Hunting the Haunters
By Joe McCune
My experience with things that go bump in the night has pretty much been limited to reading Stephen King stories with a willful suspension of disbelief. I can get on board with a car that tries to kill people (Christine) or a clown who rips limbs off kids (It) or even a laundry machine that’s possessed by evil spirits (The Mangler). It’s not that I actively disbelieve in the paranormal, but I’ve got a healthy dose of skepticism when it comes to the subject. (OK, so I had sort of an out-of-body experience as a kid, lying in bed and watching my other self move around the room, but maybe I just had a fever.)
Television shows like Ghost Hunters—so cheesy that it’s camp—haven’t exactly changed my view. But I give King the benefit of the doubt, so it’s the least I can do while watching a real paranormal investigative team in action. On a recent Thursday evening, I tag along with Kansas City Paranormal Investigations (KCPI) members at the John Wornall House Museum in Kansas City.
Dayna Smith has been actively seeking out the strange and unusual in our world for seven years. Three years ago, she founded KCPI to, as the group’s website states, “use honest documentation, rational reasoning, and research” to investigate and interpret the world of unexplained phenomena. To that end, it records everything during an investigation with voice recorders and often use still cameras and video recorders, too. Alcohol and drugs are strictly prohibited when KCPI is performing an investigation; Dayna is a teetotaler.
The Wornall House was built in 1858, three years before America was torn asunder, three years before the Union and the Confederacy made Missouri one of the most hotly contested states during the four-year Civil War, three years before the house became a battlefield hospital for the North and South during the Battle of Westport. The house stood in the middle of a 500-acre estate when it was built, but today Kansas City surrounds the structure that the Jackson County Historical Society bought in 1964 and restored to its antebellum appearance.
I meet the group at 7 pm at the Wornall House. As the sun slowly sinks and the house fills with shadows, guides Phyllis French and daughter Madeline Best give us a tour. They have stories to tell. Phyllis says she once felt a hand going down her back while explaining a dining room feature—but there was no one behind her. Madeline says the front door, which closes tightly, kept blowing open when she was outside. And they both say they were downstairs when they heard someone (something?) walking in an upstairs bedroom.
Group members seem intrigued and excited by the stories, asking questions and mapping out a plan of attack. Before KCPI gets down to business, investigator, linguist, and tech support specialist Jan Schoeler explains why they read a prayer.
“We don’t know for sure what we’re going to encounter when we go into a home or a location,” he says. “And sometimes when you do this, you can actually open a portal. You know, you’re not going to get exactly the spirits that you expect to find. You can bring something else completely different, dangerous or not dangerous, so you have to be careful with that. This is a precaution. Just to make sure. “So everyone bow your heads or whatever you’d like to do. St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the Devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, Prince of the heavenly host, by the divine power of God, cast into hell Satan, and all evil spirits who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.