Dec 17 2011

Haunted Colorado: Silver Cliff Cemetery’s legend of the “Ghost Lights” investigated

alejandro

Originally published in June, 2009.

The moon was bright, and the air was cool during the witching hour this night in Silver Cliff. The wind cut cold as it rode over the hills and danced through the gravestones on its way through the valley. Other than the cemetery, there was nothing but short prairie grasses to surf upon as it raced to the other side.

Silver Cliff Cemetery

Silver Cliff Cemetery. Image Credit: Town of Silver Cliff Website (silvercliffco.com)

While we wandered through the graveyard, hoping for a glimpse of a discarnate spirit loitering around its headstone, a night bird sang to us.  Its song gently floating throughout the valley, carried by the wind.

It felt like a scene from a spaghetti western. We were a band of solemn, quiet, and patient paranormal investigators, watching and waiting to experience the unique phenomena that the Silver Cliff cemetery was known for.

Jason Cordova of the Metro State College Crypto Science Society had gotten permission from the city for his group to spend the night in their famous cemeteries. Some people quiver with fear at such a thought, but I was quivering with excitement like my Chihuahua when she sees me grab her leash.

Separate but equally strange

There are actually two cemeteries, one for the Catholics, and one for the Protestants. The prior being Silver Cliff Cemetery and the later is called Cross of the Assumption. Cross of the Assumption has a large white cross in it that seems to glow in the bright moonlight. Each are known for being host to glowing balls of light that meander from cemetery to cemetery and wander among the gravestones. The Silver Cliff website describes the phenomena: “The cemetery is famous for it’s unexplained “dancing blue lights” seen on occasion and featured in the August 1969 National Geographic Magazine, Volume 136, No. 2.” Apparently these lights have been seen for many years.

Having heard the legends, we had to take a look ourselves. When word got out that the college paranormal group was heading out there, a lot of press took an interest. We had a reporter from the Southern Colorado Public Radio, a Denver Post reporter, and a few other Looky Lous come along. The Southern Colorado Public Radio piece is great. Listen to it here, and read the Post article here.

We strategically set up our tents in different quadrants of the cemeteries so that we could have as much coverage as possible. We equipped everyone with radios, set up audio devices, prepared cameras and camcorders, and then buckled down.

Weird sights and sounds

One of the first things I noticed was that contrary to other reports, lights would reflect off of the gravestones. Although many are old and weathered, finely polished granite does not lose its reflectivity easily. Many gravestones produced a reflection. I caught myself getting excited about a light in the corner of my eye only for it to turn out to be a reflection. Even though there are only a few houses and buildings that make up the town, and they are a mile away or more, reflections of their lights could clearly be seen. The graveyard is still being used, so not all of the gravestones are old. In fact, you can get a great deal on a plot. Over time I began remembering the locations of the shiny gravestones, so that I would not make the mistake again.

Something else I took note of was the strange sounds that could be heard. I had not heard of reports of strange sounds at the cemeteries. However, they are on top of some rolling hills in a big valley. There are cows way off in the distance, and the wind carries their voices. Once in awhile you can hear them, making for an even more eerie experience.

All of these sensory experiences are magnified when you are spending the night in a graveyard. I can’t help but wonder if some people’s experiences are related to these effects. Still this would not be able to account for all reports. One paranormal group had witnessed the strange glowing lights moving from one cemetery to the other.

As night turned to morning, and as the wee hours of the morning grew longer, one by one investigators retired to their tents. Many of us continued to wander alone, or in groups, or sit silently observing, until everyone fell prey to the Sandman. I think I only slept an hour or two before the sun was up in its full morning glory.

Unfortunately, no one had any personal experiences that night. It was a clear night with a full moon, and the ideal conditions for the “Ghost Lights” is said to be when there is no moon and cloud cover. We were actually hoping for a damp night, but we had no such luck. Of course on camping trips since, we hoped for a night as lovely as this one, but instead got the dampness we missed out on during this excursion.

