Saturday Oct. 16, 2010
PRAIRIE – The weeks and months leading up to the third weekend of October for me were built on loose plans of hiking and caving in Chattanooga, Tenn., to seeing musicians like Bush, Willie Nelson and Stone Temple Pilots in Pensacola, Fla., with Gulfport friends, to celebrating the University of Alabama’s homecoming in the bar scene of Tuscaloosa’s lively Temerson Square party district. As work assignments and fate dictated, I find myself sitting alone in a long dark tunnel with the only light shining from a tiny red dot of a night vision camera less than 10 yards away and a very faint half moon peering 30 yards beyond that, with the thought that I’m quite possibly surrounded by the 27 supernatural spirits that haunt this area. Surprisingly, out of all the options for the weekend, there was no other place in the Southeastern Conference I would’ve rather been at this moment. The night was part of the Mystic Mississippi Paranormal Society’s tour of the former Gulf Ordnance plant, which pitted everyday people in the role of ghost hunters for the night to benefit the history of the former World War II munitions plant.
After months of anticipation, my real-life ghost hunting ambitions were truly manifesting into reality. With the blinking lights of ghost-detecting equipment just past my feet, a digital temperature gauge in my left hand and a set of extremely sensitive headphones on my head, my question session begins with Philip, the ghost of a Confederate soldier who mistakenly led his soldiers directly into enemy fire and, out of guilt, is bound to roam the tunnel for eternity. As nearly 20 fellow ghost hunters from Amory, Tupelo, Houston and Starkville watched on a close circuit television in a nearby loading bay of the plant, my attempts to learn why Philip was there, how long he had been there and even a plea to be tapped on the shoulder were coming up unsuccessful. As the minutes slowly passed, the only sound I detected with the headphones was my own heart beating in slight nervousness until I finally heard the slight approach of footsteps slowly coming my way. My immediate requests for verbal confirmation were denied but soon enough, I could feel a slight, constant and chilly breeze on the back of my neck.
Upon trading places with other people trying to live out their own long tunnel experiences, the group was in awe of how one woman videotaping the television screen was picking up a floating dot behind two people down the tunnel, which the paranormal society’s equipment wasn’t detecting. All of a sudden, the woman’s video camera and the closed circuit screen, powered by a constant-running generator, shut off at the exact same second. As different pairs of people came out of the tunnel, some had no luck and others reported that Philip was a “chatterbox.”
The long tunnel was the main act of the tour after trips through the short tunnel and the second floor of the three-story building where 100-pound bombs were made came up relatively short on paranormal activity. Different people had different experiences, but my group collectively witnessed the spirit of the man or one of the three women on the second floor manipulate a ghost-detecting machine by lighting it up to let us know they did, in fact, want to hear some of the big band music of the 1940s played from a CD player when asked by Mystic Mississippi co-founder Jennifer Sweeney.
After another unsuccessful sit down in the long tunnel, we take off walking through a field trail, flashlights in hand, embedded with the paranormal society members back to the most unique offshoot of the short tunnel. It’s an area once described as a vortex – an energy mass that is a temporary portal to the spirit world. This room, filled with broken chunks of rigid concrete covering the floor and privet hedge, is the same place I had earlier taken a photo with unexplained images. The room is also where the society has come to learn that spirit of a 10-year-old boy named Michael roams. After requests by Mystic Mississippi co-founder Terry Sweeney for Michael to show his presence, the sudden thud of a piece of concrete sounds off behind all of us. A few people speak of seeing shimmering dots in the air. Close to the vortex and in one of the corners, most of us were able to feel sudden drops in temperature and a tingly feeling starting in our fingertips and on down our hands – the feeling we came to believe was Michael’s presence.
Friday, Oct. 22, 2010
In an otherwise empty ammo bunker serving as our base camp, we learn we’re going to be guinea pigs on tonight’s tours. We’re taking a slightly different approach to each of the three locations, including following our own instincts in the short tunnel and exploring deeper into the long tunnel.
While my friends Nic Moody of Pontotoc and Trae Bailey of Tupelo are having an occasional question answered on the Frank’s Box, a piece of equipment scanning radio signals ghosts can manipulate and speak through, an orb floats behind them as shown on the closed circuit TV outside. I find myself further down with my friend Ryan Kendall where the tunnel bends 90 degrees to the right with no said activity.
After roughly eight minutes, we trade places with Trae and Nic and here comes my headache and case of nausea. Spirits feed off of the energy of people, electronics and the environment to manifest. Shortly after my sickly feeling comes on, so comes the crunch of pacing footsteps on the dirt-covered floor on the other side of the night vision camera. Upon returning to the same spot a little while later, my friend Chris Warren of Pontotoc and I hear the same footsteps not only in front of us, but behind us as well. After numerous questions, I finally get an answer through the Frank’s Box and learn that three spirits surround us. Hours later, this fact is confirmed as Terry and Kelly, on a return trip, have a sobering question-and-answer session where they learned the names of those three spirits, among several other pieces of information. Just as last week, reported equipment failures marred attempts to capture images and make contact with the spirits, including a video camera with a full eight-hour charge being completely drained in a few minutes at the end of the long tunnel.
The short tunnel and vortex seemed to be unsuccessful for each of the three groups, but my small group of friends approach the third tier of tonight’s tour with high hopes. Since the second floor of the three-story building seems inactive, our guide Beth Vennerstrom leads us upstairs for one last try for the night. As the moon casts shadows of steel beams on the concrete littered floor, we finally establish contact through the K II meter, an electromagnetic field meter that lights up when spirits are present. After passing it around, the spirit seemed to be more partial to Chris and Trae’s questions as the device would light up to their yes and no questions. Trying to clear up any doubt of whether technical interference would cause the K-II to blink, we moved our cell phones and digital cameras around the machine, but the lights never shimmered, which assured us the presence was in fact legitimate. While the activity in this session came in spurts, it finally came to an end.
The stories and experiences from dozens of people who went on the Gulf Ordnance ghost hunts are memories to last lifetimes. So much of what we witnessed during those few hours exploring the ruins of the munitions factory has no obvious explanation attached. Most people came out with their own take on the experience, but hopefully everyone came out a little more open-minded to those little unexplained and unseen things in life like I did.
RAY VAN DUSEN / Monroe Journal