The Science of Ghosts
Ghosts, UFOs, electronic voice phenomena, urban legends, crop circles--the paranormal does exist, just not always as Hollywood portrays it. There are folks who consider themselves serious scientists dedicated to researching the logic and less of the fiction behind these oddities. One organization committed to such projects is the Foundation for Paranormal Research, a non-profit based in Atlanta, GA.
Fascinated by their line of work--which they conduct primarily in the Southeastern United States and completely free of charge--Quail Bell asked their top fella a few questions. Here's what Rick Heflin, Board Chair, Director of Special Projects and Senior Investigator at the Foundation for Paranormal Research had to say:
A little over twelve years ago, I was a member of another group, based in Athens, GA. It was called the Georgia Haunt Hunt Team. I trained as an investigator under Cheri Mohr Drake, one of the true pioneers in the field. After several years, that group folded and some of the members got together with members of Georgia MUFON and we formed the Foundation for Paranormal Research, based in metro Atlanta. I was elected as the founding Chairman of the Board of Directors. My mentor, Cheri Drake, recently joined our Board of Directors and is a huge asset to our group. Our Board is comprised of some of the most talented individuals I have ever had the pleasure of working with. We are very fortunate in that respect.
Could you tell us a little about yourself? What exactly is your job and how did you become the foundation's Director of Special Projects and Senior Investigator?
I grew up in South Mississippi and when I was 15 years old in 1973, the Pascagoula Incident occurred during a UFO flap there. I read everything I could find about Charles Hickson and Calvin Parker and their "abduction.” I was hooked. I spent hours scanning the night skies, looking for UFOs. Fast forward twenty years and I was married with three kids and read about a group investigating hauntings locally and thought, "Sign me up!"
For the first six years, I was the FPR's Chairman. After doing three hundred field investigations, I was getting a little burned out. I actually tried to retire, but the Board felt that I still had more to contribute, so they gave me my own team with the ability to pick and choose our investigations, so that if we decided to investigate Bigfoot in the north Georgia mountains or UFOs in Alabama, we did not need special permission from the Board to do it. Our intention is to create a team for quick response and in-depth investigations. Just recently, our Chairman, Bev Greenfield, has retired and the Board has elected me as Chairman again. I have not devoted as much time to the Special Projects Unit as I would like, but we will be up and running soon.
What are the foundation's main goals and projects? It seems that you study everything from UFOs to urban legends to paranormal activity in all shapes and sizes.
Our main focus is to assist people who have had paranormal experiences. We have found that most people that have had something happen in their lives that they cannot explain just want someone to believe them and provide confirmation. We can investigate and either provide a mundane explanation or advise our clients that, in our opinion, paranormal activity is present.
What's your basic explanation for the science behind your research?
If we can't prove it, we don't believe it. Occam's Razor is a scientific principle that says that, all things being equal, the simplest explanation is most often correct. We have found that all things are rarely equal in paranormal research. We have to think outside the box because there is no box in paranormal research.
At QB, we like to say that we embrace folklore in all its forms. Do you have a favorite urban legend? Could you give us a taste of some of the trends you've observed in recent urban legend research?
My personal favorite is "Crybaby Bridge.” Every state has one and Ohio actually has four! The tale is always very similar. A young mother for whatever reason throws her child or children into the stream below the bridge and you can hear crying or see a figure of [the mother] in white at night. We spent several hours investigating Crybaby Bridge near Columbus, Georgia and got nothing but bug bites for our trouble.
One of the trends we have noticed is that urban legends are becoming more graphic and violent. In the '60s and '70s, urban legends were mostly cautionary tales designed to keep teenagers from parking in remote places or isolated "lover's lanes.” That does not seem to be the case, anymore.
We have to know: What's the scoop on UFOs and crop circles in the Southeastern US?
We have investigated cattle mutilations in Alabama and crop circles in central Tennessee. While I cannot provide an explanation, I can tell you that there is a pattern of occurrences that defy scientific inquiry.
Over the years, how has your paranormal research developed? How has the foundation changed as a result of your findings?
We have learned to keep an open mind and to leave our preconceived notions at home. It has been suggested to me that basing our research on the scientific method may not be the best way to provide evidence and documentation. Since the research is rarely repeatable, perhaps it is the scientific method that is faulty.
With such an unusual job, you must have great stories about what happened at work. What's one experience you'd like to share?
We were in an abandoned Civil War era building in west Georgia. We had taken a large group because this building is never open to the public and the owners had granted special permission. We had entered the building and gathered on the ground floor to go over protocol. We then split up in two groups and proceeded to tour the building. I took my group outside through the door we had just entered.
As we proceeded to exit the building, we noticed some white lace material lying in the doorway. I picked it up and it turned out to be a lace wedding veil! It was hand-made lace and obviously very old. We questioned the other group (by radio), thinking that someone had put it there as a joke. Since we couldn't identify where it came from, we turned it over to the local Chief of Police, who happened to be leading the other group. We then went upstairs to tour the second floor.
One of our members had her teenage son with her and she took a photo of him leaning out of a window. This building had been abandoned since the '70s and none of the windows had any glass. We then moved down the wall toward the other side of the room.
Since I had been there before, I did not walk all the way to the other end of the room. Another investigator and I turned and walked slowly back the way we had come, toward the stairs. Then I noticed something long and white near the window. We turned our flashlights on and discovered a full wedding gown hanging next to the window where our member had taken a photo of her son just three minutes before! This was a full gown including a long train.
We got the entire group together and examined the digital photos taken of that wall and window. The gown appeared in none of them. The second floor of this building is one huge room served by only one staircase. There is no way anyone could have entered, hung the gown (on a modern wire hanger) next to the window without anyone seeing them. I have absolutely no explanation for how that gown got there. It is currently hanging in the Atlanta History Museum. Their textile conservator estimated that the gown and veil was from around 1900 and a size 0 or 1.
What do you have to say to people who dismiss talk of paranormal activity as nothing more than fairy tales?
Follow me through the looking glass, Alice, and I will show you things that will expand your mind and shatter your narrow view of reality.
What are some events or projects that the foundation's planning for the near future?
We are currently working on a re-organization. For the last few years, we have slowed down and waited for the field to clear. Due to the popularity of some television shows, everyone with a camera now has a "ghost group.” That makes it difficult for serious researchers. But within the next few months we are going to be back in the field and stronger than ever.
How can interested readers get involved with the foundation?
Sign up on our website at FoundationForParanormalResearch.org for our mailing list and join our Facebook group. All of our announcements to the membership will come through those two mediums.
Any final comments?
Thank you very much for the opportunity and if any of your readers have questions or comments for me, I can be contacted at email@example.com.