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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Weird Conference draws those seeking a ghost of a chance

Weird Conference draws those seeking a ghost of a chance

Things that go bump in the night came out to play in the day – at least that's what visitors hoped for, Friday and Saturday at Ghost Rush 2008. The American Paranormal Investigations-sponsored conference focused on ghosts, phantom noises, strange temperature changes and weird, seemingly invisible movements.

Stationed at the historic St. George Hotel in Volcano, a tiny Gold Rush town nearly 60 miles outside of Sacramento, API founder Dave Bender watched as a group of paranormal experts, including "debunkers," "sensitives" and psychics – joined approximately 53 ghost buffs to discuss how technology combined with a bone-chilling gut reaction can pinpoint the presence of a spirit.

"It really is a scientific process," Bender, 36, said. "We utilize equipment, take readings and try to find, first, if there's a plausible explanation for what's going on."

The St. George Hotel, long believed to shelter myriad ghosts, is the ideal location, Bender said.

"Volcano, Placerville, Coloma – all these Gold Rush towns hold a lot of history," Bender said.

Bender launched the API in 2001 as a way to expand upon his paranormal interests. Now, the Sacramento-based group investigates approximately 100 cases each year, going into homes and businesses to explore hard-to-explain occurrences.

Armed with camcorders, digital audio recorders, electromagnetic field detectors and Geiger counters used to detect radiation, investigators gather evidence while a "debunker" tries to discern a plausible explanation for every last bump, shadow and hint of ghostly chatter.

Debunking the presence of a ghost is just as important as proving it, Bender said. Once you've dismissed any credible explanations, it's easier to focus on what is – or isn't – in front of you.

"A lot of people don't believe in this – they think it's too hard to prove the paranormal," he said. "But it's a very personal thing, and you and I might experience it very differently."

For Jason Lindo, a 48-year-old Sacramento "sensitive," that experience is purely physical.

"Sometimes I'll feel a compression in my chest – like an energy that's starting to build," he said. "Or sometimes it's a chill or (I'll hear) a voice."

So, has Lindo sensed an otherworldly presence here?

Yes – just not today. Yet.

"I came through here earlier when we were scouting a conference location," he said. "Then, I could feel an older gentleman and a young girl. Later I learned that a lot of the visitors at this hotel have also seen them."

Now, Lindo's still waiting for another encounter. He's confident they'll show up. It's just a matter of focus as well as the right ghost at the right time.

"There are a lot of people here right now stirring up the energy and the (ghosts) who want to be seen – the divas and the drama queens – will make their presence known."

Suzanne Briscoe is waiting. The 58-year-old Salt Lake City resident journeyed here with friends for the chance to encounter a spirit.

"I keep waiting for my husband to show up," she said, laughing. "But nobody's tapped me on the shoulder yet."

If that does happen, Briscoe said, she's ready to embrace the hard-to-believe.

"You have to be open-minded because sometimes you're just not sure what to believe," she said.

So far, she added, the conference experience has been refreshingly "normal."

"The people here aren't goofy or weird – no one's running around in turbans or flowing gowns," she said. "It's just a bunch of normal people interested in the same thing."

Her pal, 66-year-old Joyce Carter, sees it this way:

"I'm just enjoying my time here, going to the workshops and learning," Carter said. "I don't know if I totally believe in all this stuff – but then again, I don't know if I totally doubt it either."

About the writer:

* Call The Bee's Rachel Leibrock, (916) 321-1176.

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