Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Steampunk Granny Interviews Jersey Paranormal Investigations

Everyone who knows me knows that I love ghosts and zombies. I’ve been seeing the dearly departed since I was two years old, and I've always been interested in what goes on during a professional ghost investigation? I’ve had the pleasure of doing many ghost investigations with several different groups including one with a very capable team known as Jersey Paranormal Investigations. I was able to find out more about the team by interviewing three of the board members: Maureen Carroll, Nikki Steward and Toni Gushue. Join me now as we learn what is takes to search for spirits.

Thank you Maureen, Nikki and Toni for taking this time to explain your work to my readers.What is Jersey Paranormal Investigations, and why was it formed?

MAC - JPI was founded in November of 2015 by people with many years of experience in the paranormal field.  We were looking to do things just a little different (such as expanding Paraunity and letting the members have greater control over the group as a whole), and thus Jersey Paranormal Investigations was formed.  I've been investigating since August of 2006, so this is my 10-year anniversary!  JPI's investigators are all serious-minded individuals whose main focus is the well-being of our clients.  No matter if the client is a private house, business, or historic location, JPI treats them equally with respect and strives to achieve what the clients have requested of us--evidence, counseling, fundraising, etc. All of our members are volunteers and receive no monetary compensation. Our services are free and JPI is an official 501(c) (3) charitable organization.

                                                  Maureen and Nikki                                                                   
What are the duties of the Board Members?

Nikki: The duties are to take over the world... Hahaha Just kidding.  The JPI Board of Directors is like the engine of a car.  We are a big component of what makes it run, but not without the rest of the parts working too.  We oversee the day to day operations of the group but also try to keep our members as involved as possible in decisions.  This includes, but is not limited to, helping with new member interviews and voting on group expenditures.  We oversee all of our fundraisers and public events as well.  Board Members review questionnaires, schedule cases, and review case reports with the help of our Case Manager, Beth. 

Toni: There are currently 4 Board Members and seats-Director-Nikki, Co-Director-Maureen, Secretary-Toni and Treasurer-Sharon. Collectively, the four of us run the day to day operations of the group, including training, financials, meeting minutes, dispute resolution, networking with other groups, setting up investigations and fundraisers etc.  The Board positions are elected positions, chosen by the membership, and each seat is for one year, beginning January 1st of the year.  This is something that I think makes our group unique, as well as we put the power in the hands of the membership. 
                                                   Toni and Nikki

Often, paranormal groups have a Director and that's it, they are the Director for the tenure of the group.  This isn't necessarily the case with our group.  Plus, in having four Board Members, if we are that split on making a day to day decision where it is a 50/50 vote, we will bring the subject to our membership and have them vote on the topic and give them the power to have a say in how the group is being run.

What inspired you to do investigations?

MAC - I've always had an interest in the paranormal, but when I was growing up, there weren't any of the paranormal shows that are so common on TV now.  Sightings and In Search Of were pretty much it.  I had three experiences that I can recall growing up, but the one that sticks out the most was when I was around 16 or 17.  It was Christmas Eve and my Mom and I were up late wrapping gifts.  Everything was spread out on her bed, unwrapped, when we both heard footsteps coming down from upstairs.  My house was built in 1906, and the stairs were made from Oak.  Each step had a distinctive sound and we could tell someone was coming down (as opposed to going back up).  My Mom asked me to see who was coming down.  I checked all the rooms as I made my way to the staircase and no one was there.  I even went upstairs and checked, but everyone was asleep--even the cat.  When I went to tell my Mom, we both thought it was weird, but didn’t' think much more of it.  The thing I find most odd now is that my mother has absolutely no memory of this ever happening.

Toni: I always had an interest in the paranormal since I was young.  My uncle's former residence was haunted and I had an experience there when I was a kid and spent the night at the house.  My cousin and I were sleeping in her bedroom in bunk beds.  She had locked the door from the inside, why I don't know but she did.  When we woke up the next morning, a small table had been moved across the room.  She and I were young, maybe  8 and 6, so we weren't strong enough to have moved the table and the door to the bedroom was still locked when I got up to use the bathroom that morning.  There were a number of stories about things being moved around or going missing in that house.

