Thursday, November 1, 2007

Waverly Hills Sanitarium Jefferson County.

"Ghost Hunters Live," a 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. vigil at the Waverly Hills Sanitarium in southwestern Jefferson County.

It's the second trip to Waverly Hills for "Ghost Hunters." Investigators will be searching the abandoned halls looking for spirits in the former tuberculosis hospital, which opened in 1926 and closed in 1980. Some 63,000 people reportedly died there.

For decades, Waverly Hills has been a main stopping point for all sorts of people trying to get in touch with the dead. The immense gothic-looking structure housed 500 beds and was once one of the leading TB centers in the country and the sad final destination for many.

"They had what they called a death tunnel with a conveyor system to move the dead bodies down," said Jason Hawes, one of the show's investigators, in a telephone conference call with reporters. His description conjures up images of something in a Stephen King horror novel, but it was really a place where thousands hoped they would be cured.

Hawes and his partner, Grant Wilson, work as plumbers during the day and check out things that go bump in the night after dark.

The twosome don't conduct séances or chant any rituals. They employ a large array of modern technology designed to pick up images and sounds. Both men say they got into searching for the departed after they had personal experiences they won't discuss.

"We're just dying to get back (to Waverly)," Wilson said, with no pun intended. This is dead serious business for both men.

There are two reasons for the return to Waverly. One is that "the place is big enough that we will never run out of rooms to search," said Wilson. The other element that brings them back is what they saw there the last time.

"I caught on thermal imaging what appeared to be a small child running across a hallway," Wilson said.

"It's a great place," agreed Hawes. "It definitely ranks up there with one of the top locations I've investigated." They also saw other things at Waverly worth a second look.

"Jason and I chased some black shadows down a hall and into a room with only one way in and one way out," Wilson said. Members of the team said they had things like screws and bits of plaster thrown at them. Some people will call it hokey.

"We're very aware of that aspect, and we're not going to do anything to make the show more interesting," Wilson said. "We're not going to make up paranormal stuff. The whole goal is to try and figure out what's happening and not necessarily to capture an entity" (a ghost on tape).

When they were at Waverly last year they did try to coax any potential ghostly figures to come out by calling to them.

Some people laugh at such efforts, while others sneer in contempt. "I'm not really concerned with skeptics," Hawes said. "We're not there to appease them. We're there to help the people who call us into their homes because they're worried and scared." He said a skeptic is just someone who hasn't yet confronted a real ghost. Hawes has.

"Yes, I was lucky enough to see one standing right in front of me when Grant and I were on a case together. It was standing in a bedroom, and we were able to walk in and put our arms through it before it disappeared," he said.

The team also debunks a lot of ghost stories. "I'm a firm believer in the paranormal," Hawes said, "but I also believe that more than 80 percent of all claims can be disproved."

The two rose to ghost-hunting fame when The New York Times did an article on a past Halloween that showed them exposing an otherworld tale as just a myth. Hawes said most of the other ghost shows they had seen were "so much garbage." TV producers started calling, and the next thing you know they had their own show on Sci-Fi.

What do they think the chances are of catching or seeing any ghosts tonight? "The odds of seeing something are always slim, so we'll just have to see what happens," Hawes said.

"If we catch something, that's great, but that's not the way it goes. Ghosts don't work on cues, so you're always taking a shot in the dark. It will either be six hours of interesting TV, or we'll have a lot of bored TV viewers," Hawes admitted.
In the news

Conan O'Brien will definitely be taking over Jay Leno's "The Tonight Show" job in 2009, NBC president Jeff Zucker said in a New York speech, according to The Associated Press. Zucker also said he hopes Leno will stay with the network and also denied that NBC was for sale, as rumored.

Court TV starts renaming itself truTV after trial coverage ends at 3 p.m. tomorrow.

A Media Life poll of Writers Guild members finds almost 75 percent think there will be a strike, but the people who pen the TV scripts expect it to last less than a month.

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