When spirit moves, area group arrives to track it down

Thursday, April 29, 2004
By Theresa Katalinas
Gloucester County Times

Forget "Poltergeist," it's more of a "Sixth Sense" kind of thing.

Ghost hunting, that is.

"Everybody wants to see something," Dave Juliano, South Jersey Ghost Research director, said Wednesday, noting that unexplained perfume scents, cigar aroma or footsteps are all signs of the supernatural. "There's probably spirits in a lot of houses. You could have a spirit in the house for years that never interacts with the people."

Or in Juliano's case, a spirit could be on the prowl for a dozen years. As a 3-year-old, Juliano lived in a haunted house with his parents, who, until he turned 17, didn't believe the unliving roamed their halls.

"There was nobody you could really call," Juliano said, adding that prompted his decision to enter the ghost world 20 years ago. "I wanted to look for answers to what happened to me when I was younger."

Now, Juliano, 37, of Philadelphia, and his 27-member non-profit group, equipped with $1,000 night vision equipment, infrared video cameras and red flashlights, scour 100 to 150 buildings annually in New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, Delaware and New York looking for signs of spirits.

About 90 percent of investigations come from Gloucester, Camden and Burlington counties, as well as Philadelphia, Juliano said, noting efforts are aimed at putting home and business owners at ease -- not chasing ghosts away.

Fellow investigator Nicole Steward, 25, of Burlington County said she's involved simply to help clients conquer their fears of the unknown.

"We do it for our knowledge," the full-time horticulture student said. "I know what it's like to be afraid of something in your house that you can't see."

And like the general population, Juliano, clad in a signature screenprinted South Jersey Ghost Research T-shirt, said no two ghosts are alike.

"They look like whatever the person looked like," he said. "If the guy was a jerk in life, chances are he's a jerk in death. Normally they're drawn to people like themselves."

Other than hiding keys, depleting battery power and causing sudden temperature shifts, Juliano said the paranormal aren't equipped to put individuals in harm's way.

Probably the most famous Gloucester County spirit is "Sparky," a ghost who frequently wanders through the Old Courthouse on Delaware Street, Juliano said.

"We even talked to some of the night cleaners. They're just used to it," Juliano said. "Sometimes I'll see him shadowy, sometimes I'll see him like (human)."

For Steward, it's not so much seeing ghosts as it is feeling a presence.

"A lot of it's intuition. We can't prove that ghosts exist, but a lot of people can sense their existence," Steward said. "Sometimes it can be a little startling. Usually it's one of those things, you feel it. Normally I'll feel a cold chill. It's like something's watching you."

In her own home, Steward has captured photos of traveling orbs -- what she describes as balls of energy -- with infrared light and digital cameras.

"You can see them coming across the room, flying in front of you," Steward said. "They remind me of a shooting star."