HUDSON — TV is giving ghosts a bad name.
That’s Laurie Champion’s take on the many “entertainment” programs that feature a troop of bumbling spirit investigators poking around in the dark trying to prove the existence of ghosts.
“That’s just stupid,” Champion said of TV ghost hunters. “I don’t need to hunt ghosts; I already know they’re real.”
Champion has been investigating the paranormal in Pasco and Pinellas county for some 40 years. Her service is helping people who are “genuinely being haunted,” something she says no more than half of those who contact her are genuinely experiencing. Her website is pinellaspascoparanormal.com. Pictures, recordings and many stories and cases reside there.
Champion has written several books, the latest “Bringing the Paranormal Out of the Dark Ages.” The book and the website, even for the skeptical, might make good reading in the run-up to Halloween, a holiday that means nothing to ghosts.
“It’s for people,” Champion said, though in her business it is a time for “a lot of false alarms.”
Champion said most ghosts are harmless and when they appear or make their presence known, it usually is because they want to tell us something.
She’s had a case where a boy was frightened by a ghostly woman in his bathroom, telling him to stay out. Using a recorder and “cleaning up the audio” to reveal the ghost’s words, it turned out the specter was trying to protect the boy from poison mushrooms near the bathroom faucet.
It didn’t make sense until the boy’s father knocked a loose tile off the wall behind the faucet to discover black mold and mushrooms growing inside the wall. Champion said the mushrooms were poisonous and release spores that can sicken people when inhaled.
Champion wants to make a few things perfectly clear: Ghosts don’t vocalize like living humans; they don’t hang around cemeteries; they aren’t bound to the place they died and they’re not being threatening when they move things around or bang on things (like supposed poltergeists).
They just want attention.
There are exceptions, and Champion understands how people can take spirits the wrong way. It happened to her as a child, and it’s why in addition to her career as a dancer and choreographer, she got into paranormal investigating.
As a child, she lived with her mother and grandmother in an older house in New Jersey. There was the spirit of a woman in the house and it “liked to bother me for some reason,” recalled Champion, who added that the ghost would push her and hurl things at her.
The straw that broke the camel’s back came when, at age 14, the day before a dance performance, she was scheduled to give at Carnegie Hall, she was walking down the stairs to the basement.
The light switch at the top of the stairs didn’t work, but Champion wasn’t surprised. The ghost routinely pulled the chain switch on the basement light at the bottom of the stairs, which left the switch at the top inoperable.
“I said, here we go again,” recalled Champion.
She began walking down the stairs when about half way down she stepped on something, tripped and tumbled to the bottom.
“My ankle was FUBAR,” said Champions. “I didn’t think the damn ghost got me, I just thought about how there was no way I’m going to dance.”
Champions said what she tripped on was a metal colander that had been hanging on a pegboard hook in the basement, but somehow got off the wall and onto the stairs.
Champion was livid.
“I figured if the ghost was going to haunt me, I was going the haunt the ghost,” she said.
She used an audio recorder and began interrogating the spirit, carefully playing it back, listening intently for what she later learned were vocalizations made more by the manipulation of existing sound waves rather than sound created by vocal chords.
Eventually she established a rapport with the ghost and they coexisted with no problems.
So what places around Pinellas and Pasco are most haunted? Champions said one of her more interesting cases was the old rocking chair movie theater in Tarpon Springs, at the corner of U.S. 19 and Tarpon Avenue. A Publix supermarket sits there now, but after the owner of the theater died, his spirit turned up at the theater, she said, with the management calling her in to help.
It turned out a couple of theater employees were stealing from the place and the ghost just wanted to rat them out, Champions said. After couple of the girls were exposed as the culprits and things settled right down. And no, the ghost isn’t haunting the frozen food section of Publix, Champion said. Once the theater was torn down, there was no reason to stay.
The most hauntings in the area are in Hudson, said Champions. She has no idea why, but residents of Beacon Woods subdivision, north of State Road 52, call her in more than any other place.
Champion said her free service is her way of following a calling, and her only aim is to help people. If she senses someone is making up stories or are suffering from a possible mental disorder, she backs away.
“I don’t want to feed anyone’s fantasies,” she said. “That’s not good for anyone and it’s irresponsible.”