On the record ... with Mark Schwabe
On last week’s episode of “Ghost Hunters” on Syfy, paranormal investigator Mark Schwabe of Genoa made a brief appearance.
The “Ghost Hunters” team investigated reports of ghost activity at Tinker Swiss Cottage in Rockford, which Schwabe’s group, Ghost Head Soup, had previously investigated.
Schwabe began investigating paranormal events about a decade ago, before the 2004 premiere of “Ghost Hunters” sparked an international fascination with ghost hunting.
Schwabe spoke with MidWeek reporter Curtis Clegg last week about his television appearance and life as a ghost hunter.
MidWeek: How do your findings at Tinker Swiss Cottage compare with what the “Ghost Hunters” team found?
Mark Schwabe: Actually a lot of things they came across, we had discovered. Disembodied voices – I have heard female voices, I’ve heard male voices, both in person and on tape. Pretty much what you saw on TV is what we do, although they have a lot more expensive gear than we do.
MW: Can you accomplish most of the same things with less-expensive gear?
MS: Oh yes you can, sure. We’ve got cameras, recorders, meters and such – pretty much the same things they use.
MW: Have you witnessed the rocking chair rocking on its own like they did on TV?
MS: No, but I have heard of that rocking chair rocking on its own. …It appeared that no one touched the chair, and it was rocking on its own.
MW: What do you think is behind the popularity of paranormal investigation?
MS: I would say that the TV show “Ghost Hunters” is leading it. They kind of started this whole phenomena, but I have always been interested in it way before then. In DeKalb County there’s a location that is haunted, that our group has access to pretty much 24/7 and before I even became an investigator, a few of the guys and I were investigating this place on our own just with recorders and stuff. I have been into this for a while, probably since about 2002.
MW: That was about the time that digital cameras were starting to get affordable. Do you think that contributed to the popularity of the hobby?
MS: Oh sure, you have to be careful out there with all this ghost-hunting equipment. The basics of what you need are a camera and a (voice) recorder, and maybe an EMF (electromagnetic field) meter. …You really have to be careful of all the gadgets out there because they’re really just there to sell to the ghost hunters and they’re not necessarily anything better.
MW: What does an EMF meter do?
MS: Electricians use them mainly, to look for spurious emissions out of electrical boxes or whatever. What they say in the field of ghost hunting is that ghosts can manipulate it (the electromagnetic field) and stuff. I have seen cases where you can get answers from an entity by them manipulating the field, but I usually use it to sweep an area. If people say they feel uncomfortable or like they are being watched, we’ll sweep the area where they feel uncomfortable to see if there any high emissions of EMF. High emissions coming from a bad electrical receptacle, if they aren’t grounded right or whatever, can cause feelings of paranoia or nausea.
MW: If someone feels the hair stand up on the back of their neck for no particular reason, could that be an EMF disturbance?
MS: That’s a fairly logical response, because I get that a lot. I don’t need an EMF meter because I’m pretty sensitive and I can walk into a room and if there’s an entity in there, nine times out of 10 I can feel it. …When I’m on location and my hair starts to stand up, we’re pretty sure there is an entity around.
MW: Do you have team members who are skeptics?
MS: Well it’s nice to have some skeptics on the team because a lot of people can get too excited when they discover stuff, and they think it’s a haunting right away. …I have noticed that the more you do it, people are able to start tuning into it.
MW: Are you tuned in all the time, or is it something you can turn on and turn off?
MS: It’s not anything I turn on or off, it’s not a conscious effort on my part. I have always been kind of intuitive. …I am pretty aware of my environment. I’m good at reading people. I don’t know if I’m psychic or what. When I walk into a room I don’t get impressions or mental images.
MW: What abilities or skills do your team members have?
