MARTHA K. SEAGLE, STAFF WRITER
When the Lincoln Times-News contacted Tina McSwain, founder and director of the Charlotte Area Paranormal Society (CAPS), about doing an investigation of the historic Crowell Memorial Hospital, she jumped at the chance.
McSwain has 15 yearsâ€™ experience performing paranormal investigations.
â€œI began doing this way before â€˜ghost huntersâ€™ programs were on TV,â€ McSwain said.
Historic sites are of particular interest to McSwain, who has investigated other Lincoln County locations, such as the Ramsourâ€™s Mill Revolutionary War battleground.
After gaining permission from the current hospital owner, Chuck Smith, McSwain began doing research on the hospital in preparation for the onsite investigation. She also spoke with Smith to see whether he or any of his family members had experienced any unusual sensations on the property.
â€œHe told me that his dog is particularly sensitive to the enclosed front porch on the second floor of the old home, but that he and his family had not experienced any other â€˜strangeâ€™ feelings, â€ McSwain said.
Armed with an arsenal of equipment, McSwain and nine other members of the Charlotte Area Paranormal Society arrived at the hospital on the afternoon of Oct. 1.
At the heart of CAPSâ€™ investigations is faithfulness to the scientific method, McSwain said.
â€œWe do our best to take the human factor out of it,â€ she said.
â€œWhen we begin an investigation, we set out to debunk things that people think are paranormal.â€ In other words, their goal is to prove there arenâ€™t any spirits present.
Application of the scientific method is evident in the groupâ€™s base of operation during the hospital investigation, which the group named the â€œbaby roomâ€ because of its pink and blue flowered wallpaper.
In this room, the group set up a laptop computer with pre-recorded questions asked by a child, in hopes of attracting activity from younger spirits.
The recording asked, â€œDid you have a pet?â€ â€œWhatâ€™s your name?â€ â€œDo you like dogs?â€ â€œWant to play with the soccer ball?â€
A high definition full spectrum digital video camera was set up along with a professional audio recorder to capture any activity generated by the questions. The investigators then left the room to allow the program to run, unaffected by human interaction.
With the recording devices operating, four teams of three investigators each split up to explore their assigned areas of the old hospital.
Conditions inside the old building were quite challenging. Investigators had to navigate among tremendous amounts of debris, including broken glass, wood and metal. Water dripped in several areas, and there were several inches of standing water in the basement.
One area the team particularly wanted to visit â€” the former hospital morgue â€” was inaccessible due to the degraded conditions of the building.
â€œWe had studied layouts of the building and were headed back there, but there was so much water standing and so much debris that we backed out for safety reasons,â€ McSwain said.
Investigators are trained to speak in normal voices when speaking is necessary. â€œMost paranormal activity manifests itself as whispers, so we speak to each other at normal volume so that we can easily differentiate our speaking from the paranormal,â€ McSwain said.
Additionally, while conducting an investigation, team members speak out loud to note stray noises such as dogs barking or trains passing nearby.
In all, the team recorded more than 80 hours of video and audiotapes during their investigation of the Crowell Memorial Hospital. They also took numerous digital photographs.
In keeping with the scientific method, investigators review the tapes and document their findings independently of each other. The review process typically takes around three weeks.
Once the reviews are completed, the findings of the investigation are developed.
So what were the results of the investigation at the old hospital? Several minor instances of what could be paranormal activity were documented.
In the basement area â€” adjacent to the morgue area that investigators could not reach â€” a digital photograph shows a vapor-like image in a doorway. Metal structures can be clearly seen behind this fog.
When the same photograph is displayed on a high definition computer monitor, what looks like a manâ€™s face appears in the upper left corner of the same doorway.
On two audiotapes, what sounds like a womanâ€™s voice can be heard whispering. In one tape, the whisper seems to be a two-syllable word, either â€œhelloâ€ or â€œno-no.â€ Â On the same tape, an indistinguishable animal-like sound is heard, but the investigators do not denote hearing an animal, as is their customary procedure.
Several investigators were overcome by a feeling of uneasiness while in a breezeway area on the second floor of the hospital. This area connects the second floor porch on the front north end of the building â€” the area Smith reported his dog being afraid of â€” to a mechanical equipment room on the south end of the hospital.
The uneasy feeling for one investigator overcame her to the point that she had to leave the building. Small blips of what could have been paranormal activity were simultaneously detected on a meter that measures electromagnetic fields (EMF) in this area.
In the basement, one investigator documented that while rolling up an electrical cord onto a reel, he began to feel panicky. After the cord became snagged on something, he whipped it free and continued to roll it up. Subsequently the cord tightened and the roll was jerked from his hands.
About the C.A.P.S.:
The Charlotte Area Paranormal Society has 18 active members, ranging in ages from 22 to 58. Backgrounds of group members vary widely. McSwainâ€™s profession is working on HVAC systems.
The group also includes certified public accountants, information technology managers, an Appalachian State University history student, bankers, x-ray technicians and others.
The group welcomes people who want to learn more about paranormal investigations. They offer classes and allow members of the public to go along on investigations to help them understand the process involved.
Members of the society are required to perform active community service. Last year, the 18 members performed more than 1,200 hours of service for Second Harvest Food Bank, their chosen charity.
McSwain said the most active paranormal site in North Carolina is the historic Rosedale Plantation in Charlotte. The group has also encountered significant activity at several private residences, she said.
However, McSwain said most of the spirits they have encountered have been friendly and claimed that at one residence the group heard a little old lady come up behind them and say, â€œBoo!â€ When reviewing the audiotapes from that investigation, the team members could hear a woman humming, McSwain said.
McSwain and other investigators purchase their own equipment, building up an inventory of devices after years of experience.
â€œFor me itâ€™s more than a hobby â€” itâ€™s a passion. You have to love this to be in it because the equipment alone costs thousands of dollars,â€ McSwain said.
Note: Â C.A.P.S. and the Lincoln Times-News had permission to enter the Crowell Memorial Hospital Property. Individuals should never enter abandoned buildings alone or without permission of the property owner.