Central Ohio Paranormal Society
'Ghost hunters' use science to investigate hauntings at Malabar Farmhouse
Thursday, September 22, 2005
By KEVIN PARKS
They sought the whisper of a ghost and longed for the touch of a vanished hand -- or at least an invisible one.
What the intrepid members of the Central Ohio Paranormal Society say they obtained during a Sept. 10 investigation of the possibly haunted Malabar Farm State Park outside Mansfield were:
The disembodied voice of a cat.
An unseen furry body brushing up against a leg.
Here a cold spot and there a blast of energy.
The sounds of footsteps on a staircase when nobody was there.
Bathroom cabinet doors flying open on their own.
"There were a lot of doors and closets and like that opening up by themselves," said COPS co-founder Mike Robare, a machinist from Grove City, in a telephone interview a few days later.
And maybe, just maybe -- only time and technical tweaking will tell -- they captured a few comments from beyond the grave.
"We got five EVPs," Robare said.
In paranormal investigator parlance, that's the acronym for "electronic voice phenomena," a scientific-sounding term for ghostly voices supposedly caught on tape, often when human listeners heard nothing as the recording was being made.
The Central Ohio Paranormal Society was founded in November 2004, after initially operating under the auspices of the Ohio Exploration Society. The latter group was formed several years earlier by South Side resident Jason Robinson to explore abandoned and forgotten buildings around the state.
COPS team members use digital recorders, infrared still and video cameras, electronic devices for detecting magnetic fields and a variety of high-tech thermometers in their investigations, Robinson said.
They have had some luck in past investigations capturing whispered words from what they believe are spirits.
"Some you can hear plain as day," Robinson said.
"We all share the same interest in the paranormal ... what is happening, why it's happening and where it's happening," Mike Robare writes on the Web site, www.centralohioparanormal.net. "With that being said, COPS believes that anyone experiencing something paranormal deserves some help with what they are going through. That's why we investigate, free of charge, claims of hauntings in the central region of our great state of Ohio."
A nine-member COPS team, consisting of people with such titles as "investigator" and "researcher," "case manager" and "lead technician," not to mention a "sensitive" (psychic) or two, traveled earlier this month to Malabar Farm State Park in Richland County to look into the possibility that spirits still linger in the 32-room country home built for Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Louis Bromfield in 1939.
They were responding to a request from a local woman who felt she had encountered a hostile spirit in the bedroom of one of Bromfield's daughters.
"You just knew you had to get out of that room," Laura Wacyk said.
Malabar Farm was Bromfield's grand experiment in soil conservation and improved agricultural techniques, but it also became a famed gathering spot for the Hollywood elite of the 1940s. It is perhaps best known as the location where Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall were married on May 21, 1945.
The property, which became a state park in 1976, is named for the Malabar Coast of India, the setting of Bromfield's 1937 novel, "The Rains Came."
"We've had lots of people feel things in this house," Sybil Burskey, a park tour guide, told the COPS team members.
Burskey, who has worked at the park for 14 years, described one "clairvoyant" visitor to the house as going through an especially violent reaction in the room where the novelist's wife, Mary, died in about 1954.
"She was, like, gyrating back and forth," Burskey said.
Her own daughter, Burskey added, felt a ghostly hand caress her face when they stayed in the basement one night watching -- what else? -- old Bogart movies.
"Make it stop!" the young woman pleaded, according to her mom.
Mark Jordan, also a member of the park staff and author of a play about a ghastly 1896 family murder in another house on the Bromfield property, described an experience he had after a recent night tour. As he was putting up the rope that keeps the public from entering the room where Mary Bromfield died, Jordan told the COPS team he felt as if he was being watched and was moved to say, "Good night, Mrs. Bromfield."
A blast of perfumed air wafted over him, Jordan said.
On their initial walk through the rambling structure, East Side resident and self-described "sensitive" Larry Copeland immediately rushed back out of the bedroom of one of Louis and Mary Bromfield's three daughters. Tour guide Burskey had indicated the daughter, Ann, was decidedly antisocial and greatly resented the constant round of guests her father invited to the isolated estate.
Copeland, who is also a Wiccan high priest, reported feeling "something very hostile in there," and added he had experienced a strong physical sensation upon entering the room.
"Imagine someone grabbing your navel, stretching it out about three feet and twisting," was Copeland's graphic description.
COPS investigator, researcher and photographer Philip Niklas, who lives on the South Side, also had an experience in Ann Bromfield's room. He is certain he heard a cat meow.
"Almost like it was right behind me," Niklas told the others breathlessly. "Oh, man, that was awesome. It was a cat. I kind of pick up on a black cat, for some reason."
Niklas later confided that he, too, has been a "sensitive" practically all his life.
"I don't know if you've seen the movie 'The Sixth Sense,' " he said. "It's like that."
Ohio Exploration Society founder Jason Robinson likewise reported a close encounter of the cat kind in that bedroom.
"It felt like something with fur rubbed up against my leg," he said.
As they approach an investigation, COPS team members say, they seek to strike a balance between skepticism and belief.
"When we go into it, we try to keep an open mind," said Gena Robare, another COPS co-founder and the wife of Mike Robare. "If somebody calls us, that means they're experiencing something."
"We go in more thinking, 'OK, this place isn't haunted,' " Robinson said. "We don't totally discount the stories. We just want to document it in our equipment."
"I'm out to prove to myself and I want to prove to others that these things do exist, and we want to do so by scientific means," Mike Robare said.
After spending roughly six hours investigating Malabar Farm, some of it in near-total darkness, deploying their various instruments and occasionally asking questions of any possible spirits, the COPS members returned to the Columbus area to begin to sift through the evidence they had gathered.
