If you noticed furtive figures and flashlights beaming around inside BZ Corner's Logs Tavern long after dark recently, don't be alarmed. It was simply the latest investigatory work of Columbia Gorge Paranormal (CGP), a unique, White Salmon-based outfit that explores paranormal incidents.
In Webster's New World Dictionary, "paranormal" is defined as: "psychic or mental phenomena outside the range of the normal."
White Salmon resident Richard Lyons, founder of CGP, said the group's primary purpose is to further research in paranormal phenomena to lend more scientific credence to the field; to substantiate the claims of those who profess to have experienced paranormal events; and to help people who have had these experiences determine if what they experienced was real or imagined.
Lyons, a science teacher at Henkle Middle School, said he has been interested in paranormal activity for many years.
"I started in the field in the early 1990s with a group called Alabama Paranormal," Lyons explained. "I have done my own private investigations for a few years, and in January of this year, I began putting a team together in the Gorge."
That group now has a total of six members, all volunteers. Members include: Lyons, founder of the group and lead investigator; Scott See, co-founder and a lead investigator; Cheryl Shipp, investigator; Michael Kane, a psychologist and para-psychologist; Mackenzie Van Laar, investigator in training; and Amy Courtney, also an investigator in training.
The group's two newest members, Van Laar and Courtney, were former students of Lyons at Henkle Middle School.
"They are graduated students I had in my class years ago," Lyons said. "One of them saw me on our Web site and immediately came down and said, `we want to join.'"
Late on the evening of July 1, Lyons and three other members of the CGP team -- See, Van Laar, and Courtney -- were at the Logs, investigating reports of a ghostly vision haunting the popular restaurant late at night. According to Lyons, in the 1930s an Indian man was slain with a knife in the building, and Lyons speculated that the deceased man's image is what some claim to have seen.
The team arrived at 9 p.m., after the restaurant had closed, and began setting up their highly sophisticated equipment. They had wireless audio equipment, digital audio devices, night vision digital video recorder camera systems, four night vision cameras and a split-screen monitor that showed the views from all four at once, hand-held night vision camcorders, electro-magnetic field detectors, infra-red temperature thermometers, walkie-talkies, and a digital audio and video editing system designed to filter out noise and blurriness.
"We've spent a few thousand on equipment, and there's more to come," Lyons said. "We'd love to get what is the `holy Grail' of equipment -- a thermal imaging camera."
That evening, the group recorded something they are still not able to explain. Soon after they set up their four cameras in different areas of the Logs, one of the cameras rotated down and shifted over, as if someone was moving it.
No one was in the room at the time.
"We have no explanation of how that camera did what it did," Lyons said. "It's one of the most intriguing pieces of footage I've seen."
"I have no idea what else could have moved the camera other than the ghost that is said to reside there," Courtney said.
In another unexplained occurrence, Lyons and Van Laar said they heard the sound of something falling in one of the Logs' dining rooms. When they went in with flashlights to see what it might have been, they found one of the plastic menu holders overturned on a table. Yet the still photos they had taken when they arrived that evening showed the holder standing upright.
Lyons said he also picked up a strong electro-magnetic reading in the Logs' upstairs storage room, yet there was no electrical wiring or other power source present.
Although their cameras revealed no ghostly visitors, relatively minor incidents such as the falling menu holder and the moving camera fuel their enthusiasm.
"I have always had a sense that there was more than what we see with our eyes in the world," explained Van Laar. "Rich was my science teacher in middle school, so when I heard that he had started a paranormal investigation team, I felt completely comfortable in getting involved. I knew this was going to be serious scientific inquiry, and not just a joyride on the scary side for some weirdos who thought they could communicate with the dead or something."
"I've always been interested in ghosts and things of that nature," Courtney added. "To tell the truth, I'm nervous about how I'll react if something actually happens to me, but it's exciting to be a part of the group and getting to see the action first hand."
Lyons stressed that his team's work is all about finding concrete proof of something that is way outside the ordinary.
"We don't use psychics," Lyons said. "We let our equipment work for us. We're all about the equipment, and data, data, data."
The CGP team has investigated several sites so far. Besides the Logs, the list includes Wind River Cellars Winery and the White Salmon Cemetery. CGP has a private home in Dallesport in its queue as well, and is open to scheduling others.
"We're hearing lots of rumors about the Mineral Hot Springs in Carson," Lyons said. "Also, the Columbia Gorge Hotel in Hood River and the `Red House' in Goldendale."
According to Lyons, the local cemetery has provided some intriguing occurrences.
"Scott and I spent two hours with our equipment in the cemetery. We heard a few sounds, but nothing out of the ordinary -- until we went over the audio tapes. On the tapes, we heard people calling out names," Lyons said.
Lyons termed that an "electronic voice phenomenon," or EVP -- sounds picked up by digital recorders but not heard by human ears.
"We found two voices calling names, and one voice telling us to go home. It was really creepy," Lyons said. "Where does the energy go when someone passes on? It has definitely interested me for a long time."
On a subsequent evening, Van Laar and Courtney ventured out to the White Salmon Cemetery on their own.
"The one investigation Mackenzie and I have gone on with the CGP group hasn't been enough to satisfy our curiosity, so we bought our own digital voice recorder for EVP work," Courtney said.
The pair of paranormal trainees had the same experience as Lyons and See: While there at the cemetery, they heard nothing unusual. But later, on the tape, more was revealed -- they heard girls' voices, and also sounds of footsteps running on dry leaves.
"To our delight, we caught two very clear EVPs, one of which was an exact match to an earlier EVP of Rich's," explained Van Laar.
Van Laar said the experiences only leave her and Courtney eager for more.
"The Logs was our first investigation, but we are hoping to head to Carson Hot Springs with CGP soon," Van Laar said.
The group does not charge for its services.
"We're trying to get the word out to the public and the community that we're here, and if people want us to come out and investigate their place, it's totally free," said Lyons. "We are a non-profit organization. It's a hobby. It's an expensive hobby, but it's a hobby."
See said one of the "occupational hazards" of working with CGP is the occasional teasing from family and friends.
"My wife and daughter are merciless, ribbing me about this," See said. "They rented the movie Ghostbusters for me when they found out I'd gotten involved in CGP. But, on the other hand, they do get creeped out hearing some of the EVPs we've picked up in the local cemetery."
Lyons said he realizes that some people may not take the work seriously.
"When people find out about CGP, they will have one of two reactions," Lyons said. "They'll either think we're nuts and ignore us, or people will come forward and say they are glad there's a group like this. We're not out to make a buck, and we are not out to prove someplace is haunted. We go in looking for reportable, substantiated evidence."