Ghost-hunters probe old armory

Visit to old Oregon building shows group's results

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COTTAGE GROVE, Ore. -- A group of women who claim they can detect paranormal activity say there is something strange in the Cottage Grove neighborhood that houses the National Guard Armory.

And with the city's blessing, they have done some investigations at the 33,080-square-foot 1931 armory, concluding that several spirits with ties to the military hang out there.

City Manager Richards Meyers, who granted the Coast Ghost group access, said he would do the same for anyone who asked to see the building, which the city acquired in 2010 for $395,000 and plans to use as a community center.

His position on ghosts is one of careful neutrality.

"There are religious beliefs and people believe that the spirits are all around us," Meyers said. "We don't want to say, 'No, we don't believe it,' or, 'It couldn't be.' We're playing that fine line. …The spirits, I don't know why they would hang out there. They have other places they can go."

The members of Coast Ghost -- who live in Reedsport, Florence, Coos Bay and Springfield -- recently toured the building, accompanied by Meyers and city Councilor Jake Boone, a skeptic, to demonstrate what they said they found on earlier visits.

The first time they visited, they got the most activity they have seen in the building, said the group's leader, Ann Fillmore.

"Oh," she said pointing at a laptop screen, "the medics' room is always active."

Most of their evidence consists of floating circles they called "orbs," some of which had faces, caught with digital cameras and processed through filters.

The women have not seen any full-blown apparitions, but said they feel the faces in the orb are convincing enough. They have used an electrician's tool they said can detect electromagnetic fields, as well as flashlights and video and still cameras in their search for ghosts.

Personal contact

Fillmore said she has had direct experience of spirits' touching her and that she knows they can pull hair, shove people and throw things.

The members of Coast Ghost said they each have her own way of sensing paranormal presence. Fillmore, 71, of Reedsport, said she often has pain in her forehead when she senses ghosts. Lisa Hutchinson, 41, of Reedsport, said she gets tense between her shoulder blades, her hair stands up, and she gets cold chills and a light-headed feeling.

The youngest member of the group, Tiffany Cloud, 26, of Springfield, said she feels nauseated or gets a sharp pain in the head. Her mother, Christie Best, 44, of Florence, said her daughter has always been sensitive to otherworldly presences and as a child had many "imaginary" friends.

Denise Cacace, 71, of Coos Bay and the final member of the team, said most of the time she gets sleepy.

Boone was not convinced. "I'm slightly hungry," he said to describe his symptoms in an upstairs office where the women said they had previously encountered the ghost of a colonel. "But that would imply I'm haunted about three times per day."

Boone said later that he has no doubt the hunters believe what they are experiencing is real. But he said he finds their proof of spirits underwhelming.

"I don't begrudge anyone the joy of scaring themselves. It's fun to go into spooky old places at night," said Boone, 40, who has served for two years on the council. "That's perfectly fine. Just don't claim you're doing science."

Boone said the only harm he could see in something like the Coast Ghost team's work is that it lends credibility to con artists. Charlatans prey on people who are emotionally distraught over the loss of a loved one, he said.

The Coast Ghost women aren't trying to get money from anyone; they ghost hunt as a hobby, Boone said. They have shown a genuine curiosity about the unknown, he added.

"I've always had an interest in how people are fooled and how they fool themselves," said Boone, the son of a hobbyist magician. "That's a terrible thing for a politician to say. But, nevertheless, I'm a big fan of science, the scientific method and learning the difference between what's actual and what we want to be true."

Calling by name

In the medical room on the bottom floor of the Armory, the ghost hunters placed metal flashlights at two places on a wall in an attempt to communicate with the ghosts. The lights turn on and off by twisting, and each was twisted to be almost on before being placed on small ridges on the wall.

Cloud had a list of soldiers and started to call out their names and ask if they were present. The others jumped in with questions too, peppering in "please" and "thank you," when the light flashed on and off, often in perfect timing with the questions, and sometimes giving emphatic flashes.

Boone stepped in and asked if he could ask about some commanding officers. "Jeffrey Lee Gibson, Derrick Simmons, Douglas Crosby, Timothy McAdams, Robert Colletti," he called out. The lights flickered as he read each name.

His list was not names of dead military officers, he said after the tour, but of stunt men on the television show "The Wire."

The trouble with the ghost-hunters' methods, he said, is they don't look for ways to disprove what their equipment and senses seem to be telling them, such as by testing their questions on a group of fake names. Confirmation bias, he called it.

"They were not trying to fool people," Boone said. "They were fooling themselves."

Meyers said that even if there were ghosts in the city's armory, no one has anything to worry about --they would not be angry or mean spirits.

"I sense there is a spirit in the building in and of itself," he said. "This is a building that represents the community. We don't need to bring in Scooby Doo. … It's a community building. Ghosts, spirits and living -- everybody can come."