I was privileged to join the Puget Sound Ghost Hunters (PSGH), a paranormal investigating team in Washington state, on their recent investigation of a reopened brewery in Tacoma, the Pacific Brewing and Malting Co. It was my first paranormal investigation and I was very curious how it would differ from some of my favorite ghost hunting shows. Would I hear something? Would I get a photograph of an unknown entity? Would I be able to see where I was going in the dark? Would it be totally dark? Would my allergies act up and I start sneezing, sniffling and ruin all of their EVP sessions? Only time would tell.
The investigation started quite late, 12:30am, so Ken and Donna, the co-owners of Puget Sound Ghost Hunters, had everyone on the team meet at a Denny’s near the location to have a pre-investigation meeting. Since it was so late, and most the team also have day jobs, large quantities of coffee were ordered as well as some food to keep our energy up. The team ran the gamut from die-hard to more skeptical believers.
I learned very quickly that there was no shortage of stories about past investigations. As the night progressed, I must have heard hundreds of them. The people on the team are very passionate about what they do.
There was the “snake house” where a 22 year old man had overdosed. His mom thought she was seeing his spirit and asked PSGH to investigate. While there, they kept getting the word “squishy” which turned out to be the man’s pet name for his daughter. At the end of the investigation, they had a minister do a ceremony to help him move on. It was very moving for the team and his mother. They call it the “snake house” because the man had two pet boas that had escaped their cage into the house and no one knew where they were.
Also was the “exploding chair” case, which was Ken’s favorite so far. They had a client in Tacoma who was remodeling his house. He kept hearing footsteps and other noises. When doing their research, they found that in 1925 there was a murder in the house. During the investigation, Ken was asking questions using the spirit box while sitting on a wooden chair. Suddenly the chair lifted, threw him off and the chair leg exploded. They found pieces 30 feet away. You can listen to the actual recording here (Ken suggests you turn up your speakers and turn off your lights).
Eight years ago, Ken and Donna Arnold went to a Halloween party and heard someone talking about paranormal investigating. It was an interesting conversation with what turned out to be the founder of Puget Sound Ghost Hunters, Stephanie. By the end of the evening, they had joined the team. After about three years, Stephanie asked them to take over PSGH.
Right now there are eleven people on the team, who take turns doing investigations according to their schedules. PSGH has investigated over 448 private homes and over 500 cases in total. They never charge their clients. The goal is to get evidence, to help the clients, and “it’s just fun” as one of the investigators put it. They have three hard drives full of investigative evidence, have seen apparitions, shadow people and have even been attacked.
Before we left Denny’s, they planned who would go where and do what once we got to the brewery. This was an unusual case because we would be joined by six radio comedians and their film crew. It turned out that the radio host, Eric “Puddin” Lorentzen from “Puddin and the Shanster” on NWCZRadio.com, was planning on having the film professionally edited and have the documentary put on Netflix. This would add a new dimension and energy to the investigation, but it also was a bit like herding cats. Comedians and silence have a hard time occupying the same space but we all found our groove eventually.
I, myself got lost on the way to the brewery. Tacoma is confusing if you don’t drive it often, but I eventually found it. I parked on a hill and was surrounded by people bar hopping their night away. When I finally found the front door, I at least wasn’t the last one there, people trickled in over the next thirty minutes.
The front room of the Pacific Brewing and Malting Co. used to be a horse stable, but it is now a small bar where you can taste what they brew right on site. I got a quick tour of the rest of the brewery. There was a long room lined with shiny, silver fermenters; a large storage room; a room with a huge tank I never did learn the name for, and the alleyway. We were told that the room with the large tank was so troublesome for the employees, that they wouldn’t even go in that room without turning on the light first, even in the daytime. So this was deemed our main hot spot. We were also told that customers “hate” the bathrooms, but they don’t know why. They were clean, fully stocked, brightly lit rooms, so we considered this another hot spot.
Lastly, the alleyway. The building right beside the brewery is the old Town Hall, which at one time had a jail. The organizers had hoped we would have access to this building as well, but it fell through. PSGH have a rule that they only investigate where they have permission, so that will have to wait for another night. Downtown Tacoma’s police station at the turn of the 20th century had their Annex, where the Police kept their horses and equipment, where the brewery stands now as well. The Annex and the Town Hall buildings were joined by a jail cell that was accessible from both sides. The area’s most famous ghost story is from that jail.
