From the back seat of her van parked in the darkness of an abandoned Hancock County cemetery, Caroline Beam pulls out a gleaming silver briefcase. She snaps open the lid to reveal, encased in customized foam rubber, a Gauss meter and a Tri-Field Natural meter, both of which measure electromagnetic activity. There is also a two-way radio, a Thermoscan to measure temperature fluctuations, a digital camera, compass and audiotape recorder.
Unexplained photographic phenomenon: Ghost Trackers attempt (and succeed?) to summon the undead. Photo by Jason Yoder
We are going on a ghost hunt. I am the guest of Indiana Ghost Trackers, a statewide group with 100-plus members and a growing Central Indiana chapter. After signing a release form promising, among other things, not to hold the group liable for "mental injury," the Trackers allowed me to tag along on a visit to Hay"s Cemetery, a graveyard noted for several otherworldly experiences. Recent visitors here heard organ music playing, saw darting orbs of light on digital cameras and shivered from sudden drops in temperature. I"m not sure what I expected the ghost trackers to be like. But I realize that I am surprised by their, well, normalcy. Beam is a stay-at-home Fishers mom who matter-of-factly says, "I live in a haunted house, yeah." Both she and Mary Ellen Hammack, another stay-at-home mom who says her house on the west side of Indianapolis is haunted, wear subtle crucifixes around their necks. There is no one spiritual belief shared by the Trackers, nor is there a uniform theory about ghosts. Beam rattles off names and life histories of ghosts in her home, others are more vague. But they all seem to coalesce around an understanding that death is not always the end of an earthly presence. "There is some kind of energy out there," says Lorri Sankowsky. "I don"t know exactly what it is, but the fact we keep finding it around cemeteries suggests to me that it is human." Through the darkness, I can"t make out too much of the lay-out of the cemetery, but I can see the sprawling ash tree where a 19th century husband allegedly hung his wife, then shot her with an arrow, after he caught her with another man. There are a few dozen headstones visible, far less than the 250 headstones that were here at one time. Vandals have knocked down, destroyed or thrown away the rest, a disturbance the Trackers say causes the high level of ghost activity they have observed here in past visits. Even for a skeptic, there are a few things difficult to explain. There is the enormous yet perfectly placed gravestone, likely weighing over 500 pounds, marking the resting place of John and Sarah Combs, who both died in 1900. The only unusual thing is that the gravestone is completely upside down. We gather around a few other gravesites while Sankowsky and her daughter Caitlyn play an audiotape of a prior ghost hunt. They were walking the grounds, at night of course, of a Zionsville farm that supposedly was the site for hangings by the Ku Klux Klan. The tape has several minutes of the women talking then suddenly a totally different female voice interrupts. "Go away!" she says. None of the (living) folks there said it, and neither mother nor daughter heard the voice until they played the tape back later, a discovery the Trackers say is fairly common. "We call it an EVP, electronic voice phenomenon," the elder Sankowsky says. She shrugs. "We don"t know why it works this way, but it does." Suddenly, two other women, named Elaina and Shannon, say they hear children laughing in an overgrown part of the cemetery. They walk toward the sound and several of us follow. We discover the family plot of the Eakins, most of whom died just after the Civil War. I don"t hear the voices, but I feel a bit of a chill just the same. I get another when the Trackers gather in a circle, tape recorders and electromagnetic sensors running, and ask questions of the ghosts. "What is your name?" "Tell us how you died." No answers that I can hear, but suddenly a pack of dogs about a quarter mile away break the silence by barking madly across the fields. We soon call it a night, without collecting any tangible evidence of ghosts. That, however, doesn"t mean they aren"t out there. Caroline Beam packs up her equipment to leave the graveyard. "If someone wants to laugh at me, that"s fine," she says. "But if they are a skeptic and dare to come to my house, I love that. Because they don"t leave skeptics." For more information about Indiana Ghost Trackers, checkhttp://ghostrackers.topcities.com
or call 219-641-1623.