If you ever come across a ghost, spirit or poltergeist, here's some advice from the South Jersey Ghost Research organization: Do not panic. Instead, stay calm and try to talk in a reasonable, friendly manner. It could be a loved one returning to visit.
"We tell people not to be afraid of the spirit - they are trying to get your attention or get to know you, " said Rosalyn Bown, a Woodbury resident and assistant director for the South Jersey Ghost Research, a group of volunteers who travel statewide to investigate supernatural activities in historic homes, businesses and other properties.
Rick Trout, another researcher and team leader, put it more succinctly. "You treat them as you would a guest at your house," the Somerdale resident said. "As in life, as in death."
Dealing with paranormal situations was one of many topics discussed Sept. 27 at the Mays Landing branch of the Atlantic County library system. More than 60 people showed up for South Jersey Ghost Research's two-hour presentation, which featured a video presentation, a display of apparition photographs and the broadcast of electronic voice phenomena, "voices" that researchers unintentionally recorded during their investigations.
Mays Landing residents Sandy Riggin and Richard Brewer attended the discussion because they think spirits are inside their homes. Riggin brought in a photo of her kitchen, which shows a bright orb-like projection in the middle. Brewer said things have moved seemingly on their own indoors, and he has had a medium come to check out his house.
Riggin said the researchers told her the orb is some sort of energy source, and she learned more about dealing with it. "They said address it and set boundaries like anyone else, treat it with respect," Riggin said. "My fear is lessened." Brewer said he was impressed by the photographs and learned that having a ghost in the house "is not something bad (it's) something to live with."
Riggin's friend, Wendy Lee, a real estate agent from Mays Landing, said she she found the event to be helpful as well because she's been to many homes where people have reported ghosts. "It opened my mind more," Lee said about listening to the paranormal investigators.
Kirk Sparks Jr., 11, and his sister Sadie, 8, were fascinated by the EVP recordings. The Sparks, who are from Egg Harbor Township, came with their parents, Kirk and Anita. "I thought it was real interesting. The second recording picked up (someone saying) 'Who goes there?'" Kirk Jr. said. "I was really surprised." Sadie and Anita, on the other hand, were struck by another recording of a little girl's ghost telling her grandfather that she was well.
Kirk Sparks Sr., a police officer, said he's a big fan of the television show "Ghosts Hunters" and thinks the spirits could be real. "Anything is possible," he said. "I've never seen any evidence against it."
The South Jersey Ghost Research organization has been around since 1955, and the 30-member group provides free examinations of haunted houses and buildings. Common indicators of spirits include hearing voices, finding "cold spots" in a room and manipulating electronic devices, such as the inexplicable ringing of a doorbell or a TV set turning on and off by itself, said Bown, who previously did an investigation at a Mays Landing home. The investigations are usually held Friday and Saturday nights and last about three hours. The tools of the trade include digital cameras, sensor monitors and audio recording equipment.
The South Jersey Ghost Research event even prompted some talk about investigating the Mays Landing library.
Clare Bebbington, the principal librarian, said she has experienced paperwork disappearing from a clear desk and re-appearing several hours later six or seven times over the past decade when she worked in the older wing of the library. Bebbington said she and a co-worker nicknamed the spirit George and, once, in 2004, two books fell from the computer shelf in opposite directions toward the workers.
Part of the library used to be the American Hotel, which operated from the early 1840s to 1933, and it subsequently served as a hotel/bar/restaurant and senior citizens apartments until Atlantic County bought it in 1978, according to "The Proud American" by Josephine DiStefano Kapus. The library was dedicated in September 1983, according to The Press archives. The book mentioned a deadly train wreck that took place in Atlantic County on Aug. 11, 1880, and Bebbington said some library patrons who grew up in Mays Landing told her they would occasionally "hear screams" from the train wreck.
Bebbington said she thought it would be a good idea to have a ghost investigation of the library and the former Atlantic County jail across the street, which was built in 1840. "It could be interesting if they find anything," Bebbington said. "Or it could just be us having an overactive imagination."