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My Paranormal Journey – Ashmore Estates

First, to address the name change of my paranormal blog – I used to call this blog “Our Paranormal Adventures” – but I feel that the heart of this blog and the purpose for it has changed – I am no longer interested in solely having an adventure – I am on a journey.  To learn, to understand, to meet like-minded people, to grow, and to embrace the idea that we will never know all that there is to know. It’s a journey, with no end, and maybe that’s the point.

Vera Nazarian (The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration) speaks of a journey in these words: When you reach for the stars, you are reaching for the farthest thing out there. When you reach deep into yourself, it is the same thing, but in the opposite direction. If you reach in both directions, you will have spanned the universe.”  This is a beautiful and fitting way to describe the journey that I am on.

The Location:

Originally located on 260 acres purchased by the Coles County Poor Farm (operating in this capacity from 1916 to 1959) the building was sold to Ashmore Estates to be used as a psychiatric facility.  That corporation opened the building as a private psychiatric hospital by the same name. In October 1964, after only five years in operation, the psychiatric hospital closed down because of debt. The institution re-opened in 1965, but changed its focus from a private facility to one that accepted patients from state mental institutions. By 1968, the shelter care facility housed 49 residents, including 10 afflicted with epilepsy.  After many changes in ownership, a lack of building and usage permits, etc, the location was eventually sold to its current owners who have invested time, money, volunteer resources, etc to what it is today – a hotbed of paranormal activity and the site of many paranormal investigations.  You can read more about Ashmore Estates here.

Sadly, many of those who passed away while living at Ashmore are in cemeteries that remain largely unrecognized and uncared for:  From the Journal Gazette & Times Courier: In the late 1800s a far-seeing Coles County Board purchased land in Ashmore Township to provide a home for indigent citizens of the county. Through the 75-80 years this institution functioned, hundreds of needy people lived at the County Farm (also known as the “Poor Farm” or the “Alms Farm”). When residents died at the Farm, sometimes their families made burial arrangements, but in many instances, the individual was interred on the Farm. At least two cemeteries have existed: a small one immediately north of the current building has completely disappeared; but a much larger one approximately one-half mile directly south of the building — south of Route 16 — still exists. Through the years, in excess of one hundred people were buried in this larger cemetery. The actual number of burials is unknown as records are spotty, but approximately sixty stones dating from the 1890’s to the 1930’s are still standing, and most of the names are decipherable. Other stones have fallen and many graves have sunken. Ashmore Township death records cite burials at the County Farm, the Poor Farm or the Alms Farm. The Coles County Genealogical Library has a record of the burials and a plat of the cemetery.”

The Event:

The visit to Ashmore Estates in Illinois coincidentally took us all on a journey -a hot, humid, mindblowing journey, through the “Past, Present and Future” (the theme of the weekend) of paranormal investigation.  The first event of its kind put on by Greg Newkirk and Dana Mathews, world-famous investigators and curators and owners of the Traveling Museum of the Paranormal and the Occult, and their indescribable friend, mentor, and paranormal partner, John Tenney of Weird Lectures and Realm of the Weird, was a guaranteed journey through many investigative techniques, ways of thinking, methods of communication and eclectic and unusual theory put into practice.

The day started with a quick meet and greet – but since this was a museum member exclusive, it was mostly a bunch of hugging and bursts of excited conversations as we all met in person (some of us for the first time) and some of us as old, well-traveled friends, preparing our minds as much as we could to be together again at this next stop on the journey.  Being familiar with each other was an incredible asset to the investigation, we knew we were among people that had similar expectations – to learn, grow, and seek to understand more. It also helped our hosts to be real, present, and to share more than they ever have before, unscripted and uncensored, honest and sincere.

We were all presented with gift bags, each of the members received a special lapel pin (exclusive to members of the Museum) and other extremely thoughtful gifts, as well as the agenda, and a small, sealed gold envelope that held promise and suspense – we were told they would be opened at midnight, for a special experiment.  After a quick review of the agenda, a description of the layout of the building, and an introduction of our surprise guests – Ty Gowen, Anna Halloran, and Johnny Speckman (Haunt ME) and Connor Randall and Karl Pfeiffer (Spirits of the Stanley and inventors of the Estes Method) – we settled in for our lectures.

The Lectures:

John Tenney kicked off the lectures with a mind-bending, far-reaching, cosmic exploration of what goes on in his mind.  He is unrestrained, deep thinking and utterly engaging. For those who have listened to John speak – you know that he starts his presentations with an explanation that he speaks in tangents, always thinking about several things at once, and one subject reminds him of another, and you end up feeling like you know everything, and somehow questioning everything, all at the same time.  He makes you think so far outside of the box, you can no longer see a box. All of this is critical when experiencing the paranormal. There is literally no normal. When he states that he believes in nothing, my interpretation of this is not that he doesn’t trust in the paranormal, it’s that he feels that once he believes in something, it ends. And to John Tenney, thinking about the paranormal should never end.  There is always something more to know or experience.  He spoke about the thought after the thought, to take an idea further than the logical conclusion.  To ask why, what next, what more – and to interact rather than just accepting what we think we are seeing or hearing or feeling.  He also spoke about enjoying his work with the specific people at the event, how he loves to hear about our experiences, and for people to challenge him and others, and to be receptive to being challenged.  