MS: That’s a good question. We’ve got George, he is our learned one. He does a lot of research and has a lot of theories he puts to us to try. He’s great at debunking. Nick, he is great at New Age-type thinking and spirituality. He reads palms and stuff like that. Tim, he’s our quiet one, he’s the tech guy. He is great with the cameras and all the editing. Dean is a debunker and an all-around great investigator. He will debunk more than he admits we captured.
MW: It sounds like the various skills of a team are important to your investigations.
MS: We don’t really consider ourselves a team. We are a group. We’re former investigators of other teams who are sick of the drama and we all just liked each other and started hanging out. We also like to network with other groups and share information. A lot of groups are territorial and want to keep their information to themselves: “Mine, mine, mine.” But we want to share and we want to work with other groups. We don’t get upset if one of our team members wants to go on a hunt with another team. We’re a bunch of independents. I guess we’re like a paranormal think tank.
MW: If a team goes somewhere to investigate and they keep all their findings to themselves, what is the point?
MS: They are all looking for the Ark of the Covenant: the one solid piece of evidence that’s going to change the world.
MW: Do you find places on your own, or do people contact you?
MS: Typically they hunt us down, no pun intended. They find us online or whatever, and they’ll contact us. We’re kind of skeptical of residential investigations because a lot of those it turns out the people themselves are haunted, not the location. We like to do more commercial, public-type places.
MW: What do you mean about some people being haunted?
MS: We might walk in and see a lot of psych medicines on their counter. Or, maybe they’ll have drug or alcohol problems. Or sometimes people are experiencing things they can’t explain, and we’ll go in and discover that maybe when this refrigerator kicks in, there will be an EMF spike. You kind of try to debunk what they are saying.
MW: How do you share your information with other groups?
MS: Mainly on our website, ghostheadsoup.com. We welcome people to go there and post their own stories, or thoughts on the evidence we presented. They are welcome to send their evidence, we will post it and give them the credit. We want it to be a big networking site, not just a place to show what our team did.
MW: Is confidentiality a concern when you post photos or videos on your website?
MS: Typically we just don’t name where the location is. Some people don’t want us to post anything so we go with their wishes. Typically when we are hunting we don’t post the location because most residents don’t want other people to think they are nuts if they say their house is haunted.
MW: Do you need a lot of patience to be a ghost hunter?
MS: Yes, it’s hit or miss. It’s not like you walk into a place and turn the lights out and they start dancing. I have been to places I know are haunted, and nothing happened. Maybe they stepped out to dinner or something, I don’t know. …You have a lot of time on your hands. You might spend six hours on an investigation and you have three video cameras. Now when you are reviewing the footage, you have 18 hours of footage to watch. It’s the same with (audio) recording. My way to investigate is to just sit back and soak up the environment.
MW: How many of your clues do you get in person compared to the ones you recorded?
MS: You do get more personal experiences than you get on recorders. But you might step away or you might have a camera rolling in another room and you don’t know what you are missing. A lot of the pieces of evidence are minute.
MW: What kind of audio and video evidence have you captured?
MS: We have caught what appear to be fluttering anomalies or something moving across (the frame) but it’s not distinct. We have caught one or two black masses but we have never seen anything get up and fly around the room.
MW: What have you found at the Egyptian Theatre?
MS: As you’re facing the back of the stage, I have heard a lady’s voice off to the right where it goes down to the dressing rooms. That was caught on a recorder. One time I was walking to the back corner where the piano usually is, and I heard footsteps behind me and I thought it was one of the guys I was investigating with so I turned around to talk to him, and nobody was there. By the women’s bathroom down by the dressing areas, that place is rocking haunted. We had a camera in a bathroom stall where there has been a lot of activity and we were actually witnessing the door trying to close on the tripod legs and I felt something rush by me.
MW: Do you get the impression that the entities are malevolent, or just curious or playful?
MS: Sometimes I will get overwhelmed, and the hair will rise up and I’ll feel like they are all around me and sometimes I have to get out of the room because it’s just too overwhelming. I’m getting better at it and I can handle it a bit more, but in the beginning it kind of freaked me out. Now, it’s more like, “OK, they are messing with me,” and it’s almost like they know I sense them. Someone explained to me that you’re a light in the dark to them – they know you sense them and they are either trying to make contact with me or mess with me. I have had both, where I felt like I was being attacked, but not physically.
