Local paranormal investigation team always at the ready
Morgan M. Hurley | Contributing Editor
It’s October, a month that — for most of us — is analogous to things that go bump in the night. After all, everywhere we look we see new television shows, movie releases, store promotions, house decorations, costume shops popping up out of nowhere, all centered around the more spooky aspects of Halloween. We become hypersensitive to all those unusual noises or movements we see out of the corner of our eye, especially in the dark, and they heighten our fears more than usual this time of year.
But what if you suspected that your house or business was inhabited by spirits, unwanted or not? What if you happened to sense an unearthly presence or two, or heard voices in the night that you could not explain?
Who you gonna call?
Here in America’s Finest City, many call the San Diego Paranormal Research Society (SDPRS). Founded five years ago by Nicole Strickland, the SDPRS team visits homes, businesses and a historic sites — free of charge — to try to find a logical answer to unexplained events.
Consisting of a group of “like-minded” volunteer paranormal investigators, “intuitives” and consultants of various genres, Strickland said her team takes their work very seriously; they are not your typical commercial “ghost chaser” that turns up the scare-factor for profit.
SDPRS is the real deal, though Strickland considers herself a “student of the paranormal” and is very aware of the limitations of her field.
“People go around tossing out the word ‘experts’ or ‘paranormal experts.’ I am a strong proponent against that. How can anyone be an expert in something that hasn’t been proven?”
Strickland, who describes her interest in the paranormal as an “innate fascination,” dates her curiosity back to the age of two, but it wasn’t until after what she described as a “very profound, life-changing experience” with the spirit of her late grandmother in 2000 that she decided her true calling was actively researching paranormal activity. After working with several other teams to sharpen her skills and experience, she launched SDPRS in 2009.
“We’re not out to prove the existence of ghosts,” she said. “I can’t sit there and say I’ve had these experiences and that, 100 percent, ‘Yes, I was communicating with a ghost.’ No, we can’t do that. All we do is we try to find logical, natural explanations for what we’re finding, and if we can’t find an explanation for it, then what we’re left with is ‘Well, this is something we can’t explain.’”
Paranormal research is a technical and complex combination of various fields of study, including historical, archeological, genealogical and even weather and environment. It also has schools of thought that deal strictly with the scientific, though Strickland emphasizes that it is more “pseudo-science” than exact science.
Science-only Research teams use cameras, video cameras, environmental meters and other specialized equipment designed specifically for the paranormal. Other teams, like Strickland’s, rely on many of those devices — using such tools as infrared cameras, dowsing rods and audio recorders — but their experiments also blend the scientific with the spiritual, metaphysical and intuitive side.
And unlike many of today’s TV shows, Strickland said a real paranormal investigation generally lasts between four to six hours; anything longer would be physically and mentally depleting for the research team.
In the last several years, SDPRS has done a number of paranormal investigations of public and historical locations in San Diego and beyond and is currently focusing on several properties in Julian. Locally, SDPRS has spent time in active research at the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Old Town, the Junipero Serra Museum in Presidio Park off of Taylor Street in Mission Valley, the Berkeley steam ferry along the Embarcadero, the William Heath Davis House Downtown, and the Buena Vista Adobe in Vista, among others.
As one of the only teams to conduct research inside the Serra Museum, Strickland said she is fairly sure that they have come in contact with Father Serra himself during their investigations and have also uncovered “residual” Native American energy in the area. Though she hasn’t been able to do any formal research at the Mission de Alcala, she has visited the grounds several times and has felt the same energy there as well.
Historical research of a property and its former occupants is an important part of paranormal investigations because often the paranormal research uncovers clues that history can help solve.
Gabe Selak, public programs manager with the San Diego History Center (SDHC) in Balboa Park, joined Strickland’s team a little over a year ago, serving as a historical consultant.
Selak’s interest was first piqued last year when Strickland approached the SDHC about doing a private investigation of the Serra Museum, one of the properties under SDHC’s tutelage.
While such private events do not involve the public and only consist of the research team, Selak worked directly with SDPRS to plan, research and execute that investigation.
“Based on my understanding of the site I was able to tell them a little about the people who lived there, and that led to questions that they were able to ask during the time we were doing the research,” he said, adding that the name Manuel came up during the investigation and they were able to find historical documentation that identified soldiers associated with the Presidio who were named Manuel.
“[I helped] them understand who and what activities happened at that site, and that can lead, as it did in the other instance, to questions asking for specific people’s names or whether there are any children, and [based on my research] we know how many there actually were.”
Not long after the private investigation was completed, the SDHC asked SDPRC to return to the museum for another investigation last fall, this one public, and they used it as a fundraiser for the history center. The results of that investigation and the private one were “eye-opening” for Selak, who previously had only heard stories regarding the Serra Museum, such as sightings of soldiers up on the hillside, in his 10 years with SDHC.
“All places that are haunted have paranormal activity, but not all places that have paranormal activity are haunted,” Strickland said.
In addition to historical sites, SDPRS gets many requests for home visits. Odd experiences at private residences make everyday life challenging for the occupants, Strickland said, and many just want assurances that they aren’t crazy. Hence, not all of these requests turn into actual investigations.
“We have a very extensive client interview process to get the specifics of the case. A lot of the time it is just educating [the residents] on what it could be. Sometimes it is plumbing or electricity problems or foundation issues with their home and that is all it is,” she said, adding that each case is different and some clients actually know the spirit and wish to coexist with them.
Unlike the “Ghost Busters,” however, Strickland said the SDPRS team’s focus is merely to investigate claims of ghosts and hauntings. They don’t try to harass or diminish the spirits they encounter.
“Sometimes clients will say, ‘I just want it out — I want it out of my house,’” she said. “That is not our specialty, but we have people that we can refer out to that can possibly come and do spirit rescue or apply different techniques such as blessings, the use of crystals or different types of incense to clear out the area.”
Though SDPRS is open to new members who think they may be sensitive to the paranormal, Strickland has a set of bylaws on the website that clearly distinguishes her team from those who she considers “thrill seekers.”
“We are a very serious team,” she said. “We take pride in our work and we really strive to help and educate our clients. We’re not experts, we don’t claim to be, and we’re always learning as we go.
“If people are just out to copy the guys on some of the TV shows and provoke the spirits, this is not the team for them,” she said.
Follow SDPRS through their Facebook page at Facebook.com/SDPRS or find out more about them by visiting their website, sandiegoparanormalresearch.com.
—Reach Morgan M. Hurley at firstname.lastname@example.org.