Do you see a) a lens flare, or  b) a vortex of paranormal activity?  If you answered b), you belong at  the REI Ghost Conference.
Do you see a) a lens flare, or b) a vortex of paranormal activity? If you answered b), you belong at the REI Ghost Conference.

They See Dead People

One might think that Houston's a tough town for ghosts these days, what with the speed at which the city tears down old buildings. What phantasm would want to haunt the latest apartment complex thrown up by the Finger Company? It would seem that ghosts need someplace that's been around long enough for people to have lived and, well, died there.

Not so, say the members of Residual Energy Investigations, who will be hosting the upcoming REI Ghost Conference. Far from chasing the spirits away, all this new construction might just be pissing them off.

"How would you like it if someone plowed over your house?" asks investigator Penny Zingery.

Info

REI Ghost Conference

Activities include lectures, book signings and a "High Spirits" bus tour (limited seating, and costs extra). 12:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Saturday, October 20, at the Spaghetti Warehouse, 901 Commerce Street. $10, $13 for lunch. For more information, e-mail pzingery@swbell.net

So does this mean the womanizing ghost "captain" who pinched women's bottoms at the late Ale House all those years has stuck around to terrorize the parking lot left in its place? "Maybe," REI man Robert Hernandez says ominously. Keep an eye on those hubcaps…

Despite the growing number of displaced souls, Zingery assures us we've got nothing to fear from the organically challenged. "It's human nature to be scared of something we don't understand," she says.

Armed with electromagnetic field readers, infrared thermometers, tape recorders and cameras, REI hunts ghosts in cemeteries and other likely haunts. The construction only seems to have rattled the spiritual beehive. The group -- made up of paralegals, police officers and chiropractors -- rarely has an outing that doesn't result in the recording of some sort of paranormal activity.

"Sometimes you'll just see an orb or two," Hernandez admits. Orbs are round balls of light captured on film, not too unlike what you might see when light reflects off the lens. Attendees of the upcoming ghost conference will be given the secret location of a haunted site so they can take part in their own investigations.

Hernandez joined the group after witnessing the strange goings-on at the probation office where he worked, not far from the original Jefferson Davis Hospital (not to be confused with the later Davis hospital on Allen Parkway that was imploded in 1999). Once home to a morgue and allegedly built on an old grave site of Confederate soldiers, the probation building borders the "black earth graves" possibly left by an English colony dating to the 1600s. All that makes it ground zero for weird activity in Houston.

To date, strange happenings include noises in the attic, a woman spotted in the supposedly vacant upper stories that used to be a nurses' dormitory, and people entering the ladies' restroom never to be seen again. When a fire alarm was pulled, the typically fearless police dogs refused to enter the building. (Cue Twilight Zone music.)

There does appear to be some good news for the nonliving. The graves beneath the old hospital have been declared a historical landmark. While that designation doesn't protect the hospital itself, a nonprofit group has bid to convert the building into low-income housing and artists' work space. So maybe the dead finally can live in peace.

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