By Sara Pokorny Weekender Staff Writer
October 22, 2013
A loud thud from down the hall signals a book falling from a shelf – yet no one is in that room.
The bedroom doors slams open – and you’re lying comfortably in your bed, the only one in the house.
It’s a hint of paranormal activity – or is it? Luckily, organizations like The Atlantic Paranormal Society (more commonly known as TAPS) are around to help the frightened figure it all out, and two members of the team will be at the F.M. Kirby Center tonight. Co-founder Jason Hawes and tech manager Steven Gonsalves will be on hand to share stories and answer questions.
The activities of TAPS are what lies at the center of SyFy’s “Ghost Hunters,” the longest-running reality series on the channel, now in its ninth season. TAPS was founded in 1990 by Hawes as Rhode Island Paranormal Society, but made the switch in 1995 after Hawes met up with Grant Wilson, who has been a part of the team until his last investigation in early 2012.
The team has been everywhere, from people’s residences to the O.K. Corral and the Queen Mary. Though they certainly aren’t the first paranormal investigative unit out there, they set the bar for those that followed.
PAVING THE WAY
“Now, you’re the cool kid in the room. 10 years ago, it was the complete opposite,” said Gonsalves with a laugh in a recent phone interview with The Weekender.
The “Ghost Hunters” tech master is down-to-earth, further proof that TAPS is set apart from other teams in that its members are everyday people – Hawes and Wilson still help out at Roto-Rooter, their former day job – just trying to help others like them, not self-proclaimed psychics or masters of the paranormal.
That was exactly how the field of paranormal investigating was portrayed at first, making it often difficult for Gonsalves and his team members to tell others what they did.
“Back then, the paranormal wasn’t something cool or even interesting to people,” he said. “They just didn’t understand it and, to be honest, when I told someone what I did, they made fun of me.
“When they approached us about a show, we were like, ‘Who’s going to want to watch what we do?’ We were lucky to be the first show of its kind and sort of propel the paranormal into pop culture.”
One of the reasons Gonsalves said he thinks people received the TAPS team so well was the way that they operate during investigations.
“Before us, in shows you would see investigators with dream catchers hanging from their necks; it was very spiritual and everything was a ghost. It was more of a psychic investigation back then; there weren’t the scientific methods. Everything from a breeze to a car headlight was a ghost.
“People saw that we were taking the extra steps to really figure it out, say, ‘Hey, wait a second, that’s not an orb – that’s just dust in the air,’ or, ‘That’s not an unseen force opening that door – it’s a vacuum created when the front door is open.’”
One of the ways in which TAPS collects solid evidence that helps both prove and dispel the thought of paranormal activity is through equipment, which Gonsalves is an expert in.
The “Ghost Hunters” use things like digital thermometers, electromagnetic field meters (or EMFS), thermographic and night vision cameras, and digital audio recorders, among other things.
And still, what he knows goes deeper than the equipment he operates so smoothly.
Gonsalves first became interested in the paranormal at the age of six when he watched “The Entity,” shocked at the words during the credits pointing to the fact that the movie was based on true events. He found that the paranormal was just more than entertaining ghost stories; there was a science behind it. By age 14, he was reading his first energy study, “really trying to figure out what these things were, how they moved, what they do.”
Most of his knowledge is self-taught, aside from formal training on specific types of equipment and something that sticks with him, training with Dr. William Roll, who Gonsalves said is the forefather of the study of the correlations between EMF study and the paranormal.
When it comes down to the equipment, however, you just need to know how to use it properly.
“It’s amazing to me to see how many investigators don’t know how to use the equipment,” Gonsalves said.
“I don’t mean to sound rude or anything, but every single television show I watch with a paranormal investigation… they don’t use the devices correctly. They wave it around, get a 1.0 or 1.5 reading and think it’s a ghost. They don’t understand the energy they’re actually reading; that static electricity is everywhere, and once it moves, it becomes electromagnetic, and what the reader is actually reading is radiation left behind – and that can be from 10 years ago, a week ago, or in present time. You just have to take the time to figure it out, but they don’t.”
Gonsalves said many people have told him they learned how to do their own investigating through watching the show, but he believes that’s not the best way to do it.
“It’s 10 hours boiled down into 43 minutes, and some people don’t realize that.”
For all the fun toys Gonsalves has had to play with over the years, he’s finding his favorite at the moment is the laser grid, wherein a grid of bright beams are shone forth and help signal the movement of something with mass.
Still, there’s another piece of equipment that’s helped Gonsalves see some of the most solid evidence of the paranormal he’s ever experienced: the thermographic camera.
“I really like thermal evidence because it’s black and white; there’s no real gray area,” he said.
“If you implement the safeguards when you’re using that device, whenever you get something on it, it’s a pretty concrete piece of evidence. We’ve gotten a few things over the years, and one will be airing soon, so unfortunately I can’t tell you what it is but… well, it’s better than any thermal evidence we’ve caught.”
“We did, however, catch one a while ago, at the Crescent Hotel in Arkansas. There was a figure standing there and it sort of nodded at the camera, which took us all by surprise. We tried for days to disprove it, but we couldn’t come up with a thing.”