Invisible aircraft

On a side note, my friend Rick and I were walking around enjoying the beautiful scenery in the morning. Silver Cliff is located in the Wet Valley right up against the towering Sange de Cristo Mountains. It is an incredible sight. As we were enjoying the view with a lovely, and clear high country sky, we heard a jet coming into the valley. It sounded like it was very low, and it was getting unusually loud. I always like to watch jets, and often you see some neat military jets flying around in the mountains of Colorado, especially in that area, it is near a military training zone. Rick and I looked for the jet excited to see what it might be. It got closer and closer and it sounded like it flew right over us, but we never saw a thing!

Rick and I looked at each other bewildered. Neither of us had experienced anything like that. We heard the jet enter this long valley, fly though it, and leave, without catching a single glimpse. On top of that, it sounded as if it was flying very low and right over us. Just then a city worker drove up in a truck. We explained what we experienced, and he said it happened all of the time. He didn’t know what the heck was going on, it was as if the military was flying invisible jets.

Like I said it is near a military zone. It is possible that the jet was flying just on the other side of the mountain range so low that we couldn’t see it. I have seen them doing mock dogfights just over the small Wet Mountains east of there, but from experience it sure sounded like it went right over us.

The analysis

When we got back it was time to analyze all of our findings. No one got anything of note, except for me. I had placed a sound recorder on a tombstone that I felt was in an interesting location. I talked to the occupant and thanked him, and apologized if I was disturbing him, just in case. I didn’t want some zombie crawling out of the ground and chucking my recorder at my head. I also made sure that the recorder was as far away from where we were perched as possible, so it wouldn’t record our conversation. Although we were being careful to speak quietly.

Listening to this recording in the office while I was working, I was shocked to hear moans. Every few minutes for half an hour, I could hear a very distinct moaning. It was incredible and undeniable. My mind was spinning trying to figure out if there was a conventional answer for these strange sounds.

Still in awe of what I had found, we had another camping trip, this time to look for UFOs. Late at night, sitting around the campfire, my buddy Rick took a deep breath, and lets out this loud, long yawn. It was as if Chewbacca was sitting right next to me. It immediately hit me, that was the friggin’ moan I had heard on my recorder. It wasn’t a ghost; it was Rick’s Chewbacca yawn! Aye aye aye!

So we didn’t collect any evidence that night, but we do plan on going back. With all of the witness testimony, there must be something to the stories. Plus, I love the look on people’s faces when I tell them I am going to camp out in a cemetery for the weekend.


Dec 17 2011

Haunted Denver: Cheesman Park, they only moved the headstones, they didn’t move the graves

alejandro

I am a Denver native, and I have always heard the stories of haunted homes in the Cheesman/Congress park area. As time went on, I met more and more people with scary stories from that area, some of them so incredible that they were hard to believe.

Cheesman Park

Cheesman Park in Denver. Image credit: David Shankbone

Eventually, I began to hear that Cheesman Park was a graveyard and that they didn’t remove all of the bodies. I thought this certainly had to be an urban legend. Especially since that was the plot in the popular Steven Spielberg movie, Poltergeist (see clip below).

Poltergeist will forever be etched in my memory. I saw it when I was about the same age as the little boy in the movie, and it was the most exhilarating and frightening movie experience in my life. Spielberg movies certainly have played a big role in my life.

The horrifying legend was true

To my amazement, after further research I found that it was true! The entire Cheesman park, Congress park, and Botanic Gardens area was a massive graveyard. Furthermore, indeed many of the bodies were not moved!

Graveyards have never been that scary to me. A couple of years ago we spent the night in what was supposed to be the most haunted graveyard in Colorado, in Silver Cliffe. I’ll write more about that experience later. Logically some argue that a graveyard doesn’t seem like a place that a spirit would want to hang out. It would make more sense that they would go haunt a person or place of significance to them while they are alive. Still, although my graveyard investigations have yet to provide any positive results, many others seem to have a lot of success in graveyards.

So if graveyards do seem to be places of high ghostly activity, it would make sense that a graveyard that was redeveloped, especially if the bodies were left, would still be an area of high activity. Such was the case in the movie. All hell broke loose for those poor people.

Cheesman Park history

The Cheesman park area was one of the first Denver cemeteries. It was huge, and meant to be the primary cemetery for the city. It had areas for all denominations, including the large Chinese population in Denver, of workers for the railroad. Although the busiest parts of the graveyard turned out to be those used for the poor people and criminals.

