by RICHARD DAVID SMITH III
What better way to get into the spirit of Halloween than to spend an evening with, well, spirits? In truth, it has always been easy for me to get in the mood for Halloween. Be it the history or the commercial aspect or the mere rejuvenating crispness entering the air, I’ve always enjoyed All Hallows’ Eve and the fiendishly festive days leading up to it. From the prepubescent days of Trick-or-Treating (Google it, kids) to the adolescent days of watching Elvira marathons—which perhaps lead to my high school crush being a Goth chic—all the way to adulthood, appreciating women as they dress as “sexy” variations of ghastly characters and pop culture icons at adult Halloween parties and sometimes the workplace.
These days, I mostly end up watching It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown with my wife and two-year-old (who almost had his birthday on October 31st), and I even love that, all the way down to the Halloween-themed ads scattered throughout the cartoon’s intermissions, ads that mostly attempt to sell me something that will lead to an impromptu dental visit and/or widen my waistline. Later on, I’ll settle in with Mrs. Smith for an entire night of open-line ghost stories from the callers to radio legend Art Bell’s annual “Ghost to Ghost, Coast to Coast” overnight radio program.
Oh, and when it comes to creating Jack-O-Lanterns, don’t get me started. I am rather particular, meticulously carving my pumpkin to perfection before protecting it with a layer of Vaseline to hold rotting at bay for as long as possible. Nothing fancy or too busy, though. I’m a stern traditionalist when it comes to gutting gourds. Basic faces are the best approach. If it doesn’t get its glow from a flickering candle that sits within its hollowed-out inside, then what’s the point, really?
This Halloween season, I did something a little different in order to properly get into the macabre state of mind. I spent an evening with Mr. Steve Christian on a television set. What’s so spooky about a TV studio–besides the over-caffeinated personalities, overbearing lights, and caked-on makeup–you ask? Well, Christian is the host of Local Haunts, which airs every Sunday night at 9 pm on CW17-TV (www.yourjax.com). The half-hour program checks out area locales with reported paranormal sightings or ghoulish histories. In their quest to contact otherworldly beings, Christian and company implement night vision cameras and electromagnetic field (EMF) readers to detect the presence of paranormal activity in hopes of recording visual evidence of ghostly apparitions on film…still considered to be the ultimate score even in the age of Photoshop. They also use an audio recorder with an instant playback loop to try to capture what is known as electronic voice phenomena (EVP), which are sounds found in electronic recordings that resemble speech, but are presumably from a non-human source.
To the uninitiated, running around darkened rooms in the middle of the night while wielding electrician instruments in search of angels and demons may seem like a strange way to spend an evening—bunk at best, occultism at worst—but to fans of Local Haunts, as well as the likes of the loyal Syfy and History Channel crowd, these methods, tools, and terminology are probably considered blasé. Local Haunts has become a cult favorite in Duval, and will begin its fourth season on the air on October 6th, with an episode investigating room 208 of the Casa Marina Hotel in Jacksonville Beach.
So what got Christian into this stuff in the first place?
“Well, I grew up in a house in Charleston, South Carolina, that was very haunted,” says Christian. “Two spirit people walked around who would talk and whistle and do things. Sit on the bed next to me. Stand in the shower with me, which creeped me the hell out. I lived there from the ages of eleven to fourteen. Those were my first paranormal experiences, and it kind of opened up the door, and I’ve had them (experiences) my whole life. So, ever since then, I was intrigued by the paranormal and researched it any way I could. I’ve actually had the idea for Local Haunts since 1991, so…here we are.”
Pamela Theresa is an important new addition to Christian’s intrepid team of ghost chasers. Theresa is a Certified Spiritual Medium specializing in Metaphysical Parapsychology. Mediums claim to have the ability to communicate with spirits from beyond, supposedly those of the deceased on Earth. Theresa is the reason that the show is now being called Local Haunts Trinity. Not to be confused in any way with the Catholic Holy Trinity, this trinity refers to what Christian calls, “the trinity of evidence.” This trio is comprised of the visual data provided by cameras and EMF readers, the audio data provided by recorders, and, now with Theresa on board, the direct communication provided by a medium. It is through this triangulation that Christian hopes to make his best scientific case for ghosts, his thinking being that he now can explain the causation to go along with the correlation of the visual and audible recordings.
“Pamela makes our job so much easier,” explains Christian, “because we no longer have to hunt so much. She takes us right to where the ghosts are. She’s really quite amazing.”
On a recent Friday the 13th (seriously), I joined the audience of Local Haunts Trinity as the token “skeptical reporter,” sort of becoming the de facto interviewer as the program rolled along. Though I do come from a place of healthy skepticism, I have experienced a few unexplained events in my life—nothing that I would consider concrete evidence of ghosts, by any means, but certainly enough to get me thinking about such things in a different way. In my many years of journalism and life in general, I have heard enough anecdotes from trusted sources that I believe that there really just might be something to this whole “ghost” phenomena. After spending an evening with Christian and Theresa, can I now tell you what that is? Nope…but I can report back to you that I had a wonderful time with the cast, crew, and audience as we pondered the possibility of life after death. Since the show has not yet aired, I won’t give anything away, but you can see me and learn the answers to my inquiries on that episode, titled “Local Haunts Trinity Event 9,” in the coming months.
Per Theresa’s own legal disclaimer, “all readings are for entertainment purposes only.” This Halloween at the Florida Theatre, you can be part of an evening of said entertainment and judge for yourself whether or not this ability is truly giving us a glimpse into the great beyond. On that night, Christian, Theresa, and the CW17-TV crew will be holding a paranormal tour of the beloved downtown theatre. The famous theatre has been the stage for many colorful characters and their enthusiastic crowds since it was established in 1927, opening the possibility for all sorts of residual emotions and excitement left behind by human energy. The historic theatre is also home to one of Christian’s best “catches” in the history of Local Haunts. In one of the previous season’s episodes, he caught on camera an apparition, seemingly sitting in a chair in the theatre, which was so clear that it even snagged the curiosity of national media.
“The Florida Theatre apparition gained national exposure,” recalls Christian, “and I can remember local news stations here in town were covering it, which is unusual because they’re the competition to our station. They were impressed. They couldn’t debunk it.”
The chair where the footage was caught is now known as the “Ghost Chair,” and you can be photographed while sitting in it as part of the “Florida Theatre Paranormal Halloween Tour” (October 31st @ 9 pm, $39.50), which will feature a history of the 86-year-old theatre as well as EVP playbacks by Christian and live spirit readings by Theresa. There are 150 tickets available, and, according to Christian, they are expected to sell out quickly. You can purchase tickets at the Florida Theatre box office by calling 355-2787. For more information on this event and personal medium sessions with Theresa, go to mediumintheraw.com or visit Local Haunts on Facebook.
Local Haunts TV
by RICHARD DAVID SMITH III