Researchers explore claims of lingering spirits
Christian McCarthy experienced his first inexplicable moment as a child growing up in Texas.
He was immersed in a mundane task when it happened.
“I was 10 or 11 and it was my turn to do the dishes,” he said. “I heard a woman say to me, ‘There’s a scorpion behind you.’”
McCarthy said he put down the dish scrubber and looked around the room. He did not see a woman. He did not see a scorpion. The venomous arthropods were not uncommon in the region.
“And then a scorpion came out from under the fridge,” McCarthy recalled.
He said he didn’t think too much about the experience at the time. But as the years passed he began to recognize that his powers of intuition seemed especially strong. And mentors began to encourage him to cultivate those powers.
Today, McCarthy, 47, a resident of Kalispell, supplements his day job income as a “clairvoyant medium.” He has an office in downtown Kalispell. Among other services, McCarthy said he endeavors to provide for clients a channel of communication with loved ones who have died.
And he is an active member and co-founder in 2013 of Valley Area Paranormal Research, whose members conduct, as unpaid volunteers, investigations of residences and commercial and institutional buildings to explore claims of paranormal experiences or sightings.
“A high percentage of the claims are easily explained,” and attributed to normal forces, said Jan Roth, 52, the group’s co-founder.
Membership in Valley Area Paranormal Research fluctuates, the men said, from about seven to 10 members.
The group typically brings an array of equipment to an investigation, including, among other gear: video cameras, infrared cameras, laser grids and meters that measure both electromagnetic fields and temperature.
Roth said the group is reluctant to label anything as paranormal.
“There are some things we can’t explain and we just call them ‘unexplained,’” he said.
One example occurred in August.
Roth, McCarthy and others conducted an investigation at the Old Montana Prison in Deer Lodge, The men said they began the night expecting that if they encountered anything at all in the paranormal realm it would likely be with the spirits of former inmates. Instead, the investigators heard, and a recorder seemed to capture, what sounded like the disembodied voice of a child.
Roth said Monday that although the voice heard that night is certainly eerie, more work needs to be done to try to determine whether the source of the recorded sound might have been, for example, a feral cat at the prison.
Like McCarthy, Roth first experienced as a child a phenomenon he could not explain. That inexplicable occurrence initiated a lifelong and ongoing search for answers, he said.
Roth said he was about 11 or 12 years old, growing up in Colorado, when he saw and felt something in a quasi-dream state that he now believes was a spirit. But it wasn’t simply an apparition, Roth said, because there was physical evidence in the morning that there had been a visiting presence.
Roth declined to offer more specifics.
During an Oct. 23 interview at the Conrad Mansion Museum, both Roth and McCarthy sometimes carefully weighed responses to questions. Their circumspection reflected at least three concerns: the men did not want to be misperceived as strange; they did not want to be mischaracterized as the sort of sensationalized ghost hunters seen on TV; and, they expressed a need to respect the confidentiality of clients who have solicited their services.
Both men are veterans of the U.S. Army.
McCarthy said he encourages skepticism about paranormal phenomena. He said skepticism is a good middle ground between hard-boiled cynicism and the sort of true believer fanaticism that rejects all reason.
He said he approaches every paranormal investigation as a skeptic.
For the Valley Area Paranormal Research group, McCarthy is often the first person to walk through a building to attempt to determine whether spirits are afoot.
At a historic hotel in a small town in Lewis and Clark County, McCarthy experienced a vision of a woman wearing a dress from the early 1900s standing to the left of a window. It turned out that others had seen the woman in the same spot.
Has either man ever felt frightened during an investigation?
McCarthy said he was once touched from behind by what he believes was a spirit. There was no one there when he turned and no one nearby. He said that experience was momentarily unsettling.
Roth said he has experienced hair-raising moments at times during investigations.
McCarthy said TV and horror movies leave the impression that spirits are often malevolent and haunt a place because of something traumatic experienced there.
Malevolent spirits exist, he said, adding, “But they’re rare.”
He said spirits often linger because of positive rather than negative experiences. The premises they “haunt” might once have been their home, a place of pleasant memories, McCarthy said.
“When we pass over, we still have free will,” he said.
When McCarthy and others participated in a paranormal investigation in 2012 of the Conrad Mansion Museum in Kalispell they heard the voice of a girl in the attic and saw a memorable “orb,” McCarthy said.
Some paranormal investigators believe orbs represent the energy of spirits or ghosts. McCarthy said the Kalispell-based group is wary of orbs because there can be many natural explanations for the small circles of light, especially when captured by a camera. But he said this orb seemed significant.
McCarthy said the mansion is a good example of a place where spirits linger because of life experiences that were positive.
“The spirit activity that goes on in this house is because they love this place,” he said.
The mansion was completed in 1895 for Charles Conrad and his family.
Will Chippich said he begins and ends each day as executive director of the Conrad Mansion Museum by greeting and then bidding adieu to the mansion’s long-dead residents.
Not because he actually sees apparitions of members of the Conrad family but because he wants to demonstrate respect.
“Every morning I say, ‘Good morning’ and every night I say, ‘Good night,’” he said.
Chippich has had some intriguing experiences while alone in the mansion.
“I have been on the second floor and heard footsteps on the third floor when no one else has been in the house,” he said. “I’ve heard footsteps on the stairs when I’ve been the only person in the house.”
He said doors have sprung open when no one is in the building, sometimes triggering a burglar alarm that requires him to return to the mansion.
“It gets a little creepy in the house sometimes, especially when I’m alone,” Chippich said. “I’m not somebody who doesn’t believe. It’s one of those things you have to be open to.”
Reporter Duncan Adams may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 758-4407.