c-ville - A few years ago, Mark Higgins says he experienced “a paranormal event” that he declines on multiple occasions to elaborate on. (“It was powerful,” he writes in an e-mail, “and has had a lasting effect on me to this day.”) He founded SSPI in 2006 to “help others better understand what may be happening to them.”
Mark Higgins’ Mystery Machine is a white Chevy Trailblazer with a “Ghost Hunter” license plate holder, but we’re not blazing trails or hunting ghosts yet. Instead, we’re stuck 10 miles from Pantops Mountain on Route 231, a two-lane road that leads to Gordonsville and to one of the most “active” sites Higgins has investigated: the Exchange Hotel, a former Civil War hospital.
The Exchange Hotel was built in 1860, and sits at the intersection of two railroad lines—the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) and the Orange and Alexandria (O&A). During the Civil War, the hotel became the Gordonsville Receiving Hospital, where doctors performed what Tim Burnett, president of Historic Gordonsville, Inc., calls “meatball surgery.” Of the 70,000 soldiers, Union and Confederate, treated at the hospital, about 900 died there; of the dead, more than 700 were buried at the site, and later reinterred elsewhere.
Historic Gordonsville, Inc. acquired the property from C&O Railroad in 1971 and spent the better part of two decades renovating the structure—a three-level Georgian building with a central stairwell that functions as the hotel’s spine. The Civil War Museum at the Exchange Hotel opened in 1989, and offers tours six days a week, from April through mid-November.
When we arrive, Higgins introduces Burnett, who greets us with a toothpick in his mouth and a cigar in his breast pocket. A tour of the 3,500-square-foot hotel typically takes 90 minutes, but Burnett promises to make short work of the first floors so we can spend time in some of the house’s “active” spots.
As Burnett talks about the hotel’s history, I hear a dog bark, but can’t spot the animal. My mind briefly asks: Ghost dog? A moment later, a Burnett’s collie, Princess Gracie, appears. She satisfies her curiosity by sniffing us, then leaves with Burnett’s wife as we head towards the front door.
During his investigations, Higgins and his audio specialist, Chris, say they’ve recorded hundreds of what ghost hunters widely call Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP). A two-hour SSPI investigation at the Exchange might turn up more than 100 EVPs.
“The audio files, in my opinion, are the hardest to discount, the hardest for skeptics to say, ‘O.K., I know what that is,’” says Higgins. I ask Higgins if EVPs can only be found inside a structure.
MARK: No, you can get them outside, you can get them anywhere.
ME: So, hypothetically, I could be getting something.
MARK: You could be getting something on that. It wouldn’t surprise me.
Before we step into the hotel, I turn my tape recorder on and leave it running. Higgins tells me that he may act strange if he senses anything in the hotel, and I don’t press him on what, exactly, he means.
Burnett leads us through what was once the hotel pub, tucked beneath the broad staircase that leads to the building’s second-floor main entrance. He points out a wooden water pump once used by Stonewall Jackson. Suddenly, Higgins’ eyes grow wide. His shoulders tense, and I wait for a sudden sound or motion from him. A second later, he removes his vibrating cell phone from his pocket. No ghost messages; just text messages.
We move on to the hotel’s main level, and walk across 150-year-old heart pine floors through a parlor with a piano and brass candlesticks that chime with our motion. Burnett tells us he once felt “something cold” pass through him at a doorway. It was eight years ago, he remembers, “because I was still with my ex-wife.” He shows us a room with the largest collection of Confederate uniforms from a single officer, and then a smaller space devoted to the Union. “No reason to spend a lot of time here,” says Burnett, and so we don’t.
After a stop in the “mourning room”—the funeral parlor, a space where the living once adjusted to the presence of the dead—we arrive at the staircase to the third and final floor.
Along with the kitchen building, the top floor of the Exchange Hotel is what Higgins calls the “most active” portion of the site. As we ascend the stairs, Higgins and Burnett share stories: Gordonsville police spotted a lantern one night through a window, and Burnett’s son heard a door slam shut in an empty room. Prior to our tour, Higgins sent me photos of the staircase that depict what he calls a “green mist” in multiple shots.
“Of all the times I’ve been out here, for me personally, it’s this upper area that starts to get interesting,” says Higgins.
After we walk through a bedroom where Higgins says his digital camera once inexplicably failed to focus, we enter the surgery room. A glass display case along one wall features a blood transfusion kit that looks like a bicycle pump, and a drilling kit for relieving cranial pressure. I ask Burnett about a series of long, slender poles inside the case. Urethra expanders, he explains.
