By day, 30-year-old Elyse Caudill is a fine arts advocate for the State of Maryland. By night, the attractive, tattooed blonde hunts ghosts with friends in the Greater Maryland Paranormal Society (GMPS). Caudill joined GMPS eight years ago-when she returned to her native Balti-more for grad school-and has worked as a haunted client interviewer (the one who documents in detail the occupant’s complaints of creaking doors, flashing lights and cabinets that open themselves) and now serves as a lead investigator (one of several who visits the house in question, generally having received little information from the interviewer, so as not to bias or muddle the investigation process).
We caught up with Caudill during her busiest season-“Things are a lot more haunted in October,” the down-to-earth paranormal enthusiast says with a laugh-to understand her motivation, how the GMPS conducts its thorough, no-nonsense work, and (gasp) what they sometimes find.
How did your interest in the paranor-mal start? I was raised going to grave-yards. My mom really likes history-I do, too-and she’s very spiritual. So the seed was planted even before I moved into the house [that my family believed to be haunted].
What happened in that house? I was 10 or 11. My parents told me in vague terms that there had been a death in the house. There would be little, tiny things that would happen in the middle of the night-like I would hear drawers open-ing and closing. The next morning, I’d be like, “Why were you guys banging around last night?” and my parents and brother would say, “We weren’t.” There were also times I would distinctly smell cigarette smoke in the middle of the night-no one in my family smoked.
Did you ever figure it out? Well, there was one time that my mom was in the kitchen doing an impression of an old grandma. She was holding the Folgers coffee in her hand. And it was like some-one just went-bang! (Caudhill gestures punching the coffee can.)
My parents knew that the couple who owned our rental house had [a family member] who took his own life in the basement. It got to the point where my mom was like, “Enough! We live here now, Jeff!” That was his name, Jeff. “They don’t live here anymore. Just enough!” After that, nothing ever happened again.
Does the paranormal society charge for its services? No, we do not. We are self-funded. Bill [Hartley, our founder and lead investigator,] has invested the most… We don’t operate for a profit, because [ghost presence] is not some-thing that can be measured. It’s intangi-ble. When you accept money, there’s an expectation.
If I think my house is haunted and send GMPS an inquiry, what happens next? Bill contacts our current interviewer, who sets up a brief conversation with you, followed by an even longer interview. We go through a packet of questions: “How much did you have to drink before it happened?” “Do you have a history of mental illness?” “How well do you the know the history of the house?” We have someone who can pull those records.
Basically, we figure out whether or not it’s worth coming out to do an investigation. Sometimes it’s totally off-the-wall, ridiculous stuff. Sometimes it’s people who’ve lost a loved one and they’re desperate to be in contact with them. If we decide we’re going to come out, we set up a daytime walk-through. We’ll also do a temperature sweep, set up yet another interview-so now a third time-and make sure all the stories are lining up. Then we may, or may not, set up an official investigation.
How do those investigations work? It’s not like on TV. Our turnover rate is actually pretty high because people expect it to be more exciting. There’s a lot of sitting around in the dark. We do the investigations at night because it’s a more controlled environment-there’s less traffic and noise, and the daylight can play tricks on your eyes. Then again, if someone calls us and says, “Every day at noon, all my doors are slamming,” then we’re going to come in at noon. Funny thing, once we investigated a strip club in Pennsylvania. It had dark windows, so we did the investigation during the day, just so we didn’t have to be up all night. [And, reader, if you were hoping for naked ghosts; no, it didn’t turn out to be haunted.]
Any tricks of the trade for a good ghost-buster? We never wear open-toed shoes since we mostly work in the dark. And no perfume either, because some-times scent is evidence. We get a little in-formation from Bill, but not too much. Maybe he’ll say, “Pay attention in the basement.” He won’t say, “Someone has been seeing a gray lady,” because that’s what we’ll fixate on.
What kind of equipment do you use? We’ll set up a DVR [digital video record-ing] system in a central location. Eight infrared [see-in-the-dark] cameras feed into it. Digital cameras for still photos. Thermometers. Depending on the size of the house, we set up a number of digital voice recorders throughout the space.
We also use electromagnetic field meters-obviously, they detect electro-magnetic energy. I subscribe to the theory that ghosts need energy to manifest their presence-so, if there’s an unusual surge of energy, we track it.
A reading of 1.2 could be coming from a cell phone, but anything with two digits is suspicious. We might have a [paranormal] cold spot on our hands, meaning the energy that’s being pulled. You’ll hear some investigators report that their equipment batteries get drained. In that case, the thinking is that a spirit might have needed it. After our stint is done, the client receives a copy of all recordings (we clean out ambient noise and highlight important imagery) and all of our notes. We might say, “We caught this great shadow on an infrared camera; we thought it was really interesting because no one else was in the room.” Or they might even find something that we didn’t.
Why are you willing to invest a good deal of time in this work without pay? The possibility of coming into contact with something no longer here is very interesting to me. The payoff? It is a serv-ice. People call us because they feel like they’re going crazy. We help them come to terms with whether it’s paranormal or not. If we don’t catch a damn thing-let’s say, a woman thinks a ghost is opening and closing a door, but we find a faulty hinge-that’s great, we’ve helped her. I believe in ghosts but I’m still a skeptic. No amount of evidence will be enough. I’ll always want more!
Tell us about a convincing case you’ve investigated. We visited a family home in Southern Maryland-a really old house passed down through generations. They claimed to be experiencing things they couldn’t explain-only in winter. “As soon as it starts to get cold, there’s activity,” they told us. Not only did we get evidence in the review, we had strange things happen in real time before we even had our equipment set up.
When we first arrived, we were all standing in the kitchen; five of us and the homeowners. We heard a loud bang and all looked at each other. “What made the noise?” Then someone picked up a whisk from the floor. Five seconds beforehand, it had been in a container in the middle of the kitchen island. From there, we were chasing noises all over the house.
Any cases that really surprised you? There was a situation where a man and woman were getting divorced. And they were experiencing “Poltergeist”-level shit. Like the grandmother was getting hit by things, and the 9-year-old daughter was getting scratched, and things were flying across the room. Whenever there’s a kid involved, we are a lot quicker to jump into things.
This is one of those cases where they said all the suspicious activity was hap-pening during the day. That’s a bit of a red flag for us, but you never know until you investigate. Right when we got there, a cell phone flew across the table. The little girl went to the bathroom, then came out screaming, with a scratch on her face. We spent three days with this family-and we kept saying, “Something isn’t matching up here.” That little girl was good, but it was all her.
So what’s definitely haunted here in Baltimore? The Westminster Church catacombs, where Poe is buried. We’ve actually done a public investigation there [where people could come and watch us work]. That was one of my first.
What did you find? When we listened back over the recording, we could hear a woman’s voice saying, “I think they’re looking for a ghost.” It was in a Scottish accent. And when you review the history of that place, there are a lot of people of Scottish origin buried there.
Anywhere else? Rosewood Hospital is rumoured to be. Also, Heritage Society of Essex in Middle River. There’s an old restaurant on Caroline Street in Little Italy that we investigated. We didn’t catch too much while we were there, but there a lot of stories associated with that place. The restaurant’s not there anymore-I guess the ghost is.
Any TV shows get ghostbusting right? The early season of “Ghost Hunters” did a good job of putting the whole field in a good light. And we were on an episode of “Psychic Kids” with Chip Coffey. He’s the real deal.
So, if ghosts don’t scare you what does? I do not do spiders. I call my husband for those. And you know what? I’m not a big fan of the dark. I fall asleep to Nick at Nite-I need that glow.