My Nana was always very interested in the idea of ghosts and aliens and would read about them a lot, which was surprising to me as most Italian grandmothers aren't talking about Lizzie Borden while they are stirring the sauce.  So, when she was done with a book, she would pass it off to me and then we'd talk about it afterwards. It was always our thing that was just between us. She will be 90 this year and now watches the paranormal shows and we will talk about my experiences on investigations and I will show her evidence we have obtained from public or historical locations (private clients are always kept strictly confidential).

Nikki: I grew up in homes that had paranormal activity in them.  I became somewhat obsessed with the paranormal when I was about 11 or 12.  At the time, my mom was starting to really delve into her genealogy.  We would spend countless hours at libraries, county probate offices and of course cemeteries.  While she spent her time pouring through records and microfiche at the libraries, I searched for any and all books on ghosts and hauntings.  Fast forward to 2003, a family friend was visiting and we took a photo of her.  Right over her face was what we believed to be an "orb".   This seemed to reignite my passion for the paranormal.  I sat down on the computer and started doing some research.  I found my former group, SJGR, and applied to join, curious about what I would learn and how I could help others.  Luckily, they saw value in what I had to offer and the rest is history.  I have spent many years involved in the paranormal since then.  While i was not always with an organized group, i have always used my passion and intuitive abilities to help those who are in need.  It brings me great satisfaction helping those who may be scared or do not understand why they have activity happening in their home or business.

What type of cases do you investigate?

MAC: JPI handles all types of cases from the innocuous to "Emergency" cases that require experienced investigator.  These cases may be human or inhuman, but are considered highly negative in nature.  We also do a lot of work with historic locations, bringing awareness of the location and fundraisers.

Toni: I have only been doing paranormal investigations for about a year, but we are all trained to handle whatever we may encounter along the way.  Sometimes we may go into a residence or business thinking it will be calm and the investigation is going to go one way and anything can happen, so we must always be prepared to roll with the punches.  If we know we are walking into a situation where we believe there to be negative entities at work, we have members of the group who have specialized training and experience that we can send on that type of case.  Nikki has a wealth of experience in this area.

Nikki: JPI handles many different types of cases, including what we consider a "casper" case, which is generally just a human spirit who may be trying to get the attention of the owners, etc.  We also will handle more intense hauntings which may be human or inhuman.

                                            Site of Investigation at Red Mill                                                                 

What training is required to do this work?

MAC: There are several classes that are taught to our trainees before they can be considered for full membership.  These include Psychic Protection, Equipment Training, Electronic Voice Phenomena Training, Evidence evaluation, Understanding the procedures and by-laws of JPI, Cemetery Training, Preternatural Training, and many investigations to gain experience and confidence.  It takes approx. 3 months, but mostly depends on the individual and if the BOD/members feel that person is qualified to obtain full membership status.​

Toni: If someone is an experienced investigator and wishes to join the group, we may just ask them to take a refresher in an area, so that we know they are proficient in it or trained to do things the way we do them within JPI.

Nikki: I believe that it is irresponsible to bring investigators into the homes of our clients without as much information and training as we can provide for them.  While I understand that the paranormal is still a field that there is much to learn about, there are still some basic trainings that are an important foundation for all investigators.

Is it required to have some psychic abilities to do investigations?

MAC: No, that's a falsity some people believe, but the number 1 ability we require is for people to listen and learn.  We are all born with the ability to interact with spirit energy, but most lose it over time--usually between 7 to 10 years old.  However, it is something you can get back with a bit of work.  We say it's like a muscle that atrophies... you can work on the muscle to get it strong and fully functioning again. It's the same with our psychic abilities.​

Toni: Not at all.  In fact, we joke within the group that I have absolutely no psychic abilities whatsoever!  What is required is a willingness to learn, to listen and patience.  Patience is key because paranormal investigating isn't like it is on TV where all kinds of stuff happens in that hour span for the show.  Those filmings take days generally.  It's a lot of sitting in the dark, in the quiet, waiting for something to happen.  Then it's hours of evidence review-audio, video, photo and the more equipment you own, the longer it takes to review everything.

Nikki: This is a bit of a trick question, as I believe that EVERYONE has psychic abilities!  That aside, it is absolutely NOT required for our members have any psychic abilities.  An open mind is the most that we require in that sense.  It is really beneficial to have a good mix of people with varying abilities.

Why do ghosts stay at a particular home or site, and how do you handle the troublesome ones?