Before we leave, Higgins and Burnett show us the exchange depot and the kitchen building. The latter, says Higgins, is one of the site’s most active spots for EVPs; during one investigation, Higgins and Chris counted 76 different phenomena in a room at the top of the kitchen.
Burnett bids us farewell and the photographer leads Higgins to the hotel to take a few photos. Meanwhile, I sit down on the front step of the kitchen, start my tape recorder, and try to talk to ghosts. “Normal or paranormal,” I say to my tape recorder. “Ghost or otherwise.” After three minutes, I turn my tape recorder off, climb into the Mystery Machine, and head back to Charlottesville. The drive is uneventful and, when we pass by the accident site, the wrecked car is gone.
A few weeks after Higgins and Burnett led me through the Exchange Hotel, I drive back to Gordonsville to visit Chris, the audio specialist. I bring my notebook and the three minutes of ghost interview I recorded on the front step of the Exchange’s kitchen.
Chris lives a half-mile from the hotel, in a rented house built nine years before the Exchange opened its doors to guests. I’d visited Chris once before, so he could play me a selection of EVPs from previous Spirit Search investigations—audio files with names like “Freedman,” “Get out” and “Hi—get over here.” To identify EVPs, Chris uses audio software to amplify high frequencies and diminish low ones.
During the same visit, Chris explained that he works as a “troubleshooter” for the State Department: When a U.S. embassy experiences power failures, he travels to the embassy to track its power usage for 48 hours and diagnose the origin of the problem. Perhaps sensing my skepticism, he passed me a watermarked State Department I.D.
When I arrive, Chris brings me through his living room to the dark, wooden table that dominates his dining room. He asks me where I recorded my audio, how long the digital file is, whether I noticed anything odd when I listened to the recording, whether I accidentally tapped my microphone with a finger or ring, or picked up a nearby voice.
“The hardest thing,” says Chris of reviewing hours of EVPs, “is remembering if someone was there, stomach growls or ambient noises present when recorded.”
We spend more than a half-hour on my three minutes of tape. Frequencies over 800Hz are boosted, and those 200Hz and below are lowered. We listen, adjust the frequencies, try to ignore birds that I recorded weeks before but don’t recall seeing. I listen to myself talking to myself and think, If nothing answers, this guy will think I’m nuts. If something does answer, I wonder if I’ll think the same.
Occasionally, the audio file emits a few seconds of clicks and pops, or smacking and sucking sounds, like someone biting a plum. Seven minutes into our listening, I hear my recorded voice ask for some comment: “Normal or paranormal…ghost or otherwise.”
Chris presses “PAUSE.”
“Did you hear that?” And, when he replays it, I do. And more clearly the second time —a few syllables, three or four. He tells me he hears something, and asks if I do. I tell him yes, I think so, but want to avoid being led to a conclusion.
I tear a sheet of paper, hand half to Chris, and we write down what our minds made of a few syllables. I place my paper down: “I don’t like you.” He follows suit: “I’m pretty.”
“Now, your mind is not creating this sound. Your mind is interpreting this sound,” says Chris. “And I know you say, ‘Well, that’s the same thing.’ Well, not necessarily.”
To some degree, Chris is right. After we listen a few more times, I realize the sound is three syllables, not four; it sounds closer to “I’m pretty.” So, while neither of us can explain the sound, our minds now wrestle with the same phrase—which neither of us can prove exists, anyways.
“I think it’s psychological,” says Chris. I ask him what he means.
“Were you that earnest? Were you open?” asks Chris. “Did you believe yourself, asking your questions in mid-air?” He adds that, if ghosts never talked to me before, why would they start now?
“I tell people it’s like driving down the interstate,” Chris continues. “You pull over to the side of the road and you’re trying to get everybody’s attention in busy rush hour. Unless there’s some common denominator…they’re not going to give you the time of day, they’re not going speak to you.”
When I leave Chris’ home, I drive south through Downtown Gordonsville on Route 231. Ten miles down the road, I pass the spot where, weeks earlier, a crumpled tan car stopped traffic for nearly an hour. Other cars turned around before they saw the wreck, and I don’t have a picture to prove it happened, but I’m telling you that it did. Still, do you believe everything you hear?
Link to investigation: www.valleyghosthunters.co
Phantom Voices Remain at Civil War Landmark
Spirit Rescue International
Providing professional spiritual help, support and guidance worldwide
SPIRIT RESCUE INTERNATIONAL - HAUNTED HELP FORUM
We created this community for people from all backgrounds around the world to discuss Spiritual, Paranormal, Metaphysical, Philosophical, Supernatural, Complementary Therapies, and Esoteric subjects. From Astral Projection to Pranic Healing, Angels to Reiki, all topics are welcome.