working on in the North Side of Chicago, which is going to be featured on the Discovery Channel on Halloween night, on a special called Real Ghost Hunters. We were in that home on a number of occasions. We had never, ever heard or recorded any type of sound or EVP there, ever. When we were there with the Discovery Channel people, after sitting quietly for about 50 minutes, sounds began being picked up by oscilloscopes, wireless FM transmitters and wireless mikes that were upstairs in closed-off, sealed hallways and bedrooms. These areas were being monitored at the same time by night vision cameras, in darkened environments. Nothing was being moved. Nothing was being displaced. There was nobody upstairs. You could clearly hear shuffling of feet, as if somebody was taking a step and dragging a foot behind him. We heard metallic objects suddenly being dropped, things being moved. We weren't expecting that because we'd never heard anything like that in this location.

Were you scared?

No. The people from the Discovery Channel, however, weren't particularly pleased.

How could they not be pleased? Isn't that what they wanted?

That's what they wanted for TV, but the people they sent were not hard, steel-nerved people. So they weren't thrilled with what they were hearing. But it made for a good show, anyway.

Do any spirits have the ability to move objects?

Most often poltergeist phenomena or movements of objects are not caused by spirits. Those are simply caused by psychokinetic ability in people. There are very rare cases where there are slight movement of objects that can be attributed to ghosts. Usually displaced objects are thought to be caused by ghosts. For example, a keychain that has disappeared, you look everywhere, and a couple weeks later you find it in the middle of the kitchen floor in a place you've looked dozens of time. That would be accountable to, perhaps, a mischievous spirit or ghost.

What was a particular successful investigation?

North Side was very successful. We were able to gather quite a bit of video and audio footage.

You got pictures?

Yes we did. We have videotape of a ghost as well.

What did it look like?

Energy balls. Balls of light floating around in a totally dark environment that have no natural explanation. Even after researchers were sent up into the room to look for possible explanations, they could not see what was being seen on the monitors downstairs.

Do things pick up at Halloween time?

For whatever reason we do get more reports this time of day. I think that's because people are more interested in ghosts around this time of year, so there are more eyes and ears looking for this kind of evidence.

How about All Souls Day? Wouldn't the spirits want to make their presence known so we can pray for them?

It doesn't have to be any specific time of year. We're getting calls all year long. Not just around Halloween or any pagan holiday.

Generally we think of ghosts as unhappy. Are there any happy ghosts out there?

The ones we've been involved in are more mischievous or playful, rather than malevolent. I've never came across any dangerous or negative ghosts in my work. It's very rare to come across those kinds of spirits. Most people report more playful or prankish phenomena.

Why would a happy person continue to haunt the earth?

There are many possible reasons why people come back, from not knowing they're dead to not wanting to move on. Not wanting to die, not wanting to let go of physical life. Or wanting to see their family grow up, or to come back and deliver a message or inform somebody that there's something they need to know, or some money left behind or a will. There have been any number of reasons.

Any helpful ones? Has a ghost ever saved a family from a burning building?

There are what's called crisis apparitions, that sometimes come back in moments of crisis, when people are in danger of being hit by a car or run over by something. There was even a book called Voice From the Grave, in which a woman had been murdered, and the spirit came back to a close friend of the murdered woman, and provided her the information that led to the arrest.

If a ghost appeared to warn you that your building was burning down, how would you know that the ghost didn't set the fire?

Again, I've never come across any harmful spirits. I would say most likely it wasn't caused by the ghost but by some carelessness or something in the home. I've never come across a ghost that actually set a fire. Again, that would be delegated, if anything, to the kind of poltergeist phenomenon I described.

How many ghosts have you met in your career?

I've been involved in 800 or 900 cases. I can't say how many of those were actually spirits but there were a number that were simply left as being unknown or paranormal. In many cases we might find evidence that something is wrong, but that science can not explain it, so we leave that as paranormal.

Ever met any devils?

No. As I said, I've never met anything harmful.

Do you ever get any overlap, where people report a ghost but it turns out to be the Virgin Mary or an angel or something?

There have been cases in Chicago where the miraculous occurred in cemeteries or churches.

Ever looked into any of those?

On occasion, yes. My next book, the followup to Windy City Ghosts, will have some of those cases.

Out of the 800 or 900 cases you've been on, how many times have you made contact?

In the vast majority of cases we don't get a definitive answer for a spirit. It's most often something we can't explain through technology today. It may point to a spirit. But we've never gotten a definitive answer in terms of being able to name the spirit. Sometimes, even using psychics we don't get those answers.

Could you kick Hans Holzer's ass in a full-contact ghost battle?

Well, I don't like to compare myself to other researchers, basically. I go out and do what I have to do to get the job done. Other people have their own techniques, their own theories, and their own ways of doing things. We're one of the few groups in the Midwest who actually get involved with high tech equipment to go out and search for ghosts. I don't know how some of the older or more well known researchers such as Holzer and others investigate their sites.

When you do get a request to remove a ghost from a location, do you have any ethical concerns? After all, the poor ghost is already doing the most boring job you can imagine — haunting a house. And then somebody comes in from the living just to chase him out. Shouldn't you get some slack in the afterlife?

First of all, ghosts don't haunt a house. They're there to let people know they're there, and sometimes reaching out for help through the noises, sounds, smells or cold spots that they're creating. If you ever saw the movie Ghost with Patrick Swayze you know what I'm talking about. That was a very untimely death, he did not know he had died, and had no idea how to get where he belonged. That's very close to what we've picked up in our work. We don't chase the ghost out, we're just pointing it to where it needs to go in the first place.

