Spotlight on ghost hunter Faith Serafin
This naturally is the season for everything that creates goosebumps in the night, be it a ghostly apparition, a cool wisp of air courtesy of a spirit, or simply pondering mortality and the legion of wandering lost souls in the afterlife.
Yes, it’s Halloween, seemingly the perfect moment for a ghost hunter such as Faith Serafin to gather her fellow paranormal investigators for an adventurous glimpse into the netherworld, to include cemeteries, historic buildings or museums, or perhaps the home of someone who feels they are being haunted.
But ask Serafin, 39, where she will be on Halloween night this Tuesday and she actually will be participating in a fairly mundane activity.
“Probably sitting at home and giving out candy,” says the Salem, Ala., native with a laugh before recalling the 1986 Cadillac Hearse that her family used to own and would allow their then-younger children to trick-or-treat from the back of it. “We were driving around the neighborhoods and they would just get out of the hearse. It was a lot of fun.”
Not that Serafin doesn’t have plenty going on year-round. Aside from being the founder and director of Alabama Ghost Hunters, the mother of six is a substitute teacher in the Lee County School District who helps tend a family farm complete with chickens, ducks, turkeys and pigs. She also is an author, penning a series of interesting books — “Haunted Auburn and Opelika,” “Haunted Columbus Georgia,” “Haunted Montgomery” and “Wicked Phenix City.” That vocation can include book tours and signings.
There also are occasional stints as a volunteer tour guide, with Serafin and her paranormal team using their ghost-hunting experience to educate and entertainment people at the National Civil War Naval Museum on Victory Drive. Their major yearly sold-out event was Saturday night, with about two dozen folks getting in the spirit of things for a small fee at the history museum that has had its own haunting moments.
The Ledger-Enquirer talked with Serafin recently about her job as a ghost hunter — which she does at no charge — and how she became interested in it. This interview is edited for length and clarity.
Q. So where did your interest in the paranormal come from?
A. My family is real diverse ethnically. I didn’t really grow up in a traditional household where ghosts and spooky things were swept under the table. It was pretty open. But I had a lot of experiences when I was younger. My mother and grandmother believed that some of the first stories that I used to tell them about seeing certain things was possibly due to my great-grandfather, who died many, many years before I was ever born.
I used to talk about a man a lot that I would see at my great-grandmother’s house. She lived in Manchester, Ga. When I would see this man, I would describe him to my mother and my grandmother. One day they got out an old book, an old family album, and they said: Do you see that man? I was like, ‘Oh yeah, there he is right there,’ and it was my great-grandfather.
Q. You had never seen the picture before?
A. No. This was when I was about 3 years old. I don’t really remember telling them about the man; they told me later on. But they would say, ‘Oh, your great-grandpa used to come around when you were little.’ That’s my earliest experiences. That’s kind of where it started.
Q. You’ve seen and felt other spirits before in your lifetime?
A. I believe so. There’s been a couple of different episodes that kind of stand out. In high school, two of my friends were killed in a car accident … I have to say that when I was a teenager I wasn’t the best kid, and we used to sneak out a lot. But then we moved into a two-story house, so sneaking out the window got a lot harder for me. But I remember waking up and hearing my friend outside who was killed in the accident — who used to come sneak me and my best friend out a lot — he was calling me and I knew there was just no way he could be there because he was dead. So that was one that was really substantial enough that it stayed with me for a long time.
Q. How about those in your paranormal group?
A. When I organized the team of paranormal researchers (more than a decade ago), I found that collectively as a group, everybody had kind of had similar experiences at some point or another.
Q. Your team believes the Civil War Naval Museum has ghosts?
A. We believe so, yes. There are plenty.
Q. They moved from next to Golden Park to near Rotary Park quite a few years ago?
A. They did. But in talking to people who have actually worked in the first location, Jerry Franklin, who used to do maintenance at the National Civil War Naval Museum, he had a lot of experiences at both.
Q. Do the artifacts possibly draw spirits?
A. I think there’s no real permanent answer to that, no absolution. We do theorize about a lot of things. The artifacts are certainly part of it. There quite possibly is some sort of attachment that happens when there’s a trauma associated with an object, or maybe trauma associated with where an object is. Or when it’s a house somewhere, maybe the energy that’s associated with that trauma or impact may stay with it.
What we do know is quite often we can document different types of things that happen with certain objects. Sometimes it may be that it gives off a strange energy reading that we pick up with meters. Sometimes a total inanimate object may fluctuate as far as temperature goes when it should not be doing that in a controlled environment.
