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An unsettled past

Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter Steve Zarkos, the A.G.H.O.S.T. technical director, takes base measurement readings of EMF and temperature in the auditorium at Youth Theater Northwest. -
Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter Steve Zarkos, the A.G.H.O.S.T. technical director, takes base measurement readings of EMF and temperature in the auditorium at Youth Theater Northwest.
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High-tech ghost hunters investigate YTN for spirits

By Elizabeth Celms
Mercer Island Reporter

It’s 10 a.m. on a dank October Saturday. Not the most typical hour for a seance. But here I am, sitting cross-legged on the floor of the boys’ dressing room at Youth Theater Northwest.

The room is completely dark, save for the dim glow of an EVP monitor, a device which detects electronic voice phenomena. We let the silence thicken, just deep enough to hear your own heartbeat. And then Dani Davis begins to speak:

“Is there anybody here who would like to speak to us?”

Silence.

“Can you tell us your name?”

Silence.

“Why are you here?”

Silence.

“Did something bad happen here... do you know what the date is?”

Slam!

“What was that? OK, what was that?”

After turning on the lights and investigating where the slam — which sounded like a plank of wood hitting the floor — could have come from, nobody could think of a logical explanation: Not me, not our photographer, not my friend (wide-eyed with fear), not even Davis and Steve Zarkos, the two ghost hunters we had invited to conduct the YTN investigation. Besides our small group, the theater was completely empty. And no stage settings, as far as we could tell, had fallen over. So what was that slam?

Davis and Zarkos are used to such phenomena. Having worked for A.G.H.O.S.T (Advanced Ghost Hunters of Seattle-Tacoma) for several years now, few mysteries surprise them. When it comes to ghost hunting, they’ve got a sixth sense for the paranormal. Last Saturday, their sixth sense told them there was something “unsettling” about the YTN boys’ dressing room.

“We definitely want to bring a psychic back here,” Davis said. “[Steve and I] both felt as if there might be some activity in the room.”

And by activity, Davis is talking ghosts — not the howling, blood-curdling spirits portrayed in Hollywood films, but a more subtle version. A fleeting shadow or whisper in the dark. The feeling that you’re not alone when you are alone. That cold chill that runs up your spine. The mysterious. The unanswerable.

“There’s actually never been a documented account of a ghost hurting anyone. A lot of movies make you fear ghosts, but ghosts are the most docile things that I could ever think of,” Zarkos said. “When you hear a bump in the night, you better hope it’s a ghost and not some guy breaking in.”

Ghost stories are a universal language. They span generations, languages and cultures. The chilling tales are passed down from parents to children, squealed over at late-night sleepovers, whispered beneath sleeping bags, rekindled by campfire and brought to life on All Hallows’ Eve. Theaters, especially, have a thespian culture of ghost lore. And YTN is no exception.

One story in particular has haunted young YTN actors for decades. In the late 1970s, a suicidal Mercer Island High School student drove his sports car, with his girlfriend strapped to the passenger seat, straight into the YTN wall.

The facts of the incident are well documented: Beginning at the former Mercer Island Fire Department, then located on 88th Ave. S.E. near Shorewood Apartments, the young man floored the gas of his vehicle, girlfriend by his side, and sped across N.E. 40th Street straight into the theater’s brick wall. The young man died instantly. His girlfriend was left paralyzed.

The tragic incident has since become an urban legend at YTN. Like all ghost stories, events of the past are spun into shadowy mysteries. A lingering spirit. A haunted auditorium. The voice of a ghost.

Rob Witmer, a YTN sound designer and former MIHS student, has heard the suicide story several times. In fact, he remembers when it happened.

“I was in middle school at the time,” Witmer said. “My friend actually lived on [86th Ave. S.E.] and woke up to the sound of tires squealing and then the crash.”

Although he admits that the incident, like most urban legends, has been theatrically woven into a haunting story, Witmer also admits that he gets a chill when working alone in the theater late at night.

“You get that tingly feeling —the cold sense that something is going on,” the sound designer said.

And this is where A.G.H.O.S.T. comes in. Although the team was not able to document any solid evidence of haunting at YTN, what they did find comes pretty close.

Equipped with a case full of professional ghost-hunting gizmos and gadgets, Davis and Zarkos conducted a number of experiments in the theater auditorium and stage; taking temperature and EMF (electric magnetic field) measurements throughout the room; closely examining the area with a digital camera for documentation; listening for EPV anomalies; and finally, conducting a monitored seance.

“Some people think that high EMF spikes that occur rapidly — particularly the type that our device detects, which is primarily man-made EMF — can make them feel uneasy. This could be a possible explanation for why people feel strange in a certain room of their house,” Zarkos said.

The YTN stage showed extremely high EMF readings, especially near the back wall. Zarkos, the technology director of the group, attributed these results to a rather large back-stage power socket. The energy emanating from this socket, he pointed out, could be why Witmer feels uneasy in the room.

Later in the investigation, Zarkos used an EVP monitor to record for paranormal sound. Usually, the ghost hunter said, he does not hear anything right away. But sometimes, when re-examining the tape in rear-audio mode, he will hear “anomalous sounds.”

“We try to be pretty skeptical about most of the [EVPs]. We’ve actually gotten some pretty amazing ones. They’re not our voices, but something really odd,” he said.

While Zarkos circled the room with his buzzing EMF meter, Davis was busy taking digital pictures of the auditorium seats and sound booth. It wasn’t long before she discovered some mysterious content.

“I’ve got some orbs here,” Davis said, pointing to the camera viewscreen.

A ghost skeptic myself, I took a look.

Sure enough, floating across the room were three translucent spots of blue light.

“See that? Those are orbs.”

According to Davis, an “orb” is a paranormal manifestation of light which sometimes can be explained as the ghost showing itself. Practically speaking, these blue orbs could be particles of dust on the lens or, according to our staff photographer, lens flare — a refraction of light through the camera’s optic lens.

“There’s a big controversy, especially in our group, about orbs,” Davis admitted, adding that she had heard the refraction theory before. “It’s hard to say really what they are. You can’t just ask, Mr. Ghost, is that you? But it’s interesting because these orbs moved. I always take multiple shots of the exact same content, and you can see the orbs moving from left to right.”

Both Zarkos and Davis agreed that, besides that unexplainable slam during the seance, it was a pretty “quiet” investigation. Most investigations, Zarkos added, “are pretty boring.” But every now and then, A.G.O.H.S.T. will discover something bone-chilling.

“One out of 10 times you find something interesting,” Zarkos said. “Then there are those situations where you’re like, ‘This place is so boring’ and suddenly you go into one room and feel really uneasy.”

Like the YTN boys’ dressing room.

Between my five senses and the ghost hunters’ sixth, we all felt something unsettling in that boys’ dressing room.

Something mysterious. Something haunting. A unanswerable slam.

For more information on A.G.H.O.S.T., visit: www.aghost.us.

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