Who you gonna call?Cold Mountain Paranormal Society investigates Historic Courthouse
It’s a cold night in mid-December. Few people are still out and about in downtown Waynesville and there’s a hint of snow in the air. Dale Burris, Haywood County facilities and maintenance director, stands at the door of the Historic Haywood County Courthouse, keys in hand, and waits until the last member of the Cold Mountain Paranormal Society steps inside with the rest of the equipment before turning the deadbolt.
It’s a good night for a ghost hunt.
The Cold Mountain Paranormal Society (CMPS) was founded by Tony Ruff and Terri Rhinehart Putnam, of Bethel, about four years ago. Ruff had always had in interest in the paranormal, but it was a supernatural encounter at their Edwards Cove home in 2010 that prompted him to found the society.
Putnam’s grandmother was 103 when passed she away and Putnam kept her rocking chair in the living room. During the holiday season, she moved it to the basement so she could have a place to put up her Christmas tree. One evening, she asked Ruff to take something down to the basement.
When Ruff passed by the rocking chair, he looked over and saw a woman sitting in it.
“She looked solid. Just like you do,” he said. “And I stopped because I realized … hey, there’s a woman sitting in this chair in the basement. And I turned around and she wasn’t there.”
When he returned upstairs, he told Putnam what he’d seen and she asked him to describe the woman. Having never met Putnam’s grandmother or seen a picture of her, Putnam was shocked when he described her to a tee.
An interesting hobby
CMPS has about 12 active members and meets once a month, usually on the first or second Thursday.
“It’s a hobby,” said member Martha Adams. “We love doing it. And if we can help somebody too … occasionally we get calls to come out to people’s residence. Something’s going on and it’s scaring them. It’s nice to go in there and find the evidence and say, ‘I don’t think it’s anything that’s going to hurt you. You don’t have to worry about it.’ And that helps. You give them peace of mind that they can live there and not be afraid.”
And according to Adams, while the members are “mostly in it to find out why,” there have been instances when they’ve investigated a scene and then brought someone in to cleanse it.
The investigation at the courthouse on Dec. 12 came about when someone took a picture of what looked like a ghostly face in the window during the commissioners meeting Nov. 17. Burris later said the “face” was actually the imprint of a pigeon that flew into the window and died, but the pictured generated buzz on The Mountaineer’s Facebook page and the CMPS reached out to see if they could investigate.
Ira Dove, county manager, gave them access from 8:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. Dec. 12-13, and with cameras, recorders, “ghost radar,” computer monitors and flashlights, the CMPS set out.
As is typical of a standard ghost hunt, the evening started out quiet, but as the investigation continued into the late/early hours, the group experienced more activity.
The cameras records lots of light anomalies; walkie-talkie noises were heard where there was no equipment or people; and a loud male voice was heard in an empty stairwell.
But the most activity was found on the fourth and fifth floors where the old jail used to be.
On the fourth floor, group members heard doors open and close and a copier cut on by itself, which, according to Burris, can’t happen because the copier requires a key code to operate. When the group investigated, the copier’s screen was on as if it had been operated and then it returned to the screen that allows someone to input a code.
On the fifth floor, James and Adams’ daughter, Rebecca, heard what they thought were footsteps in the break room. They got up and investigated but found nothing. They returned to their position in the hallway and continued hearing footsteps. They decided to find Burris and tell him what was happening. Burris, in turn, said he was glad they found him because he was on his way to find them.
“He was sitting there in his office watching the monitors on the fifth floor and [he could] see a shadow on the floor and it [was pacing] back and forth,” said Adams.
They rewound the tape, re-watched the footage and then watched it happening in real time. A group went up to investigate.
“You can’t see anything with your naked eye; only the cameras pick it up,” said Adams.
They tried to debunk what they’d seen by manipulating light and shadow and by moving things around, but they couldn’t figure out what was making the shadow move.
Adams and a couple of other members then sat in the hallway and attempted to communicate with the shadow. She laid her flashlight in the middle of the floor and asked the shadow to turn the light off and on. When nothing happened, she asked if the shadow could move the flashlight. After a few tense moments, the flashlight rolled over.
The group immediately went about trying to debunk what they’d seen. Adams stomped around the flashlight, jumped up and down and blew on it to try to make it move again. Once again, the group was unable to conclusively determine what had made the flashlight move.
Science, not hype
The CMPS adheres to a strict code of conduct and scientific standards when conducting and investigation. They employ the “team system” to ensure safety and so more than one person can corroborate an occurrence. They also document everything, from the equipment being used to the specific setting of an investigation. And they never use mediums, psychics, Ouija boards or séances.
“You can’t naturally assume it’s paranormal,” said Adams. “You got to rule it out before you can prove something. … Because there are a lot of skeptics out there, and that’s okay.”
Much like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Adams believes that “there are more things in heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy.”
“I don’t understand,” she said. “I’m a Christian. I have Christian beliefs. But I don’t understand. But I know what I’ve seen all my life. I don’t think we’re meant to understand it all.”
In her opinion, she thinks CMPS witnessed a residual haunting on the fifth floor, or history replaying itself, which the society has found is typical of old buildings.
“What I think is someone, like an inmate, was pacing back and forth in their cell,” she said.
While the courthouse may not be haunted in the traditional sense, there is certainly activity. But one thing is certain — whenever something goes bump in the night, the Cold Mountain Paranormal Society will be there to investigate.