As a paranormal investigator, Chad Lewis has, over the years, tracked the elusive chupacabra, toured the infamous Loch Ness, hunted vampires in Transylvania, and visited the standard haunted house. He organizes the Unexplained Conferences and is the host of The Unexplained TV and radio shows. He found a moment in this busy Halloween season to talk to City Pages.
City Pages: How did you first become interested in the paranormal?
Chad Lewis: I was studying psychology at the University of Wisconsin—Stout. I was really interested in the paranormal for years before that but I was interested at that point why people were believing or why they didn’t believe in the paranormal. What was it about our human belief systems or our perception that made some people believe and others not believe. This was back when the UFO phenomenon was huge. You couldn’t go anywhere without somebody wearing an alien on their shirt, things of that nature. So I started presenting this research at symposiums and people would come up to me and tell me, “I know this isn’t really what you’re doing right now, but I think my home may be haunted.” Or, “You know what? I saw something in my backyard that I can’t explain. It looked like a Bigfoot creature. Could you help me investigate it?” And it really blossomed from there and it led to crop circle research, vampires, UFPs, alien abductions, werewolves, hauntings, ESP-- you name it. If it’s weird, I’ve investigated it.
CP: Do you use your Master’s Degree in Applied Psychology?
CL: Yeah, I think I use it quite a bit and probably more than a lot of my colleagues that were in the same program that I was in, because the paranormal really is dealing with people. A lot of the cases that we get, whether it’s UFO, whether it’s Bigfoot, whether it’s haunted locations, what you get are eyewitness reports from people. So dealing with people, knowing how to interview people, looking for people that might be trying to pull a hoax or might not be telling the absolute truth, or just learning how to ask a question without it being a leading question. So I think I use psychology in every case. Even though I didn’t plan to set out doing this, I think psychology is one of the best backgrounds you can have for this type of work.
CP: What’s a day in the life of a paranormal investigator like?
CL: It varies, but I’ll give you a typical day. Obviously October’s a little different than every other day or month or year. But what usually happens is, you know, I wake up like everyone else and start on some work, usually doing some research about a case that I had heard of. For instance, let’s say it’s a ghost case. I’ll go to the historical society, try to dig up some information about it, visit some of the locals of that area, talk to people, try to get more information. The day consists of speaking to the media, especially this time of year, I probably speak with fifteen different media people a day during October. But then some of the day I have set aside for emails. I receive probably two to three hundreds emails a week from people around the US. And then I try to squeeze in some time to actually write and put this research into a new book project. So it’s a combination of doing the research, talking with people, doing the promotion for the research and then the actual writing up of the research.
CP: Are you funded by private people or mostly from grants?
CL: Neither, actually. Both my research partner [Terry Fisk] and I do not charge for any type of investigation that we do. People who do charge, I would be very skeptical of those people because when somebody says that their home may be haunted and they want us to come investigate, what service are we really doing for them? We might try and find out what’s happening, see if there’s a logical or normal explanation. But in the end, what service are we really providing? I just wouldn’t feel right about charging for something like that. All of our research is funded by our books and our speaking engagements. Up to about a year ago, both my research partner and I were working in “real” careers, if you will. You know, real jobs, not this. But it got to be so much that we just couldn’t do both things any more and we had to go full time doing this.
CP: Honestly, Chad, do you really believe in ghosts?
CL: Well, that’s a very interesting question and probably the question that I get asked most often. And I’m going to give you an answer, I’m not going to side-step that question. I do. Here’s the kicker, I believe that people are seeing these things, whether they’re the spirits of their deceased relatives, whether it’s some type of hallucination, whether it’s the memory of the earth that’s being re-played over much like if you were watching a video, it’s just something that’s happened in the past. I think something’s happening but I don’t know what that is. But I’ve talked to too many intelligent, down to earth people that have had something happen to them, that I’m firmly convinced that something’s happening. But after fourteen years of doing this, I don’t know what that is. And that’s part of what keeps me moving and keeps me interested in this field is that I still don’t know what happens when we die. I don’t know if we’re alone in the universe and I certainly don’t know if we’ve captured every animal here on the planet. So I think like most of your readers, I’m still curious. But I certainly do believe these things are happening and I’m looking to try to find out, well, what exactly are these things?
CP: What do you think ghosts haunt a certain location? Why don’t these spirits or whatever they are just move on?
