While ghost and ghoul costumes are everywhere Thursday on Halloween, what trick-or-treaters may not know is that North Florida is alive year-round with things that go bump in the night.
Nick Estes, founder of Gainesville Paranormal, said the ghost hunting business fluctuates during the months of October and November.
“A lot of these TV stations are running scary movie marathons throughout the month of October, and so people’s paranoia is higher,” Estes said.
Gainesville Paranormal visits the homes of those who feel they have an unidentified presence in their home or simply have a question regarding the paranormal – even if it’s just a photo.
Estes founded the group in 2009. When he began working with other paranormal groups in the area, he put his own investigating work on hold.
After getting sick of the business politics, he decided to bring Gainesville Paranormal back to life.
The paranormal team now consists of nine members.
“Most of my team are all newer investigators, which brings a lot of new opinions – new ideas,” Estes said.
The team visits sites for free, paying for its own gas, housing and equipment costs.
“We’ve had calls in southern Georgia– Sebring,” he said. “It pretty much depends on everybody’s ability to travel.”
The investigators use paranormal tools such as cameras and spirit boxes to capture any paranormal activity that may be present.
Estes said a spirit box is essentially a radio, commonly featured on many popular spirit investigation shows.
“It’s a radio that just scans frequencies continuously,” Estes said. “It does not stop.”
The radio generates a white noise, Estes said, which enables whatever entities are present to communicate.
Estes said much of what the team unearths is up for interpretation because it’s not always clear what is being said.
“I believe in it. I’ve had some interesting experiences along the way,” Estes said. “But we’ve still got a lot of work to do to get to that level where we can undeniably say that there is absolutely something there.”
Andrew Nichols, director of the Parapsychology Center in Gainesville and founder of the American Institute of Parapsychology, said he has mixed feelings about paranormal groups in general.
“Some are very good and some are just weekend warriors that are really just out for a little thrill,” he said.
Nichols said that while they have great potential to aid in the advancement of parapsychology (the study of investigating paranormal evidence), most keep their data very close and decline to share it with professionals.
“It depends on the group,” Nichols said.
While Nichols is unsure about paranormal groups, he said he does believe in ghosts.
“Ghosts absolutely do exist. The question is: What are they?” Nichols asked. “Are they actually spirits of the dead? Or are they some type of artifact of the human psyche or a connection with a parallel universe?”
Nichols said parapsychology doesn’t offer absolute answers, but rather several alternative explanations.
For those interested in life after death, Nichols started teaching Metaphysics and Parapyschology 2 on Wednesday through Santa Fe College Community Education.
“Of course people like to be spooked. They like to be scared, especially around Halloween,” Nichols said. “And some of this stuff is kind of spooky, although not nearly as spooky as the media makes it out to be.”
Nichols, who has his doctorate in clinical psychology, said people have such an interest in the paranormal because they have a natural instinct or intuitive sense that there is something beyond the physical or mundane reality.
“These are mysteries,” Nichols said. “And these types of courses are an opportunity for folks to experience things that we’ve been taught all of our lives cannot be. They’re a connection with the unknown.”