Many people have a fascination with the paranormal

Many people have a fascination with the paranormal
October 24, 2010

ave Triska of West Lafayette was not sure that ghosts existed until he saw one with his own eyes, he said. "I'm the type that I have to see it to believe it," Triska said. "But I was able to see it."

About five years ago, Triska recalls seeing a man wearing a baseball cap, coveralls and a pair of work boots disappear into a mist on West Farmers Gravel Road near Frankfort while he was delivering newspapers.

"Needless to say my window went up, my gas pedal went down and I took off," said the 50-year-old. "It definitely made me a full believer, that's for sure."

This encounter piqued Triska's interests in paranormal activity, or occurrences that cannot be explained through scientific means. As a result he started investigating strange and unusual happenings with the Lafayette chapter of the Indiana Ghost Trackers.

Although Triska's encounter is difficult to prove or refute, one thing is clear, Triska is not alone in his fascination with paranormal activity. About 41 percent of Lafayette residents believe in haunted houses and 45 percent believe that others have seen ghosts, according to a study published in 2001 from Purdue University researchers.

This fascination has translated into major revenue for the entertainment industry as well. Just last year, Americans spent more than $100 million to see the movie "Paranormal Activity," a film where the characters try to capture a house haunting on videotape. The sequel, "Paranormal Activity 2," opened in theaters this weekend.

Paranormal activity such as hauntings, ghosts and psychics also are popular themes for television shows such as CBS' "Ghost Whisperer," and "Medium." The topic also has a presence on reality TV shows such as A&E's "Paranormal State," which chronicles members of the Paranormal Research Society's investigations of mysteries, hauntings and ghosts.

Glenn Sparks, a Purdue professor of communication and study co-author, said some of the reasons for this cultural fascination with the paranormal include how the media depicts paranormal activity.

He said many television programs dealing with paranormal themes tend to include first-person testimonies about experiences -- which are hard to refute --instead of scientific investigations.

Also, the media has helped stoke the fire that burns under this cultural fascination, he said. "A lot of frightening films deal with supernatural forces..." he said. "One of the staples of fear is fear of the unknown. It has helped to keep that in front of us."

Other reasons for this fascination include a natural human curiosity for the unknown and a desire for mystery to resurface in such a technological age.

"This is one of the last sources of mystery in people's lives," he said. "Because it seems like science has taken the mystery out of everything....Maybe people become intrigued with paranormal activity because it defies natural laws."

Also, once that interest has been piqued and a person starts seeking out paranormal activity, it may be difficult to dismiss it.

"Once people find themselves interested in it, they may began to endorse beliefs in it," he said. "If you start spending a lot of time looking into this, it may be difficult for you psychologically to conclude that there isn't anything to it."

Shauna McClure of West Lafayette is also a member of the Lafayette ghost trackers group. She admits to being the resident skeptic, but deep down there is a longing to believe.

"I certainly believe there is the possibility for it," she said. "I want to be the one to capture it."

Similar to the characters in the movie, "Paranormal Activity," members of the group investigate stories of hauntings and try to capture any unexplained paranormal activity using video cameras, voice recorders and devices that measure electromagnetic energy.

Brittany Lock, another member of the group, said she does not really believe in ghosts but is interested in debunking myths about hauntings. She also enjoys the hunt that chasing the haunt provides.

"We can get into some pretty interesting places," she said. "It's also interesting to learn the history of things."

The three group members recognize that there is a cultural fascination with paranormal activity.

"Gosh, if you can go somewhere and prove that it's there, it would be phenomenal," Triska said. "I think we'd all like to know what happens to us after we die."
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