Bob Weir's sister Wendy says Jerry Garcia is already on a higher plane, but that she can talk to him. Is it possible to communicate across the ethereal horizon like that?

Again, I don't doubt that it might be possible. But I haven't done much research on that, because we don't get into the more New Age type of communications you'd see on the Psychic Friends Network. We try to stay more scientifically inclined in our work. That lends itself to less skepticism and debunking by people who want to say that's all tabloid trash.

How can our readers in the Chicago area come along on a Field Excursion?

You'd have to become a member, and we're not accepting any new memberships at the present time. We have about 20 people in our core group, and delegating responsibilities among those people is keeping my hands full at this point. Besides, the learning process isn't something that most people would be willing to do — doing all the research on a site, to find out about past owners and previous events, is something most people wouldn't find that tasteful.

We're less than two weeks away from election day, and for that oh so demure 8.5 million-citizen slice of the American electorate — the Undecided Voter — it's time to put out or get out. For over a year now we've blamed the Undecideds' coy side glances and teasing indecision on the boorishness of the suitors — those two say-anything-to-round-third-and-slide-home lounge lizards, Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush. But a recent MSNBC profile of Undecided voters reveals that the boys aren't all to blame. The average Undecided is a person who can't be bothered to read a newspaper or even sit through an entire TV news segment to find out what's going on. We're loath to admit it, but our overhandled, overanalyzing pols aren't so much the problem as a dreamy eyed electorate who tell MSNBC what they really want is something "dramatic." Granted, all that prescription drug talk isn't as gripping as your typical Harlequin romance, but to expect some bodice ripper of a politician to be named as America's hunky new chief of surgery is to condemn yourself to some lonely nights alone, waiting for the phone to ring. Which, in the case of our current crop of Miss Havishams, may not be such a bad thing. "Dramatic" is another way of saying "Don't make me think." "Dramatic" is a four word headline like "Bush Shoots Drug Dealer!" or great TV, like Al Gore punching out a terrorist. "Dramatic" means no second paragraph, no comparison, no decision. So maybe it's best to let the Undecideds spend election night at home with a Hanks/Ryan movie on video, and leave the voting to people with enough sense to see undramatic times as an unmixed blessing. Because the only thing more trivial than why the Hamlet voters won't decide is why they might.

For undecided voters who are truly weighing the evidence, Bart Baggett, graphological honcho of the Handwriting University, has broken out the evidence from the candidates' hot little hands. Our old pal Baggett, an expert at differentiating people based on their skills with a Crayola, has analyzed both candidates, and his message is simple: Turn that frown upside down. Bush has intelligence and enthusiasm, Gore is persistent and knows how to keep a secret. So either way, we won't end up with a loony in the White House. Although one thick-lined sample of Dubya's scribbling looks like the kind of penmanship David Berkowitz would have used in one of his Breslin missives, we're slightly reassured. But at the same time saddened; because as Baggett's analysis points out repeatedly, no matter which man wins, he's no Bill Clinton.

Last week's Village Voice cover story, "You've Got Porn," cited analyst and porn industry predictions that America Online will offer adult content after it acquires Time-Warner. Two adult sites told the Voice they've already been approached by AOL's CompuServe service, which Penthouse.com's director dubbed a "stealth AOL," and in an unintentionally damning denial, AOL's spokesperson specified to the paper that the AOL-branded service wouldn't offer adult material. We have uncovered what appears to be corroborative evidence. Earlier this year, AOL quietly purchased the domains AOLPorno.com, AOLXXX.com, and AOLHotOrgasms.com, and for users of the AOL-owned chat software ICQ, AOL has also lined up the names ICQsluts.com, ICQSex.org, and ICQHotOrgasms.com. (For spelling-impaired AOL users, there's even AOLSexx.com and AOLSexxx.com.) AOL is already a seething hotbed of amateur sex chat — but would AOL really abandon its consistent lip service to family values? The Voice revisited a telling incident in Kara Swisher's 1998 book AOL.com, in which the young online service reached a stage in its growth which former AOL President Bill Razzouk described as "Oh, shit! What do we do now?" Losing subscribers, and facing a drop in revenue from a 1996 price reduction, AOL, Swisher reports, began investigating the world's oldest solution. "We did a lot of research and brand analysis, and determined we could make a lot of money on it," AOL's vice president of community services told the author — though with a characteristically bureaucratic consumer focus, AOL then decided to conduct focus groups. In Bethesda and Charlotte, a sample audience of 24 reacted negatively, but Swisher also summarizes one potential new demographic uncovered: "men who wanted to access porn online but didn't know how to find it." For last week's article the Village Voice confirmed the incident with a mysterious source they identify as "Mulder", who says AOL also flew him to a prostitution convention. (In Swisher's book, the AOL executive who makes the same claim is identified simply as Vic Sussman, AOL director of "Creative Programming.") Maybe that foray explains why AOL now also owns the domains AOLCallGirls.com and AOLBabes.com. And recent AOL trial disks were shrink-wrapped with the August issue of Playboy. It all raises the tantalizing prospect that AOL is transforming itself from a giant, billboard-covered mall, to a giant, billboard-covered adult mall. And yes, AOL has already registered the domain AOLAdultMall.com.

You know dot.com businesses are in trouble when there aren't enough online customers to support the slave trade. MyLackey.com — whereby a generation of wealthy Seattleites was invited to seek revenge on the young and less-encumbered by having them walk dogs and pick up dry cleaning — closed its doors on Friday. As the founders adjust to careers as Internet business consultants and the Pacific Northwest braces for a hefty increase in the bicycle messenger labor pool, the MyLackey site now carries the secret information through which many of these special services were actually secured — a list of local business phone numbers.

courtesy of the Sucksters