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June 15, 2012 > Is anybody there?

Is anybody there?

By Simon Wong, Photos by Simon Wong

Thrill-seekers, the curious, skeptics and believers joined the Hayward Area Historical Society (HAHS) and the American Paranormal Research Association (APRA) on May 18 and May 19, 2012 at the Meek Mansion (Boston Road) and McConaghy House (Hesperian Boulevard) to review previous evidence of paranormal activity and participate in APRA-led investigations. Proceeds from the Voices from the Past event, supported by 41 visitors, will help maintain both historic properties.

In return for access to buildings of interest, APRA charges nothing for its investigations and appearances at subsequent fundraisers hosted by local historical societies. The investigators bear all costs. Founded by Brandon Alvis to try and answer many personal questions, following the loss of a brother to cancer in 1995 and another to suicide in 2004, APRA's ethos has not changed.

"Although I've always believed in the paranormal, I used to satirize the investigative methods, findings and personalities of some in the field when I used to do improv comedy," said Matt Goldman, an APRA field investigator. "I met Brandon and realized his goal is to find answers to questions we all have."

APRA staff members describe themselves as skeptics and attempt to explain away everything collected. Digital recorders detect electronic voice phenomena (EVPs) and infra-red cameras, images. Sound engineers, doctors and other experts analyze all data. The inexplicable is presented to the public with a brief explanation of how the material was collected and the location's history. The audience decides if what they see and hear proves the existence of the paranormal. This purist approach has helped establish APRA as one of the foremost paranormal research organizations, nationwide, with an enviable catalogue of data.

The May 2012 Voices from the Past event featured an episode of Haunted Discoveries, a documentary series produced by APRA, about Hanford's Bastille, the former Kings County Jail which was built in 1897 and ceased housing inmates in 1964. Successive businesses in the building have all failed; the location is considered "cursed" because it is reportedly so haunted. Locally, there are no willing tenants.

At the Bastille, Goldman was subjected to the Ganzfeld Procedure, a technique for mild sensory deprivation (sight and sound) that was used in experimental psychology in the early 1930s and subsequently adapted for extra-sensory perception; real or imagined, he describes sensory changes and asserts he is not consciously attuned to such phenomena in daily life. Also, while peering over a parapet of the turreted, brick-and-stone building, he felt an urge to jump; investigators detected a man's voice egging him on, "Go ahead! Do it, boy!!"

Ongoing investigations at HAHS's historic properties over the past three years have yielded much of interest. In October 2011, in Meek Mansion's children's playroom, a male voice responded "Yes, I died in here" when asked "Please come as close to the red light [on the recorder] as possible."

More EVPs were collected in the same room on May 18, 2012. Fremont resident Stacey Santos asked "How are you tonight?" and a girl's voice clearly replied "I'm great." Another asked "How do you feel about so many people in the building?" "Fine," said another child.

The following evening was more dramatic. McConaghy House was not a happy home. One son, Archie, died in his room as a result of a farming accident. Daughter, Mary, never married and remained at home. The youngest son, John, passed away as a centenarian on July 6, 1972.

In Mary's room, someone asked if John was present. A man's voice clearly states "Yes, look behind you." Another asked if he knew he had died and how long ago; "Forty years," he replied. A man's voice says "I wish to meet the Lord" in answer to "Have you met God?"

"APRA regards McConaghy House as one of the scarier properties," stated Alvis. "One senses tension in the house, akin to entering a room containing residual anger just after an argument. This visit, however, has been different. Perhaps things are changing here? Nevertheless, this event has been very successful.

"Most people are curious but fear the unknown. I'm no exception. No matter what the content of an EVP or camera footage, we must learn more and collect data," he added, resolute in his quest to comprehend the inexplicable. "There are times when you sense a spirit is uncomfortable, such as the man's voice reciting the Lord's Prayer in angst on the second floor of McConaghy House. To avoid intrusion or crossing boundaries, we'll end the EVP session and leave the building, out of respect."

"Voices from the Past was exciting. Growing up in the area, knowing these properties, I had never considered them haunted or in a spiritual context. I didn't expect to detect many things. Attending both nights has been amazing," said Santos, whose boyfriend in San Leandro learned of the event from the Tri-City Voice Newspaper. "I'd certainly recommend attending to support the historic properties but the investigations were more than I expected."

Other historical societies have consulted HAHS about the organization, marketing and benefit of the Voices from the Past fundraiser. APRA visited Hayward four times before HAHS hosted its first paranormal investigations for the public in 2009. Most enquirers have yet to arrange investigations of their own historic properties.

So, are the Meeks and McConaghys still in residence? Find out at the next Voices from the Past in October 2012. Contact HAHS Collections Manager Heather Farquhar at (510) 581-2516 for more details.

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