In 1947 it interned a mass murderer named Jake Bird who eventually confessed to 44 murders. At his trial, his final remarks were a hex on the people that captured, jailed, and sentenced him, saying that all involved in his case would die before him. Six of these people did pass away before Bird was put to death two years later. The defense attorney, jailer, judge, court reporter and police investigator died before the year was out. A sixth man, a Washington State Penitentiary guard assigned to death row named Arthur A. Steward, died of pneumonia two months before Bird’s execution. It is known as the Jake Bird Hex. There is also supposed to be a ghost named Gus floating around the brewery too.
After our tour, the ghost hunters and the radio personalities sat for a photo and then to dole out instructions. We were to break into two groups, one in the front room, one in the back, then we would switch. With all of the extra people, I imagine the start was much slower than normal. There was a lot of waiting around while people chatted. The tech guy, Tony let me hear some EVPs (Electronic Voice Phenomena) that he had from past investigations. EVPs are voices caught on digital recordings that were not audible at the time, thought by some to be spirits talking on a frequency we normally can’t hear.
“It’s weird hearing something on audio that you didn’t hear at the time,” he said as I listened and then he rushed off to help set up the equipment.
They set up night vision cameras in each room with white wires snaked over the worn cement floor of the old brewery, leading to a DVR set up behind the bar.
“Turn the camera a bit to the right,” I heard Ken instruct someone in the other room.
I spotted a teddy bear with sensors in it, in an equipment case, but they weren’t planning on using it on this investigation. All of the ghost hunters had some kind of equipment with them, a digital recorder, a EMF detector, a digital temperature sensor, or a camera with a flash. It seemed the first round was supposed to be the quieter round, then they would maybe try some of the noisier things- the spirit box for example. The spirit box is a communication tool used by investigators to speak to ghosts. Setting up and instructions took about an hour.
I chose to go with the group that was headed first back to the “hot zone” storage room. First we spent a while in the fermenting room. The machinery was still running, so all of my audio had the constant rumbling along with occasional bubbles from inside the fermenters. While Tony was asking the spirits questions, I felt a cold tingling on the front of my right leg and hip, like the size of a child, but it could have been a draft and it was subtle, so I didn’t mention it out loud.
After about 25 minutes, we moved into the back room. It seemed to be an older part of the building, where doorways had been chiseled out of the cement wall. Besides the giant tank, there were shelves storing brewing supplies, and an old wooden door that didn’t open. At the end of the small room you could see out into the larger storage room.
As a very empathic person, I assumed this would translate into the spiritual realm as well. But either it doesn’t, or there was nothing back there that evening because I felt nothing at all. Even in the dark, to me it didn’t even feel spooky much less haunted.
We spent around another 25 minutes in there asking questions and running our digital recorders. One of the ghost hunters was taking flash photos to try and catch something, so I did as well. Another guy had a temperature sensor that shone a little red laser point at whatever he was measuring. This was applying the theory that the temperature drops when a spirit is nearby. He also was running an EMF (Electro-Magnetic Field) detector, again the theory being that spirits nearby set them off. We thought he had something for a minute, until we realized there was a machine on the other side of the old wooden door that was setting it off.
Before joining the rest of the group, we headed out into the chilly night to check out the alley. Here I took tons of photos of the old buildings. There were many windows to look into, but I don’t think I caught anything looking back.
We went back into the bar and found the other group running a EVP session with the EMF detector, the “K2”. Ken would ask a question, then say “make the lights flash for yes”, and on some questions, his stationary EMF detector flashed the lights. Donna asked some questions as well. She was surrounded by people watching her when she felt a burning on her arm under her sweatshirt sleeve. We looked at it by flashlight and she had gotten scratched. Right around the same time I swore I felt something touch the top of my hair. It felt more like a touch and less like a draft, but I wasn’t confident enough to say anything.
During our break, Eric, the radio host, told me he had an experience. He went off on his own (which we weren’t supposed to do he admitted) and was asking questions. In front of him two metal beer kegs suddenly clanged together and scared the crap out of him.
At the end of the evening, a small group tried to have a spirit box session. Typically, a spirit box is a modified portable AM/FM radio that continuously scans the bandwidth. It’s believed to create white noise and audio remnants from broadcast stations that spirits are able to manipulate to create words and even entire sentences. As soon as they turned it on however, the batteries immediately drained. Some people believe spirits can drain batteries when they are trying to use the energy.
At the end of the night, the evidence we had gathered was subtle. That’s the difference between watching it on TV and the real thing. You have to put in the time to get the really good experiences and evidence. I hope they one day invite me back for another investigation. I can see now that this ghost hunting thing is addictive.
Contributed by Michelle Gehlman-Teeter