“I do believe in the soul and I do believe that it’s something totally separate from the physical body,” Sanders said. “I don’t have any definitive answers as to where it goes once the body is passed on.”
Her investigations have never shown her a link between death and the paranormal events that she has investigated. But she’s still looking.
Sanders is a member of the Calhoun County Paranormal Group, which investigates phenomena its members say haven’t been explained scientifically.
Another group member named Matt, who declined to give his last name because of concerns that his employer might object to his hobby, said he’s somewhat of a skeptic. He’s never had a paranormal experience. But he thinks it might be awesome if it’s out there.
“Our whole goal is maybe to explain some of the strange happenings away,” said Matt, the lead investigator of the group. “Or just to capture and document it.”
The group posts its findings online at calhouncountyparanormalgroup.com.
One recent post on orbs — strange balls of light that show up in photographs — explained them as light bouncing off dust suspended in the air. Another on “Gravity Road” in southern Calhoun County dismissed reports of strange forces pulling cars downhill as … well, gravity.
The group also has documented some things its members can’t explain.
At the Walking Horse Hotel in Tennessee, group members taped some noises and banging while they were supposed to be alone in the building.
Some readers of the group’s website have called the members liars. Matt doesn’t care. He said the investigations grow out of his own search for the truth.
Matt started doing investigations about a year ago after watching paranormal investigators on television. At first, he thought it was crazy. But as he watched, he saw that the investigations were well done and he thought he could do that.
“Throughout my whole childhood, I’d hear about stuff like this,” Matt said. “It’s like OK, why is this never happening to me? How come I’ve never seen it?”
Sanders’ interest in paranormal investigations started about 10 years ago when a friend who was disturbed by some noises in her house asked Sanders to sit up with her.
“It turned out to be nothing but plumbing and rats,” Sanders said. “But I got hooked.”
The group uses cameras with infrared illumination, a high-definition camera, digital audio recorders, electromagnetic field detectors and thermal detectors in its investigations.
The equipment is designed to take what is beyond the human ability to see and hear, and pull it within that visible, audible range, said Homer Carlisle, associate professor of computer science and engineering at Auburn University. For instance, whales make sounds too low for the human ear to hear. But when one records the sounds and raises the pitch, it becomes audible.
“That’s what these devices attempt to do,” said Carlisle, who doesn’t believe in the paranormal. “No device picks up things that don’t exist.”
The unexplained sounds, the most common things Sanders said the group finds, may be failures of the device or may have explanations that haven’t been found yet, Carlisle said.
“This is where you move from science to faith,” Carlisle said.
And that is what the group investigates.
“I’m caught between being a skeptic and being a believer,” Sanders said. “So, my mind always goes back to the scientific.”
The group isn’t out to prove the existence of ghosts; its approach is just the opposite of that, looking instead for rational explanations.
But society views paranormal investigation with a veil of skepticism, the group’s members said. They’ve had homeowners ask them to investigate, only to back out later.
“People get really quirky,” Sanders said. “They’ll approach you quietly.”
Many supposedly paranormal events turn out to be hoaxes, the two said. Meanwhile, interest in the unexplained is a big business, Matt noted. Owners of well-known allegedly haunted sites might ask $500 or more per night to allow a group on the property to do an investigation, Matt said.
But, Sanders said, they’re just there to help.
“It’s not a ceremony,” Matt said. “It’s not a show. It’s not anything like that. It’s a scientific exploration of what’s going on.”
“Sometimes just to give somebody an answer that makes sense helps them out more than anything,” she said.
Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.