by Terrance Mc Arthur
It’s late October. The wind comes cold, yet there is something else that chills you. You look over your shoulder. Could there be…a ghost?
There are people who look for those ghosts all year long, and some of them are in the San Joaquin Valley. The Porterville Ghost Society is celebrating its tenth year of searching for the unknown. Its membership is spread as far away as Fort Bragg. Michael Smith is the group’s lead investigator. When he’s ghost-hunting, he looks for more than one source of evidence. “If you have two or three different cameras and capture [phenomena] on more than one,” Smith says, “you’ve got something.”
Some paranormal investigators look for EVP, Electronic Voice Phenomena, technology-captured voices. Smith served ten years in the Navy near gas turbines, so he relies more on photographic evidence, from iPhones to full-camera set-ups. The group also includes individuals who appear to be sensitive to spirits. The PGS focuses mainly on historical sites like Hanford’s Carnegie Museum and the Barn Theater and sometimes investigates private residences on request, but the group has a special fondness for the town of Allensworth.
Allensworth, about 30 miles north of Bakersfield, was founded by African-Americans in 1908 and thrived until lack of water and the Depression took it to the brink of being a ghost town. Now a state historical park, the town is a rich site for ghost-hunters. One night, Smith and another PGS member were walking down the street, and Smith’s friend said, “This is how most scary movies start, with two investigators walking all alone.” At the schoolhouse, sounds of children playing have been recorded at night and footsteps and rattling doorknobs are heard at the old hotel.
On October 20, the Porterville Ghost Society held their annual event at Allensworth, a $50-ticket day event that featured BarryFitzgerald from Ghosthunters International, a Bigfoot expert, and Janey Minhouse of the Birdcage Theater in Tombstone, Arizona. Participants investigated Allensworth hotspots – such as the Smith House, the schoolhouse and the home of Colonel Allen Allensworth, the Army chaplain who helped establish the town – with their own cameras and recording devices.
Every year of the fundraiser is a sellout, but the PGS doesn’t profit from its events. “All the money goes to the location” Smith said. “We’re not making money.” However, there may be a logical reason for something that seems to be a paranormal event. Dust and moisture in the air can cause spectral-like orbs to appear in photographs. “When you explain it, it makes perfect sense.” During one investigation, Smith says, the team “kept hearing a knocking sound. It was a water heater in an apartment on the next floor kicking on and off. Some people want to be haunted,” according to Smith. One house was uneven. If you put a marble on the floor, it would move like it was “in a spooky movie.” The owner refused to accept this solution because she was sure she lived in a haunted house.
The quest for multiple sources can bear interesting results. At one home, a voice was heard saying “Private Schumacher.” A search of Army records of the World War I era found a Private Schumacher from that town, backing up what they had found. Smith says, “We try to corroborate all our evidence.”
Smith’s advice to people suspecting paranormal activity? “Honestly, don’t be afraid of the dark. Things that go bump in the dark are most likely a water heater upstairs.”
You can learn more about the Porterville Ghost Society and any upcoming events on their Facebook page.