Things that go bump in the night

A local writer got more than he bargained for on ghost hunts

By Stephanie Dolan

What’s your favorite scary movie? Do you enjoy watching it in the dark, under a blanket, with your hands partially covering your face because – even though you know what’s about to happen – you can’t bear to be fully exposed to the horror on the screen?

If you’re even a sometimes connoisseur of a good thriller, chances are you pull out your DVDs or fire up your Netflix horror queue on or around Halloween. What better time to be scared? You pop some popcorn, steal some Halloween candy from the bowl and bundle up, ready to jump out of your skin as the music crescendos and the monster pops out from the closet.

The origins of Halloween go back thousands of years to the Celtic celebration of Samhain, at which time people would dress in costume and light bonfires in an effort to ward off ghosts.

Today, though, we seem to embrace the idea of ghosts. Ghost hunting has become a popular pastime for seekers ready to come into contact with those from “the other side”, and ghost hunting shows have never been more popular. We have the classic monsters such as Dracula and Frankenstein, the brutes who stalk babysitters such as Freddie, Michael and Jason, not to mention possessed dolls and creepy clowns.

The beginning

But it all started with ghosts, didn’t it? They are our original monster under the bed.

The Southside Times’ very own Rick Hinton, resident monster chaser, has been writing about his ghost hunting trips and other scary stories for much of the last decade.

A group photo of a former certain Odd Fellows Lodge in northern Indiana where Hinton said he’s had things happen to him there more than any other place he’s visited. The experiences were not so nice. (Photo by Rick Hinton)

“I’m a writer, and I just happen to write about scary things,” he said. “I’ve been writing for The Southside Times for four-plus years, and before that I wrote five years for Examiner.com.

For many years, Hinton spent time – much of each weekend – chasing ghosts and looking for evidence of the paranormal.

“Even though technically I’m still a member of a group, South Central Paranormal, my wife and I have chosen not to do investigations anymore. I’ll write about them, and I have lot of stories and opinions. First, there’s the time factor. It really drains on you. You’re doing this every weekend. You’re driving – sometimes great distances. It’s physical work to walk around all night trying to gain evidence, and then you get in the car and drive home at 4 o’clock in the morning. It takes you two days to recover from that, and you’re doing that every weekend.”

But getting some extra sleep wasn’t the only reason that Hinton decided to put a hold on his ghost hunting hobby.

“There are some other implications that make me think that what I do may not be the safest thing in the world,” he said. “A lot of people don’t believe in ghosts, and that’s fine. I didn’t for a long time. But it’s a big mysterious world out there, and we just don’t have all the answers. But I also sometimes wonder if there aren’t some evil implications surrounding what we do and what haunted houses really are. Is it really the ghost of your Great Aunt Emma that you hear every night in the kitchen, or is it something imitating your Great Aunt Emma?”

Where it all began: Hinton’s grandparents’ house in Kentucky.

The fervor

While ghost hunters and paranormal investigators have been seeking answers for centuries, Hinton said the most recent ghost hunting fervor has come as a result of ghost hunting television shows.

“The ghost shows started all this, and now there are all these groups,” he said. “They all go out and do the same thing that everyone else has done the last 30 years.”

Hinton said that while he enjoys writing about it, he is by no means a paranormal expert.

“I tell stories,” he said. “I give my opinions. There are no paranormal experts. It’s all theory. This has been going on for hundreds of years, and we’re no closer now than we were then.”

Hinton said he initially started going out to investigate because he wanted answers.

“Some go out because they want to be the next paranormal TV star,” he said. “Or they go for the adrenaline rush. I still have friends who go out every weekend. It’s a strange hobby, and I would recommend that if people want to have a hobby, watch sports. This can be dangerous.”

The Indiana Medical History Museum on the grounds of the former Central State Hospital is one of the few surviving buildings that gives immediate creeps upon entering.

Hinton began investigating approximately 20 years ago.

“My grandparents and all my mom’s side of the family lived in a small town in Kentucky called Jamestown,” he said. “It’s on the banks of Lake Cumberland. They’re very superstitious people in southern Kentucky. They lived in a little farmhouse in the middle of nowhere with a single streetlight at night. I always heard stories. My grandparents were real tight-lipped about it, but my mom’s sister – Mary Lou – died during childhood. My mom saw her after she died. My mom was riding a horse down a gravel road and my mom saw her playing in the air. I asked my grandparents about that story, and they were very tightlipped. They wouldn’t even comment on it. The stories started there. It was kind of a creepy place.”

During his teen years, Hinton continued to read books on aliens and monsters, later becoming hooked on paranormal TV like so many others.

The danger

“I met a guy named Steve Edwards, who had a group called North Central Paranormal,” Hinton said. “We decided he needed offshoots of that group, and we developed South Central Paranormal. He was my mentor. I just did an article on him a few months back. Steve went through a life change. He and I were the ones who first started talking about whether this wasn’t what it really seemed. He had some bad things happen to him, and I think he had something come home with him once. After that, he was done, and he decided that it wasn’t safe and this wasn’t something he wanted to do anymore.”

Now? Edwards has replaced his ghost hunting with painting watercolors.

While Hinton no longer does ghost hunting, he feels he’s experienced enough to know one thing for certain.

“There is absolutely something,” he said. “It’s something I’m not sure I want to continue to delve into.”

While he won’t be doing any ghost hunting in the foreseeable future, that won’t stop him from enjoying Halloween, continuing to write for The Southside Times and watching The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix.

“It’s so good!” he said.

5 questions with Rick Hinton

What is your favorite scary movie? The Conjuring.

Historically, what story from days gone by has creeped you out the most?

A hijacker named D.B. Cooper jumped out of a plane over Oregon in the 70s with a lot of money. No one ever found him. He completely disappeared. People started finding traces of money washing up on a river bank. Now there’s a story that he did survive, and he’s been living under an alias all these years.

How do you celebrate Halloween?

We live on busy Southport Road. We always buy our candy, and no one comes to our door, so we end up eating it all. The grandkids come over, and we go into the neighborhood and trick-or-treat. Years ago, we used to do the parties and dress up, but now we really enjoy spending the time with our grandkids.

If you could be any classic movie monster, who would it be? Werewolf

What’s your greatest fear?

Crashing in an airplane. Even though I fly a lot for work. Landing is the worst part for me.