Eventually due to poor upkeep and land disputes the land was seized by the federal government, and then sold to the city for $200. The city then decided to turn it into a park. First, of course they had to move the bodies. So they told everyone that they had to move their family’s bodies themselves! Of course, many people could not afford to do that, and there were many unclaimed bodies. To resolve this they contracted out.

The contractor turned out to be highly unscrupulous. Each body was supposed to have its own casket, but they were being hacked up and stuffed into small boxes, so the contractor could charge per box and make more money. The local paper broke the story on how the body transportation was being mishandled, and the contract was canceled.
Although the contract was cancelled, development had to continue, so the city just bulldozed the area, covering up what was left and began to build a park.

Today’s wonderful park area

Now there are parks, a reservoir, a neighborhood and the Botanic Gardens in the area that was once the cemetery. It is estimated that there are still a couple thousand bodies in the ground, and their spirits appear to be restless.

Stories of hauntings started back when the bodies were being moved, and they persist to this day. Perhaps you even know someone who lived in the area with his or her own ghost story. The longer you live in Denver, the more you will hear.

So just be careful hanging out in the park at night. If you see some weird people in ripped up clothing, don’t assume they are filming a Michael Jackson video. I just hope none of the nice families in the area suffer the same fate as the family in Poltergeist!

What can happen when the government and contractors take shortcuts:


Dec 4 2011

Ghost Tech: Building a Geophone to detect ground vibrations on ghost hunts

alejandro

You may have seen this tool being used on the Ghost Hunters TV show. They call it a Geophone, and it measures vibration in the ground, and lights up a set of LED lights when it measures something. It is the same type of device that is used to measure seismic activity.

Geophone

My Geophone (still from video below). Image credit: Alejandro Rojas

TV Ghost Hunters use Geophone

In the episode I watched, the Ghost Hunters were hearing footsteps, so they set up one of these devices on the floor to see if they could detect vibration in conjunction with the foot step sounds. The next time they heard footsteps nearby, the Geophone did not go off. However, they demonstrated that the Geophone did measure their slightest movements, and they were about the same distance from the Geophone that the footstep sounds seemed to be. To the Ghost Hunters, this indicated that the footsteps could be just some strange sound being made by some entity in the room, because the sounds were loud enough that they should have vibrated the ground.

Finding the components

I decided I wanted to have this device in my ghost hunter kit. However, when I looked it up, all I could find were components, not a fully functioning pre-built unit. So I order the kit with the components and decided I would try my hand at putting it together.

Google is usually always there to help me find answers to all of my problems. I thought for sure I would be able to Google some instructions on putting the unit together. To my surprise I found nothing. I was on my own. This was scarier to me than most of the paranormal situations I had found myself in. You can only imagine my look of horror when I came to realize Google had failed me for the first time.

Childhood trauma

The scariest part was that the kit I had found came with a DC adapter to plug into the wall. I am almost certain that I was supposed to cut off the adapter at the end and put the raw wires into the LED device. Eek!

This brought up a scary memory from my childhood, although in hind sight it was actually kind of an adventurous as well. When I was a little kid my sister called for me to crawl under a coffee table with her, she had a brilliant idea. She had found some tweezers and thought it would be cool to see what would happen if she stuck them into the wall socket. Luckily her little experiment didn’t kill us, and the only real damage we suffered was our eyebrows getting singed off. Thank goodness they grew back.

Anyway, I didn’t want anything to do with the DC unit part. On the site I had ordered from it said a 9-volt battery would also work, so that is the route I went. I bought a pack of 9-volt snap in connectors.

Putting the components together

Without any direction except for some schematics that I could not make heads nor tails of, I was on my own. I figured out where and how to connect the 9-volt to the device. I had to actually solder wires to the Geophone device, and then connect those to the LED unit, and to my surprise it all worked. I also had to adjust the sensitivity, which is actually very easy.

To get it working I mounted the Geophone to a CD spool for now. Because I had such trouble finding a resource on putting this together, I also made a video that you can watch below that shows how I did it if you need more details.

It seems to work pretty good. If you put it on a table, it can detect the slightest touch of the table. On my balcony it did not detect my 6 pound chihuahua walking by. Although it did detect my slightest movement. This shows that a ghost must at least make more movement than a chihuahua and that I need to lose some weight. Ugh.

