Ghost Bust

Seeking out spirits in the material world

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click to enlarge Ghost Bust - TODD BATES
Ghost Bust

This house is protective," says Bernie Middendorf, sitting in the bungalow he and former girlfriend Tara Schroeder share in the Seminole Heights area of Tampa. "There's no other way to describe it. This house is very protective."

He sits in the rocking chair Schroeder jokingly calls her "white wicka wocka," detailing the abode's supernatural defense forces to paranormal investigator Sara Stone of Crescent Moon Investigations. Antiques, framed photographs and wooden furniture fill the house. It's a bright and cheery refurbed home on a bright and cheery summer morning.

Telling stories better suited to campfires than to cozy living rooms, Middendorf tells us of a poltergeist, or noisy ghost, who has slammed doors and shaken beds in the dead of night. In another incident, Middendorf was mad at Schroeder and angrily sorting a stack of mail, winging the stuff to be thrown out. Among the must-go: an envelope addressed to a houseguest who had died in the house.

Immediately after the throw, the chains dangling beneath the slowly rotating ceiling fan swung violently over his head — exactly as though something or someone in an even worse mood had slapped at them.

Middendorf demonstrates by slapping the living room fan pulls, and yes, the white knobs make a racket as they glance off the fan blade.

"Now do you feel a breeze?" asks Stone, on paranormal alert from the word go. She feels cold spots but does not see dead people. She is not psychic, but from the moment she steps onto the polished hardwood floors, she "gets a feeling" from an antique sideboard the previous homeowner hadn't wanted to move. Stone is a whole lot of Mulder with a little Scully thrown in. She believes in ghosts and has seen fiery rings in the sky, although she keeps some distance from UFOs: "The government is really involved with them," she warns. She wants to prove the supernatural — to herself and clients — scientifically. To that empirical end, she has tucked in her pocketbook a digital camera (35 mm will work in a pinch) and two Electromagnetic Field (EMF) detectors she bought from the Ghost Store.

Schroeder is no stranger to hauntings. For eight years, she has worked at Tampa Theatre, long the subject of local ghost lore.

Using old Polk City Directories (Polk was the name of the company that produced them) at the library, Schroeder has been able to trace the house as far back as 1919, seven years older than the Tampa Theatre, where many believe a deceased projectionist named Foster "Fink" Finley goes about opening doors, jangling keys and, in one recent case, spinning a large urn on the second floor landing.

Since buying the house two and a half years ago, Schroeder and Middendorf have accumulated the kind of stories best told by firelight. What's more, the events they speak of took place not at summer camp but in the reasonable comfort of their home.

Before moving into their newly purchased home, Middendorf and Schroeder wanted to renovate. They enlisted Mike Hampton, a carpenter and friend, to help. Hampton moved in Jan. 1, 1999. Three weeks later, a coworker came to pick up Hampton for his day job and found him dead of a heart attack. Hampton was 42 years old.

The job was far from finished. In fact, the walls looked like vandals had run at them with hammers, knocking holes helter-skelter. "We got it all rewired," Middendorf says, "and there were holes all over the place. And the deal we cut with the electrician was don't even worry about repairing, 'cause we've got Mike. And then Mike died. "Even before he died, the house was very protective," Middendorf notes.

Two electricians were working on the house, and one's mother visited the house on a Wednesday and was dead by Sunday.

"And the second one had to leave the job and go to Georgia because his mother had taken ill suddenly," says Schroeder. "It's just like, hey, what's goin' on?" As for the letter, says Middendorf, "It was a change of address form for Mike. He had just died."

Middendorf took the violent yanking of the fan's chains seriously. He did not throw away the letter.

"To this day, it's in the house," he says.

Schroeder missed a day of work to deal with paperwork, returning to Tampa Theatre to find a body outline taped to her office floor.

"The kind of people I work with," she says with a laugh. "Freaks."

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After taking photos and EMF readings inside Middendorf and Schroeder's home, as well as the back yard (where a blade once flew off the lawnmower Schroeder was using and Middendorf has glimpsed the specter of an old man), Stone picks up a gadget from the kitchen countertop.

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