Most times, the haunting is not a haunting at all. Lights are flickering? Could be a grounding issue. That old framed photo of grandmother moves around on the dresser like she’s sending a message from beyond the grave? Check for a draft. Candles are self-extinguishing? Simple low-frequency sound waves might be at work.
“I’m a skeptic,” said Jan Roth, co-founder and lead investigator of Valley Area Paranormal Research (VAPR), a paranormal investigation group. “Most (cases) are (innocuous.) But then there’s those that aren’t … Those events you can’t put your finger on, that’s when it gets interesting.”
From Friday, Oct. 27 to Sunday, Oct. 30, Roth will host hour-long tours with the Montana Trolley Company to share the stories of six locations where the investigation of mysterious phenomena turned up more than could be explained away by the VAPR team. The Montana Trolley Co. debuted the tours last year, offering four rides, and this year has expanded to offer more than 15 tours. Roth will accompany each ride to share educational, interactive, and true ghost stories.
“This valley, it’s so rich with history, so old,” DawnD Stadiek, of Montana Trolley Co., said. “So many of our families have been here for generations. Jan can tell honest stories — if you get scared, it’s because it’s real.”
VAPR’s trained team, composed of five chief volunteer investigators and 15 occasional volunteers, has encountered the full spectrum of paranormal activity, from mundane disturbances like footsteps in the attic to intelligent hauntings involving communications, white noise, or apparitions. Free of cost, VAPR investigators will visit anyone in Flathead, Lincoln, or Lake counties who are concerned about hauntings and will, as Roth said, “become part of the family until it’s figured out,” occasionally for months at a time. The VAPR team also performs spiritual cleansings, which involve a priest who blesses the home with white sage, which Roth says “drives the evil out.”
Roth, who has been a paranormal investigator for nearly 30 years, has several tools and a network of experts to help debunk claims of spirit activity, which is VAPR’s investigative approach. He uses equipment like dowsing rods, laser grids, recording devices, infrared cameras, and meters that measure electric and magnetic fields (EMF) to verify anecdotal accounts and historical narratives. After collecting data, the investigators will go through the evidence and try to identify natural, normal causes to explain the disturbances.
“We have to substantiate … we work with a lot of professionals in the field, from PhDs to doctors to shamans, and we all collectively review the information. It’s really factual information,” he said. “I’ve seen things, I’ve heard things. But I chalk it up to personal experience.”
Like the X-Files team of skeptical Agent Scully and conspiracy-believer Agent Mulder, Roth entertains wild scenarios, but insists upon bulletproof evidence based in fact before he’ll believe. The power of suggestion can be influential, and he’s adamant about the scientific rigor of the investigation.
“This is a very real situation,” he said of paranormal activity. “We’re out there to help people.”
Two-and-a-half years ago, VAPR investigators became curious about an old tale of criminal hangings at a Flathead courthouse after a member of the team encountered what they thought may have been a spirit while using the public phone.
“He was slim, medium height, clean-faced, and his hair was barbered, but not overly recently. He was wearing tan Dickies, the kind the workingmen used to buy at Penny’s. He waited patiently as I finished my call,” the investigator said, according a written account. “I turned, long enough to hang the phone up — just seconds. When I turned (back), the man was no longer standing there, and there was no one on either of the stairs that lead from the lower level.”
Though nobody knows exactly where in the buildings the hangings may have been conducted, three team members using two EMF meters and an EVP recorder, which records electronic voice phenomena, picked up some unusual readings near the southern end of the building, and they were unable to find a material interference that could explain the unusual results.
Hoping to contact the male spirit, they used a K2 meter, which Roth says is “known to enhance the ability for spirits to use it as a device for communications,” to ask questions requiring a yes-or-no response. Over 10 minutes, they asked 10 questions, including some repeated questions, and, via activated lights on the meter, received seven answers. The team concluded that they were communicating with someone intelligent, Roth said, though they haven’t been able to find any historical information to support their hanging hypothesis.
“When it was time for us to leave, I promised ‘The Man’ that I would return at a later date. Unfortunately, I have been unable to do so, as of yet. I hope he’s not upset,” the investigator said.
Though this case isn’t on the trolley tour, Roth and Stadiek promise there will be many other worthwhile tales of paranormal spookiness.
“It’s a Halloween scare, but you’re listening to real stuff,” Roth said.
Many of the tour’s guests know this to be true — at least one family on every tour last year told Roth that they’d had similar disturbances, but didn’t know there was someone in the valley they could turn to for help.
“If you have had or are having experiences that you can or do not understand, please contact us for a private and confidential interview and possible investigation,” Roth said. “We are a nonprofit organization of volunteers seeking evidence of things beyond what we know them to be.”
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