A TV show goes ghost hunting at Waveland
During an interview in the kitchen of the main house at the Waveland State Historic Site, the lights begin to flicker and make a low hum.
Darren Zancan warily looks up. Could this be what he was looking for, and the cameras aren’t even rolling?
“I’ve been in this house a lot, and I’ve never seen them do that,” the head of Lexington-based video firm DMZ Productions says, having spent the last few minutes discussing strange occurrences in the house like cabinet doors opening without explanation, objects moving and an apparition of a woman in white.
A few minutes later, with the lights still in flicker-and-hum mode, Waveland Park Manager Charla Reed enters and assures Zancan that we’re just experiencing some typical “old house lighting.” But even she and tour guide Audra Jones will tell you they have seen things at Waveland they cannot explain, which is exactly what Zancan and his team has come looking for.
“With historical places and sites, if you have history, there’s a possibility there’s something haunted behind it,” Zancan says. “My whole thing is, ‘Is history alive and is history haunted.”
That’s the premise behind the series Zancan and his crew are working on, “History: Haunted,” which aims to go to several historical sites around the Bluegrass looking for the haunted and the paranormal. That plays out in a Tuesday afternoon shoot during which the crew interviews Waveland historical interpreter Susan Miller to outline the basic history of the property, and then begins to settle in for an evening with members of the Lexington Paranormal Research Society.
“They’ve already started putting cameras around the house in the most active rooms, which are two rooms upstairs,” Zancan says. “They’re essentially going to guide us. From what I’ve been told ... the slave quarters has a lot of activity, and the bedrooms upstairs have a lot of activity.”
Paranormal Society member David Underwood, who is also a member of the Friends of Waveland support group for the site, says, “We loved the concept. We primarily focus on historical sites. ... We’re all big history buffs, so this is a natural fit for us.”
Together, Zancan and paranormal society members emphasize what they do not want to do with the show, which Zancan plans to pitch to outlets such as PBS.
“We’ve been approached several times about doing things the wrong way,” Underwood says. His colleague Lee Jacobs adds, “Fabricating. We’ve been approached to do that with the promises of the fortune and fame. That’s not what we’re in it for. We’re not going to fake who we are. We’re not going to compromise who we are for that. It’s not who we are.”
Zancan says, “There’s depth here beyond a paranormal team and video company.”
Like many video firms, DMZ makes all kinds of videos, from ads to wedding videography to corporate work and public relations. But Zancan says a series is something he always wanted to do, particularly since an experience while he was in journalism school at Northwestern University.
For a digital storytelling project in 2012, he decided to make a short documentary on legendary gangster John Dillinger, who famously escaped from the Lake County Sheriff’s House and Jail in Zancan’s hometown of Crown Point, Indiana. While shooting the piece, he was told that the jailhouse was haunted, and asked if he could come back and do a paranormal investigation.
While there, he experienced a dramatic temperature change and learned the place he was standing was where a teen had committed suicide. Then they heard voices while looking through a jail cell.
“The third occurrence, there’s a hall that bridges the old jail and the sheriff’s house,” Zancan says. “So I’m standing there and filming, and apparently one of John Dillinger’s top henchmen died in that jail. They said they’ve never had any stories of John Dillinger’s spirit being there, but they’ve had stories of his henchmen. ... I asked, ‘Are you here?’ and all of a sudden there was this white thing that shot right across my camera. I was like, ‘Oh, hell no,’ and I just booked it. I’m running and recording and screaming.”
And he was hooked.
Fast forward a few years, and when he hired videographer Ben Fabert, he talked about wanting to make a substantial personal project, and they broke out the Dillinger footage and took a look at it. Struck by the fact that they had a lot more technology at their disposal than Zancan had back in college, they decided to start working on the project, and Zancan sent emails to several historic locations and paranormal outfits.
When he clicked with the Lexington Paranormal Research Society, the project was ready to roll.
Other sites they have on their agenda include the Rohs Opera House in Cynthiana, the Perryville battlefield and White Hall State Historic Site in Richmond. Underwood says the aim of ghost hunts and similar events the group has presented is to raise awareness of the sites.
“Come for the tours, stay for the paranormal thing,” Underwood says. “If that’s what draws them in, that’s great.”
Waveland wasn’t even on his radar for the show until members of the paranormal group started talking to him about its history, Zancan says. The antebellum house and adjacent buildings were the home to the Joseph Bryan family, which followed Daniel Boone through the Cumberland Gap. The area was settled by Daniel Boone Bryan, son of Daniel Boone’s sister, Mary. His son, Joseph, built the main house at the site, which was named Waveland for the how the fields of grain and hemp looked when wind blew through them.
One of the leading people believed to be haunting the site is Bryan’s wife, Margaret.
To conduct the investigation, the research society members use tools such as electromagnetic field detectors, infrared cameras, night vision cameras, digital voice recorders and other tools.
“We know most of this is in theory,” Underwood says. “We’re not naive to that. But if we’re using a digital voice recorder, and the three of us (including Jacobs and Damon Moberly) ask a question, and we get a female response that the recorder picks up, it makes you think. It makes you scratch your head.”
So, did they find anything at Waveland last week? We’ll have to wait until the show comes out and tune it.