MW: Do you get the sense that they want to leave, or are they trying to communicate with you, or are they just having fun?
MS: One of everything you said. There are times where I feel like they want us to leave and you can kind of feel anger, there are times when they just want to let you know they are there, and there are times they are just playing with you. It depends on the location and the haunts they are experiencing.
MW: Do you think there are benevolent spirits that just like to hang out and maybe say “hi” to people once in a while?
MS: Well, I would say there are some not-so-good ones that are hanging out for some reason, but a lot of people may not realize they are dead. The theory is that they tend to leave their energy in places where they have strong emotional ties and don’t want to leave. There are all kinds of different theories on that, and no one’s an expert.
MW: It sounds like a lot of guesswork.
MS: What we are working on is communication. We want real-time communication. We don’t want something we catch on a recorder at home, because we feel when they are on a recorder they are trying to communicate with us. We have to figure out a way to communicate in real-time with them. I don’t know how close we are to that, but we have had some success.
MW: Do you feel that when you get communication from a spirit, they are actively trying to communicate with you, or did you just happen to be set up where they were already active?
MS: That’s a good question. Are they partying all the time when we’re not there? We have caught some disembodied voices on recorders where they are direct responses to what we are saying. There appears to be real-time attempts to communicate.
MW: If you get a sense of who you are talking to and what they want, do you ever try to resolve whatever unresolved issues they might have?
MS: When we investigate a location, one of the first things we do is a historical check on the property. We look for records of the property, and try to find out if anyone died there so we can kind of get an idea who we’re talking to. A lot of times, if you know something has taken place there, you can get a lot of response. If you are going after a certain individual that might be there, a good 60 or 70 percent of the time we think we’re communicating with that person.
MW: Can you tell me anything about other haunted properties in DeKalb County?
MS: There are some fraternal organizations that are haunted, but nothing I can talk about specifically. …There are some class-A disembodied voices captured on recorders. Mostly personal experiences – doors closing, sounds, thumpings, weird people walk.
MW: How do people at that location deal with the knowledge that it’s haunted?
MS: You accept it. …Some of the girls in that organization won’t go in there alone because they have had experiences. Me, I’ll walk in there alone but I hate to, even during the day. They know me and I just tell them to leave me alone. I’ll walk into the place and say hello to them and say, “Please leave me alone, I’m not in the mood.”
MW: Do they respect your request, or do they want to antagonize you?
MS: Some will respect that, and there are a couple in there that are pretty adamant about not wanting you there. We feel there are several entities at that location.
MW: How do you identify and keep them straight? Do you assign them names, or assign them nicknames like doctor, soldier, girl, nurse?
MS: We’ll have psychics come in and we’ll throw out names, and then we’ll use those names like Tommy, and they’ll respond to that.
MW: Do you host any tours or open houses for members of the public?
MS: We do have events at Tinker Swiss, and we have spoken at Kishwaukee College. But most of the places we are at we want to keep the locations confidential.
MW: If someone thinks they might have seen or heard something, are you likely to take them seriously?
MS: Sycamore and DeKalb have their share of haunts. The reports we’re most interested in are the ones where somebody calls us up and tries to talk themselves out of it – those are the ones we want. …People who call up and say, “Well maybe I’m nuts, maybe I’m not, but I’m experiencing this,” those are the locations you want to investigate because they are probably legit.
MW: Are you really busy around Halloween?
MS: Things appear to be more active when it’s cold and dry. We seem to have the most activity in the cold and wintertime.
MW: Do you do any daytime investigations, or are most of them at night?
MS: At night, there’s less interference in the air. I think if a place is haunted, it’s haunted 24/7. I think at night things are quieter, and your senses are more alert.