By ALAN K. STOUT
Times Leader Staff Writer
Sitting at a table inside Keenan's Irish Pub on Wilkes-Barre's Public Square, admitted ghost-chaser Bob Shortz and his friends Reda and Heather Griffiths began to show Mary Therese Biebel and me an impressive collection of seemingly unexplainable photographs.
There was a shot of a phantomlike female figure in an area cemetery and strange circles - which they called “orbs”' - hovering about a variety of settings. These, they told us, were spirits of the dead.
They also told us a few spooky stories of hearing eerie voices, witnessing vanishing cars and sensing strange presences.
Throughout the conversation, I couldn't help but think Shortz and the Griffiths seemed like normal folks and that the camera they used for many of the photos was a simple Polaroid-style model. Orbs, they told us, were common and could sometimes be found and photographed with relative ease. And when they offered us the chance to see for ourselves, Mary Therese and I jumped at the opportunity to tag along for a night of ghost-hunting.
After hearing from Shortz that a spirit had once followed him home, Mary Therese seemed a little more nervous. She later confided that she even went to church to pray for protection just before we met at Keenan's. And even I must admit I did dab myself with a little holy water and said a few words to the man upstairs before leaving my apartment that night.
I did, however, really want to see a ghost.
For me, seeing such a thing firsthand would not necessarily be frightening, but might help answer the biggest question of all time: What happens to us when we die?
Think about: Our belief in God, and thus life after death, relies almost solely on pure faith. As far as we know, God simply does not reveal himself to us in any physical form. Our prayers often go unanswered. People we love die, sometimes far too young. Tragedies continue to grab the headlines, and bad things happen to good people every single day. But many of us, through our faith, continue to believe God cares for us and watches over us. We continue to believe - and hope - that our loved ones go on and that we will be with them again someday.
To me, seeing a ghost with my own eyes would give all of this a sense of tangibility. It would be proof of life after death, and in a sense, proof of God. It would be a life-altering experience and certainly not frightening.
Our first stop was at a local hospital, where Mary Therese tried to contact an acquaintance who recently died there. Hoping to reach him, we stood outside the old wing of the facility. Not one to stand idly by, Mary Therese took on a leadership role.
“We come in peace!” she said firmly. “We come with respect.”
“Wow!”' I said, as Mary Therese's first photo began to develop before our eyes. There, right on the photograph, was a big yellowish blob of light, directly outside the third-story window of the hospital.
Maybe it was an orb!
Another photo, taken only a few seconds later of the same window from the same angle, revealed nothing. Perhaps, just for one split second, we had indeed captured a glimpse of life on the other side.
This was going to be an amazing night.
Next, Mary Therese, Bob and I went into the hospital's chapel, which was very quiet and holy, and, out of all the stops we made throughout the night, seemed to have the most spiritual presence. Mary Therese again invited any spirits present to pose for a photo, and again, it appeared she may have had something. When her Polaroid developed, streak-like lights invisible to the naked eye appeared. And though Bob believed something supernatural was happening, I wasn't so sure this time.
At this point, I became more skeptical and began asking our photographer more and more about what he thought of the photos we were taking. When he said he believed the odd lights might be explained by shutter speeds, glares, hand movement, nearby lights or bulb flashes - and that he could probably reproduce the same effect with his cameras, I made a point of taking any pictures I shot in the darkest of areas an with the most steady hands.
And, from then on, I got nothing.
No ghosts. No apparitions. No more orbs.
Visits to the Wyoming Monument, the Forty Fort Cemetery and Our Lady of Fatima Grotto provided us with nothing but dark pictures or photos I would simply describe as out of focus. Bob, Reda and Heather seemed to share our disappointment but explained that there are good nights and bad nights for ghost-hunting, and we might have just picked a bad night to head out.
As for me, I certainly can't explain some of the photos they showed us earlier that night at Keenan's, nor can I explain the unusual photo Mary Therese took on our very first stop at the hospital. And, for all of the reasons I mentioned earlier, I still want to believe in ghosts, orbs and anything else that has to do with the spiritual world.
For now, however, I still don't have a definite answer to that big question, nor do I have a photograph that provides me with the answer to life's great mystery. And maybe that's just how the man upstairs wants it to be.
Maybe faith - not Polaroids - is all we're supposed to have.