Mr. Ghost comes to town Spook's night out at the Carolina Inn by Jamie McLendon Karen and Jeff Kirchner chose to hold their wedding reception at the Carolina Inn for its convenience to the church, its ties with the university they both attended and loved, and, above all, its beauty. Standing on the corner of Pittsboro and Cameron streets since 1924 on the spot where the chapel that gave the town its name once stood, the Inn is a Chapel Hill institution.
It is indeed a beautiful establishment. It's also chock full of ghosts. Though a professional photographer documented the ceremony, many of the guests brought digital cameras. As photos from the evening filled her e-mail inbox, Karen began to notice an interesting phenomenon evident in many of the shots. "There was a group gathered to catch the bouquet, and above their heads were several round circles that were spots of light. They were perfectly round, and some were larger and brighter than others."
Most people would probably dismiss the spots as reflections of objects in the room or the results of using non-professional equipment. Someone familiar with the art of ghost hunting, however, might regard them as evidence of paranormal activity.
Exactly how a ghost hunter is able to detect whether such activity is prevalent is what drew me to participate in "Ghost Hunter's University," a crash course in the terminology and technology involved in ghost hunting at the Carolina Inn.
As with most historical places, it would stand to reason that stories dealing with the paranormal would inevitably pop up here over time. The difference with the Carolina Inn is that the sheer volume of stories alone would suggest that something strange is happening. Certainly, that's what the Web site about.com thought when it voted the Carolina Inn one of the Top 10 Haunted Hotels in the United States (hotels.about.com/od/hauntedhotels/tp/mosthaunted.htm). And certainly, that's what the readers of Haunted Times magazine thought when they contacted editor and professional ghost hunter Christopher Moon, who arranged to have a GHU seminar at the Inn after collecting his own evidence.
Moon, a soft-spoken 30-something from Colorado, has been seeing spirits since childhood. As he grew older, his "gift" led him to pursue the paranormal full time.
"I really started in this field not knowing what to do, and learning by trial and error," he says. "Then, I started speaking to other people in the field [about] what worked for them and what didn't and really took my own angle on that."
During "Ghost Hunting 101," Moon explains the different types of ghostly presences, passes around equipment, and offers anecdotes of his own experiences. Forget any notions of Don Knotts in The Ghost and Mr. Chicken or Bill Murray in Ghostbusters; this is a serious business that can come with serious consequences.
"The hitting and pushing [from spirits] I can deal with to a point, but the scratching and burning is a little much," says Moon.
Listening to him describe some of hazards of his profession, it becomes evident that he's dealt with some pretty nasty ghosts. Fortunately, such experiences seem to be the exception rather than the norm. In fact, some spirits are so taken with Moon that they "attach" themselves to him, including a suicide who pays him weekly visits.
But what about those spots that popped up in the Kirchners' photos? Moon bears the distinction of being one of the first in his field to attach significance to them. The spots, or orbs, as they are referred to in ghost hunting circles (no pun intended), are defined by Rosemary Ellen Guiley's Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits as "energy anomalies recorded at some haunted sites." Many ghost hunters previously dismissed them as not being of any real interest. Moon, however, was intrigued enough to closely examine a photograph until he made a startling discovery: He was able to clearly see a human face.
Since then, Moon has been able to find faces in all orbs that he finds in photographs. And that's not all. He's conversed with the dead, thanks to digital recorders picking up comments from beyond. It takes a while for the untrained ear to discern the whispered messages, but once one knows what to listen for, ghostly statements spring forth.
Following the discussion is a dinner and a history of the Inn, as well as some of the stories that impelled guests to write to Moon. Perhaps the most thrilling part of the evening is the finale, when attendees are given a chance to use their newly acquired knowledge in a hunt of their own. Guest are encouraged to make use of their cameras and recorders as the Haunted Times staff leads them to locations where activity has been detected.
The ghost hunt includes a stop in Room 252, former home of Dr. William Jacocks, a resident of the Inn for 17 years who apparently never really left. Jacocks would definitely fall into the "friendly ghost" category. In fact, he's a bit of a prankster. Though his favorite trick appears to be locking unsuspecting guests out of the suite, Moon relayed a tale about his first visit to the Inn that had more in common with The Three Stooges, as the bathroom sink faucets inexplicably fell off, giving him two shots of water in the face.
I was offered a chance to stay in Jacocks' suite by myself. Though nothing as dramatic as collapsing bathroom fixtures occurred, several incidents did happen, including an overwhelming scent of flowers that greeted me the next morning--an undeniable sign of a presence. Upon calling Moon to compare notes, I found that he had experienced several of the same things.
According to Margaret Skinner, director of public relations for the Carolina Inn, "In the history of the Carolina Inn, nothing frightening has ever been reported." Indeed, it would seem unlikely that the Inn would be anxious to tout its spirit population if there were incidents of a horror-movie variety.
Judging from the number of orbs that appear in the ballroom, the spirits just want to be where the action is.
Ghost Hunter's University returns to the Carolina Inn on Monday, Oct. 10 from 1-9 p.m. Call 918-2711 or visit www.carolinainn.com for details.
Jamie McLendon occasionally sings about ghosts in Durham rock band Dom Casual.