Dan Hust | Democrat
From the left, Catskill Paranormal team members Kristin Young, John Rudy and Rich Justus demonstrate the tools of their ghost-hunting trade (a digital electromagnetic field and temperature meter, infrared high-definition camera, and digital audio recorder, respectively).
Inside Catskill Paranormal
Story by Dan Hust
JEFFERSONVILLE Disembodied voices. Mysterious footfalls. Ghostly apparitions. Sudden temperature swings.
Who you gonna call?
If you’re for real, they’re for real. As their business card says, “Got Ghost?” If so, they’ll come to your home, investigate and record the activity, then give you a report either explaining or debunking it.
They’ll do it for free (though donations are gratefully accepted), with state-of-the-art equipment like infrared cameras, digital audio recorders and devices that are claimed to tap into the speaking abilities of the dead.
They aren’t psychics, mediums or cultists. Just like you’ve seen on TV, these are real, live ghost-hunters.
Co-founder Rich Justus, a Jeffersonville auto mechanic by day, remembers the first time he saw a ghost, about two decades ago.
“I was puppysitting for my brother Ed at a house in Callicoon Center,” he relates.
Suddenly, the apparition of a teenage girl silently walked in front of him. He didn’t recognize her but later was told a girl of that age had died in the house.
“From that day forward, I knew life went on, at least with certain spirits and ghosts,” he says.
Longtime friend and co-founder John Rudy, a 48-year-old groundskeeper, had a similar, literally chilling experience on a trip to a long-abandoned town near Ellenville.
“They say it’s cursed, but I walked through with my dog, and nothing,” he recalls. “Then, all of a sudden, it was like I hit a refrigerator. It was a 60-degree day outside, but it was freezing cold!”
Rapid decreases in temperatures are an indication of ghostly activity, says John, who believes his late mother once appeared to him in that fashion.
“When they need to manifest,” he explains, “they suck all the energy out of the room.”
Team member Kristin Young is the one often found measuring a room’s temperature and electromagnetic levels.
“I still have not had ‘my experience’,” Kristin acknowledges, having joined Catskill Paranormal a year ago after hearing John talking about it with her bank coworkers.
While she does believe she grew up in a haunted house in Ferndale, Kristin strives to find natural rather than supernatural reasons for what the team investigates.
“I am the skeptic of the group,” she admits, speaking of a team that also includes co-founder Bruce Pecsi, a Native American chief and spirit communicator named White Eagle, and others.
Rich, whose own brother is similarly skeptical, takes no issue with that. In fact, Catskill Paranormal always attempts to rationally investigate.
“If you can debunk something first, you do that,” he acknowledges. “Sometimes a noise in the attic is just a heating duct!”
But sometimes it isn’t. And that’s what drives this team, so much so that their work has made it on the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures.
“For me,” says Rich, “it’s helping people and helping spirits.”
He and John explain that sometimes, spirits don’t pass on after the body’s death, due to unresolved situations, confusion, or simply a desire to stay “earthbound.”
Others want to express something to the living, via touch (they’ve had shirts, even fingers, grabbed), sounds (footfalls are common), movement (doors opening and closing of their own accord), sight (see the photos accompanying this story) or speech (the team employs an Ovilus box, which holds 2,048 words and can allegedly be manipulated by spirits to communicate through an audio speaker).
Then there are the few that John and Rich term “inhuman.”
They rarely come across malevolent spirits, but on a recent trip to a former Girl Scouts camp, they are certain they were visited by something evil something which caused “666” to appear on equipment, the word “Satan” and knocking to be heard, and a dread chill to settle across the empty cabin.
“It was just like creep on your skin,” John recalls with a shudder.
“To me, I don’t think Satan would pronounce himself like that,” doubts Kristin.
“I don’t believe it’s Satan himself but maybe one of his beings,” replies Rich, noting that’s one of the reasons he always wears the Christian cross on outings and never plays with Ouija boards. “I do believe there are inhuman entities out there.”
But the vast majority of their 100 or so investigations, he adds, have not been frightening.
“I don’t think any of us have any fear of what we do,” says Rich.
Many encounters, in fact, are enjoyable, affirms Kristin, who fondly recalls a woman’s voice giving her permission to sit on a couch in an old house, then singing her a lullaby (heard in a recording they played back afterwards).
Rich once asked, into the thin air of a former hotel, if a spirit was happy or sad.
A female voice replied, in a lilting, singsong fashion, “I’m truly happy now.”
“That was a real positive experience,” Rich says with a smile.
The team believes such benevolent beings are what’s normally encountered, but for those in the living world who’d prefer the dead leave them be, Rich asserts that usually a simple expressing of that desire is enough to gently move the spirits on. Barring that, Catskill Paranormal does offer prayers and access to people they believe can banish ghosts.
Still find it hard to believe yourself? The team members don’t blame you. Kristin, the skeptic of the group, understands the ability of the human mind to create its own “reality.”
“There is power in belief,” she admits.
But ghosts speaking teammates’ names, photos with unaccountable figures in them, and recordings showing otherwise-unexplainable activity much of which is available on Catskill Paranormal’s website (catskillparanormal.net), Facebook page and YouTube videos have made believers out of them.
“I’ve witnessed too much stuff to say, ‘There is no such thing’,” says John.
“Science,” adds Rich, “doesn’t explain everything yet.”
A trip to Potterville, an actual ghost town in the Catskill Park near Ellenville, yielded this image of a spectral figure walking down the old road to town, away from the photographer.