Metro DetroitOctober 23, 2013
Local ghost hunters talk shop and share their favorite spooky experience
By Tiffany Esshaki
C & G Staff Writer
This time of year, there’s no shortage of people looking to gather ’round and share a good ghost story.
But for some, tales of spirits and things that go bump in the night are more than just a Halloween pastime — they’re a way of life.
Take, for instance, Robert DeClercq. As the founder of Spirit Chasers Ghost Hunters, he’s been voluntarily heading into real haunted homes and buildings for more than 23 years. He and his team, armed with the most innovative technology available, go to rumored haunts and see if they can find scientific proof that ghosts are really onsite.
The Roseville resident first became interested in paranormal investigation when he was 18. Just days after he lost his mother to breast cancer, he came into contact with an entity in his basement that he couldn’t explain.
“From the corner of a room, this dark swirl was coming towards my bed. I was looking at this thing as it got closer, and then it touched my leg. And after it touched me, I was just at total peace. I have to believe that was my mom coming to say goodbye to me,” said DeClercq.
After years of research, and hundreds of locations investigated, DeClercq is always looking for a bigger and better haunt — private residences just aren’t active enough for him. He recently returned from a trip to the Peoria Asylum in Illinois, where he said a spirit actually reached out and touched his arm during his investigation.
“We get EVPs — electronic voice phenomena — and we use other equipment, like trigger objects, to draw them out,” he said. “In Peoria, we used this teddy bear with a sensor in it to draw out the (spirits of) children that were in the basement.”
Of all the places he’s researched around Michigan, he said nothing compares to his experience in Fayette Park in the Upper Peninsula. The old mining town, he said, took many lives years ago when workers would succumb to the bitter northern Michigan winters. The sad history means ample scientific evidence to be had for investigators, he said.
“We were up there, and we heard this old man say, ‘Oh yeah,’ from down a hallway. It was one of the better EVPs. That’s before we even started the ghost hunt. That’s just while we were setting up my equipment.”
Heatherleigh Navarre has had a run-in or two with spirits. As a psychic medium and co-owner of the Boston Tea Room in downtown Ferndale and Wyandotte, she often is called upon to go to the homes of clients who say their houses are being inhabited by unwanted guests.
“They’re not necessarily looking for the presence to go away; they just kind of want it confirmed they’re not crazy,” said Navarre with a laugh. “They want to know it’s not all in their head.”
Navarre works by touring a home or business that’s suspected to be haunted and waiting to feel something. It’s hard to explain, but you just know it when you’re not alone, she said.
“Have you ever been in the presence of a waterfall or some rapidly-running water? There’s an electricity in the air, or excitement in the atmosphere. It feels heightened,” she said. “You’re hyper-alert, hyper-awake, and hypersensitive. You can feel the pressure of the air against your skin, or it might feel quite cold in areas where the air is obviously warm. It’s like being in a dark movie theater; you might not be able to see anyone around you, but you have a psychical awareness of other bodies around you.”
She explained that when it comes to haunts, there are two types of phenomena: subjective and objective. Lots of people deal with subjective phenomena, or something that only they or certain members of the household can see. For instance, this happens when children are able to see spirits that their parents cannot.
Objective phenomena, on the other hand, is that spooky Hollywood-style haunt, where objects will move or noise is made, and anyone in the room can experience it. Navarre said she once investigated a tool and die factory in Detroit where workers kept complaining about moved tools and equipment.
Navarre took a break from her career in education and social work to come back and help out with the Tea Room, a business that’s been in her family for 30 years. But there are similarities in the two industries, she said. For instance, clear communication is key when you’re trying to reason with kids and ghosts alike.
“Once we identify the spirit with whom we’re working, we try to engage in communication. Sometimes, they just want attention or acknowledgement of their presence. Sometimes, they’re having trouble with what’s called soul retrieval. They need help processing into the dimension they’re supposed to be. That can happen if there was a very traumatic death, like an accident they didn’t see coming or a death that was particularly brutal or sudden,” she said. “But it’s a simple process of having communication with the spirit, and telling them, ‘Your time here has now passed. It’s no longer OK for you to remain here.’ It can help a spirit stuck between realms, or it can simply banish them and tell them, ‘You can’t come back here,’ like any unwanted trespasser.”
Sandy Lyons’ work is a little different. The Troy resident has spent the past six years interviewing people around Michigan who claim to have had first-hand encounters with beings from beyond the grave. Her book, “Michigan’s Most Haunted: A Ghostly Guide to the Great Lakes State,” is a compilation of all the unexplained phenomena she’s researched at historic hotels, bed and breakfasts, and other locations around The Mitten.
But there’s much more to her job than just retelling stories from people who claim they’ve seen a ghost. Lyons, much of the time, has to play detective and look for clues that could lead to a hoax.
“All it takes is one fact, after checking into something, to realize if someone’s being truthful with you,” said Lyons, noting that much of her time is spent debunking ghost claims by looking up facts that contradict details in stories. “It just goes to show you, if you dig a little bit, you can uncover something not true.”
Despite all the urban legends and fabricated accounts, Lyons still is a believer. There are ghosts among us, she says. There’s just too much evidence to support many of these spiritual stories.
“I’ve seen too many people who’ve seen too many things. I don’t think everyone is crazy or lying,” she said, noting that she researches many of the establishments she writes about to verify historical facts that support witness accounts. “Most of what I have in my books is as close to the truth as I can get.”
Among the local haunts Lyons stands behind for its paranormal authenticity is the historic Baldwin Theatre in downtown Royal Oak.
“It’s a very old theater that’s been around a long time. The place is so unchanged, and a lot of the original architecture is still intact. I think that’s what keeps a lot of activity going on there,” she said.