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How to hunt for ghosts in the Gainesville library
Southeastern Institute of Paranormal Research teaches residents to probe through shadows
Dawn Trantham of the Southeastern Institute of Paranormal Research demonstrates a laser grid, which the group uses to see paranormal objects that can only be viewed by disturbing the grid during a Ghost Hunting 101 class Saturday night at the Gainesville branch of the Hall County Library. - photo by JOSHUA L. JONES

Ghost hunting 101

For more information about the Southeastern Institute of Paranormal Research, visit

As the famous theme song goes: “I ain’t afraid a no ghost.”

So when I was asked if I wanted to go ghost hunting at the Gainesville public library, I was all for it.

As a full disclaimer, I’m not a believer in ghosts, apparitions, demons, angels or any paranormal entities. But I decided to put my skepticism aside and maybe learn a few new things.

Teaching the class was Denise Roffe, co-founder of the Southeastern Institute of Paranormal Research. She gave a two-hour crash course in ghost hunting techniques to myself and 20 others. She also familiarized us with the paranormal devices we would use at the Gainesville branch of the Hall County library, which is where the class was held Saturday night.

Then, my classmates and I were handed packets of information on the names of the devices we would use, the definitions of types of hauntings and information about psychics. Next, each person signed a waiver to participate before splitting into groups. Finally, with all the T’s crossed and I’s dotted, the groups fanned out in the library to look and listen for potential ghosts.

My group of seven was led by investigators Doug Smith and Dawn Trantham. I felt safe with both of my leaders, trusting them to defend me if any shadows tried to get me.

Trantham put her camera-helmet on, which was decorated with ghost stickers and short spikes down the middle, and led us to the genealogy section.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Gainesville library, the genealogy section is upstairs and to the right, past the computers. I sat down at a table next to the aisles lining the right side of the room.

Everyone in my group silently waited for something to happen.

“You can talk if you want, but don’t whisper,” Trantham said, indicating a whisper could register on the cameras and be mistaken for something paranormal.

“I’m too scared to talk,” group member Julie Wingate said.

I felt the same way, but didn’t want to say. Even without the premise of looking for ghosts, being in a dark corner of a library with strangers can be a scary job for anyone.

Smith got up from his seat, holding the electromagnetic field detector, or EMF detector for short, and walked around. When spirits or ghostly beings are near, the EMF detector lights up with a red flash and beeps.

As he stepped closer to me, the EMF detector blinked quickly, becoming louder. And the beeps chimed closer together.

When he was only within 2 feet or less from me, he stopped. He hovered the EMF detector over the floor, looking for the exact source.

From my point of view, it seemed like the detector was particularly interested in me and my surroundings. It didn’t help when Smith kept muttering “this is strange.” And the other group members were looking at me like I was possessed and hadn’t told them beforehand.

That’s when Trantham stepped in to investigate.

“If there’s someone here, can you touch the little box with the silver needle? It won’t hurt you,” Trantham said.

The little box was the ambient air and laser thermometer, which gives a numerical reading. The closer to one or two, the more likely a ghost is nearby.

Shortly after, group member Jenny Howard said she heard a female voice. Louis Sanchas, the only other man in the group, agreed.

“Was it a two-word whisper?” he said, pointing in the direction he heard it.

Howard concurred, and a few minutes of silence followed.

Smith returned to investigating the bookshelves behind me. The EMF detector led him specifically to one of the bottom shelves in the middle of the room.

He called over another member and pointed to the shelf. She read the book’s title aloud: “Ghosts and Spirits.”

When she checked, the ambient air and laser thermometer read 2.1.

Then, before we knew it, it was time to move to other sections, including the Spanish and children’s sections.

The results weren’t as fruitful as in genealogy, but the group’s confidence in its ghost-hunting skills was apparent. Several members took turns asking the spirits questions, such as their names, ages, why they were in the library, etc.

When no answers came, they split up to try and find their own answers.

Most strolled through the aisles with detectors or followed an investigator. I chose to just watch from the safety of the computer area.

Joanna Clippinger, a sister to Wingate and Howard, asked Smith if he thought they were wasting their time or if the ghosts didn’t want them to be there.

“Some like the attention,” Smith said.

Clippinger glanced around the room and asked “Wouldn’t it be crazy if a bunch of books just started coming off the shelves?”

“That’s happened. Not a bunch, just one,” Smith said.

Just then, Trantham and another class member discovered a presence in the nonfiction section.

She said she heard male laughter coming from one of the aisles.

“It’s like they’re hiding,” Trantham said.

Then Clippinger asked an obvious question. She wanted to know if ghost hunting was some parts mind over matter.

“It’s about 80 percent,” Smith said, mentioning some people think they hear things that aren’t really there.

I didn’t hear anything myself.

Finally, after two hours, the investigation was over. We reconvened with the other groups for a debriefing, as each shared its observations and experiences.

My own experience was more of an onlooker. I liked learning about all of the different types of hauntings and examining the evidence the group has found in its investigations. However, while I did not experience any sort of paranormal activity in the ghost hunt, I feel I can now add “Ghostbuster” to my resume.

For more information, visit the Southeastern Institute of Paranormal Research at