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Paranormal group investigates unexplained phenomena

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Carol Gerds, member of the Oakmont Paranormal Society. Courtesy of the Oakmont Paranormal Society
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(c) 2012 Lillian DeDomenic
Brian MIller points out the wall on the thrid floor of the E.N. Miller Antique Mall, where ghost-like images have been seen. The image always is described as a little old lady with white hair in a bun. Strange and unexplained things have been known to happen in the E.N. Miller Antique Mall building on East. Railroad Avenue in Verona -- so strange that the Oakmont Paranormal Society has agreed to visit the site and do an investigation in the building on Oct. 27, 2012. Lillian DeDomenic | For Plum Advance Leader
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Mark Bowan Sr., director of the Oakmont Paranormal Society, sets up at an investigation site in Moundsville, W.Va., last October. Courtesy of Oakmont Paranormal Society
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Barbara Wagoner, lead investigator for the Oakmont Paranormal Society. Courtesy of Oakmont Paranormal Society.

Strange whisperings, heavy footsteps or mysterious shadows in an old building would send many people in the other direction, but not members of the Oakmont Paranormal Society.

That's right up their alley.

The all-volunteer team is determined to find explanations for this type of phenomena by investigating potential paranormal activity in homes and businesses throughout the Pittsburgh region, director and co-founder Mark Bowan Sr. said.

Bowan, of Oakmont, started the group with his fiancée, Carol Gerds of Oakmont, about a year and a half ago. They got involved in researching the subject after having their own unexplained experiences in different periods of their lives.

The idea for the group began when they were watching a few reality television shows on other paranormal search groups.

“We saw the things that they were doing were obviously fake,” Bowan said. “Carol looked at me and said, ‘You know, we could do it better.'”

With about 20 investigations performed to date, the group consists of 10 active adult investigators and two junior investigators. Bowan, who works full time as a water-restoration technician, said ultimately, the group is there to help people troubled by things they can't explain.

Such is the case for current client Bryan Mcdade, who lives in a two-story, three-bedroom house in Oakmont with his girlfriend Janet, and children Courtney, 14, and Stephanie, 2.

“I was a skeptic of the whole issue until I started having experiences. You can't deny what you see,” said Mcdade, 39.

While picture frames and a painting have been knocked off walls, Mcdade is pretty sure it's not the wind. He said there have been times when he has felt someone watching him in the bathroom and or seen unexplained shadows. And there was the one night when he listened as something walked the same three steps on his staircase for two hours.

“It's a little creepy,” Mcdade said. “I'm the one it happens to all the time.”

What bothers Mcdade and Bowan's team the most is that a lot of things have happened in Stephanie's room, where, Mcdade said, she wouldn't sleep or play anymore. She would say something was in there with her and then got frightened when a peek-a-boo doll started operating one day despite months of not working because of old batteries.

Mcdade found the group after spotting its logo on a member's car. He searched for the group's Facebook page and gave it a call.

So far, he said, the society has gone “above and beyond” to help him. And, he said, it got rid of some of the entities in the house with what Bowan calls a “banishment ritual.”

While Mcdade said it seems as if some of the entities are gone, a few seem to be lingering. At this point, Bowan said, he has contacted the priest of a local Catholic church for assistance on getting the home cleared.

The process of exorcism is “directed at the expulsion of demons or to the liberation from demonic possession through the spiritual authority which Jesus entrusted to his Church,” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the Vatican website.

Although Bowan is an ordained Wiccan priest, he said he occasionally contacts a priest or someone else from a local Catholic church for assistance, if necessary.

Barb Wagoner of Oakmont, lead investigator for the group, said it doesn't matter what religion members of the group are. The group currently includes Christians and Wiccans.

“All of us with different religions come together with the same decisions and same ideas,” said Wagoner, 44.

While faith can play a role in how they view a situation, the group has people who are more “sensitive” to spirits, such as its “lead psychic,” Dane Tarbi. And the groups uses a lot of scientific equipment to help show whether something unusual is there, Bowan said.

Some of the instruments include digital cameras, digital voice recorders and a K2 electromagnetic field meter to measure unseen energy, Bowan said. Members also use dowsing rods and a crystal pendulum.

Also, one of the most effective tools is the five senses, Bowan said.

“If you feel that there is something cold near you without reason, chances are good it's an entity. However, trying to catch one on camera is another trick,” said Bowan, 42.

If the group does find something it considers paranormal, it will give the owner of the home or business a document of certification that the structure is “haunted” and what methods it used to determine that.

In addition to just trying to find proof if something is indeed at a structure, Wagoner said, group members try to discover why it is there.

“What makes them stick around?” Wagoner asked.

Bowan said group members do these investigations free of charge because they are interested in the topic and want to help people. It will, however, accept donations toward investigation costs, especially if the site requires long-distance travel.

The most haunted places they've investigated to date, Bowan said, would be the Gibson House in Greenville, Mercer County, and the former Sanford Elementary School in Moundsville, W.Va.

“We had a lot of great, great activity,” he said about a visit to the Gibson House earlier this month.

The house was built in the late 1800s, and all but one of the family members that lived there died in the home, including one son who accidentally shot himself while cleaning a rifle, Bowan said. And the house later was owned by a funeral home for a time, he said.

While at the investigation, he said, an entity did not want him to go onto the third floor. He said he felt uneasy and cold. But being a “daredevil,” he pursued the third floor anyway.

“It was the first time as a paranormal investigator that I was scared at an investigation,” Bowan said. “It was really, really intense.”

He said the group plans to return for further investigation.

The activity has become a family affair. Bowan's son Mark Bowan II, 19, is a lead junior investigator for the group.

For those who don't believe in this sort of thing, Mcdade has a suggestion.

“Volunteer to go with the paranormal society, and see what they do … they won't be a skeptic anymore,” Mcdade said.

The society always is looking for volunteers, Bowan Sr. said. It can be contacted via its Facebook page, by calling 412-816-6011 or by emailing [email protected].

An upcoming opportunity for enthusiasts and skeptics to learn more about the society will take place from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday at the E.N. Miller Antique Mall, 615 E. Railroad Ave. in Verona. The society will have a meet-and-greet session from noon to 5 p.m. and conduct an investigation in the building later that night, Bowan Sr. said.

Brian Miller of Plum, the owner of the antique mall with his wife, Susan, said the building has been in his family since 1909.

“Lots of times of times, people would say they'd see an old lady after we would close up for the day,” said Brian Miller, 51.

The multifloor store features more than 70 antique dealers, and, Bowan Sr. suggested, an entity might have come in with one of the antiques.

While his wife is convinced something is there, Brian Miller said, he's not too sure yet.

“I don't know if I'm a big believer or not,” he said.

Natalie Beneviat is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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