Northern Nevada Ghost Hunters
The sun had gone down, plunging the historical buildings of Gold Hill into the darkness of a new moon night. A cold wind kicked up dust around the row of cars parked in the dirt lot outside the defunct Cabin in the Sky restaurant and bar.
Inside, members of the Northern Nevada Ghost Hunters were preparing to investigate. Gaudy chandeliers emitted a warm light that glinted off the equally lurid gold and red damask wallpaper of the dining room. Folding tables packed with the group’s equipment vied for space among rows of stacked chairs and cardboard filing boxes. In a few minutes, the group would split up into smaller teams. The lights would go out, and the teams would disperse—taking their video cameras, audio recorders, electromagnetic frequency detectors, spirit boxes and dowsing rods to different rooms in an attempt to gather evidence of paranormal activity.
And I would be joining them.
The evening of Oct. 1 marked my first experience with ghost hunting, which was fitting, since it happened to coincide with another first—the inaugural National Day of Ghost Hunting. This event—organized by paranormal groups around the country—helped raise money for local humane societies and animal shelters. NNGH members each donated $15 for the Canine Rehabilitation Center and Sanctuary in Washoe Valley.
The National Day of Ghost Hunting was, in fact, right up NNGH’s alley—especially the charitable aspect. The group has been raising funds for different historical societies and foundations for years now, mostly through paranormal meet and greets, and ghost hunts they put on for the public. While their Oct. 1 investigation was a private one, the members each donated an additional $10 to the Comstock Foundation for History and Culture.
I’d gotten a feel for this giving ethos, and for what to expect on my first ghost hunt, when I sat down to speak with three of the group’s members a few days prior to the investigation.
Chances are you’ve come across one of the many ghost hunting reality shows on television. Jeadene Solberg had too. It was part of what inspired her to start NNGH in 2005.
“The one I really like, that we almost mirror after, is the actual Ghost Hunters show—TAPS [The Atlantic Paranormal Society],” Solberg said.
She explained that her group follows many of the same best practices employed by the Ghost Hunters team. For example, they don’t provoke spirits by calling them out aggressively. If you’ve ever watched the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures, NNGH’s approach is basically the opposite.
“We’re pretty well set in our group,” Solberg said, reiterating the point about not provoking spirits. “But we are very diverse. We all come from completely different backgrounds, completely different cultures, completely different religions—”
“Lack of religion,” interjected Nikki Eskovitz, a self-described “healthy skeptic” and one of my soon-to-be ghost hunting partners.
“Well, and our team even has people that have had a lot of paranormal experiences and some that are still waiting for their very first one,” added Jill Smith, my other soon-to-be teammate.
Today, NNGH has 38 members spread across Nevada and Northern California, but the group started out small. In the early days, they did mostly home investigations—looking into reported hauntings for individuals and families. That changed about five years ago when they were contacted by the Douglas County Historical Society.
“We were called and asked to do a public investigation and help them raise a little bit of money,” Solberg recalled. “They only wanted to sell—I believe it was 25 tickets, for $15 each. Well, we oversold it. We sold out by like 54 tickets.”
That weekend, NNGH took ticket holders on ghost hunts in the Carson Valley Museum & Cultural Center and the Courthouse Museum in Genoa.
“So that kind of got us starting to think, ’This is going to get us opportunities to get into kind of interesting places and be able to preserve history and be able to make money for different foundations.’”
Soon, the group was invited to put on another ghost hunt by the Alpine County Historical Society in Markleeville, California.
“We were able to raise them … I want to say close to $700, which kept their lights on for the winter,” Solberg said. “From that point, it just opened up so many doors. And different foundations found out about our reputation, about how we don’t charge, how we charge the public, and 100 percent of the proceeds go back to the foundations we’re working with. And that’s where we’re at today.”
“I like the catchphrase, ’Preserving history one spirit at a time,’” said Eskovitz.
October, it turns out, is the prime time for doing just that. NNGH hosted a sold out “Haunted Halls” event in Virginia City on Oct. 21 and 22, with proceeds benefiting the Fourth Ward School. Their next event “Haunted Comstock” is scheduled for Oct. 28 and 29 and will feature investigations at three different sites.
At this point, NNGH members are used to the seasonal attention they receive from the public and the media.
“By the time the stores start putting out the Halloween stuff and the Halloween movies start coming out, the general public that have never been on an investigation—they’ll watch the shows and become interested in it,” Smith said. “So we give people like that a chance to go with us—where they’re safe.”
Safety is as big a part of NNGH’s culture as charity. Some of Solberg, Eskovitz and Smith’s tips were pretty standard—things like wearing close-toed shoes. Others I would never have fathomed.
“For some reason ghost hunting, when you’re doing an investigation, it dehydrates you,” Smith said.
“We call it the paranormal hangover,” Solberg added. “It drains you. It drains you mentally. It drains you physically.”
When I arrived at Cabin in the Sky two days later, I felt like I knew what to expect. I knew a little about the equipment and tactics the group would employ and a bit about the things that were strictly off limits—like provoking and the use of Ouija boards.
The night’s activities began with a nondenominational prayer for protection, which all but one member of our group participated in. I was surprised to learn that Smith, Eskovitz and I would have an Xcam. It’s a camera and tablet set up that uses Xbox Kinect technology to seek out human shapes, which it displays as jointed stick figures. I’d only ever seen one on TV.
When the lights went out, I followed my team into the dark. We started in a walk-in freezer off the kitchen then ventured to the bussing station in the dining before heading behind one of the two bars in the lounge. With each stop, we did a short recording session to see if we might capture any EVPs—electronic voice phenomena—a.k.a. unexplained voices or sounds.
My teammates were levelheaded, and the figure we’d seen on the Xcam turned out to be the equipment malfunctioning and homing in on a doorjamb. By the time we settled into the ladies room to record another session, I doubted we’d uncover anything out of the ordinary.
However, this time, when we listened to the audio we’d just recorded, a chill ran up my spine. In the silence between our questions came a distinct chiming sound. We hadn’t heard it while we were recording, of that I was sure. And with all of our cell phones turned off, I couldn’t find any way to explain it.