Q. So it’s not a black-and-white issue?
A. Everything associated with ghosts is pseudo-science. There’s nothing real or factual. But what we try to do is give theories to people, give the data that we collect to people, give them some sort of facts, and say this is potentially why this place or person or item might be haunted. But there’s no way we can absolutely say this is physically haunted and that we know for a fact that something is haunted, because we don’t know that.
Q. Have you seen ghostly images in recent years?
A. I have seen a few things and I’ve been able to document a few things as far as actually capturing phenomenon on video or some sort of audio on a device. But (spirits) don’t act on cue. There’s no place where we can go and say, ‘Hey, we’re here shooting video, if you’ll just come out now.’ It never works that way.
Q. But there have been experiences?
A. We did get a couple of things at Port Columbus (naval museum) a couple of years ago. We were in there filming to do a small in-house production. We were trying to make a DVD to raise money for our team to help pay for our equipment because a lot of it’s really expensive. While we were in there I had exited one part of the Albemarle Room. It’s a mock setting of Albemarle Sound in North Carolina. The ironclad ship is docked there in the back of the museum.
But I was coming out of that mock ironclad and I heard something that sounded … the only way that I can describe it is like an animal, almost like a monkey, like a huge animal of some sort. It was a deep, guttural, growling sound. When I heard that, of course, I know where I’m at and I immediately turned to the direction of the sound, and when I did that I saw what looked like deer in the headlights. That’s the only way I can describe it as far as what I could visually see myself. It looked like eyes emanating from the dark, and it moved with intelligence from the point of the front of the ship as if it was moving down off of it. There’s a small ramp there. It was only there for a couple of seconds, then it was gone.
And as soon as I said something to my cameraman about it, he actually was panning around in the dark and he said, ‘I think I just saw something, too,’ and asked me, ‘What did you see?’ He said it looked like a man. When we went back and reviewed the video, we caught both of them. We caught the eyes and we caught the apparition of what he saw as a man. It looked more like a misty figure outline of a man. It came in and manifested and then just kind of wisped itself away. It was gone.
Q. That’s extremely spooky?
A. Things like that are very rare. Typically, we may see things or hear things and not catch them on video or audio. But that was a situation where we did.
Q. You do go to cemeteries on occasion?
A. We do. We have captured a little bit of evidence from different cemeteries. But for the most part, cemeteries seem to be pretty calm. I guess if they’re resting, they wouldn’t be (moving around). One cemetery that I know of that we did catch evidence is in Union Springs, Ala., and it had some pretty interesting history. We found out after the fact that people were buried where the church is now … In Catholic beliefs, if you were buried under a church you had to have been a really bad person. This is not a situation like that. This is just where they were rebuilding the church and there are actually people underneath there now from where they’ve spread the church out. So that cemetery might be active because their resting place was disturbed. That’s definitely a theory.
Q. Have you seen or felt anything in Columbus?
A. There’s a few places that kind of give me the heebie jeebies. (laughs) One of the places here that unnerves me a little bit and makes me feel really uneasy is the river walk. There’s definitely been a lot of crime in that area through the years that we can associate some things to.
Q. That’s because a lot of people have died near and in the Chattahoochee River?
A. Exactly, and I think it has something to do with what people experience there … You have all aspects of that, the crime, the fact that people have been killed and murdered there, and accidents … Those types of traumas, we think as researchers, definitely tend to stay in places. They absolutely stay with people.
Q. What about orbs? Are those white specks we see in photographs actual spirits?
A. We don’t put a lot of stock into orbs, just because we can duplicate that so easily with just dust or some debris that might fly around in the air … There are people that believe orbs are spirits or spirit activity. I’m not discrediting that, but typically with our group we don’t believe so. We’re very privileged to have some very state-of-the-art equipment that gives us the advantage — and I hate to use this phrase — over amateur ghost hunters. I don’t even like to use the word professional, but we do have such a lengthy amount of time in the field that we do hold ourselves to a higher standard.
Q. Do you charge for your services?
A. No. We don’t charge for any services that we offer. But we do have waiting lists that people are on from time to time. We’ve slowed down in the last couple of years and a lot of the reason why was because the demand was too high. But there are a lot of groups out there that will take advantage of people. They will charge them and they will go in and tell people things that will allow them to keep opening their doors, and constantly look for things in their home or on their property. Unfortunately, we’ve seen where a lot of bad things have happened with that. So we try to sort of work on our own. We have very few groups that we will work with. It’s a fine line that we have to walk so that we don’t fall into that area of nonsense.
