Eddie says "yes"
The Summerville Armory on North Hickory Street isn't your typical haunted building. It has no gargoyles or cracked attic windows, no foreboding oak doors or cobwebbed eaves. It's just a large brick structure that's home to a National Guard unit when they're not stationed in Afghanistan.
The Armory exterior may be dull as dirt, but the inside is a different story. At night, the building burgeons with unexplained events: bizarre sounds, doors that creak open by themselves, inanimate objects that shift from one side of a room to another when no one is looking. Even members of the National Guard Detachment — no pussies among them — admit a boo or two. According to facility manager James Boyd SFC (who asked that the unit remain anonymous for this article), "This place is haunted as heck."
The strange goings-on have been attributed to a soldier who allegedly committed suicide in the late '80s after his wife left him. Question is, are the phenomena due to the soldier's tortured soul, or just the shifting of 50-year-old timbers?
It's the job of Darkwater Paranormal Investigations to find out, or at least look for evidence of "anything that defies the laws of physics or nature." That precludes bugs and dust motes that look like glowing sprites, sudden bursts of energy from fluorescent lights, or wind-rattled metal doors.
"If I can't touch it, see it, or taste it, I don't believe it," says Darkwater founder Alkinoos "Ike" Katsilianos, a no-nonsense tough guy with close-cropped hair who's been in the military since 1990. "But if I can't debunk it, it makes me think there might be something out there."
The Darkwater team has a healthy roster of skeptics, although each member still holds out hope for an encounter with the unknown. "I'd love to be tapped on the shoulder by a ghost and have a conversation with it," says Bruce Orr, the group's technical expert with 20 years experience in law enforcement. He doesn't know what he'd really do if it happened. "I'm like the bomb dog," he grins. "If you see me running, you'd better get outta here."
At 8:30 p.m., Darkwater rumbles into the armory with soldierly precision. Two black trucks are parked outside the building, and video cameras, microphones, and cables are efficiently unpacked and set up.
Helping out is Chris Gordon, who works in the tech world for Cummins Turbo Technologies during the day. Like Katsilianos and Orr, he'd rather analyze than speculate. "Some people believe ghosts effect the energy around them to move things," he says as he wields an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) reader. He's yet to experience anything like that. He recalls a trip that Darkwater and the recently deceased Summerville Paranormal Group made to Strawberry Chapel in Moncks Corner. "Bruce found a cold spot, chest high," he says. "I kept walking through it saying, I can't feel it. I wanna feel it."
The possibility of a spooky encounter spurs the investigators on even when the work becomes, as Katsilianos puts it, "boring as hell."
However, Katsilianos says, "As soon as you see something that shouldn't be there, you're hooked. It's like catching the big fish. You'll be fishing ever since."
The video cameras are trained on reputed haunt spots inside the Armory. The shower room has a strange damp patch on the ceiling; flaked paint hangs down in the shape of an inverted crown. The doors of the toilet cubicles supposedly open of their own accord in the middle of the night. And objects reputedly move halfway across a low-ceilinged office, untouched by human hands.
Once the cameras are hooked up to a monitor and all manmade electrical energy sources have been identified with the EMP, the team waits half an hour for everything to settle. By 10:30 p.m. they're ready to begin their investigation in earnest.
The team decides to place dog tags on a hook in the shower — something their "guest of honor" would relate to. Orr scoffs at the TV show Ghost Hunters, in which a specter from the 1700s was once expected to recognize a flashlight. "If you're from that time, you won't know what a flashlight is," he reasons.
And just as a paranormal entity might respond to objects it can relate to, the same might go for feelings. Orr reckons he can empathize with the soldier, so he sits in the shower and invites the ghost for a chat.
On the monitor, the shower room looks eerie. The team is using a near infrared setting on their cameras because of the small rooms; the infrared makes the shower tiles gleam, and Orr's dark clothes look white. He sits in a corner, scratching his neatly trimmed beard and calling for the dead soldier.
Orr isn't the only one talking. There's a surprising amount of chat, considering that the team are hoping to record sound in the building. They're waiting for a "magic time" when paranormal events are most likely to occur; some experts place it at 3 a.m., while Katsilianos prefers midnight. The investigation will wrap at 12:30 a.m. After all, the researchers have day jobs to go to and some of them have to get up early in the morning.
Bruce, back from the shower room, appreciates the thrill factor of a task like this. "There's definitely a superhero mentality," he says. "You're conquering your fears and doing something above the norm."
Linda Doty, a new member of the team, is brave enough to sit on one of the toilets in the bathroom, where the doors are supposed to creak open by themselves. Nothing visits her apart from a scuttling roach or two.
"There's no scary music like on TV," she says back in the main section of the armory.
Katsilianos passes his "magic time" without a creepy visitation, satisfied that he's finished this stage of his job: gathering video, audio, and other data from the alleged haunted site. He does take one spook with him — a little figurine that he brings to sites so he'll always take at least one ghost home.
When Katsilianos reviews the material for evidence of "intelligent entities" he hears a groaning that he can't quite identify. Without a doubt Katsilianos will first discount any rational explanations for the sound before seeking otherworldly ones. "I'm a logic person," he says. "I never really believed in ghosts. I'm just interested in stuff I don't know about."
With so much skepticism, the team is ripe for haunting. But they ain't 'fraid of no ghost. In fact, they'd be offended if you called them ghostbusters.
"I rate ghosts with unicorns and elves," says Orr. "They're mythical creatures."
Orr hopes that in 50-75 years time, the technology will be developed to accurately trace paranormal activity. Right now it's regarded as a pseudoscience, but reality shows and an enduring public interest have made the field hotter than ever. Meanwhile, Darkwater has enough "haunted" sites in the Lowcountry to keep the group busy in this life, and maybe the next one too.