Whether you believe in ghosts or not, you fully expect a visit from the supernatural when standing in the middle of the night in the nearly pitch black attic space of the Toledo Yacht Club. A mood-heightening green light has been cast over some toys— a stuffed bear, a toy truck, some bouncy balls— and the ghost hunters of Haunted Toledo take turns calling out to the spirit of a little boy who may inhabit the TYC, inviting the child to play. It’s mostly an evening of holding your breath and waiting, but all the same, every moment is intense; you can see why the team answered Haunted Toledo founder Chris Tillman’s Craigslist ad for volunteers.
Sarah Chelten, the group’s de facto den mother, explains the dynamic of the team members. “[We’re] not really a crew or a group, [we’re] more like family.” A children’s book author in her non-ghost hunting time (they all have day jobs), Chelten gravitated towards the work organically. “I’ve always kind of followed ghost things and I helped with exorcisms for a church years ago.” Eventually, she connected with Tillman over the book he’s writing, Haunted Lucas County, and the docuseries he’s putting together.
Tillman started Haunted Toledo in 2012 but he’s been ghost hunting since 1993. He got into it because, as he explains, “Toledo needs to be put on the map for ghost stories; we have over 100 in the city limits.” To bring curious folk into his investigations, he created the Facebook short series Two Minute Tales. “Instead of people reading this stuff all the time, I’ll take a camera to the locations, and I’ll walk ’em through it while I tell them a story,” he said. It’s an appetizer for his upcoming production, Legends of Ohio, which he’s currently filming as a companion piece for the book. “It’s going to be 10 to 30 minutes, depending on how much footage we get, how many interviews we get. In that one, we take people to the location, but we interview eyewitnesses, let them tell their story.”
“Personal stories… to me, that’s the bread and butter of the ghost story. Every ghost story you read is ‘a woman in white’ or a ‘little boy,’ those [parts] are all the same— it’s the people that experience them; I think that’s riveting,” said Tillman. “A lot of ghost hunters go out and they want to help people cross over, or whatever they believe in. I’m just here to tell a story and try and document as much as I can. As long as it’s weird, we’re going to put it in the video and let the viewer decide.”
Ghost of a chance
“We’re sure there’s something here, we’re just not sure what,” Melissa Owens, the team’s research specialist, says of the TYC. The group uses an array of equipment for detecting— from EMF scanners, motion detectors and a laser grid to night vision and video cameras as well as a machine that reverse scans radio waves for decipherable communications. It’s an impressive arsenal of tools, but the machines alone aren’t a guarantee of anything.
“If you only get one piece of evidence, let’s say, a spirit talks in a (reverse radio) box, you can count that out, because you only have one piece of evidence. But if it’s backed up by hearing it on the box, and the electromagnetic field going and the laser grid being moved or something, then you have, collectively, enough evidence to say, ‘Okay, we’re actually getting something here,’” Chelten explains.
Even then, it’s no sure bet.
“All these years I’ve been doing it, I’ve never seen a ghost,” Tillman says with a shrug. “I’ve felt things tap me, touch me, tug on my shirt, voices, strange sounds, but I’ve never actually seen what someone would classify as a ghost.” You’d think he’d become a skeptic, but he holds tight to his belief in the supernatural. “I have experienced enough weird stuff to know there’s something to this. I don’t really think you can go to any location and expect to see a ghost. It’s probably a very rare phenomenon.”
“If I ever saw a ghost,” he adds with a smile, “I’d probably run.”
If you want to know more about Haunted Toledo, visit facebook.com/hauntedtoledo.