Q. So it’s a general warning, be careful of who you’re dealing with?
A. Yes, absolutely. Paranormal groups are a dime a dozen. Anybody can throw a website up and say, ‘Hey, I’m a ghost hunter, I’m here to help.’ We have and still do work a lot by word of mouth … I had a lady who actually went so far as contacting the museum the other day and said she wanted me to call her. Or people will come on the tours or come to our ghost hunts or pick up a book at a signing and talk to me personally.
Q. Does interest for ghost hunters grow at Halloween? Do you get in the spirit of things and busier at this time?
A. (laughs) During October we don’t take any cases, and that’s just because this is the one time of the year when there’s a lot of promoting going on.
But, in general, I could not do what I do without my team. They are just outstanding people with regular jobs and families, and they participate and do these investigations. We all get together and analyze data. They make phone calls and they handle so much. So those other 11 months of the year, we’re taking probably three to four cases a month. You can imagine how much work goes into that. It’s a lot.
So this time of year we take advantage of that little bit of down time. Even though I’m fairly busy with book signings and tours and things like that, we always look forward to getting together for that one ghost hunt at the Civil War Naval Museum each October.
Q. What is that event like?
A. It’s fun and it brings people from the community together and we always get to hear those (eerie and strange) stories we haven’t heard yet ... We only sell 25 tickets to it every year and they sell out super fast … But my group comes in and we bring in all of our equipment and divide our guests up, and we go to different parts of the museum. They get to use different pieces of the equipment. We kind of give them a crash course in ‘Ghost Hunting 101’ for the night — this is how you use this, this is a technique you can use, we show them how to review evidence while we’re there.
And sometimes we have things happen that everybody in that group will witness ... It’s interesting. I take them around and tell them a lot about the darker, sinister history associated with things that they’re not going to read on the museum plaques. I also play EVPs (audio recordings) for them, which we have captured in that museum. So they get to listen to the evidence while I’m telling them the history and experiences we’ve had there.
Q. The bottom line, should people be apprehensive of spirits or ghosts?
A. I think it all starts with people being open-minded enough to accept that the potential is there, but not being afraid of it unless it gives you a reason to be. Certainly we have taken cases where we’ve had to refer people to clergy because we couldn’t help them any further … Once we refer them to a church we don’t go any further with them. That’s our stopping point.
Q. It’s possibly time for an exorcism?
A. We have had a couple of cases that turned so physical and so violent that we were left with no other choice but to refer them over because at that point it’s well out of our range. We’re there to document and give them information that we feel like will help them cope. It may be something they didn’t know before, something to help them understand things a little better. But once it gets to a point where it’s actually physically or mentally damaging someone, that’s as far as we go with it. I would say about 90 percent of our cases we can resolve with a house visit and a couple of investigations, and people tend to understand more and they’re happy and go on with their lives and everything’s fine.
Q. So it’s rare that it gets to the point that a clergy person is required to help the desperate people?
A. I can think of one in the last, maybe, six years that it was bad enough to where we said we’re going to have to stop where we’re at, and if you need further help, we’ll have to refer you to a church. That’s because the couple who was involved, the woman was pushed down the stairs. She also was waking up with, I don’t want to say scratches, they were gouges in her body in random places … In 10 years as an organized group, that’s probably the worst case we’ve ever had.
Hometown: Salem, Ala.
Current residence: Lee County, Ala.
Education: 1995 graduate of Beauregard High School in Lee County
Previous jobs: She’s an author of several haunted history books — Haunted Auburn and Opelika, Haunted Columbus Georgia, Haunted Montgomery and Wicked Phenix City; she also volunteers as a tour guide at the National Civil War Naval Museum in Columbus; she also works as a substitute teacher and coach in the Lee County School System.
Family: Married to Tony Serafin, her husband of 12 years, with six children between the ages of 11 and 21
Leisure time: Her family has a small homestead where they raise chickens, ducks, turkeys, pigs and vegetables, so down time is rare for them; she also enjoys reading when possible
Of note: She’s been been studying paranormal science since she was a teenager, establishing the Alabama Ghost Hunters over a decade ago. They’ve investigated haunted locations all over the country and abroad and have been featured on TV shows such as My Ghost Story, Ghost Asylum and Twisted Believers. As investigators, they research locations rumored to be haunted by documenting activity and phenomenon and interviewing eye witnesses. They collect and process data with state-of-the-art equipment and techniques. Their goal as paranormal investigators is to help people who believe they are encountering something paranormal. They believe facts and science can help prove or disprove a haunting