Columbian Article: 10/30/2010

Do you believe in Slocum House ghosts?


Scott Hewitt Columbian staff writer   
October 30, 2010; Page A1

A ghostly hand on a door frame turns out to be attached to – nothing. An attic hatchway slammed down by – nobody. Ben Robison knows he experienced these things, although there’s no way he can prove it to you. He’s convinced that the unseen actor haunting the Slocum House is none other than original builder and resident Charles W. Slocum.

That’s because Robison, whose passion for probing spooky mysteries led him to found a new ghost-hunting group called Paranormal and Occult Research Team, was intentionally trying to anger Slocum – whatever may be left of him – that day last spring. Robison’s gadget-driven investigation of the historic building and community theater in Esther Short Park had gone nowhere, and his cameras and voice recorders were all shut down. He was frustrated. Sitting in the attic hatchway, he started trying to provoke Slocum’s ghost – getting the ghost’s goat – by insulting the ornate building’s design right out loud.That’s when the open attic hatch he was sitting beside, which had been braced in place, smashed into his shoulder as if flung in anger.The blow hurt, but Robison’s immediate reaction was: “Sweet!””I knew I really ticked him off. I got his attention and he amassed enough energy to make his annoyance felt,” said 34-year-old Hazel Dell resident whose day job is managing information technology.It was the same day, he said, that he spotted a human hand curling around an upstairs door frame – when nobody was up there but him. He ran straight for the apparition despite being frightened – because that’s what you’ve got to do in the ghost-hunting business – but by the time he rounded the doorway, the hand and its owner had vanished.Not ‘Ghostbusters’Robison admitted that none of the recordings his instruments made that day would prove anything to anyone. Ditto some other attempts he and his team have made elsewhere – like a house in Sublimity, Ore., where his camera was jostled while nobody was around, and where “orbs” can be seen crossing an infrared field. It’s tantalizing stuff – but easy to explain away.That’s OK, Robison said, because paranormal phenomena are such “intimate and personal” experiences. He’s had a few of those experiences himself, he said, and the lack of objective evidence doesn’t mean they didn’t happen. Part of what his fledgling team of 10 paranormal investigators does is sympathize and validate their clients’ experiences.”A lot of people are afraid to talk about it, afraid even to tell people they love,” he said. “We are a support system.”If you’re interested in contacting Robison’s Paranormal and Occult Research Team, visit http://www.paranormaloccultresearch.com. Their services are always free, he said. Just don’t expect them to show up with glowing ray guns and nuclear ghost traps. They do research, he said – not evictions – and the first tool in their research kit is skepticism.They’ve dismissed people with histories of hallucinations. At Slocum House, they worked hard to reproduce lights sliding across an upstairs window, first by driving back and forth in front of the property and eventually by driving all the way around the block – which is how they determined that the apparently sourceless lights were being reflected by a metal sign a long distance away.But in the case of an apparently haunted Oregon house, Robison said, he called in a reputable medium – that’s someone who can contact the dead – to complement his team’s investigations, and the medium was able to piece together the story of what had happened – the deaths of several children in a stifling hot attic – without any prompting or foreknowledge.”We do get calls from people who are freaked out, who say help us, this is tearing apart our lives,” he said. “We have seen nonbelievers turn into believers,” he said.ApparitionsCount Rebecca Kramer as a believer.”Stuff is still happening there all the time,” she said of Slocum House’s unexplained activities.Kramer, a Vancouver Public Schools drama teacher who’s also on the Slocum House Theatre Company board of directors, has hosted several different groups of ghost hunters there. She’s always interested in their findings, she said, because she’s long been aware of weird things going on at Slocum House.The latest, she said, was this past June when a Vancouver Farmers Market staffer noticed a certain friend of the Slocum House Theater – whom she hadn’t seen in awhile – walking around inside the building. She thought nothing of it, and happened to mention it to someone else later. That’s when she was reminded that the man she saw inside the building had died two years earlier.What else? Objects that go missing and turn up where they shouldn’t be. Voices of children playing in the basement when nobody is there.You know how heat rising off pavement renders the air weirdly wavy? “I saw that in the form of a person walking down the upstairs hall, coming right at me,” Kramer said. “I sat there and it got to the room I was in, then it walked back, then it walked toward me again. It was broad daylight.”It seems to fit with the tale retold by local historian Pat Jollota in her book of Clark County hauntings, “Darkness Next Door.” Jollota writes that a “slim young woman” has been seen taking the stairs and doing mischief like upsetting cups and pulling costumes off hangers. (She also says Charles Slocum himself was a successful businessman who led a trouble-free life in the house, and died elsewhere.)Kramer also watched a doorknob that jiggled on its own until the door swung open, she said. And there was a “strange orb” that crossed the stage while a camera was watching, she said.That would appear to be something approaching proof, she said – or is it?”We have no way to put it in the lab, to debunk it or reproduce it,” said Robison. He wants very much to be taken seriously, he said, but it’s not easy in an age of increasingly sophisticated photo-doctoring techniques and software. Acceptance will be an uphill climb, he acknowledged, and he’s in it for the long haul.”Ben is really good because he wants to rule out everything he can,” Kramer said. “He’s the one who started circling the block” to determine that those mysterious lights were just car headlights reflected in an unlikely way.Given the persistence of weirdness despite such dedicated debunking, what does eyewitness Kramer think is really going on at Slocum House?”I have no clue,” she said. “Absolutely no clue.”Scott Hewitt: 360-735-4525 or scott.hewitt@columbian.com.If you go* What: Local historian Pat Jollota will describe local hauntings in “Ghosts of Vancouver,” a program for all ages.When: 2 p.m. today.Where: Vancouver Community Library, 1007 E. Mill Plain Blvd.Cost: Free.More information: 360-695-1566.

Cutline: Photos by ZACHARY KAUFMAN/The Columbian

Paranormal researcher Ben Robison has experienced some pretty strange things at Vancouver’s Slocum House – and he’s not the only one. — Ben Robison, 34, on the Slocum House porch, works in information technology when he’s not investigating paranormal activity.

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