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Midwest haunting
Campus tour takes brave on hunt for paranormal
By Jonathan Jacobson | Contributing writer

Matt Smith, Chad Frederick, Tim Weaver and Erin Glassnovich take visitors on ghost hunts on the campus of Western Illinois University.



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Published: 4/4/2008 12:06 AM

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It's a quiet Friday night in Macomb, but Ed Beasley has already seen a ghost.

Beasley, a middle-aged man with a shirt that reads "Jesus is coming, look busy," aims his camera at a wall in a dark stairwell at Simpkins Hall on the Western Illinois University campus and comes up with a blurry image that does look suspiciously like a supernatural spirit.

A crowd of people gather around him, gasping as they look at the evidence, which Beasley proudly displays on his camera for all to see. His picture is their portal into another world, one far away from the drab, olive corridors of this 70-year-old university building.

"We got an apparition picture!" someone yells above the commotion.

The folks assembled here have come for a local tour called "A Midwest Haunting" that has garnered national attention by taking visitors through allegedly haunted buildings.

The tour, led by local psychology student and ghosthunter Tim Weaver along with a merry band of four other guides, weaves guests through the dimly lit old building in search of paranormal forces and spirits.

Weaver, with a gray beanie pulled tight on his head and a scrappy yellow goatee on his chin, explains that with the right tools and a keen sense of intuition, it's easy to detect spirits

"There's paranormal everywhere," he says, showing off a temperature meter and an electromagnetic field detector.

Extreme temperature changes and unexplained magnetic fields, both detectable with the proper instruments, connote supernatural activity.

"This table could carry energy," says Chad Frederick, another tour guide.

Although turnout is a little light tonight, the guides are excited because they can devote more attention to the "investigators" -- that is, the guests -- who seem to come mostly from the surrounding areas for a night of escapism and a little of what Hitchcock called the "beneficial shock."

Everyone here is ready for some suspension of disbelief; in a crowd of professional and amateur ghosthunters, it's the people who don't believe that look crazy.

"I've always believed in it," says Weaver's wife, Michelle. She was a prison guard from Australia who moved to Macomb with her ex-boyfriend, the man who founded the tour eight years ago. "I have a sense that there's something there."

Others in the crowd are equally enthusiastic, enough to make even this seasoned unbeliever a little nervous when people pop the question about whether or not I believe in spirits.

Brandy Bohanan, a dog groomer preparing for a career as a mortician, fits right in this crowd.

"I want to be a mortician -- they're dead, what are they gonna do to you?" she says.

As to the belief question, Bohanan makes a distinction between the spirits and ghosts. She believes in the former, not the latter.

Simpkins Hall was built in 1938 and is currently, according to Frederick, the only building where janitors can choose not to work the night shift. It originally served as a training ground for future teachers and the tour begins in a space that used to be a classroom for young children. Their coat-hangers still have names inked in below. There is also a fireplace that seems woefully inappropriate in what is now clearly used as a college classroom.

The tour winds its way through so many strange rooms, spooky closets and dark hallways in the three-floor building that nobody seems to know which way is which. People split up and duck into bathrooms and janitors' closets, classrooms and offices. Strange anticipatory grins line their faces; everyone expects to see a ghost.

The guides split the group up and people take turns with the EMF detector, waving it like a sword in the direction of possible paranormal activity.

One man is sure he's found something in a second-floor bathroom and people start to crowd around, listening to the EKG-like sounds of the detector, washed in the red glow of its blinking lights.

Weaver likes to get everyone involved and sends even the most reluctant of investigators to explore by themselves and return back to the group with a report. He can convert a cynic like a Spanish Jesuit.

At one point during the tour, Beasley, the man with photograph, whips out his cell phone and searches for an audio recording from a few weeks earlier.

"I got an EVP," he says, and I decide that I've learned too many acronyms for one evening. An EVP, someone explains, is an electronic voice phenomena or, in layman's terms, ghost talk.

In the 10-second audio recording, Beasley asks two questions: "Can you tell me your name?" and "How many of you are there?" The response, which he suggests is either "Ed," his first name, or "ten," is jarring regardless.

Beasley is hardly the only one who sees ghosts. In the second-floor hallway toward the end of the two-hour tour, a girl comes screaming back to the group from one side of the hallway. She claims that something grabbed her leg and looks on the verge of tears. After Weaver tries to comfort her -- "Don't take it personal," he says, "don't let it freak you out too much" -- she sits against a wall and tries to collect herself.

For believers or skeptics, "A Midwest Haunting" is worth the hike. Even the hardest of heads can't help but wonder if the bizarre apparitions are real or imagined but at the very least, they probably won't hurt anyone.

"I don't think that spirits can harm you," Michelle Weaver says. "They feed on your fear."

A Midwest Haunting at Simpkins Hall

Western Illinois University

1 University Circle

Macomb, IL 61455

(309) 333-4133

Tickets: $13 per person

Tour starts at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays through April 12

Fall tour will start, well, in the Fall.

While you're there, check out

• Rock N Records

324 N. Lafayette St.

Macomb, IL 61455

(309) 837-9010

A comprehensive collection of rock music, some hip-hop and R&B, great posters and an incense-fueled ambience make this place a stand out. Some great clothes and vinyls seal the deal.

Adams Street Coffee House

325 W. Adams St.

Macomb, IL 61455

(309) 833-3410

An independent coffee house with some Wi-Fi and a great selection of beans.

The Classy Closet

115 S. Side Square

Macomb, IL 61455

(309) 837-3581

What college town can be without a cheap, fashionable clothing store? Highly affordable fashion and accessories.