Thursday, December 3, 2009

Ghosts get familiar in Independence, Iowa

Lee Mansion, Independence, Iowa

By JOHN CARLSON Squeeze the headphones a little tighter, listen really, really carefully and you can hear the voice saying something like ... well, it's hard to say exactly what.

But that's not the point. There was a voice, saying something from the glow in a big, old, spooky Iowa house, sometime between midnight and dawn a few weeks ago. The voice is definitely there. Maybe.

"Yes, it's something," said Mike Brandle of Des Moines. "Oh, it's definitely something. I absolutely believe it."

And that, folks, is the conclusion of one of Iowa's most committed ghost hunters, one of a few dozen people who scour cemeteries and old houses looking for whatever lurks in the shadows.

They've checked out a lot of places around the state. A bunch more are on their list.

The 142-year-old Lee Mansion in Independence is the most recent target of these investigators of the paranormal, the unexplainable, the downright spooky.

Voices in the dark, hands on faces, a shadowy image in an upstairs window and some other strange stuff popped up during a night in a haunted house. Supposedly.

If that seems improbable, so be it, because Brandle and the 50 or so other Iowans who are members of investigative teams welcome the dubious.

"Skeptics make us work harder," said the 36-year-old Brandle, who looks for ghosts at night and works at a home improvement store during the day. "Some people never will believe, and that's up to them. We know what we found at the Lee Mansion and in some other places we've checked."

First, be aware these people are searching for evidence of ghosts, spirits, apparitions, whatever.

They're not in the eviction business.

"That's up to clergy," said Brandle.

There doesn't seem to be any need to cleanse the old Independence house of spirits, although it was a likely candidate for a good old-fashioned haunting.

It was built for Daniel Lee, a lawyer, and his wife, Fannie, in the mid-19th century. They were among the most influential of Independence's citizens, and both died of natural causes in the old house. It later became part of a hospital. That made it prime ghost-hunting property.

"It's an old Victorian mansion that is largely unchanged," said Brandle, a member of an organization known as Des Moines Paranormal. "Nobody has lived there for a long time. The original owners died there.

It was a hospital, so you know there were additional deaths there."


Eight investigators descended on the place the night of Oct. 9. It took an hour for them to set up their cameras, recorders and other electronic equipment. Then they moved through the house, watching and listening. When they left the next morning, they knew there was something a little extra in the place.

"I won't tell you I necessarily saw something," said Joy Haydon of Independence, who was on her first ghost-hunting trip in a house. "I definitely know I experienced something."

For instance, the hands on her face.

"Yes, at one point it felt like somebody's hands were on my face," Haydon said. "Kind of cupped hands on my cheeks. The person with me felt like somebody put a hand on her shoulder."

Haydon said it's not something she expected, or even wanted to happen.

"It just happened," she said. "It was strange, but I wasn't scared."

Neither was Brandle, even though his experience that night is right up there on the weirdness chart.

"We were in the basement, and the audio picked up a broadcast of a football game that was played five years earlier," he said. "We checked with the radio station. There wasn't any rebroadcast and the teams hadn't played a game in the years since. But it's there. I felt like there were chunks of rock hitting me on the foot. We saw a face in an upstairs window. There were lots of EVPs."

That stands for "electronic voice phenomenon." It's apparently how ghosts communicate audibly. You can listen for yourself on the Web site

It's not like when the long-dead Jacob Marley dragged heavy chains through the house and scared the willies out of Ebenezer Scrooge. Or raw hamburger dropping out of the ceiling like in the movie "Poltergeist."

It's more like, "I think maybe I heard somebody say something," and then listening closely a while later when listening to digital recordings. The uninitiated or the skeptical may hear nothing.

Such as in the recording of the voice at the Lee Mansion that supposedly says, "Who's the little tramp?"

Sounds to me like, "sssssssssssssssssss."

There were other recordings offered as examples. I couldn't make out a word. Oh, well.

Just know the investigators plan to continue investigating. They'd love to have people join them. Even skeptics. If they're not too afraid.

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