Billy

After a quick break and a step outside to try for a little breeze (truly a sweltering day in Illinois, 85 degrees, with 98% humidity), we reconvened for a lecture by the Newkirks.  Greg and Dana discussed the types of hauntings (residual, intentional, and intelligent) with examples of each – a residual example includes an apparition that appears to walk through walls over and over, with no interaction with those who witness it – it’s a sort of cosmic imprint in an area or on an item when there is extreme emotion attached to it.   For the intentional haunt discussion – the example used was the so-called Dybbuk Box that was featured in Season Five, Episode One, of Haunt ME (watch it here). This is a haunted object or area that becomes haunted or active over time, with intentions poured into it from those who are consciously feeding fear, anxiety, anger, etc. into an object or area. This might help to explain why there are so many “crying tunnels” or “women in white” – people feed their intentions into a place or an object, and eventually, it helps create the haunt.  Intelligent hauntings are exactly how they sound – they show intelligence and awareness. They respond and communicate or interact in other ways (knocking, EVPs, responses to questions). Billy (a Nkisi statue who is the “unofficial mascot” of the Paranormal Museum) is an example of an intelligent haunted object. There was also an extremely informative discussion about ethics and integrity in paranormal research – this took us an hour over our schedule, but it was so interesting and informative that no one minded! We learned a lot, as we always do, and there was an emotional component about responsibility in treating what we encounter with respect.    Emotions were high when Greg and Dana discussed pushing through fear and assumptions with dealing with haunted objects – I personally have established a personal connection with Billy – he has changed and evolved from literally screaming during EVP sessions and causing horrible nightmares to saying in one heart-touching EVP – “Hello. My Family. I love you.” We all feel an affinity in our own way with Billy, and no one would have been able to achieve that if the Newkirks had stuck Billy in a “dusty glass case” and forgotten about him.

The Investigation:

After a dinner break, we once again reconvened and were divided into three small groups of 14-15 people.  Each group was assigned to a different floor, and then we rotated through. The first floor was for “The Past” – meant to honor and investigate in historic ways, through calling out, EVP recordings, EMF detectors, digital recorders, and old-school methods of communication, such as asking for knocks or movement, or to be lightly touched or tapped.  The second floor was for “The Present” – currently what is happening in the paranormal – represented by the Estes Method, developed at the Stanley Hotel (Estes Park, Colorado) by Karl and Connor. The third floor was “The Future” – this floor was kept as a top-secret surprise until we arrived on that floor. I was assigned to Group 1, and we headed down to the first floor to begin our investigation, with John Tenney.  

First Stop:  First Floor- The Past

First floor – Image by Jennifer Knight

Once we arrived downstairs, we were met by Robbin Terry, the owner of Ashmore Estates.  He gave us a quick overview of the history of the place, how it was used, what parts of the building were original and which had been added on and when.  We held our investigation in the part of the first floor that was the place that women and children ate their meals. (When families arrived at the “poor farm” – they were separated – men in one area, women and children in another).  We sat around two long tables, set up cafeteria-style and tried an experiment. We turned off the lights, set out our recorders and EMF detectors and all held hands. John explained that we were all going to take turns asking the same question “Do you want to talk to us?” and by squeezing the hand of the person to our left, we would know it was our time to ask.  We then listened back to the recordings to see if anything was captured. We were sitting in the dimly lit room (having not really captured anything) and a very odd thing happened. Usually, these types of investigations are very quiet, everyone listening intently, or speaking softly, usually very calm and quiet. Someone mentioned “I wonder if they ate peanut butter and jelly?” and then chaos erupted.  There suddenly was an explosion of activity by the people investigating and sitting around the table, everyone started chatting with each other, discussing food that was probably served, a brief discussion of grape vs. strawberry jelly, discussion of lemonade, what it would have been like to live there, ice cream – there were several discussions going on at once and the room suddenly felt like a busy dining hall, just how it used to be.  We then started getting spirit activity, rocks scuttling across floors in empty rooms, tapping, knocking, and movement in the hallway behind us. A small green light was seen in the room next to ours, we saw shadow movement in doorways, and a woman at the table had her ponytail pulled twice in response to our “shave and a haircut” request. The gentleman across from me was tapped on his shoulder and arm. It was interesting how once we started acting and behaving in a familiar way, we started experiencing activity.

Second Stop: Second Floor – The Present

Karl and Conner – Image by Chris Carpenter

Representing “The Present” on the second floor were Karl Pfeiffer and Connor Randall, utilizing the Estes Method.  The Estes Method has caught on like wildfire – even being shown on television (example – by Amy Bruni and Adam Berry on Kindred Spirits), and seems to be a really evolving method right now in communication.  Ty, Anna and Johnny joined us for this experiment. Karl and Connor used the split headphone experiment for our group. This experiment used the splitter to test how the Estes communication is interpreted by two different people listening to the same spirit box feed:  who is communicated with more clearly, and the way that each interprets the messages differently.   Before we began, a member of the group (Sondra) was selected to write a word on a whiteboard and take it down the hallway, out of sight of everyone (she was the only one who knew the word) to see if it would come through. I was listening intently to Karl, who was seated in front of me and directly across from Sondra who was trying to ask for the word that she had written on the board.  She asked for the spirit to please tell us what was on the board – nothing came through, and someone brought up that maybe they couldn’t read, as it was a place for the poor, children, and later a psychiatric hospital. She then asked for a letter in the word – Karl replied “You are trying to make me sound stupid” – and Sondra immediately said “I’m sorry, we don’t think you are stupid” and Karl replied “thank you”, which I thought was interesting, as it seemed to be directly responding to Sondra, even though he was blindfolded and had headphones on that blocked out his hearing of the conversation around him.  There were also moments where Connor and Karl were completing each other’s sentences. We also experienced the light sensors lighting up in the hallway (set up to detect movement outside of the room), lights being blocked out, and a light behind me that kept turning on randomly, until it was unplugged and removed from the area. I am impressed that Connor and Karl are interested in trying many different ways of testing this method, as it has truly been groundbreaking in the area of paranormal communication.

The remainder of the investigation – to be continued…

 

 

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