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Ghost Hunters Look For Paranormal Evidence At The Hickox Home

The Springfield-area is home to numerous ghost-hunting groups that investigate hauntings year round. As you might imagine, after going on hundreds of paranormal explorations - investigators start to acquire a few scary stories. WUIS recently caught up with two area paranormal investigators who were on site at one of Springfield's most notoriously haunted locations. If the evidence captured from that night doesn't scare you, perhaps their tales of their own run-ins with ghosts will. 

A ghost walk is wrapping up as my engineer, Greg Manfroi, and I arrive at the Virgil Hickox House in Springfield. It's an historic building built in the late 1830s. To get to it you have to go upstairs right above the bar called Norb Andy's along Capitol Avenue. The bar, a long time haunt for politicians and state government-workers, is supposedly also haunted by its former patrons, specifically a previous owner. In Norb Andy's, musicians play while others socialize. Unbeknownst to them, ghost investigators have gathered upstairs.

The Hickox House has served numerous purposes including a speak-easy, the first site of the Sangamo Men's Club, and perhaps more creepily, a private home numerous children supposedly died in and at one period even a funeral home. "Thousands of bodies came through, they did the body work down in the basement - Norb Andy's. The drain is still there in the kitchen. This is the first floor where they did the showings ... the funeral director actually lived upstairs,” Dave Roberts explains, the co-founder of the Capitol Area Paranormal Society. He's here tonight as he has been over a hundred times before... he helps facilitate investigations that are open to paying members of the public looking to recreate the ghost hunting they see on popular TV shows. He says he's gathered tons of evidence here: "Pictures, we've got lots of pictures. Some looks like full bodied apparitions, a little girl, a couple males... I've heard a lot of voices here and I know I hear them because I've captured them on recordings, which means that's like a disembodied voice."

Across the hall in another room, one visitor is working on gathering her own evidence. Samantha Merrell is a twenty year-old from Springfield. She has dowsing rods in her hands, meant to locate water, though some claim they also help communicate with the spirit world. Apparently tonight they are working for her, as she gets "yes" and "no" answers based on the way the rods move to the questions she's asking, though skeptics will point out the rods could be easily manipulated. This is her second time on a ghost-hunt, she says she collected lots of evidence last time, like video and recordings of voices. "It's just kind of cool to see that there is an after-life and that there is something beyond us, and just to be able to talk to them, and see them,” says Merrell.

In another room of the home - what appears to have been a library based on the many shelves, Dave sets up what's called a ghost box. It quickly scans radio frequencies- and the ghosts can supposedly manipulate those to respond intelligently to questions. At one point he catches what he thinks sounds like, “What do you want?”

Chris Mason is here tonight too, he's with Urban Paranormal Investigations based in Taylorville. Mason says he's been interested in the paranormal ever since he started investigating a haunted abandoned church as a teen. He has his own stories from the Hickox Home:"One day we were in here at like four o'clock in the afternoon .... and we were upstairs in the office just talking about some things. And we heard some stuff - sounded like some things being drug around, we also heard what sounded like a woman crying... and I looked into another room ... and there was like a black swirl."

But the scariest story I hear all night isn't about the Hickcox Home at all. It's about something that happened to Chris that almost convinced him to stop investigating forever. He was at a house in Vandalia. Someone with him saw two young children - a boy and a girl - in the flash of his camera, and then: "It's the weirdest feeling in the world... I just felt a 'woosh' go through me, just like I was, not hit by a train, but hit with some sort of electrical charge ... I remember starting to feel a little sad ... I remember being aggravated ... and then I blacked out for like 5, 7 minutes, and they have me on camera crying, fearful of something behind me - all sorts of craziness."

Chris says pictures of him during that time period show his eyes completely rolled back in his head. He says after that night he continued to have moments where he was struck with inexplicable sadness and grief. So he called a medium who says she can work with people's auras.

"You're waiting for that one exhilarating experience and most nights you don't get it, but you might get it when you're going through the evidence." Dave Roberts

  Chris had come to believe he had what is known as an attachment spirit. The medium immediately agreed: “I open the door and the first thing she did is she looks at me and says there's a 7 year old boy standing to your right ... What had happened was apparently the little girl ran through me, got through. He ran through me and what she says is that he didn't possess me; he got wrapped up in my aura. His energy had gotten tangled in mine, he was stuck with me and he couldn't go anywhere. So she did some oils, some things like that, and after that, it was over. But you know not being able to remember and thinking as hard as you can to try and fight for a memory is somewhat of a terrifying experience ... It's like you've been violated basically."

Chris says these attachments can take place when the living leave any haunted location - it just might happen that a ghost wants to hitch a ride home with you. But scarier moments aside, Dave and Chris say it can actually get boring investigating the same house hundreds of times. They both admit that an interest in the after-life, in some sort of proof we're not gone after we die, is at the heart of what drives many of those interested in the paranormal, be they amateur ghost hunters like Samantha, or seasoned investigators like Chris and Dave.

"You're waiting for that one exhilarating experience and most nights you don't get it, but you might get it when you're going through the evidence. You'll see a picture ... like the first night I was here ... and it looks like I got Alice, a little girl at the bottom of the staircase and everybody's like, 'You got the holy grail,’” says Dave. So while not every night might send them running scared or with a ghost in their back seat., there's enough Chris and Dave consider to be proof of the paranormal to keep them coming back here, over and over again. Almost like they're haunting the Hickcox home themselves .

Rachel Otwell of the Illinois Times is a former NPR Illinois reporter.