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The Ghost Hunt 

Searching for spirits in our own back yard

"Come out, come out, wherever you are Henry. Oh Henry!"

I'm saying this in my head, but really, I don't want to find Henry in this dark, abandoned basement of an old asbestos factory.

click to enlarge Jason and Julie from N.C. Paranormal investigate a grave at Settlers Cemetery, alongside  CL staffer Heather Desmond (sporting a cap). - JARED NEUMARK
  • Jared Neumark
  • Jason and Julie from N.C. Paranormal investigate a grave at Settlers Cemetery, alongside CL staffer Heather Desmond (sporting a cap).

You see, Henry's been dead for many years and, for whatever reason, he's decided to hang around the N.C. Music Factory -- home to Creative Loafing and a host of other businesses.

So, in the spirit of Hallows Eve, I've invited a team of professional paranormal investigators to find him.

The conditions for a ghost investigation couldn't be much freakier. It's Friday the 13th, and for the first time this autumn, the temperature is seasonally brisk. And it wasn't a gradual temperature drop either; it was more like someone turned down the thermostat just for the occasion. Julie, the founder and lead investigator of N.C. Paranormal, excitedly remarked on the phone beforehand that "colder weather tends to be better for paranormal activity."

A faint streak of light from the street creeps into the long, narrow factory room. Still you can barely make out your hand in front of your face. Infrared flashlights, periodically activated by members of N.C. Paranormal squad, save us from running into the skinny, toothpick-like columns spaced less than 10 feet apart in three even rows along the floor.

"I'd be surprised if we don't see a shadow ghost here," Julie says. In the paranormal community, Julie is considered an expert on shadow ghosts. She's been interviewed on the subject for paranormal radio shows and written articles on it for magazines. Like the name suggests, shadow ghosts look like shadows. Usually they are six to seven feet tall but can also appear in a "Mini Me" version in the three-foot ballpark. They are exceptionally quick, some have red eyes and many, oddly enough, have been spotted wearing top hats.

The eyewitness accounts of supernatural activity in our building, though, haven't been for shadow ghosts but for the most rare form of paranormal manifestation: a human specter with a body and face. So if we are about to see a shadow ghost, like Julie says, then it's going to be a ghost party up in here.

We come to an enclosed office that hasn't been used in 40 years, though it looks like it's sat dormant for twice as long. It's the kind of design that you don't see anymore in the current era of teambuilding and executive/employee egalitarianism -- an unwelcoming box with tiny panes for windows.

One windowpane, amid others made opaque from half a century of dust, is shattered, offering a glimpse (for anyone brave enough to take it) into the desolate office. I peer inside, expecting to see unknown horrors: Henry's maimed face or the skeletons of the people he's killed (maybe he's sticking around to protect his secret grave). Instead, an undead human voice breaks the silence, causing me to jump out of my skin.

"Kill the flashlights. Don't move. Don't talk." Julie says to us.

Julie is middle-aged with blond highlights and would look perfectly at place carpooling to soccer practice. Her husband Tony, also in the group, used to be in the military and still has the short-cropped hair and muscular build associated with his former profession. Both Julie and Tony work in law enforcement and opt not to give their surname because of the stigma attached to paranormal investigators.

Julie became fascinated with the paranormal growing up in a haunted home in Wilmington, N.C. Almost everyone else in her neighborhood (including the adults) had personal ghosts tales. Civil War battles were fought in the fields and woods around them (kids often found Civil War-era swords nearby), which Julie believes was the catalyst for all the ghoulish activity.

As a teenager in Wilmington, she began doing investigations and became hooked after seeing the legendary Maco Light. The story goes that in 1867, a railroad conductor named Joe Baldwin was in the caboose of a train that suddenly became unhinged. Another train was barreling towards him, and Joe began to swing his lantern feverishly trying to catch the attention of the other conductor -- but to no avail. The train slammed into poor Joe and decapitated him. His head, which was believed to have rolled into the surrounding swamp, was never found. Julie first thought the decapitation part was just lore, but upon doing research, she found a newspaper story that confirmed it.

At the spot by the tracks where it happened, a light can sometimes be seen swinging back and forth (supposedly it's Joe, lantern in hand, looking for his head). Many people other than Julie, including President Grover Cleveland, have claimed to have seen the Maco Light.

In Wilmington ghost investigations are almost the norm -- but not so in Charlotte. "Around here, we've hit a lot of brick walls," Julie says. "Charlotte is one of the worst areas for shutting the door in your face. It's the Bible belt; they think it's devil worshipping." That's why Julie and her team were excited about the investigation of the Music Factory, especially considering all the reports of hauntings.

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