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Posted April 8, 2010 | comments Leave a comment

Local team investigates paranormal activity

Rusty Edmondson uses an electromagnetic field meter
Rusty Edmondson, co-founder of the Virginia Independent Paranormal Society, uses an electromagnetic field meter for ghost hunting in the attic of the Toms Brook Fire Hall. Vips was formed in 19996 and conducts paranormal investigations free of charge. Rich Cooley/Daily

Janet Smith uses a digital infrared thermometer
Janet Smith, of Woodstock, uses a digital infrared thermometer that measures fluctuations in room temperatures for ghost hunters. Rich Cooley/Daily

By Laetitia Clayton - lclayton@nvdaily.com

TOMS BROOK -- Things do go bump at Toms Brook Fire Hall, and not just in the night.

There don't seem to be certain times or circumstances that prompt the strange happenings, such as lights turning on and off, doors opening and closing and pots and pans flying off of shelves. But several people can attest to the fact that these things do happen -- and they attribute them to a ghost they call George.

Richard Funkhouser, who was fire chief at Toms Brook for 14 years, says he has seen George twice.

"But there's been a couple of other people that have actually seen him, and we all describe him the same way," he says. "Floppy hat, little square glasses, with a riding coat."

George has been around awhile, too, Funkhouser says, as there were some sightings at the old fire hall, which was built in the early 1900s. Funkhouser believes George followed them to the new facility when it was built in 1983 -- and so does the Virginia Independent Paranormal Society, a local team of paranormal investigators who are very familiar with the Toms Brook Fire Hall.

Shenandoah County-based Vips was formed in 1996 by Toms Brook residents Rusty Edmondson and his wife, Sharon, and their friend, Wade Ross, of Edinburg. All three are Civil War re-enactors and historians. They believe that George and many of the other ghosts they've encountered were Civil War soldiers.

During their investigation of the fire hall last year, Vips found some mists, orbs and energy balls, Edmondson says, referring to terms used in the paranormal world to describe images and the like that are detected using various equipment. In one picture, they captured "almost the form of a body getting ready to go up the steps," he says, and they picked up some "energy streaks in the bathroom."

"He has a fetish for the bathroom," Edmondson says of George.

"This ghost likes water," Funkhouser agrees.

When he was fire chief, Funkhouser says he had several volunteers leave the building and not come back until the next day after strange things occurred when they were sleeping there overnight.

"A lot of them are scared to death," he says. "One of them, it likes to mess with him in the bathroom. It shakes the stall door."

Funkhouser got a call from one of the volunteers one night, he recalls, who said, "Some creepy stuff is going on down here."

A soda pop fell out of the machine and onto the floor, the fire hall's office door opened and closed, and the door to the radio room, which Funkhouser says takes a lot of force to open, was opened on its own.

"I'm getting the hell out of here," Funkhouser says the volunteer told him, and he did -- even leaving his coat behind.

And then there was Christmas night three years ago. Edmondson says he was in the fire hall waiting for his wife to pick him up when he heard the commode flush. He thought someone else was there, but couldn't find a soul. Lights proceeded to turn on and off and doors slammed. Edmondson says he had finally had enough.

"I said, 'That's it pal. If you don't want me to be here, I'll leave.'"

But George is only one of the spirits Vips has encountered over the years. There have been many men, women, children and even animals they say they've seen, heard or captured on film or audio recordings. Most of them are from the Civil War era, but not all, Edmondson says.

"I guess I had seen stuff for years, but didn't believe in it," he says.

All that changed in 1996. Edmondson says he was living in Middletown when one night he heard cannons going off. The next day, he noticed that the pictures on his walls were crooked. He asked his neighbors if they had heard it, too, but only three houses out of 15 had. From that point on, "a lot of other things started happening," he says.

In 1999, Edmondson was working at Crystal Caverns in Strasburg. He was working during one of the cavern's haunted cave tours, when he fell down on the ground to play dead. He was wearing a Confederate uniform.

"Something grabbed me by the arm and shook me and said 'Are you all right?' And I realized I could see right through him," he says, adding that it looked like a Civil War Confederate soldier.

Edmondson and Ross have had other paranormal encounters over the years, which started with their pastime as Civil War re-enactors.

"At re-enactments we'd just take off and start looking around," Edmondson says, "listening for funny sounds."

They have a spooky story about Gettysburg, and one from Harper's Ferry, W.Va., where Edmondson says they captured "10 full body apparitions" in a picture. There was one modern-day soldier in Air Force dress blues among all the Civil War images. All of them were misty, "but it was wicked," Edmondson says.

Vips has since grown from its three founding members and some old equipment. They now boast about 36 members, with six of those being the core team. A year and a half ago, Vips decided to invest in new equipment. They bought wireless microphones, digital recorders, camcorders, gas meters, a ghost box, a geophone and more, Edmondson says. The ghost box is a radio that scans all the time "and the [spirits'] voices will come in on it," he says. "We've got thousands of dollars invested in equipment. [We did it] for the credibility of the team."

Mrs. Edmondson says the investigations are not done to prove a haunting, however, and each one is performed using a skeptical approach.

"We go in to prove it's not haunted," she says. "There's a lot of explanation for a lot of things."

"If it is not found on technical equipment, it is not there," her husband adds. "It's just a personal experience."

Still, Vips gets calls from all over the United States from people who have seen their Web site, or have heard about them on Facebook or by word of mouth. Edmondson has played parts in various videos and TV shows, including a PBS video documentary called "Things That Go Bump in the Valley," the Travel Channel's "Haunted Road Trips" and History Channel's "Haunted Battlefields." He also has been quoted by a couple of authors of books on the paranormal.

There's been a recent trend about paranormal activity in TV, books and movies, but Edmondson and Vips co-founder Ross both say they were into ghost hunting before it was considered to be cool.

They offer an explanation as to why they've had so many encounters with ghosts over the years when other people may not have: "Who's to say that paranormal stuff wasn't going on 150 years ago?" Ross says.

"But with the onslaught of Hollywood and TV shows ... there's more interest now," he says. "Plus, technology has finally caught up. You can take a digital recorder into a room and get something. You don't have to be so sensitive anymore. You used to have to be psychic [to see these things]."

For some, there is a fear of admitting they see or hear paranormal activity.

"There's a stigma around stuff like this," Ross says.

Other people see a chance to cash in on the popularity of the subject, says the Vips team, but they insist they aren't in it for the money.

"We don't charge. That's against our religion," Edmondson says. "That's just wrong."

Edmondson adds that there are no plans to turn Vips into a business in the future and says they only want to help people understand the paranormal.

"We need to get the word out," he says. "We need the credibility."

And to all the skeptics, the Vips team says all it takes is one experience to become a believer.

"We all had to see it to believe it," Ross says. "We saw it, and now we believe it."


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