MAC: There is usually a reason why ghosts and spirits stay where they do, but we might not always know the reason.  Some stay with living family members, especially during the holidays, milestones, and life-changing events.  Just as our family wants to be there to support us in life, they continue to do so after they have passed.  Another reason is they are attached to the home, land, or a physical object.  It's completely understandable if a person spends 30+ years, for example, in their home, and then wants to remain there after they pass.  Maybe to them, that's their version of heaven.  When a spirit becomes troublesome, there might be a reason for it--such as they are just trying to let you know they are there for you during a particular time, or they just want to be acknowledged that someone realizes they still exist even though their physical body has died.  No matter what the reason, we tell our clients they own the space they are living in and they need to take control of it.  They need to make the location feel like their home, bring in light, live plants and maybe add a fish tank. They also need to set boundaries, such as telling the spirit what they want or don't want from them.  People have every right to ask a spirit not to disturb them when they are in the shower or trying to sleep.  We just tell them to be firm, but respectful, and to set boundaries when they are not in fear or angry.  We want to keep everything as positive as possible. ​

Nikki: Since we have an extensive questionnaire and investigation process, we often hope to handle any issues very early on.  I have had many experience with spirits that were just plain ol' grumpy and unhappy with the residents, to Native American spirits that felt their land was being disrespected.  Each of these situations has to be handled with complete care and understanding.  Sometimes we have to get an understanding of any religious beliefs that may be holding the spirit to a location and if that is causing the conflict.  I have had experiences where I've had to not only counsel the homeowners and help them understand why things are happening and how to deal with it, but also there are times when I have had to counsel the spirits as well.

Walk us through the set-up of an investigation beginning with that first call from a client.

MAC: Once a client contacts us, we send them out a questionnaire.  This is a form that gives us all the information about the client and the case, starting with contact information, general history of the location and how much time they've been living there, and then questions about what they have been experiencing.  Are they hearing voices or sounds?  Smelling things out of the ordinary? Seeing apparitions?  Have there been other groups involved?  If so, what was their assessment of the case? etc.    

Toni: Once we get the questionnaire back, our Case Manager, Beth, will reach out to the client via phone and confirm details as well as get more information if possible.  After Beth speaks with the client, she confirms with the Board and we decide how we will proceed with the case.  If we are responding to the location, a team leader will be assigned to conduct a short preliminary investigation.  This involves meeting the client and discussing information more in depth, getting a feeling for the location and its layout etc. 

MAC: The BOD will read the report and make a decision on what will help the client the best way--either doing an investigation or counseling, etc.  If the client is very sensitive to spirit energy, they might not necessarily need an investigation.  They just need to know how to handle their sensitivity.  That's where counseling is going to be more effective and help the client more than an investigation would.  Ultimately, that's what we want... to make sure that we have satisfied the client's needs and met their expectations.​

Toni: Each case is really a case by case scenario because no two cases are ever the same and each location and client may have different needs that we need to meet.  Our number one priority is just to do everything in our power to satisfy the client and make sure their needs are met and they are happy with whatever the outcome is. 

It isn't always easy for people to talk about paranormal experiences-plenty of times we have heard "You might think I'm crazy, but" and then they will go on to tell us something that they've experienced.  No, we don't think you're crazy, we've heard most everything.  That's why it was imperative that we put the words "without judgment" in our mission statement.  We don't want a client to every feel judged or condescended when they are reaching out to us for assistance.

How can people contact you and is there a fee?

MAC: We are very active on our social media pages, so Facebook, twitter, Instagram, etc.  They can also email us at JPIHauntedHelp@gmail.com or visit our website at Jersey Paranormal. com All of our services are free of charge to the public.

Our most recent cases have been investigating The Red Mill Museum in Clinton NJ.  In September, JPI will be conducting a paranormal fundraising event for them.  We have only been able to do 2 investigations, yet the evidence collected from The Red Mill has been excellent and we haven’t finished evaluating all the evidence as yet!  We have video of a trigger prop’s activation, another of a possible light anomaly, and a slew of EVPs, some of which are interactive with investigators.  There were personal experiences such as investigators being touched, seeing shadows, and hearing disembodied voices.  The Red Mill certainly lived up to its haunted reputation!

Thank you, ladies. If anyone is interested in learning more about ghost investigations or if you think your home is haunted, you now know who to call.

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