Group goes ghost hunting on the Iron Range

When the Northern Minnesota Paranormal Investigators go hunting for ghosts, they pack enough gear to justify having a roadie. Analog video cameras with night vision, tape recorders for recording electronic voice phenomena, VCRs and 35-mm film cam...

Buhl cemetery
The Northern Minnesota Paranormal Investigators use 35mm film cameras during investigations. This is one of their most strict rules. "The digital revolution has come into play because it is easier," Joel Sturgis said. "People get instant gratification. The pitfall is it isn't considered hard evidence. There is nothing you can put under scrutiny. It's never more than a picture on a screen. Analog has a hard negative. It has a trail to prove it's there. The digital image is a manipulated picture by a softw...

When the Northern Minnesota Paranormal Investigators go hunting for ghosts, they pack enough gear to justify having a roadie.

Analog video cameras with night vision, tape recorders for recording electronic voice phenomena, VCRs and 35-mm film cameras. Extra batteries, extra film, extra tapes. Walkie-talkies, coaxial cables. Fist-sized head lamps, a gun-shaped thermometer, an electromagnetic field detector resembling an antique remote control and a newer, smaller model. Most of the team wears the official black NMPI T-shirt with the group's glow-in-the-dark logo -- a cartoonish ghost floating over northern Minnesota.

Iron Range residents Joel Sturgis and Brian Leffler have built their lives around ghost hunting. On Saturday, they were headed for a business where paranormal activity had been reported.

When he started hunting ghosts, Sturgis was just a teenage boy in a cemetery with an instruction manual written by Brad Steiger, trying to coax evidence of paranormal activity.

This was before the Sci/Fi Network, Discovery Channel, Travel Channel and mainstream television exploded with paranormal programming: "Ghost Hunters," "Ghost Hunters International," "Ghost Adventures," "Paranormal State." And before the television drama "Grey's Anatomy" introduced Izzie Stevens' dead fiance, and Patricia Arquette played the role of a woman who connects with ghosts to help solve crimes on "Medium."


Between them, Sturgis and Leffler have 30 years of ghost-hunting experience, and they consider themselves old school. They aren't just looking for ghosts. They're looking for why there are ghosts.

Sturgis and Leffler run the paranormal online network Shadow Talk Radio -- where their program Shadow Talk airs at 6 p.m. Wednesdays (www.

shadowtalkparanormal Recent guests were the three-man crew from "Ghost Aventures."

Leffler is a published author who speaks at conventions. In July, the Northern Minnesota Paranormal Investigators is scheduled to host a convention in Eveleth, complete with investigations and celebrities in the field of paranormal study.

The group's core includes three other Iron Range investigators: Kyle Bruzenak, David Hagen and the newest member, Becky Filius. Bruzenak is considered to be a bit psychic, Hagen has seen a ghost and Filius is just very interested. She said that growing up, she always felt her grandmother's presence.


Hunting for ghosts is like hunting for anything: deer, garage sale treasures. The investigators crave activity. NMPI's favorite punch line is the story of another group of ghost hunters who, after one member received an unexplained touch, immediately packed up and left a site. NMPI doesn't run, they said.


"It's just people," Leffler said. As good or as bad as the living people you encounter walking down the street or shopping at Wal-Mart. "Never in the history of the world has anyone died from a ghost."

During a preliminary tour, the owner details the building's paranormal activity: footsteps on the staircase, a bed that moved, a resident who woke with inexplicable scratches on his chest, conversations overheard between unseen conversationalists, a screwdriver that was here, and then there.

"There is a lot of energy up here," Bruzenak said. Later he described the sensation: "Not really fear ... Feels like a low, heavy pressure. It's not a specific emotion."

NMPI planted an analog video camera with night vision there. Other cameras were placed on the main level and one in the basement.

"If a place is haunted, the whole place is haunted," Leffler said.

The owners' cats are sequestered in a back room and the dog returned to its kennel. The computer and TV are turned off. All these things could lead to false positives. So can lingering cigarette smoke, which creates curious ribbons and wisps. Every light is extinguished.

Most investigations last at least three hours, but if the group is getting heavy activity, they will stay longer.

On this night, investigators do a slow sweep through the basement, open doors, wait for movement and make small talk with anything that might be roaming the area: "Is there anyone here? Can you make a noise? Can you let us know you're here?"



A lot of what the NMPI does is figure out why something is not paranormal. They can tell, for instance, that objects floating past the camera in the basement are just dust particles, not orbs -- the famed circular floaters that appear in photographs and are often called ghosts.

Team A heard footsteps on the staircase. Team B determined it was actually the sound they made climbing the basement steps below.

After the groups traded sites, Leffler pulled out an EMF detector to check the hub of the reported activity. The device erupted with quick beeps that indicate a high electromagnetic field.

An area with a high electromagnetic field can indicate a paranormal presence, Sturgis said: Ghosts zap up energy from available sources and use it to manifest. An area with a high electromagnetic field also can poison a person to the point of nausea or hallucination, he said, which can cause false personal paranormal experiences.

When the owners return, Leffler explained the high EMF readings and recommended rewiring. The night was inconclusive, with personal experiences that could not be proven or disproven.

In the following days, Sturgis will examine the hours of audio and video footage for mists, shadows, orbs and displaced voices. His sense was that they hadn't captured anything -- but he has been wrong about that sort of thing before.


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