Eric Schmidt was in bed in his south Moorhead apartment one night when he heard a noise that sounded like water running in the kitchen. He had to see what was making this noise. Leaving his girlfriend in bed, Schmidt crept out of the room and made his way to the kitchen.
He walked down the hallway toward the sound where he found water gushing out of the kitchen faucet. As far as he knew, only he and his girlfriend were in the apartment. Schmidt wondered how the water got turned on full blast. He figured the water was already cold, so he drank a glass and walked down the hallway back to his bedroom.
At the end of the hallway, there was a girl. She stood there staring at him, her long, brown hair past her shoulders. She wore a white, old-fashioned nightgown that swept the floor, and had her arms in front of her chest, hands clutched at her sternum. Poised like a runner, leaned slightly forward, she walked from the left to the right side of the hall. It was dark, and Schmidt could not see where she went.
At first, Schmidt thought it was his girlfriend being playful. He smiled and asked her why she ran away. He entered the bedroom and saw his girlfriend had not moved. Schmidt realized his girlfriend, who had blonde hair, could not have been the girl in the hallway.
Realizing he might have just seen a ghost, Schmidt jumped into bed and pulled the covers over himself. After this experience, he developed an interest in investigating ghostly events that would lead him to become the founder of VRS Paranormal, a ghost investigation team based in Fargo.
At Concordia College, stories circulate year-round about campus ghosts. There is Dolly, the ghost of Fjelstad Hall, and Al Gersbach, who resides in the Frances Frazier Comstock Theatre. Other rumors of an unnamed ghost in Hoyum Hall and a young woman’s spirit on the fourth floor of Old Main spread through campus.
Walk into the Concordia archives on the fourth floor of the library and ask about Dolly or one of the other ghosts on campus. The archivists will grab a folder labeled “Ghosts,” without hesitation. The folder contains stories: news clippings about ghost sittings on campus, research papers by previous students about spirits on campus, and other details about the history of ghosts at Concordia.
Lisa Sjoberg, Concordia archivist and librarian, said they see more students around Halloween than any other time of year. Sometimes three students will visit per day to request information about the ghosts. Some are researching for speeches and papers, others are just curious.“The numbers are definitely up,” said Sjoberg. “Definitely.”
For some people, ghosts are more than just a passing interest or a school project. They are a passion.
Not only is Schmidt is the founder of VRS paranormal, but he is the lead investigator and case manager of the team. His work with the paranormal is enough to make some people shiver, but for him, it is all a part of his excitement.
“I don’t necessarily get scared, but I have had the hair stick up on my arms a time or two,” he said.
The work the VSR Paranormal investigators do is similar to what you would see on “Ghost Hunters,” a TV show on the Syfy (previously SciFi) channel.
Investigators on the show go to haunted places with recording equipment and look for ghosts. Some people watch the program in fear, and make sure to flip on every available light source to erase any shadows hiding in the corners. Others are skeptical. TV shows can be deceptive, and paranormal events can be manipulated in the editing room.
Like on “Ghost Hunters,” VRS Paranormal looks for evidence of spiritual phenomena.
The VRS team investigates strange happenings in and around the Fargo/Moorhead area and are willing to travel almost anywhere a client requests to examine a haunting. VRS investigations vary in length, but usually take place between the hours of 10 p.m. and 4 a.m.
Investigators do extensive research before they investigate. This research includes Internet searches on the site, past residents, ghost stories, and interviews with the people who requested the investigation. They offer all of their services without requesting compensation.
“We thought about charging, but to me, it’s almost like stealing,” said Schmidt.
According to their Web site, the investigators at VRS Paranormal are out for the truth. If they do not find any evidence of ghosts, they will attempt to explain why strange occurrences have occurred.
Dennis Volker, VRS technology manager, explained how they set up their equipment at the beginning of an investigation. They use sound recording devices, digital cameras, tripod cameras, computers, handheld cameras, and infrared cameras that can see in perfect darkness.
One phenomena VRS attempts to explain is electromagnetic fields. When areas have electricity running through them, they give off EMFs. The investigators use the same device many electricians use to detect these EMFs, which could be given off by faulty wiring inside walls. Bad wiring could explain why lights flicker. If the wiring is not the problem, the EMF presence could be evidence of ghosts, which are also said to emit electric fields. The investigators could use EMF detectors to find a presence of paranormal phenomena.
Karen Reinfeld, VRS investigator, said she also had an experience that led to her interest in the paranormal. Reinfeld worked at a group home and was in an upstairs apartment making a grocery list. All of a sudden, she heard the TV turned up all the way in the next room. She went to see who had turned on the TV. No one was around. Reinfeld said it was a TV without a remote, and to turn it on, someone would have had to walk up to the knob by the screen and turn it until it clicked. Reinfeld clicked the TV off.
Whoever, or whatever, had turned on that TV awakened a new awareness of the paranormal in Reinfeld.
“I guess I was more interested in what was going on rather than afraid of it,” she said.
VRS Paranormal began when Schmidt met Volker, and the two discussed their interest in spirits. Volker then met Reinfeld, and the three decided to try paranormal investigation.
At first, the comrades tried to join already established investigative teams in the Fargo-Moorhead area, but the members of the other teams would not return their calls and e-mails. They decided to form their own team: VRS Paranormal, named after the three main members, which included Volker, Reinfeld, and Schmidt.
In September 2008, Schmidt posted an ad on Craigslist and was astounded by the response. People wanted the team to investigate strange sounds, movements, and sightings in their homes and businesses.
“I figured we should buy some equipment,” he said with a shrug.
The team’s first investigation was in October 2008 in Rothsay, Minn. They were excited about their first team outing. After the investigation, the team analyzed the voice recordings. During a break in the chatter, a distinct “Shhhh” can be heard next to the voice recorder. This was something new; something they had not heard at the investigation.
Unexplained recordings like this are called electric voice phenomena. These EVPs are sounds outside the human ear’s capabilities, like a dog whistle. When the team analyzes the recordings, they sometimes pick up sounds that can be understood as voices.
Whenever suspicious sounds are made during an investigation, the team checks to see what made them. They document the cause of accidental sounds so they do not misread recordings during the analysis. Any undocumented sounds found during the analysis were not heard at the time of the investigation.
The VRS investigators began to mind their voices while investigating haunted places. From there, the team learned as they went along. The team is always trying out new equipment to see what technological improvements could work better for their investigations.
“We’re always getting new toys,” said Reinfeld.
Since then, the team has had about 30 investigations, and has added numerous handheld cameras, audio recorders, laser sensors, temperature sensors, infrared cameras, and ambient sensors to detect the temperature right in front of them. With the ambient sensors, they can see if temperature changes are in a ghost-like formation.
When they go to an investigation site, each device records activity for the length of their stay. After the investigation, the team assesses their evidence. If they are there for eight hours, then they have eight hours of tape from each recorder to analyze. Schmidt said each hour of recording requires about three and a half hours of analysis for each device.
The VRS investigators have a passion for ghosts and what cannot be explained, and put in the time, energy, and money it takes to fuel their interests.
“This is something we enjoy,” said Reinfeld. “This is our hobby.”
The team made an attempt to gain access to locations on campus that held ghost stories, but our attempts at debunking the rumors were denied. The mysteries of ghosts on Concordia’s campus shall remain, at least for now.
Julie Guggemos is a senior at Concordia studying English Writing. In addition to her position as PULSE Editor at the Concordian, she is also an intern at the High Plains Reader, a publication out of Fargo, ND, and a tutor at Concordia’s Writing Center. After graduation Julie plans to attend a publishing program and look for work in the publishing industry.