Halloween may be the most popular time for ghost stories, but one local crew stays “in the spirit” all year long.
On any given weekend, you can find the Greeneville Ghost Hunters crew loading up their gear and heading out to the spookiest spots around.
When they arrive, Kevin and Elaina Johnson, their son Austin, and Laura Cooper set out to do what other ghost hunters do: capture definitive proof of paranormal activity.
The Johnsons are part of a larger, full-time professional investigative team called Ghost Hunt Weekends. That group hosts events all over the U.S. to give the curious a chance to “step into the world of the unknown” while exploring “real haunted locations” on “real ghost hunts,” its website says.
Individually, both Kevin and Elaina Johnson had been curious about the possibility of hauntings long before their first outing six years ago with Ghost Hunt Weekends.
Both had personal experiences as young children.
“I always watched ghost hunting shows on TV, and I had some experiences when I was little. But, when you’re little, it’s automatically a ghost,” Kevin said.
But one occurrence stands above all the rest as the reason for his interest in the paranormal.
“We used to live in an old house. I was with my aunt in the bathroom while she was putting on her makeup when the knobs on the bathtub turned themselves on,” he recalled. “We left skid-marks getting out of there.”
For Elaina, the death of a great uncle sparked the activity that occurred in her childhood home in Connecticut, piquing her curiosity.
“He had a routine that he did every single day — come home from work, sit in his rocking chair, flip on the radio and rock,” she said. “Just about every day at the same time, the rocking chair would start rocking and the radio would flip on. It scared the crap out of me. My mother was the one who kept showing us what was going on. As little kids, you check it out and you’re saying, ‘How did mom do that?’ But she was never doing anything.”
According to Elaina, the rocking chair and radio were “residual” hauntings — things that occur just because a person put so much energy into them during their life, like a record on repeat.
Now part of two paranormal investigative teams, the Johnsons are usually out looking for evidence of “intelligent” hauntings — occurrences that seem to indicate someone (or something) is not only present, but aware.
It was Elaina’s mother who turned the couple on to the Ghost Hunt Weekends professional crew.
“My mother-in-law was flipping through a magazine and there was an ad for ghost hunts at the Thomas House in Red Boiling Springs,” Kevin said. That location, not far outside of Nashville, according to several national rankings, is among the top two most active paranormal hotspots in the nation.
“She said, if you guys will go, I’ll pay. So we went and it was our first-ever paranormal event that we’d gone to, witnessed or anything. We got there and we just absolutely fell in love with it,” Kevin said. “On the way back, we were all so excited. We were like, ‘Why don’t we just start our own group?’”
So they did.
As the Greeneville Ghost Hunters, the crew mainly performs home investigations. People who experience strange things in their home contact them, either by phone or through Facebook, and plans are made for an investigation.
If the investigation turns up evidence of a haunting, the crew can also link the homeowner with a pastor who will travel to the home to give a blessing with the belief that the spirit will find closure, and thus, cease its disruptions.
Most of the time, the group’s investigations are aiming to rule out the possibility of the paranormal. Cameras, thermal imaging equipment, equipment that measures electromagnetic fields and audio recorders are used to try to establish patterns and distinguish strange occurrences.
“Everything we see or hear, we don’t assume it’s a ghost. We try to debunk it. We try to see if we can remake that noise or whatever,” Kevin said.
It takes a lot of time and a lot of patience. Often, home investigations take multiple outings.
“You don’t know when it’s going to happen, if it’s going to happen,” he said.
Whether they’re checking out a local haunt or hitting the road with Ghost Hunt Weekends, the goal is always the same.
“Everybody just wants to prove they exist,” Kevin said.
They aren’t just chasing spirits. They’re seeking answers to some of humanity’s greatest questions.
“You have to think about the possibilities,” Elaina said. “Do they know they’re dead? Do they know what timeframe they’re in? Do they remember us, and if we were family, do they know who we are? There are so many unanswered questions.”
To date, the Greeneville Ghost Hunters crew has designated an old house off Babbs Mill Road as the community’s most haunted.
An “energy” Kevin Johnson described as “negative” and “not to be messed with” seems to call the space home, they said after reviewing a variety of photographs that appear to show anomalies not attributable to camera or lens flares, flashes, dust or bugs.
Outside of Greene County, the Johnsons say the Thomas House in Red Boiling Springs is the most active paranormal location they’ve investigated with the larger Ghost Hunt Weekends crew.
“There’s not been one time that we haven’t caught audio or video of something,” Elaina said, noting that they’ve investigated the spot “a few hundred” times in the last six years.
Other “hotspots” include Sloss Furnaces in Birmingham, Alabama, Rhodes Hall in Atlanta, Georgia, Jekyll Island Club in Georgia and Moon River Brewery in Savannah, Georgia — a long-rumored haunted historic building often featured on ghost hunting television shows.
“We were upstairs on the third floor where they store kegs and barrels. We had a group in there and kept looking and could swear that we’d seen something walking in the back. We got everybody to be still and just listen and look, and two shadow figures walked behind the barrels and disappeared,” Kevin said. “The whole group, 15 or 20 of us, saw it with our own eyes, no cameras. That’s the first and only time I’ve ever seen anything with my own eyes. I honestly think it’s rare.”
Elaina Johnson agreed that seeing evidence of spirit-related activity with the naked eye is rare.
“The most I’ve ever actually seen are some floating lights in the Thomas House. We also saw a ball (set out to lure the spirit of a child) move at the Thomas House,” she said.
But, seeing isn’t always believing.
“My own personal belief is, I do believe they exist now because of the things I have heard — not so much the things I have seen. There is a remarkable amount of things that I have heard,” Elaina said. “I don’t even hear it with my own ears sometimes, but hear it back on the things we’ve recorded, like if I’ve asked a question and they’ve given me an honest answer, something that makes sense.”
As the field of paranormal investigation grows, the Johnsons believe that it’s only a matter of time until “ghost stories” are proven facts.
“The paranormal field is so big. We’ve not even taken off the tip of the iceberg yet and this is 2017 with technology that’s outrageous,” Elaina said. The Johnsons do encourage others to get involved in investigations. “There’s nothing to be afraid of. Just be careful of who you deal with. Just because a group says they’re professional, that doesn’t mean they are,” she said.
“Use common sense. If someone comes in and says they caught 1,500 ghosts last weekend, you probably don’t want them there. And don’t always go with the first group you find,” Kevin added. “Get on the phone and talk to them, ask how they go about things and how to handle a certain situation. A real group that’s out to help will tell you anything you want to know.”
Also important to remember, the Johnsons said, is to not taunt or disturb spirits if you do encounter them, and don’t use a device like a Ouija Board that may be intended — even as a “game” — to open up a “portal.”
“We don’t do that. I don’t want to deal with anything demonic. There is nothing ‘dark’ about what we do,” Kevin said. “We’re just out looking for the truth. That’s all we’re doing.”
“In a few years, maybe 10 or 20 years, I think we’ll actually be able to prove this stuff. With the amount of equipment we use, it’s only a matter of time,” Elaina added. “It’s a lot of science, and it’s a lot of fun. People are naturally afraid of something there that they can’t see, but, just be open to it.”