COTTAGE GROVE — A group of women who claim they can detect paranormal activity says there is something strange in the Cottage Grove neighborhood that houses the National Guard Armory.
And with the city's blessing, they have done some investigations at the 33,080-square-foot, 1931 armory, concluding that there are spirits with ties to the military who hang out there.
City Manager Richards Meyers, who granted access to the Coast Ghost group, said he would give the same access to anyone who asked to see the building, which the city acquired in 2010 for $395,000 and plans to use as a community center.
His position on the subject of ghosts is one of careful neutrality.
"There are religious beliefs and people believe that the spirits are all around us," Meyers said. "We don't want to say, 'No we don't believe it' or 'It couldn't be.' We're playing that fine line. ...The spirits, I don't know why they would hang out there. They have other places they can go."
The members of Coast Ghost — who live in Reedsport, Florence, Coos Bay and Springfield — recently toured the building, accompanied by Meyers and city Councilor Jake Boone — the resident skeptic — to demonstrate what they said they found on earlier visits.
The first time they visited they got the most activity they had ever seen in the building, said the group's leader, Ann Fillmore.
"Oh," she said pointing at a laptop screen, "the medic's room is always active."
Most of their evidence consists of floating circles they called "orbs," some of which had faces, caught with digital cameras and processed through filters.
The women have not seen any full-blown apparitions, but said they feel the faces in the orb are convincing enough. They have used an electrician's tool they said can detect electromagnetic fields, as well as flashlights and video and still cameras in their search for ghosts.
Fillmore said she also has had direct experience with spirits touching her and that she knows they can pull hair, shove people and throw things.
For rookie ghost hunters, dowsing rods — more commonly found used in well witching — help detect changes in a room's energy, which could mean the presence of a spirit, the ghost hunters said.
The members of Coast Ghost said they no longer need to use those rods, and each has her own way of sensing paranormal presence. Fillmore, 71, of Reedsport, said she often has pain in her forehead when she senses ghosts. Lisa Hutchinson, 41, of Reedsport, said she gets tense between her shoulder blades, her hair stands up, and she gets cold chills and a lightheaded feeling.
The youngest member of the group, Tiffany Cloud, 26, of Springfield, said she feels nauseated or gets a sharp pain in the head. Her mother, Christie Best, 44, of Florence said her daughter has always been sensitive to otherworldly presences and as a child had many "imaginary" friends.
Denise Cacace, 71, of Coos Bay and the final member of the team, said most of the time she gets sleepy.
City Councilor Boone was not convinced. "I'm slightly hungry," he said to describe his symptoms in an upstairs office where the women said they had previously encountered the ghost of a colonel. "But that would imply I'm haunted about three times per day."
Boone said later that he has no doubt the hunters believe what they are experiencing is real. But, he said he finds their proof of spirits underwhelming.
Boone said the only harm he could see in something like the Coast Ghost team's work is that it lends credibility to con artists, or "charlatans." The charlatans prey on people who are emotionally distraught over the loss of a loved one and vulnerable, he said.
The Coast Ghost women aren't trying to get money from anyone and ghost hunt as a hobby, Boone said. They have shown a genuine curiosity about the unknown, he added.
In the medical room on the bottom floor of the Armory, the ghost hunters placed metal flashlights at two places on a wall in an attempt to communicate with the ghosts. The lights turn on an off by twisting, and each was twisted to the last point before it turned on before being placed on small ridges on the wall.
Cloud had a list of soldiers and started to call out their names and ask if they were present. The others jumped in with questions too, peppering in "please" and "thank you," when the light flashed on and off, often in perfect timing with the questions, and sometimes giving emphatic flashes.
Boone stepped in and asked if he could ask about some commanding officers.
"Jeffrey Lee Gibson, Derrick Simmons, Douglas Crosby, Timothy McAdams, Robert Colletti," he called out. The flashlights flickered as he read each name.
But, rather than being the names of military officers who have died, his list was of the stunt men on the television show "The Wire," he said after the tour.
"They were not trying to fool people," Boone said. "They were fooling themselves."
Meyers said that even if there were ghosts in the city's armory, no one has anything to worry about, they would not be angry or mean spirits.
"I sense there is a spirit in the building in and of itself," he said. "This is a building that represents the community. We don't need to bring in Scooby Doo. ... It's a community building. Ghosts, spirits and living — everybody can come down."