Shelby County ghosts busted

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Is there a ghost lurking in the old Shelby County Courthouse who doesn’t like anyone closing the blinds or who helps typists with their corrections?

Strange goings-on in the old courthouse building in Columbiana were the reason two paranormal research groups visited last Saturday night.

Investigating strange phenomena at the old courthouse were Mark Manning, a student at the University of Colorado, who heads a

company called Time Traveler Productions, as well as members of the newly formed group, Alabama Haunted.

The old courthouse, built in 1854, serves as a museum for Shelby County’s historical artifacts and records and is headquarters for the Shelby County Historical Society Inc.

Manning, a former resident of Alabama who grew up in Fultondale and is seeking his

second degree at the University of Colorado’s Denver campus, represented the American Foundation for Scientific Paranormal Research.

His first degree was a bachelor’s in mass communications. His second degree effort is in the field of geology.

Brenda Callahan of Jacksonville, Debra and Roger Burhite of Bessemer and Mary Whisante of Alexandria all represented Alabama Haunted. And along for the night, representing the Historical Society, was Harold Griffin of Chelsea.

Griffin’s wife, Mickey, recording secretary for the Historical Society, reported

several stories of eerie events that supposedly occurred at the old courthouse through the years.

She said even though the blinds in the old courthouse are down at closing time, often when Bobby Joe Seales, president of the Historical Society,

opens the building in the mornings, they are halfway open.

Griffin said a light in the Lee Room extinguishes unexpectedly. A woman once heard a typewriter operate itself in the old courthouse and correct a typing error she had made. The kicker was there was no correction tape in the typewriter, and the woman had gone to get one when the incident occurred.

However, aside from some unusual sounds and a possible blind-raising incident, which was not witnessed, &uot;There was nothing unusual,&uot; according to Manning.

Manning, who does not like to use the word &uot;ghost,&uot; said his scientific equipment, which included electronic field meters and an air ion counter, all registered normal.

He also said he got nothing on videotape, but is still studying some of his audio recordings.

He said of the mostly uneventful night, &uot;Stuff like this happens. It was just one of those long nights. So far nothing exciting on the audio or video.&uot;

However, Manning said, there are two photos showing a change in the blinds.

He said in one of the photos taken early in the night, the blinds are down, and in the other taken later, the blinds are up.

&uot;I did not record anything to authenticate it,&uot; he stressed.

Manning said the blinds could have been raised by accident when someone was looking out a window or on purpose. But he said no one who was in the building last weekend claimed to have raised the blinds.

Manning said in his research, he first tries to &uot;eliminate the simple&uot; and then &uot;moves on to the complex.&uot;

While he said some &uot;loud falls&uot; were heard during the night, he also noted there is an ice maker in the courthouse which drops ice.

&uot;I’m not saying there is not something going on, but according to the data we took, everything seemed to be normal,&uot; said Manning.

Alabama Haunted members

had nothing exciting to report for ghost believers either.

&uot;It was kind of a long night,&uot; said Debra Burhite.

&uot;(The old courthouse) didn’t have as much activity as we thought.&uot;

But she said Alabama Haunted is still looking at its data. She said the group uses digital and 35 millimeter cameras and an 8 millimeter video camera.

Burhite stressed that Alabama Haunted’s investigation had nothing to do with that conducted by Manning. But she noted that her group did observe a few orbs on a digital camera.

She said, however, these could be explained as dust.

Burhite was the one, however, who said she discovered the blind-raising incident. She said she was in the room with the coal mining exhibit (Johnston Room) on the second floor.

She said she discovered the blinds were up two to three inches. She said prior to the observation, all of the blinds were down.

She asked if anyone raised the blinds, and everyone said &uot;no.&uot; She said the incident occurred when equipment was being set up between 8:30

and 8:45 p.m.

She also said loud noises were heard in the staging area, but like Manning, acknowledged the existence of the ice maker. And, she said, floor creaks heard could have been anything.

&uot;Everything was kind of explainable,&uot; Burhite concluded.

Burhite described Alabama Haunted as a team of investigators who &uot;try to find evidence of past life if there is anything on the other side.&uot;

Brenda Callahan said the group tries to gather data and conducts research to show the existence of an anomaly.

&uot;Generally a person will call us and tell us this and this is happening,&uot; she said.

Callahan said the group does pre-interviews, talks to witnesses and determines, if there are more than two witnesses, if there is a reason to investigate.

She said the courthouse investigation with Mark Manning was a &uot;learning experience&uot; for Alabama Haunted.

According to Manning, &uot;It’s difficult to call a ghost a ghost because there is no proof.&uot;

However, he said if one eliminates the possibilities, then the phenomena could be called an &uot;unusual anomaly.&uot;

He said the main tools used by most &uot;ghost hunters&uot; are basic still image and video photography.

And he called those the &uot;worst&uot; tools because the images have to be verified by two different cameras from two different positions.

&uot;A lot of people are orb people.&uot;

But he said of that reported phenomena, &uot;I need a lot of evidence for that. I just don’t buy it photographically.&uot;

He explained that more scientific equipment used in paranormal investigation includes devices such as an electromagnetic field detector which measure AC and DC electronic magnetic fields and air ion counters which measure increases in negatively charged ions.

Manning said some orbs can be explained as light reflections off dust particles. He said one of the most unhaunted spots he tested was his own backyard. And in 30 percent of the photos, he got orbs.

Manning also pointed out that electronic voice phenomena can be easily faked. He said if one digs too far into a tape recording, one can pick up radio signals.

Most witness evidence such as sounds are thrown out in the scientific method in favor of more testable evidence, he said.

He explained that the procedure at the old courthouse was first to set up the equipment and take base line readings before setting up an observation to base camp.

Manning said although he found nothing definitive at Shelby County’s old courthouse, he has had an unusual experience in Colorado.

An anomoly was detected at an inn in the Colorado mountains.

It moved from the middle of a room to a wall and disappeared. At that time, he said he was personally charged with an electronic field