"I think it went pretty well," Robinson said. "A lot of our members had odd things happen while we were there, myself included in that with the cat. If it's haunted or not, I'm not really sure just yet. We'll have to examine our evidence more.
"I believe there is some kind of activity going on."
Robinson subsequently reported that if Mrs. Bromfield haunts the room in which she died, she is at least a nicely mannered ghost.
"The only thing that I may have gotten is an EVP near the end of the video in Mrs. Bromfield's room," he wrote in an e-mail. "I was thanking her for giving us any results. A few second later, it sounds like a female voice saying, 'You're welcome.' I am not 100 percent sure ... "
"I believe it's got plenty of activity," Mike Robare said. "I wouldn't deem it haunted as of yet, but I believe there's something there. It may be more than one spirit.
"I guess, technically, that would be a haunting."
"I was very impressed with the group," Malabar State Farm Park tour guide Sybil Burskey said days after the investigation. "They seemed very professional. I just thought it was very interesting.
"They really seemed sincere," she added. "It wasn't just a big fake or anything."
"It was gratifying to see some of the sensations I felt get verified scientifically," Copeland said. "So many times, especially being sensitive, being psychic, you have a tendency to sit back and say, 'OK, was it something I felt or something I imagined?'
"There's at least three different entities in the house, not including one dog and at least one cat. And there's an untold amount of what's called 'residual haunting.' It's emotions that have left such an indelible impression because of the intensity of the feeling."
Copeland feels park employees now "can actually work with the intelligent spirits, they can actually communicate with them."
After discussing various types of hauntings with members of the staff who hung around during the investigation, Copeland said he walked away, only to feel a wave of relief coming from the people with whom he had just been speaking.
He turned back and said:
"No, it's not you folks. The house itself is weird."
E-mail, not a call, instigation for investigation.
Who ya gonna e-mail?
When Laura Wacyk of rural Richland County had what she considered to be a close encounter of the supernatural sort on a recent tour of Malabar Farm State Park in Lucas, she felt an investigation of the phenomenon was in order.
In this day and age, when it comes to finding "Ghostbusters," or at least ghost hunters, picking up the phone is passe.
So Wacyk, after obtaining the permission of members of the park's staff, knew right away who she wanted to contact over the Internet: TAPS.
The Atlantic Paranormal Society is perhaps the country's best known team of self-styled "paranormal researchers." It has about 25 members, was started about 15 years ago by a Warwick, R.I., plumber and is featured on the weekly "Ghost Hunters" show on the SciFi Channel.
Only Wacyk discovered that TAPS' dance card was full, probably a result of publicity from the television program.
Back to the Internet.
This time Wacyk, who is something of a supernatural buff and claims to be host to a ghost of her own, found an outfit a lot closer to home: COPS.
The Central Ohio Paranormal Society was founded in November 2004 by Grove City resident Mike Robare, his wife, Gena Robare, and friend Randy Garrison of Galloway.
Wacyk might just as easily have chanced upon another central Ohio-based organization, G.H.O.S.T. That stands for Ghost Hunters Ohio Search Team, who on their Web site boldly state: "We do not claim to be professionals or amateurs. We are ghost hunters, period. We take what we do seriously."
But Wacyk settled on COPS to check into the possible haunting of the 32-room house Pulitzer Prize winner and Mansfield native Louis Bromfield (1896-1956) had built 66 years ago.
"Everyone who works out here, they've all had harrowing experiences," Wacyk said while waiting for the COPS team to arrive at the state park shortly before 6 p.m. on Sept. 10.
Wacyk, who has gone on tours of the supposedly haunted Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, which closed in 1995, was wearing an "OSR ghost hunter" T-shirt.
"I thought it was appropriate," she said.
Wacyk believes the home she shares near Lucas with fiance Jeff Secrest is sometimes home to a "neighborhood ghost" they call George.
"George is a hoot," Wacyk said.
She claims the spirit sometimes creeps up behind her while she's doing the vacuuming. She offers to let him finish the household chore.
So far, George has declined.
"We're just tickled pink that you guys could come up here and do this for us," Secrest told the nine-member COPS squad after introductions had been made.
The group was led by Mike Robare, a machinist by day, paranormal investigator in his spare time.
"I've had paranormal experiences all my life," he said.
"We've always had a fascination with the paranormal," wife Gena Robare said.
"I've always been interested in that stuff," Garrison said.
"I think people stay behind after they've left because of unfinished business," Mike Robare said, describing one of three categories he believes exist for ghostly beings.
The others are people who linger to offer comfort to loved ones and finally those who are dead but don't realize it, shades of the shadows in M. Night Shyamalan's 1999 film "The Sixth Sense."
Robare also believes that spirits want to coexist with the still-living and sometimes let people know they're there.
COPS investigator, researcher and photographer Philip Niklas feels that he shares his South Side apartment with a ghost or two.
"I am extremely comfortable with them," he said. "They know their boundaries. Actually I'm very comfortable having them around."
Comfortable does not at all describe Gena Robare's feelings after the group conducted an investigation of Green Lawn Abbey, a mausoleum just outside of but not affiliated with the cemetery.
"Green Lawn Abbey was a kind of spooky place, gave off a lot of bad vibes," co-founder Garrison said.
Gena Robare said that, as she was walking around inside the old building, probably not on an officially sanctioned visit, something grabbed her arm, leaving behind three angry red welts.
"They burned like fire," she said.
The welts were gone in the morning, she said.
"I felt that something was just trying to tell me, 'Stay away,' " Gena Robare said. "They (the spirits in the oft-vandalized mausoleum) were just tired of being disturbed."