Ghosts are everywhere. Or are they? Ghost Hunters, Paranormal State, and other spirit-heavy shows have popped up all over cable, but most viewers can’t determine whether the shows’ spooky scenes are real, or just plain surreal. Nyack resident Mitch Silverstein and his teenage son, Kevin, have decided to try to find out for themselves. Last year, they formed Nyack Paranormal Investigations, an amateur unit that visits supposedly haunted sites in the Hudson Valley and seeks out signs of otherworldly activity. Here, Mitch, who works at a biotech laboratory by day, shares what it’s like to prowl for poltergeists come nightfall.
How did you get involved in paranormal investigation?
We got interested because we wanted to prove some of this stuff to ourselves; we didn’t necessarily believe everything we’d seen on TV. The first thing we did was go to an event that showcased a bunch of these TV personalities — it was a lot of fun. From there, we did a lot of reading online and accumulated some basic equipment.
We go into this as skeptics. I have a scientific background, my son likes science — we go into this thinking that if we find something, we’re going to prove that it’s not paranormal. Whatever’s left over that we can’t prove, that could possibly be paranormal.
So do you believe in ghosts?
We’re not totally convinced, although we did one small investigation at a burial ground here in Nyack for which we have not just images on the camera, but voices that we can’t explain. I’m getting chills thinking about it.
PICTURED HERE IN THEIR NYACK HOME: KEVIN (LEFT) AND MITCH SILVERSTEIN
Creepy. What happened?
I went with my son and a friend of ours, Vincent. At sundown, Vincent started taking pictures of us by the headstones. We looked at one picture on the back of the camera; there was a bright red glow in the lower right-hand corner. We didn’t know if he was getting some reflection off his fingers from the flash, so he took it again — and it happened again. We said, “Okay, you’ve got to be really careful because I think your fingers are getting in the way.” He stepped back farther and took the picture, and the glow was even more pronounced.
So we go home and start reviewing the audio. The first EVT [electronic voice phenomenon] that we got, you hear a voice say, “Hello.” It was female — if it was one of us, it wouldn’t sound female. And if it was somebody else nearby, they would have to yell because there was a car coming by and it was really loud. So the voice had to have come from close to the recorder.
I listen a little further and hear us talking about the pictures on the camera. Then I put two and two together, and say, “Wow. Why don’t you double-check the time span from the recorder and on the camcorder?” It turns out that within 20 seconds of the first picture, you get the “Hello,” and then within a two-minute period we get all the other potentially paranormal pictures and sounds.
What other sounds did you hear?
The second voice that we got, we had my daughter listen to it and try to interpret what it’s saying, because she’s very impartial. She came up with the words, “Heaven hold them, leave them, leave them, leave them be.” Not only is that appropriate to a cemetery, it’s a full sentence. That alone almost convinces us that something is out there.
Ghostly gadgets: Electronic equipment — such as electromagnetic field readers (above) — are used to try to detect signs of paranormal activity
Walk me through a stakeout. What sort of equipment do you use?
We bring a regular digital camera, night-vision camcorders, digital voice recorder, and an EMF [electromagnetic field] reader. Some people use thermometers; there’s a theory that if spirits are going to manifest, they may draw energy in the form of heat away from an area.
How long do the stakeouts last?
We’ll go all night. We’ll do a little bit during the day maybe, and then we’ll start a solid investigation at 10 p.m. and go until four in the morning. It’s a lot of fun. If it isn’t fun, it’s not really worth doing this stuff.
How might people surmise there could be a spirit present?
There is a whole gamut of things that people experience. Some people hear noises that aren’t appropriate for the house — they’ll have all carpet and they’ll hear footsteps on a wooden floor. There are people who will find things moved, like every day a chair will be in a different position, and they’ll know they didn’t move it. Some people see apparitions.
When you tell coworkers you do this sort of thing, what sort of reactions do you get?
People at work who hear about it are very excited. No one calls me crazy because I think they know me. My wife is a little concerned that other people will think we’re crazy. (Laughs.) That’s why I explain in great detail that we’re skeptics.
What would you say are common misconceptions about paranormal investigators?
Most people probably think they’re all demonic in some way. It’s true that there are a lot of paranormal groups out there whose logo has a skull in it. But when they go out to do their investigations, they’re very serious and organized about it. The field is full of really interesting people.
Do paranormal investigators in the Hudson Valley have any favorite spots?
Yes, the Shanley Hotel [in Napanoch]. It’s a bed-and-breakfast. It was built in 1845. It burnt down in 1895 and was rebuilt right away. There have been murders there; there have been deaths there. There was a four-year-old girl who drowned in a well. They supposedly have 40 spirits that come and go. People who truly believe and spend all their time there, they say they always come out with some evidence.
This is pretty scary stuff. Do you guys ever get spooked out?
I always say there are two types of investigators — those who, if they see something, run away; and those who run toward it.
So what type are you?
Oh, we run toward it.