June 29th, 2011

An Evening At Pennhurst

I wish to open by stating that this entry is a bit of a departure for me. I have done night photography of locations in the past, and the
act of doing so is nothing new to me. What I have never done before though, is spend overnight in an asylum during a paranormal
investigation. My personal viewpoint, as many well know, is one of historical documentation. I always film with both feet firmly
planted in facts and the events of the past, so coming along with a group conducting a ghost hunt is obviously well outside of any
dealings which I would consider normal. My hope was that the unique mood set by the work going on that evening would carry over
into my photography. I enjoy seeing things in a new light, even if said light is not one I am used to.
As with all art-forms; an open mind is often your greatest tool.

“A scholar who cherishes the love of comfort is not fit to be deemed a scholar” - Lao-Tzu

Being a self-titled septic, it's not as if I am prone to freely jumping into this kind of thing without any prior knowledge of the people
or group I will be joining for the duration of the evening. I have met many (many many) unenlightened people who claim to be “ghost hunters”.
Perhaps, in their minds they are... To me and the rest of the world though, it takes more than a few snapshots of “orbs”
to be considered legit in the business. (I hope so anyway, though being out-of-touch as I am, I honestly don't know).
My point is; I knew who I was going with, and I knew they were well composed people.

These individuals were Nick and Jesse of the Shore Paranormal Research Society. I met the two of them some time back while filming the
Pennhurst section of my book “Forsaken”. From the time I spent with them that day, I could tell that they were both level-headed people.
Nick knew I wished to someday go back and film the location at night, so he was kind enough to invite me to tag along during one of
their sessions at the old asylum. Now, as I previously stated, I personally hold little belief in the paranormal (in the fashion which the media has marketed it anyway).
This is not to say that I do not find this type of thing interesting. In fact, I quite enjoy the idea of some untangle reality, tucked away
behind invisible folds of time. Weather we are ever meant to know such things in our lifetime, or if we even could if we so desired, I am not sure.
I am decently read on a fair amount of matters which fall outside of what is considered normal. Topics ranging from spontaneous combustion,
to possessions, to cryptozoology. My desire is to be knowable in the subject matter, and though I am lacking compared to someone who
specializes in these fields, I feel I am at least educated to a certain degree. Knowledge does not equal belief mind you, it simply means understanding.
Regardless of what I do and don't believe, I went into that evening with an open mind.

We arrived at sunset, leaving just enough time for me to grab a few quick exterior shots of the buildings before everyone checked in.
Walking alone down the raised walkway which connects all the buildings of the campus, I could not help but feel the gravity of this
place and the history which calls it home. So many suffered here. Here, where now the setting sun washes all these long-silenced buildings
in an orange light. To this day I remain unnerved by such a large campus being so utterly devoid of sound. For some reason seeing it in
the setting sun made it all the more silent.

After all were checked in, we set off to the conduct the investigation (or in my case, watch others do so). Walking into these buildings at
night is like walking into a pitch black void. Immediately ten or so LED lights clicked on, their bluish beams waving around spotlighting
random patches of peeling paint. After a minute or two people became situated and the flashlights movements grew less erratic. It was
then that your eyes could adjust and begin to make out the interior rooms illuminated by the ambient light of the flashlights and whatever
bit of lamplight filtered in from outside through the grimy asylum windows. Peeling paint and haphazard debris, when viewed in such
dim and colorless conditions, can easily lead the mind and imagination to drift. The slightest movement of a flashlight beam can make it
genuinely appear as there is motion in the peripheral of your vision. Cross that with the fact that the human brain, which from birth is built
around seeing and recognizing faces, and you can easily generate your own apparitions which may seem very real and frightening.

That being said, I'm very happy to say that this was not what transpired during my time at Pennhurst. Nick was actually very cautious and
critical in how he went about collecting data. A refreshing change from what I often see displayed on the television.
(I'm definitely not at all talking about the disgrace to common sense they call Ghost Adventures, which ironically filmed an episode here)
Nick is the manager for the Pennsylvania division of Shore Paranormal, and it seems a position well earned. He kept everyone collected
for the duration of our time there that evening, this included several people new to the group who were finding the simple act of not talking quite difficult.
He also made sure I wasn't taken away and inappropriately touched by the spirits which wander the halls at night.

In tow was an array of equipment re-purposed to detect and communicate with the dead. I really can't say what most of it did, but a good
portion of it looked on the expensive side. To watch people work in a field which many people say dwells outside the realm of science,
documented in such a technological manor was a bit strange to see. Like using math to formulate the meaning of life, it comes across as a
strange mix when you first witness it.

The rest of the evening went quite smoothly. At times I wandered from the group a bit to conduct my photography. Shutting my light
and embracing the clinging darkness, I spent that evening trying to open myself to filming things differently than I normally do.
This may sound easy, but in reality it means that I must actually perceive my surroundings in a new way, which is not something human nature is well known for.
Change never comes without a fight though, and if this exercise helped me expand my mind just the smallest amount it was well worth it.



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