“Double A Maglite – A Ghost Story”
by Bradley Dilling
The first time I saw a maglite used by a paranormal investigator, I had to STRAIN to take the owner and his flashlight seriously. He was a man on a ghost tour that I was giving in a Victorian-era mansion where I happened to be working as a docent. It was a slow night in February and there were just the three of us — him, his wife and me. We were in the basement of a building where human remains and military hardware had been discovered deep in the dirt beneath the basement floor in the 1990s. The owner at the time had made a misguided attempt to create cathedral ceilings by deepening the floor. That project had to be abandoned, but during the dig, construction workers discovered human bones and musket balls later deemed by archaeologists to have been British-made and dating to the American Revolution, most probably the “Siege of Savannah, 1779.” It made sense, since other “digs” had discovered similar artifacts nearby. The house was built in 1837 and it is unlikely that the workers that year knew they were building over a burial ground when they laid the original floor.
The man on the tour explained the use of maglites in ghost hunting this way: You employ the sort of light that is turned on and off by twisting the flashlight head, one direction for on, the other for off. First, turn the light on, then dial back the head until it is just … barely … off. Then, you ask questions or make statements to the “others” and try to get them to turn the light on in reply to what you have said. You inform them that if they want to communicate with you, then this is a means of doing so. The theory goes that since ghosts are composed of some sort of energy, then maybe they can use that energy to complete the circuit and turn the light on in response to what you say to them.
At this point, I REALLY REALLY had to strain to take this man seriously, but “What the hell?” I thought. “Everything that I have come to firmly believe concerning the paranormal seemed absolutely ridiculous when I first encountered it, so let’s give this man and his maglite their fair shot.” Besides, he and his wife were the only people on the tour, and they paid for it in cash, happy to have the house to themselves. Before he started, he explained his technique to me: “Don’t be offended by anything I say. I am going to try to piss them off to get a reaction. I’m pretty good at it.” His wife giggled “He really is. You’ll see!” Indeed he was. Even had I not believed in ghosts, I probably would have feared standing next to him as he spewed a torrent of obscenities and character assassinations that would have gotten him pounded to a pulp in any crowded bar in Savannah, an area known for its hard-partying lifestyle. I laughed and briskly walked out of the room, calling out to him “I have to close this place ALONE at night. Nothing personal. I just don’t want to be anywhere near you when you do this.” His wife followed me out of the room. “I don’t like being near him when he does this either” she said, laughing. So there we stood, in another room, about 30 feet from our investigator, listening to him trying to piss off people he couldn’t see and, oh by the way, trying to get them to turn a flashlight on in an expression of their anger.
It wasn’t working. Seven or eight minutes of insults went by, with diatribe guaranteed to piss off anyone and the flashlight remained off. Seeing the futility of it, he tried another approach. He called out to me “Why don’t you try it? They seem to like you.” Ummm … hmmm. It was as if a small child had just asked me to speak to his imaginary friend, and I didn‘t want to hurt the kid’s feelings by telling him it was all in his head. But again, what the hell? If one is going to make a fool of oneself, it is best to have a small audience, and you couldn’t get much smaller than an audience of two. I decided to try, but I had to psyche myself into it, like an actor getting into character. This really wasn’t hard to do, because I did believe that ghosts of British soldiers could … maybe … possibly … be occupying the house. And I had a few things in common with them: I was a soldier too for 5 years (a U.S. Army journalist), and I have ancestry in the British Isles, Scotland being my favorite vacation destination. I had also spoken to many emotionally-scarred veterans who had lost friends in battle, so I have a lot of sympathy and respect for people who have been through that too.
I walked into the room where the flashlight was residing on a fire-place hearth. Not looking directly at it, I spoke with all the sincerity and compassion I could muster: “Gentlemen, I am sorry for the way that you died. But I want you to know that your country and mine have been the best of friends and allies through the worst of times.” Suddenly, the light started flickering in the completely darkened room. It flickered on and off for a about 3 seconds like a candle flame trying to gain strength, then went out.
W-T-F? ? ? ? Actually, I don’t think I even got past the first word in that abbreviation, before being struck into silence, and jumping back for a moment as if from the blast of an explosion. My head was spinning back and forth between the now darkened flashlight and the acerbic ghost hunter, looking at both in disbelief. I didn’t even get out the words “DID YOU SEE THAT?” before he replied “Yep, I told ya. They seem to like you.” (At this point, I didn’t know whether that was good or not: being liked by dead British soldiers. There’s a phrase to slip into polite dinner conversation. LOL) Regaining my composure, I thought “This is just one incident. It doesn’t prove anything. If it happens repetitively, then maybe it is meaningful. But even if it never happens again, it was one hulluva coincidence.” So I tried again, my second entreaty being delivered with a mixture of astonishment, excitement and a sense of dread that the one incident would be it — nothing more. I would try to establish common ground by speaking longingly of my own Scottish heritage. (Granted, these soldiers would have died before my ancestor was even born, but here they were talking to me, right?) I looked toward the flashlight and said “Gentlemen, I have ancestry in your part of the world. I am a descendent of the Scottish-born Anglican priest Henry Francis Lyte, who wrote a very famous church hymn (Abide With Me) before succumbing to tuberculosis in 1847.”
