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A THUNDERSTORM RISES over Weston just as tonight's ghost hunt begins.
Psychic Worley, up to this point waiting outside, walks the house, occasionally stopping and closing her eyes. She picks up the name, Christine or Christina, and says she feels the presence of children. "It's kind of weird," she says after her reading. "It's almost like I am [the ghost] for a minute ... sometimes I can go in and not feel a thing and sometimes it's instantaneous."
In the basement the investigators finish installing a closed-circuit video system, where they can keep watch on cameras positioned around Weston. "This one right here," K.B. points out on the screen. "If there's any kind of motion in front of it, even a cockroach, it will pick it up."
Big Ray reviews the investigating protocol. "When we say 'flash,' a camera is going to go off," he says. "Make sure you close your eyes or you'll see sunspots. And if you make a noise, if your knee creaks or you touch something, make sure you announce it so it isn't logged as evidence."
On the closed-circuit screen weird dots seem to float around two of the four rooms — orbs. Any self-respecting ghost-show viewer will recognize these strange floating particles, often identified as apparitions attempting to manifest. I point them out to members of the team but no one seems interested. Later, Big Ray says: "We can't worry about that stuff. We see it all the time. Some of it is dust. It's only when it seems to move intelligently that we take notice."
Tonight, the investigators — and their guests — will operate in teams. The first will pair Ghost Rap's Worley, camera technician Williams and Big Ray with photographer Elmquist and me. Also along, to entice activity, are Webb and Hoagland.
We begin the hunt downstairs. "We are not here to harm you," Worley says to the air.
"Is there someone in this room with us?" Big Ray asks. "Knock once for yes, twice for no."
There is a noise by the fireplace. "Thank you," Worley says.
More questions follow, followed by fewer and fainter knocks. We adjourn to the next room, which contains a portrait of the lady in blue who is said to walk these halls. "Do you like Betty telling the history of this house?" Williams asks. "Knock one for yes, twice for no."
After a few seconds, Big Ray barks, "Is there a lady in this room?
We hear a crack on the floor near where Worley and I stand. While she thanks the noise, I make a mental note that 85 percent of the home's wood is original to 1789.
We leave the room to find a malfunctioning video camera in the hallway. Lightning flashes. "What are you doing, messing with my camera?" Ray yells out.
That's when Betty Webb speaks up. "Did you just touch me?" she asks Williams. "Something just touched my shoulder."
We spend the next half hour collecting more faint knocks. Waiting downstairs in the basement while another team has a go, I look again at the video screen. The orbs in the upstairs bedrooms have intensified even as the thunderstorm outside is passing us by.
"LET'S HAVE THE skeptics this time," K.B. says when it's our turn again.
Five of us are soon sitting in Weston's front parlor, where Webb says she felt a presence and where cigar aroma is often detected. With three different recorders going, Ray suggests we go round robin with spirit questions. Cochran, the "Ghost Hunters" fan, is present but declines the opportunity.
"Do you realize you are no longer on the living plane," Ray asks.
"Could you touch somebody in this room?" KB asks.
"Was this your office?" I ask.
"Did you smoke cigars in here?" Elmquist asks.
We hear nothing. K.B., in a gruff voice, tries again: "Can you touch one of us?"
Cochran, quiet up until now, rises up with a jerk. "Something ... is messing with my hair. It's like the third time it's done it. I didn't want to say anything. ..."
Elmquist announces "flash" and takes a series of photographs. One of these images — a long exposure — shows something unusual in the top right corner, something brownish and smoky. If you squint slightly, you can trace the form of a human skull in the mysterious swirl. If you squint even more, you can trace the outline of New Jersey.
"It didn't hurt. But something definitely touched me," Cochran says, touching her head.
Ray's thermometer shows that it's 82.5 degrees. A follow-up reading a few minutes later reveals a 3-degree drop. "We should have brought a K-2 up here," Big Ray whispers to K.B.
The temperature is checked again and it's dropped another degree. "This time I didn't touch the button," Ray says.
When this activity calms down, we go upstairs. Big Ray sets up a word generator, a database through which ghosts are said to be able to communicate. "Introduce," the computer ghost voice says. "Grandmother."
I see no flying orbs up here. And I actually find myself saying, "I'm looking for the butt imprint." But the haunted bedspread of Weston has not been mussed.
Big Ray feels a pain in his side — "like someone jabbed me with a pin" — but everything else seems normal. Still, when reviewing my tape, I hear a baby crying in the background ... three times. None of us heard these wails at the time.
WHEN I LEAVE Weston, I'm no less a skeptic about the paranormal than I was when I drove up to the place. But I think to myself that the night's proceedings would make for one hell of a TV ghost show in the hands of the right video editor — orbs, cold chills, hair-pulling, loud knocks, pin jabs. Add to that a photo with a strange apparition and an EVP of a crying baby.
So imagine my surprise, a few weeks later, when Big Ray informs me that the evidence collected from Weston is "inconclusive." He says Ghost Raps is returning for another investigation. While he seems intrigued by our photo — "yeah, it does look like a skull there" — he discounts the crying baby as something mechanical, perhaps the whine of one of the recording devices.
The most compelling evidence Big Ray has to show me is a piece of video. At a time when no one is downstairs, the soundtrack reveals music playing eerily in the front passageway — a chiming, mechanical melody not unlike that of a music box.
According to the people at Historic Hopewell, there's no music box on display at Weston. Where did the music come from?
And so the ghost hunt continues. S