There's more to Halloween than Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees.
There's something about the paranormal that is attractive, even while somewhat frightening to most folks, and this time of year brings out both the fear and curiosity more than any other.
Was that the wind? Is this house really haunted? Did we just hear a bump in the night when no one else is home?
And, are ghosts real?
"People are always intrigued in what can not be readily explained, especially when it comes to the ultimate question of life after death," said Brandy Herr, a paranormal expert from Granbury. "There is so much mystery surrounding the paranormal, with countless theories and first-hand accounts of personal experiences, that people want to be the one to solve the case."
Herr, from Granbury, is the author of "Haunted Granbury" and the host of the Granbury Ghosts and Legends Tour and the annual Granbury Paranormal Expo. She is hosting an event at the Weatherford Public Library on Thursday, Oct. 26 from 6-7:30 p.m. entitled "Research and Investigation of the Paranormal."
Weatherford's own Fire Marshal Robert Hopkins has had a long interest in the paranormal. In fact, he's written numerous short stories on the subject, highlighting haunted sites throughout the North Texas area. They have been published on sites such as Texasscapes.com and themoonlitroad.com.
Hopkins' stories feature such haunts as the Baker Mansion and the Lowe-Wright House in Weatherford (the site of the city's fire offices), the Malloy Hotel in Corsicana, the Hagler Farm in Joshua, the Catfish Plantation in Waxahachie, the Ghost of Thurber, along with stories from Burleson, Chico and others.
"I think I am drawn to ghost stories for two reasons, the mystery and the history. My grandmother was born in 1904, and when I was a child she always told stories of life when she was young, before cars and television and talked about family and life in a way that seemed more likeable to me," Hopkins said. "The era of her days seemed more mysterious to me because people weren't as info savvy and more apt to believe a mysterious event happened because someone said it did."
Hopkins believes the paranormal is fascinating to people for a variety of reasons. One is the mystery of life, and another is the connection to our own immortality.
"Tell a good ghost story and you'll surely see someone roll their eyes, but their all ears," he said. "They listen, even if they don't believe it, they listen.
"We live in an age where secularism wants to explain everything down to a single, simple, boring answer, I think in reality, there are no simple answers to anything, and we all really know it."
Herr notes that people have had a long interest in being frightened, though it would seem to go against the norm. But records show that Halloween is one of the country's most popular holidays, with the horror genre always great for a box office draw or book sales, and haunted houses are a booming industry.
"There is a cathartic release to being scared, which draws people in," she said. "And if they can explain one of life's greatest questions while enjoying an emotional release, so much the better."
But Herr said the reality is that we shouldn't be afraid of most ghosts. After all, they are just people in a different form.
"Sure, they may be people we can't easily see or interact with, but in essence, they are still just people. And if you're not afraid of people, then why should you be scared of ghosts?" she said. "Some ghosts may be grumpier than others and want to be left alone, just like anyone. So as long as we treat them with the same respect we would treat living people, there is no reason that we should be scared of most ghosts."
Hopkins, on the other hand, said he believes ghosts, again like people, can possibly have evil traits. As for believing in them, he points to them even being mentioned in the Bible.
"Even Jesus mentions a ghost when he walked on the water and approached the boat with his disciples in it. They thought he was a ghost. Jesus doesn't say if ghosts are good or bad, but does make a simple reference to them," he said.
"I do not believe ghosts are the spirits of the dearly departed, as much as most believe. I think it is very dangerous to make assumptions, as many do, that ghostly or paranormal phenomenon is harmless and easy to understand or that it can be reasoned with. That's like assuming that a ravenous dog is friendly, until you try to pet it."
Whether they are people or otherwise, ghosts can also sometimes be hard to explain. For example, why do they appear in some places and not others? Why do some living people see and connect with them and not others?
"There is no shortage of theories as to why some places attract more spirits than others. Of course, there is the obvious theory that if a place is old, and especially if something tragic happened there, it's more likely to be haunted," Herr said. "Another intriguing theory I have heard in the paranormal research community is one involving limestone. It is believed that limestone acts as an energetic sponge, absorbing the energy that comes near it. So a building that has more limestone in its infrastructure can be more likely to be haunted, since it literally contains the energy within its walls of everyone that has passed through it."
And the connection with some humans and not others? Herr said this could be as simple as believing and not believing. After all, who wants to hang around someone who doesn't even think they exist?
"The more you delve into the unknown, the more your mind opens and invites spirits to contact you," she said. "Others may just have some sort of a quality that is unknown to them that attracts spirits, something in their energy. That is all part of the mystery as well.
"It is much more common for children to interact with spirits, again probably because they still maintain a more open mind. As we age, we grow more skeptical and closed off to seeing what's all around us."
One of the common questions is does everyone become a ghost after they die? Who knows? Herr offers some theories on why they exist.
"All the known theories are probably correct to some extent, unfinished business, they don't know they're dead, they are afraid to cross over, they are attached to a place or person, etc.," she said. "So since there are any number of theories as to why ghosts exist, adults and children alike are equally possible to become spirits."
Hopkins warns that caution should always be taken when it comes to trying to understand the paranormal. Nothing, he said, is a better teacher than a personal experience.
And, always be prepared that most people who were not there with you at the time of the experience will not believe it happened or will try to explain it away.
"Most paranormal experiences are subjective in nature, meaning, the thing that happened to me was my personal experience but explaining it to the world in a way that makes rational sense is impossible and can never be backed up with hard evidence, in most cases," he said. "So, that leaves us to assumptions, which can get us hurt. I don't think the paranormal, the real paranormal is something to play around with. It can be dangerous and we must be very careful in attempting to understand as much about it as we can."
Herr has had plenty of her own experiences with the paranormal with her team Research and Investigation of the Paranormal (RIP). Once, for example, she was followed around and touched by something she could not see during an investigation.
And, she vividly remembers the one time she fully saw a ghost.
"I was living in Virginia and not at all involved in paranormal investigations. I was walking into a pizza shop in a strip mall while my mother waited outside in the car by the curb. The strip mall was pretty well deserted that day, the parking lot was empty," she recalled. "As I approached the restaurant, I saw the reflection in the plate glass window of a woman directly behind me. She looked about my age, hair back in a messy pony tail, and was carrying a little girl around 2 or 3 years old in pigtails who was sound asleep on her shoulder.
"I stepped up to the door, and as this woman was very close behind me, I opened the door and stepped back to allow them to go in first, however, there was no one to be found. I even double checked by asking my mother if she had seen the woman and girl from her vantage point in the car, and she replied that there was no one anywhere in the complex."
Hopkins, likewise, had an experience that he chose not to delve into. But he did say it was unlike anything he'd ever experienced before and it defied all the logic he'd been taught to work with in his career.
"I have a degree in fire science so its not simply about choosing to believe in the paranormal. Like investigating fires, it doesn't matter what I choose to believe, the only thing that matters is the data," he said. "What does the evidence say? What is the experience? I can say with clarity that I did experience something that before I did, I would not have believed someone telling it to me."
So, are ghosts real? Hopkins said they are to the person experiencing the phenomenon, and that is ultimately what matters most to each of us individually.
"It has been my belief after much research that 98 percent of ghost stories out there can be found to be untrue or seriously embellished," he said. However, it's that remaining 2 percent that I find fascinating and worth the hunt to find out more."
To find out more about Herr and the Granbury Ghosts and Legends Tour on Friday and Saturday nights, year-round, visit www.GranburyTours.com. For information on "Haunted Granbury" and her other work, visit www.AuthorBrandyHerr.com.