Still, ghost hunting is alive and well in Syracuse. Our city’s rich history of the once-booming Erie Canal is chock-full of ghost stories, prompting people from all around Central New York to investigate. Brought together by a common interest in the paranormal, ghost hunters take on cases throughout Central New York.
“A good majority of us have had personal experience,” said Scott Clarke, a founding member of local ghost hunting group Paracuse. “That’s what brought us into it. We all came from other groups, and we weren’t completely satisfied with the groups. So we formed our own group.”
Paracuse, founded roughly two years ago, consists of 30 members, ranging from firefighters and daycare providers to students and lawyers. “We come from all different walks of life,” Clarke said.
Paranormal activists: This photo was taken by Paracuse using a Night Vision attachment on a standard digital camera. On three separate occasions in the same room at the 1890 House Museum in Cortland, three apparitions were captured on film.
Alas, Clarke and other group members do not fight the Marshmallow Man or end up with Sigourney Weaver. “It takes a lot of patience and a lot of hard work. We don’t have cool music playing when we’re investigating,” explained Clarke. “The process we go through is long, very quiet, and it’s boring. It’s a minimum of 50 hours for investigation, with investigation and all the research.”
At the end of the process, Clarke’s team compiles their evidence and comes to a conclusion to give to their client. “When that’s done, depending on what’s there, more times than not, it’s usually a relative,” said Clarke. “But if it’s not, we have a cleansing process and teach people how to coexist with them. We go, and they find out this ain’t so bad. What people see on TV, that’s the extreme. We’ve come across grumpy spirits. Just think of the spirit as you and I: They just don’t have a body. If they were a nice person in life, they’re usually a nice spirit. If they’re grumpy in life, they’re usually a grumpy spirit. We do work with them, try to find out what the problem is, and take it from there. We stick with our clients, stay right there ’til the end.”
Clarke was not always a believer in the paranormal. “I believed after I saw my first apparition. June 1, 1992. Gettysburg,” Clarke said. “The thing appeared in front of me and dissipated. Another woman there saw the same thing: a man in a dirty hat and beard, with a musket, torn pants and everything. He was a rebel. Robert E. Lee is in my family tree, and I wanted to go down and see the battleground. The tour guide said, ‘Are you guys all right?’ That’s when I said, ‘Where’d the re-enactor go?’ The tour guide said, ‘Congratulations, you’re one of the few to see it: That’s the rebel soldier who appears.’ I just could not get it though my thick skull that I just saw a ghost. Ever since then I was interested.”
According to Clarke, the results of any investigation can be placed in three categories: normal, paranormal and haunted.
“Paranormal: maybe something’s going on there, a ghost of some sort, something comes and goes. Haunted: a nuisance, something that really bothers you,” Clarke said. “Yeah, there are some haunted places. But most have paranormal activity, stuff you can live with and deal with. It’s not as bad as you think. We’ll help you out. We don’t have a problem with that. Don’t let Hollywood get the best of you. Hollywood is Hollywood for a reason: It’s entertainment.”
Another local group, the Central New York Ghost Hunters Society, is trying to fight the Hollywood hype associated with their work through CNY Spirits, a reality-type television show. “What we try to do is show exactly what groups do when we’re ghost hunting,” said Andy Wolf, co-executive producer of CNY Spirits. “We let them do their thing, and present it in the way they do it.”
CNY Spirits has featured CNY Ghost Hunters searching in local spots such as the Landmark Theatre and Chittenango Landing, as well as places farther away like Copenhagen, Binghamton and Gettysburg, Pa. The show can be viewed Sundays at 12:30 a.m. on The CW affiliate WSTQ on Time Warner Cable channel 6.
“Lots of ghost groups have Internet-based television shows,” said Stacey Jones, founder of CNY Ghost Hunters and co-executive producer of CNY Spirits. “We wanted more than that.”
Jones, a police officer and a believer in paranormal activity since age 6, was prompted to create CNY Ghost Hunters in 1996. “I responded to a house call. They were hearing weird noises,” Jones said. “We had gone several times, and there was nothing there.” According to Jones, if there had been a group like hers to help the house’s occupant, she wouldn’t have been scared and moved out. “The house burned to the ground three months later,” said Jones.
Jones’ practices are slightly different than those of Paracuse. “The majority of the time with a family, we don’t investigate. We refer them out to clergy or psychologists,” said Jones. “For a public place, it’s done where we don’t do any research beforehand; it could taint the findings.”
CNY Ghost Hunters have been investigating the Landmark for more than five years.
Legend has it that just after the theater opened in the 1920s, a woman named Clarissa fell to her death from the balcony. People have since claimed to see her ghost. “You smell lilacs, and then see a woman in white,” Jones said.
To go along on these public investigations, people contact Jones and are assigned a level