What's Haunting Home? Ghosts or Armadillos? Peace River Ghost Tracker team

Peace River Ghost Tracker team takes on happenings in Fort Meade home.

The Ledger, Florida/August 5, 2007
By Anthony Anamelechi

Fort Meade -- Ghosts or creaky floors?

It depends on whom you ask.

This spring Randy Wolpin, 30, thought he heard footsteps in his newly purchased house, but no one else was home.

He and his girlfriend were painting the house on Good Friday when the radio mysteriously changed to gospel.

"I'm not afraid, but I do get kind of weirded out," said Wolpin.

So on a Saturday night in June, the self-styled Peace River Ghost Tracker team investigated whether the old Reid House at 401 E. Broadway had spectral residents as well as living ones.

After a month of studying hours of audio and video recorded that night, the ghost hunters have so far found nothing suggesting the existence of apparitions.

But they are still looking.

Quest in vain?

They will be looking in vain, as far as Joe Nickells, a science writer for Skeptical Inquirer magazine, is concerned.

"It's just foolishness," said Nickells, who is a science writer specializing in critical investigations of paranormal and fringe-science claims for the magazine that says it uses science to spread factual information about paranormal encounters.

Nickells said there are thousands of groups like the Tracker team that have mislead people into thinking that ghosts actually exist. He said if the ghost hunters were just doing it for fun it would be OK, but they are misleading the American public.

Nickells said he has spent 30 years investigating paranormal events, traveling the world to see "if science has missed anything," such as a ghost that can be proven.

Another person who thinks the quest is illusionary is Earlene Lash, a third-generation former resident of Fort Meade. Her aunt, Wilma McClellan Coulter, owned the house for 10 years.

Lash said in a letter to The Ledger that there was never any "odd or strange" paranormal events reported at the house before.

And if there were, she said, "the teenagers in a small town would have certainly spread the rumors."

Jeanne Harpe, the daughter of Coulter, said the Reid House was built in the early 1900s.

Reid, a minister for the North Alabama Conference of the Methodist Church South, left the house to his son, Claude Reid, who in turn lived there until his death in 1976.

The last Reid who owned the house was Claude Reid's wife, Carrie B. Reid, who sold it to McClellan in the late 1970s or early 1980s, Harpe said.

Harpe and her husband bought the house from her mother in 1984 and owned it for 20 years before selling it to a family in Plant City.

In January, that family sold the house to Wolpin, who was looking for a vacation home.

Wolpin, who runs a Smoothie King in Fort Lauderdale, purchased the Reid House two years after first looking at it.

Since he bought the house, Wolpin said, he has noticed strange things happening after he started staying in the house: footsteps were heard in the vacant rooms upstairs, radios mysteriously changed to a gospel station on Good Friday and cup holders were knocked down.

So he decided to find information abut the paranormal. While online doing research, he stumbled across the Peace River Ghost Tracker team. He contacted them through e-mail.

Ghost hunters

The Peace River Ghost Tracker team consists of five members, each of whom claims to have had personal paranormal encounters: Scott Walker, Ellen "Sprout" Dvorak, Lori Chapman, Toni Ray and Tom Land.

The ghost hunters came equipped with four infrared cameras and devices to measure temperature and electromagnetic readings.

The hunters said there are usually drops in temperature and changes in electromagnetic readings when spirits are trying to manifest themselves. The hunters recorded four hours of audio and video on each of their four cameras, and Walker said they must watch each camera for the entire recording - about 16 hours of review time.

In a phone interview this week, Dvorak said so far nothing has been found after looking at 13 hours of audio and video.

"Which doesn't mean anything," Dvorak said, "You never know."

Dvorak said the team must thoroughly examine the entire recording to determine whether paranormal activity was documented. She said this means rewinding and reviewing footage over and over whenever there is a sound, a whisper or even someone sneezing.

She said this is done to ensure it is not a spirit making the sounds.

Nickells said ghost hunters in general are not scientists and they try to use scientific instruments, such as the infrared cameras and electromagnetic measurers, to say that they have evidence of ghosts.

"These instruments aren't meant to detect ghosts," Nickells said with a laugh. "Not one ghost has been proven by scientists."

Nest of armadillos

And Jeanne Harpe said the only "strange sounds" her family ever heard were armadillos.

Harpe said the house sits on brick pillars off the ground and armadillos often crawled underneath the house to nest there.

Other than that, "I never had any experience with anything unusual," Harpe said.

Harpe's son, Derek Harpe, had the same sentiments.

"There were absolutely zero strange occurrences in the 20 years I lived there," said Derek Harpe, who is a recreation supervisor for Polk County.

He chuckled that his grandmother Coulter said that perhaps the Wolpins should check in the attic for bats, or underneath the house for armadillos if they're hearing things.

Jeanne Harpe said it is an old house, so it creaks, and maybe that is what they heard.

She said a number of her distant relatives and current residents called her and said they were upset about the investigation.

Harpe, who now lives in Bartow, said she laughed about the incident.

"I just thought it was hysterical," Harpe chuckled.

But for residents like Lash, the investigation was far from funny.

"I'm disappointed that an outsider would try to tarnish a lovely landmark because of the need for recognition, publicity, and as most suspect, ultimately profit," Lash said in her letter.

Money not the motive

Wolpin said it upsets him that people think he's trying to turn a profit from the house.

"Imagine all the money I would get," Wolpin said. "Who's going to come to Fort Meade for a haunted house?"

But he said when it comes to ghosts, some people are interested and some think the idea is ridiculous.

"If people don't want to believe it, then they don't have to. I don't care either way," Wolpin said.

Though Wolpin does not live in the house yet, he plans to move there as soon as possible. He said he chose the area because it is quiet and not as congested as Fort Lauderdale.

Wolpin said he doesn't want to tarnish the house and is hoping to maintain its history.

"I'm not doing anything for profit in any way, shape or form," Wolpin said.

Dvorak said the investigation is taking longer than expected because Walker, another team member, had hip replacement surgery two weeks ago.

But whether it was ghosts, armadillos or some other plausible explanation making noises around Wolpin's house, the Tracker team hopes to end all speculation in a couple of weeks.

Or will it?

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