Fayette County

Ghost hunting's popularity is reducing the stigma

Ron and Lori Coffey, at Machpelah Cemetery in Mount Sterling, are members of Gateway Paranormal Society. The group looks for reasons before they look for ghosts.
Ron and Lori Coffey, at Machpelah Cemetery in Mount Sterling, are members of Gateway Paranormal Society. The group looks for reasons before they look for ghosts.

Their conventional occupations as a retired school teacher, emergency room clerk and firefighter don't hint that in their spare time, Ron and Lori Coffey and Howard Hamilton investigate reports of ghost sightings.

The trio are members of the Mount Sterling-based Gateway Paranormal Society, one of numerous teams statewide that investigate paranormal activity in private homes, historical sites and cemeteries.

The groups say that as the pastime has become more popular, the stigma is beginning to end. Known as ghost hunters, they consider the searches not just a hobby but services to provide help to people.

"They want us to come and identify what it is to help them understand they are not crazy," said Ron Coffey, whose group does not charge for investigations.

He and his team try to debunk the idea of ghosts being present by looking for common-sense reasons for the reported activities. For instance, a supposed shadowy ghost on a tombstone at a cemetery in Frenchburg turned out to be car headlights casting a shadow on two nearby wreaths.

Of about 100 incidents that they've investigated, Ron Coffey said they've found paranormal behavior in about half.

Lee Kirkland, co-founder of a similar group called Spirit Hunters of Central Kentucky, said his group has investigated as many as 400 incidents of paranormal activity for free since 2007 and generally documented it in less than 10 percent of cases.

Kirkland, who lives in Harrodsburg, estimates that statewide, there could be 100 such teams, whose members mostly have full-time jobs in conventional employment. He is an MRI technician, and his wife is an ultrasound technician for an obstetrician. Their eight-person team includes a deputy sheriff, a corrections officer and a schoolteacher.

The conventional jobs are further evidence of the mainstream acceptance of the hobby. The Coffeys, who have self-published two books about their investigations, said so many people are becoming interested in the topic that they don't hear much criticism anymore from skeptics.

In fact, it has become so popular that Ron Coffey is teaching a class on ghost hunting at the Montgomery County Library on July 19.

The state parks department has found that the groups are "often very popular among our visitors," Kentucky Department of Parks spokesman Gil Lawson said.

"We have allowed these groups to use parks, especially the historic parks," he said.

There was a paranormal weekend held in May at General Butler State Park at Carrollton, with a professional ghost hunter and ghost-hunting teams, Lawson said.

Kirkland's group has hosted a ghost walk at the Perryville Civil War Battlefield, and all the proceeds are donated to the battlefield.

There's such interest from the various ghost hunting groups that it can "get very territorial over haunted locations," Kirkland said.

While on their hunts, the groups use a variety of tools. Among them are digital audio recorders, as sometimes disembodied voices come across when they would otherwise be unheard, said Lori Coffey, the wife of Ron and a clerk in the emergency room at St. Joseph Mount Sterling.

The groups also use digital still cameras; infrared surface thermometers, because cold or extreme heat can indicate spirits; electromagnetic field meters; and dowsing rods, because they think the rods can help locate energy, Lori Coffey said.

At a cemetery in Mount Sterling, the Coffeys said they saw a ball of light that indicates paranormal activity. Ron Coffey said they also ran across an angry spirit at a Bath County graveyard.

For their teammate Hamilton, a firefighter and paramedic at the Montgomery County fire department, the search has its roots in his childhood. He lived for a time in a house that he thought might be haunted, leading him to always be intrigued by paranormal activity. He said he thinks he has captured two instances of ghosts — a young girl's sigh and a sound as if someone was knocking on the door — during his dozen or so trips with the group.

Another area ghost hunter is Patti Starr, who owns the Ghost Hunters Shop on Porter Place near Versailles Road in Lexington.

She heads a company called Ghostchasers International. She also teaches ghost-hunting classes and conducts ghost walks in Bardstown.

She said the popularity is rising, as evidenced by the thousands who ventured to Rupp Arena in 2010 for Scarefest, which is billed as the largest horror and paranormal convention in the United States.

"We are in an age of discovery," Starr said. "People are being more open-minded about it."