At the end of that sentence, the light suddenly flickered, then turned on to FULL ILLUMINATION, as though I had turned it on to full strength myself! That illumination lasted about 3 seconds before going out instantly, no flickering this time. I was rooted to my footsteps, but still astonished beyond all description that I was actually communicating with 18th century British soldiers. Then, skepticism set in and I thought “One more time. Once could be a mere coincidence, twice could be an amazing coincidence, but if it happens a third time, then it will be the normal, physical explanations that will face an up-hill battle for credibility. After all, maybe some very physical environmental factor (heat or humidity in the room, perhaps?) could cause the light’s circuit to complete, or maybe cause the gasket on which the light source turns to expand, thus turning on the light — maybe! But for all these factors to occur PRECISELY after I complete two sentences in a row? Not at the beginning, not in the middle, but precisely after I complete a sentence, as if in imitation of the polite flow of conversation two times in a row, and then a third??? Coincidence be damned.”
Hoping that I was I was establishing a friendly rapport with whomever/whatever was causing the light to go on, I tried a much more casual approach for my third comment. “Guys, I LOVE your country. I have been to Scotland twice and I enjoyed it so much that I joke with my friends in Edinburgh that I want to become rich and famous so I can buy a house next door to them and date British actresses.“
The light came on again at the completion of that third sentence, just as it had the previous two times: as if politely waiting for me to finish my sentence before replying. This time, I was shaking my head in disbelief and humbled gratitude. Only recently, had I come to believe in spirits walking among us. Since then I have always regarded them as sacred proof that life persists, even after death. That’s why I am so respectful of the dead. It’s also why I am considered by some of my ghost-hunting friends to be a good luck charm on ghost hunts. Makes sense to me. Who doesn’t like to be treated with compassion and respect?
But our spectral friends were not done with us yet. After the light had been off for a minute or two, the owner of the light stepped in and apologized for being such an insulting jerk.
BAM! The light came on again, just at the completion of his apology, like an actor on cue delivering his line. The tour was nearly over, so he retrieved the flashlight, now off again, and handed it to me saying “Here. Keep it. I don’t have money for a tip.“ I was overwhelmed. I turned it down, as if someone was handing me a sacred relic that I wasn’t worthy of handling. It needed to be enshrined someplace. He replied “Dude, I can get another one of these at Home Depot for $3. Take it.” I accepted it gratefully, like a nine-year-old baseball fanatic accepting the game-winning ball from the World Series.
I employed the flashlight on tours every week (five nights a week) for months after that incident. It came on nearly every time, and guests were constantly amazed. One time, among a crowd of about 30 people, there was a boyfriend/girlfriend couple who appeared to be in their mid-20s. The girl was chattering at the light like a 5-year-old on a high-coffee buzz, begging and pleading for the dead British soldiers to turn the light on. Nothing was happening. Then the boyfriend, standing about 10 feet away, very sarcastically said “Maybe they’ll turn the light on if you’ll just stop talking so much!” BAM! The light burst on in full brightness and the whole room roared with laughter, with everyone scared as hell and laughing at the same time. I tried to get the last laugh by saying “Well, you know they have a hell of a sense of humor. After all, they came from the country that gave us Monty Python and Benny Hill!”
The extraordinary became part of my ordinary nightly routine, and I carried that light with me everywhere I went, whether I was working or not. Eventually, the light stopped working. Maybe the circuit was fried, I don’t know. Crestfallen, I thought “Well, there goes my lucky light, one of the most remarkable things that has ever happened here.” I went to the hardware store and purchased another one, though not very optimistically. I should have known better. The second flashlight worked just as well and just as frequently as the first. Eventually I went through three AA lights over a period of about 18 months. There were only two times when it did not come on. In both instances, I was so depressed over my mother’s condition (she is deep in Stage 2 Alzheimer’s), that I could barely come to work. It almost seemed as if the ghosts were grieving with me. If my spirits weren’t up, neither were theirs, pun intended. This only deepened my belief that somehow, some way, that light was being used as a medium of communication with spirits. And also that I had made friends with those spirits.
As I complete those sentences, even after all the times that it happened, it still amazes me. But even electricians who were on my tour could not come up with a non-paranormal explanation for this phenomena. To them, a flashlight is a simple machine. It turns on and off in response to external stimuli. It’s not supposed to have a mind of its own. And even if we were to stretch our imaginations and allow for the light to be reacting to environmental stimuli that we still don’t understand, we were unable to explain how those reactions could occur PRECISELY at the ends of sentences, as if in polite conversation. I have one other observation to add to this story. None of the three other tour guides working in that house could get the flashlight phenomena to work, even when I tried to help them by setting their lights myself. Minus the two nights I mentioned above, this phenomena occurred on every tour that I worked from late February 2011 to August 2012, when I left.
Eventually, I left that tour company for a better offer elsewhere, the company I am working at now. A former co-worker who is still employed there has told me that still no one else can get the flashlight phenomena to work. He has also told my current employer “The house isn’t as haunted since Brad left.”
To which I can only reply “Wow.”