I am excited to get this thing out in the field, and I will let you know what I find. Here is the link to the page I ordered the components from. I got everything else I needed from Radio Shack. Check out the video for more on how to put it together and how it works.


Dec 4 2011

Haunted Denver: Beware the bowels of the Tivoli student center on the Auraria campus

alejandro

Walking into the Tivoli on a typical sunny Colorado day, one is drenched in sunlight from the many windows in the building. It’s a very warm and welcoming environment for such an old, sturdy, brick building. However, the further you descend into the nether regions of the building, the more mysterious and spooky things get.

The Tivoli

The Tivoli. Image credit: Alejandro Rojas

The building of the Tivoli

The student center on the Auraria campus, used to be a brewery. German immigrant Mortiz Sigi built it in the 1870’s. Now it has been beautifully renovated and must be one of the most unique University/College student centers in the country. Home to the University of Colorado at Denver, the Metropolitan State College of Denver and Colorado Community College, the Tivoli has no lack of traffic year round.

The Tivoli’s haunted history

The Tivoli also has a history of ghost stories. I have talked to some of the maintenance people myself. They say that they are afraid to be alone in the building at night. One of them told me about a construction crew he worked with. They said that they had heard strange noises and felt watched, even though they were tough guys, they were also afraid to be alone at night in the building.

One of the common haunting stories in the Tivoli is of a little girl that is seen running around the hallways. Some believe it to be the ghost of a little girl who died in a house that was located where one of the wings of the building is now. Others think that she could be Moritz Sigi’s daughter. She might have enjoyed running around the brewery, and continues to do so to this day as a discarnate spirit.

The investigation

It is no wonder that the campus’ first paranormal investigative student organization, the Crypto Science Society, took this on as their first investigation. They solicited the help of one of the most experienced ghost hunter groups, Frontrange Paranormal Investigations (ParaFPI). In October of 2006, the investigation began with some interesting results.

Down in the bowels of the building is where the ghostly little girl is often heard. Once a cabaret, there is a room with a dilapidated bar that is named after the buildings founder, Sigi. Part of it is used as a conference room that is great for spooky presentations and gatherings. There are also doors down there that lead to what is referred to as the catacombs, large rooms where beer was stored. It now serves as storage for the campus.

Dark, mysterious and undisturbed by the normal chaos of the campus, it was determined that this was the perfect place to focus the investigation. People are not normally allowed in the catacombs, and they can be locked. Equipment such as audio recorders and video cameras were set up and locked away to be sure there were no outside disturbances.

While precautions were taken so that there was no outside disturbance, some sort of disturbance did happen. At one point a video camera stopped working. During this period of time the audio recorder picked up metal banging noises. As soon as the banging stopped, the camera resumed recording.

Battery drain also occurred. This is said to happen in conjunction with paranormal activity. Electronic equipment powered by batteries will stop working, and fully charged batteries will drain quickly. However, once taken away from the area of the drain, they can be charged and no longer exhibit any problems. Some speculate that perhaps the ghosts need the energy to manifest in our realm. Or maybe it is fun for them, like sticking your tongue on a 9-volt battery.

The banging was not the only interesting sound that the audio recorders captured. Several EVPs were also captured. I guess I must insert the obligatory EVP definition. You hear it on every ghost-hunting documentary and TV show, but until it is a household name, I suppose we will need to explain it.

Anyway, EVP stands for Electronic Voice Phenomena. This entails simply placing a recording device in an area where you believe there may be ghostly activity and letting it run. Some people will leave it alone, and some will talk to the alleged entities to try to solicit a response. Most investigators do both. If you are lucky, when the audio is played back there will be voices that can be heard that were not heard when the recording was made. They are often faint, and might take some work to interpret. It is especially rewarding when these voices seem to respond to investigator’s questions.

The EVPs

The investigators at the Tivoli acquired several interesting recordings. Here are links to the recordings from the Crypto Science Society website. What do you think?

