UNM student Jessica Irwin spent much of her Sunday evening pacing through the dark Church Street CafÇ in Old Town in search of paranormal activity and a ghost named Sarah.
Irwin, a psychology major applying for medical school, is a member of the Southwest Ghost Hunter's Association, a group of about 30 people who search for and investigate haunted areas throughout the Southwest.
After turning off the power in the old, pueblo style building, which was built in 1709, about seven group members moved in and out of rooms and past tables holding scientific gadgets such as electromagnetic field detectors and temperature gauges in their search for the unexplained.
Sarah, the ghost believed to inhabit the cafÇ, likes to flush the toilet while the janitor is cleaning the bathroom and enjoys hiding keys and throwing pebbles, said Marie Coleman, who has owned the Church Street CafÇ for nine years.
"When I first bought it, I never believed in ghosts," she said of the house, adding that she has had many unexplainable experiences since she bought and remodeled it into a restaurant.
She said that one day, after she had just bought the building, she felt one of the faucets was dripping and heard laughing even though the electricity and water had not yet been turned on.
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"She doesn't scare me; she's not mean," Coleman said of the ghost. "She's more or less like a child playing games."
Sarah usually makes her presence known when few people are around, Coleman said as members of the association took pictures and rushed from room to room trying to make sense of questionable temperatures and electromagnetic readings.
Irwin said seeing apparitions or ghosts is rare. She said the group uses infrared film and camera flashes in an attempt to catch images that cannot be seen by the naked eye.
Irwin scanned through pictures on her digital camera that she took in the backyard and inside of the cafÇ. Some of the photos had spots on them, which appeared to be dust spots that moved location from picture to picture. Irwin said she thought the spots were orbs.
She said the theory of orbs rests on the theory that energy cannot be destroyed and must instead change form.
Orbs might be leftover energy from people who have died, she said, adding that recent research indicates that certain frequencies can interact with brainwaves causing hallucinations that may explain ghostly experiences.
Irwin said she thought she saw an orb on Halloween night during a ghost hunt.
A Daily Lobo reporter and photographer, as well as Irwin and another ghost hunter, heard four knocks in the first room of the house followed by another four knocks.
No one other than the witnesses could be found in or around the room where the knocks came from.
Irwin said she thought that energy from an orb may have caused auditory hallucinations among the witnesses. She said the group's infrared camera, which was recording audio, did not pick up the sound of the knocking.
That evening, a member of the association called from a dark bathroom, saying he received an extremely high reading on his electromagnetic detector. After members piled in the small room and took pictures, they realized a large appliance on the other side of the wall was the cause of the high reading.
Cody Polston, founder of the association that began in 1985, smoked a cigarette and drank soda outside of the cafÇ after the hunt.
He said the association branched off from an outdoor adventure group that decided to go ghost hunting in an old, Spanish ruin in New Mexico.
When the association began, ghost hunters used 35-millimeter film for their photos and had to wait until the film was developed to see if they found anything, he said.
Digital cameras and other technology have made ghost hunting easier, he said, because they produce immediate results.
Irwin said the association does not use psychics for its research.
"You have to prove the psychic before you can prove the ghost," she said. "The organization tries to keep it as skeptical as possible."
She concluded Tuesday evening that she thinks the Church Street CafÇ is haunted.
"The knocking really intrigued me," she said.
For more information on the Southwest Ghost Hunter's Association, visit www.sgha.net.