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August 6, 2008

Louisville Ghost Hunters Society: Spooktastic and fantastic

I’ll admit it: I’m a bit of a skeptic.

Ghosts, angels, politicians — it takes convincing, tangible evidence to get me to believe anything these days. Shadows and creepy noises can always be explained. I’m more worried about the living making such noises. I’m not closed-minded to the supernatural; I’ve just never met a ghost. 

I figured that folks behind the Louisville Ghost Hunters Society were just the people I needed to see — maybe I just hadn’t been to the right haunted places around town. Prior to the meeting, I imagined what it would be like: A crystal ball in the center of a candlelit room? An elder generation of gothic people with wispy silver hair, all wide-eyed and mystical? Louisville’s own Ghostbusters, with jumpsuits? 

The meeting takes place at Mr. Gatti’s on the Outer Loop — OK, so they aren’t too weird to gather among civilians. Standing in line, I gawk like a tourist, trying to find the Ghost Hunters. Having grown up in Okolona, that Gattiland was just as I remembered — Wall Street for the pizza-downing American youth. Amid the chaos, I spot a woman with a black LGHS T-shirt disappearing into a party room. Bingo. 

I slip into that same room, playing cool like I know where I’m going. At the first table is a young blonde guy sitting alone and wearing a Legend of Zelda T-shirt. I introduce myself and ask casually if this is where the Ghost Hunters are meeting.

“That’s what I’m here for,” he says softly. “But it’s my first time.”

Perfect. I drop my enormous yellow purse in the chair diagonal from his and venture off for my cheese pizza and Big Red. 

When I return, James (the blonde) has been joined by his roommate, Greg, also a first-timer. Over our pizza, we chat like old friends. Greg and James live in Indiana with their three cats. Well, they only have to feed two of them. The third is a ghost. 

James and Greg both swear they’ve seen it scamper by and disappear, and can hear it meowing from another room, even when both of the live cats are in the same room. According to Greg, the former tenants had several cats, and surely at least one had used up its nine lives while residing there. 

These two have each had a few other ghostly encounters, but neither are enthusiasts. They just want to see what this is all about. 

Magically, the television that was playing the Sci-Fi channel (appropriately enough) shuts off, and LGHS Vice President Dale Clark commands the room. The meeting is formal, business-like. Clark discusses matters like active members’ concerns, money, transportation for events, etc. I am a little unclear on this “active member” business, but I learn that the LGHS has a system for all they do, and they occasionally take trips to historical sites. The meeting does not include members sharing experiences of phantom blood on their bathroom mirrors and mysterious ice spots in their hallways. Clark is darkly sarcastic through the whole business spiel, which I appreciate. 

After the official meeting is adjourned, members stick around and mingle in various cliques. It doesn’t look like I am going to get the shit scared out of me, and for this I am fairly disappointed. I part ways with James and Greg, and approach Clark to see what’s up.

He explains that the Ghost Hunters are a worldwide organization with about 50 active members and volunteers in Louisville. Active members conduct investigations — they go to a “haunted” house or building and find the source of odd happenings, such as doors slamming or lights flickering. Prior to the investigation, they conduct research to find any significant historical aspects of the site. Once inside, they use audio, video and electromagnetic technology to find the source of the unexplainable. They have found lots of electrical shorts, probably averting house fires. He says they remain skeptical but open-minded while investigating; what they do is scientific, not metaphysical. According to Clark, 99 percent of the investigations result in a legitimate, non-paranormal explanation. 

“It’s hard to prove a feeling,” he explains.

But what about that other 1 percent? I ask if there is any site in Louisville that, by their standards, is haunted. His eyes light up. The American Standard building, formerly a warehouse for manufacturing bathroom and kitchen fixtures, is the one. He describes footsteps, being chased and ethereal voices picked up by their equipment — all from an inexplicable source. I ask if we could go there, but he says it’s not safe and I can’t be authorized. Bummer.

But here’s the fun part: The University of Louisville just bought that building and plans to convert it into student apartments, in its effort to make campus more of a “college town” (snort), a project that should be completed by 2009. Glorious. I’ll have to check this thing out once it’s finished. Maybe get a place there.  


Jane Mattingly will be a junior at the University of Louisville in the fall and enjoys photography, coffee and the inherent skepticism only a millennial has.