Truly*Adventurous has a wonderful new long-form investigation into the Capital Area Paranormal Society, an after-school high school club in Springfield, Illinois where students can explore haunted locales in search of paranormal phenomenon. Writer Patrick Glendon McCullough approaches the group — and the piece in general — with a perfect blend of skepticism, curiosity, and empathy. He's much less interested in the ghosts and ectoplasm than he is in the students themselves, and it's that focus on character that truly carries the article over some 5,000 words or so.
Take Caroline, for instance.
It seems strange that Caroline, the president of her high school's paranormal club, would have no clearer ideas about the beyond. But frankly, it seems strange that she is president. Though not shy exactly, she's certainly the most reserved member of the group.
She plays flute in the school band, had the lead in the school musical before they had to cancel it for lack of support, and plans to go to college for music therapy. Her default expression is a smile, though it seems tired. Unsurprising since on top of school and the litany of extra curriculars, she works at a bookstore.
Whatever a typical member of a high school paranormal club might be, Caroline probably isn't it.
Which isn't to say I have a handle on a typical member. Though I'd searched for every one I could find online, I wound up with a list of fewer than ten high school paranormal clubs in the whole country.
The next kid to arrive after Caroline has tufts of adolescent hair like shadows on his cheeks and upper lip. Twitchy eyes, headphones around his neck, and a bright orange paranormal club hoodie, the same that Dave is wearing.
Like Caroline, he's had personal encounters, and most that he describes seem to have taken place in his bedroom, "playing games or watching YouTube." Though when he mentions gaming he sheepishly adds "I'm trying my best to cut back on them."
Or Dave, a social studies teacher, and the club's sponsor:
Dave pokes his head out from the classroom and smiles at me, motions me in. He's only a couple of years from retirement, but has the buoyancy of a much younger man. Half the things he says seem like a joke he's letting you in on and you almost expect a nudge in the ribs to accompany each one.
As his students work on a lesson on school-provided MacBooks, he cracks open a small case and begins laying out his paranormal detection equipment.
There is a "Mel Meter" that detects ElectroMagnetic Fields and temperature, then displays the result on a small digital screen. It was invented by a man who designed the device to communicate with his daughter, Mel, after her passing. I wonder for the first time whether anyone develops an interest in the paranormal for reasons other than an inability to move on. Beside the Mel Meter on his desk, Dave places two additional ElectroMagnetic Field detectors, one which uses a needle to display the level, another with a series of LEDs, going from green to red.
Next, there is an Instrumental Trans-communication box, which scans the air for specific frequencies and will, under certain stimulation, return a random word from its internal dictionary that on occasion has eerie relevance. An infrared floodlight allows for better photographs. There are others, with so many subtle variations on what they do it becomes difficult to keep them straight. Some cost the better part of a thousand dollars, all of which has come out of Dave's pocket. He keeps a shelf in the classroom stocked with Cheetos and Gatorade which he sells to students to support the club. It doesn't go far in offsetting the costs.
After we meet the "cast," most of their adventure takes place the "famously" haunted Virgil Hickox House, with a journalist tagging along for all the spooky thrills.
The whole article feels like one of those critically acclaimed Netflix documentary miniseries about some other inane group of people that ends up offering a fascinating look at the human condition. Only this time, there's just a little more of a Scooby-Doo vibe — the ghosts are just the gimmick to get you into the story, where you discover something more about the real world.
Paranormal Club [Patrick Glendon McCullough / Truly*Adventurous]
Image: U.S. Air Force photo by Scott Prater