Sounds recorded in the Tivoli investigation on 10/31/06:

6:07am weird moan - http://www.mscd.edu/~crypto/Sound/evp1.mp3

6:11am definite strange voice - http://www.mscd.edu/~crypto/Sound/evp2.mp3

6:26am Womans voice says “come in” after I saw a shadow in the doorway to the inner catacomb (very clear!) - http://www.mscd.edu/~crypto/Sound/evp3.mp3

6:27am whispers, can’t make out what is said - http://www.mscd.edu/~crypto/Sound/evp4.mp3

6:27am someone is whispering “hey” - http://www.mscd.edu/~crypto/Sound/evp5.mp3

6:28am very low whispers right before Wade heard someone touch the plastic on the chairs - http://www.mscd.edu/~crypto/Sound/evp6.mp3

6:29am whisper voice sounds like “We’re in here” - http://www.mscd.edu/~crypto/Sound/evp7.mp3

6:58am whispering in the boiler room service hallway - http://www.mscd.edu/~crypto/Sound/evp8.mp3

Some weird stuff. The Crypto Science Society is planning on further investigating the Tivoli, so look forward to more findings.

Until then, if you are just visiting the Tivoli food court for a taco, or studying for your finals, don’t be alarmed. No one has reported being harmed by any of these possible ghostly inhabitants, well at least not yet.


Dec 4 2011

Respected theoretical physicist and author gives paranormal presentation

alejandro

Originally published in May, 2009.

Being a fan of science, and especially of the astonishing possibilities that science promises, theoretical physics is right up my alley. The superstar of many documentaries related to future technologies and cosmology is physicist Michio Kaku.

Kaku is a graduate of Harvard and received his PhD at Berkley. He teaches at City University of New York. His biggest claim to fame is string theory. I would try to describe it, but admittedly it is way over my head. It has something to do with multiple dimensions. Believing to have found such an abstract truth about reality, it’s no wonder he should open his mind up to other possibilities.

I was already a big fan of his work when he was featured along with the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) on a recent ABC Primetime special called “Seeing is Believing”. In my position as MUFON’s Director of Public Education, I also handle media relations, helping the media with their stories. I worked with ABC on this special, they filmed at our Symposium last summer. The crew seemed great. However, I was still hesitant. Primetime had made a special a few years earlier that we had helped them with. It was a terrible example of journalism and left out a lot of facts, and although MUFON spent a lot of time helping them, they did not even acknowledge us.

I was happy to see that this special turned out better. They didn’t use a lot of what we gave them and for some reason used a lot of old footage from the earlier special. I was happy that they used footage from a press conference that I had put together, and they had our Director of Research talking about one of our best cases. However, my favorite part of the special was the end. After covering an amazing UFO sighting by pilots, Michio Kaku made the closing comments. He said, sure 90% of the UFO sightings are probably misidentified and prosaic. However, the other 10%, he continued, beckons further exploration and serious attention from the scientist community, so let their investigations begin.

Kaku’s ending statement was great. So I was very excited to hear that he was coming to Denver for a book signing at the Tattered Cover downtown. The title of his new book is Physics of the Impossible. The title sounded intriguing. I had decided to wait until the signing to purchase the book. Little did I know that this event would turn out to be one of the best paranormal lectures I have ever attended.

I attend a lot of paranormal lectures, and most of my favorites are from PhD’s. I just wasn’t expecting it this time. I knew I would hear fascinating things about quantum physics and black holes, and I was hoping he would touch on the possibility of traveling faster than light. But it was much better than expected. He did cover faster than light travel, and he also included extraterrestrial civilizations, the probability that they exist and the possibility of their presence here right now. He reiterated the importance of conventional scientific institutions to take it serious.

He didn’t stop there, he also covered telepathy and psychokinesis. He even gave examples of their integration into modern technology. You’ll have to read his book to find out more.

I was shocked and ecstatic about his talk. I don’t really get excited about celebrities, but I was certainly a little star struck when I got to the his book signing table. I mentioned my association with MUFON and our goal of scientific investigation and I mentioned a symposium we want to have with physicists. I told him that the big issue we want to tackle is an assertion by the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). They are the guys with all of the big satellite dish antennas and were featured on the movie Contact. SETI scientists say that the distances are so vast between solar systems that there is no way another civilization could have traveled so far. Kaku’s response to SETI’s argument was great. He told me that he is no friend to SETI, and that they are a bunch of astronomers so what do they know about physics. Exactly!