CL: Well, the short answer for that is I don’t know. I don’t have the answer to that. I’ll certainly speculate on some theories for you. One being that when someone passes on, whether it was a natural death or a murder or suicide or untimely death, one of the theories is that for some reason they have some unfinished business here and that in order for them to move on to wherever it is we move on, if we do, they have to finish that. Others in the area throw out the theory that ghosts do not know that they’re deceased, that they’re just continuing to do the daily things that they’d done while they were alive and at some level not really knowing or not really accepting that they’re no longer among the living. And then there’s the other theory that when you’re seeing these things, it’s not actually the spirit of someone who has deceased, but it is, like I mentioned, it’s just a replay of an event that has happened before. Oftentimes when there are ghost sightings where there’s no interaction between the ghost and the witness and the ghost appears to be doing the same thing over and over and over, that is what is called a residual haunting, meaning that it’s a replay of something that has happened in the past and not really the evidence of the afterlife. I should leave out the theory that it’s nothing more than a hallucination or mass hysteria that when people are seeing these things, it’s just a misfiring of the brain or that they want to see and believe so bad that they’re almost creating this type of apparition or paranormal activity. So there are a number of theories and I really don’t know.
CP: Are you ever involved in the cleansing of the area or trying to get an area rid of a ghost?
CL: Yeah, we do. Now, we don’t normally do it ourselves, but we’ve got so many contacts that we’ll put somebody in touch with someone who does that. And we always like to go along on these things because it’s really fun and it’s very interesting to see all these psychics or these intuitives work and a lot of the times that’s what people are looking for. They want somebody to come and cleanse their house or get rid of the spirit. And if there was a list of psychic ability, I’d probably be last on that list. So I have to put people in contact with those that we think are reputable people in that field. And again there’s no charge on that because I just don’t think it would be ethical to charge somebody for something like that.
CP: What do you say to skeptics to debunkers?
CL: I would say, “I know exactly how you feel. I don’t know whether or not some of these stories I believe.” What I always state in my presentations and in the book is that we’re going to provide the best research that we can. We’re going to try to sort fact from fiction, give you an accurate history about the place, give you the best eye witness reports we can and then let the person make up their own minds. If you read the book or come to a presentation or our website or whatever and you leave there thinking ghosts or UFOs or crop circles don’t exist, that’s fine. If you think that they do exist, that’s fine as well. We never try to shape somebody’s beliefs because we certainly don’t have all of the answers and I think a lot of the people who come to these things or pick up the book, may not even necessarily be believers, but they’re curious. And they might say to themselves, I don’t know if ghosts exist or haunted locations are out there, but you know what? Especially this time of year, I’m curious and I want to see what this is all about. So when people, especially debunkers and skeptics come up to me, they’re often surprised when they tell me about some of their hesitation that I don’t want to argue with them, that I understand exactly where they’re coming from. And I think for some people that’s disappointing because they want me to try to convince them which I’m still working on figuring out my own theories and beliefs so I certainly couldn’t tell somebody else.
CP: What’s the strangest or scariest incident that you’ve investigated?
CL: That was actually in the country of Belize. We were searching for this creature of the jungles and the forests. The only way we could get a night tour of the river of this place was to hire a guide in a make-shift canoe. And it was labeled as a crocodile tour because the river that you’re in is infested with gators and crocodiles all over. And it was in the middle of Belize which is very rural, very poor, there’s no streetlights, there’s no other lights out there, it’s dark, black. And we show up at the river – it was just my wife and myself and this guide – and he brings out the canoe. And you sit in this canoe and you’re literally right on the water, like if you moved to one side or the other an inch or two, that things gonna tip and water’s gonna come in. And I didn’t think that thing could even hold water, but we were paddling down this river surrounded by crocodiles and I didn’t know if I was more scared of the crocodiles or of this creature called the tata duende that is said to roam the riverbanks. Probably the crocodiles. There was a point when I wanted to say, “I don’t want to do this. I really do not want to be here right now.” I felt scared both physically and psychologically, but somehow I made it through it.
CP: When you die, what location are you going to haunt?
CL: A lot of wonderful places. I’d probably haunt near Lock Ness in Scotland, just the banks of the Loch because it’s just such a beautiful area. But here in the United States, I’d probably haunt a small northern Wisconsin town where a little resort called Little Bohemia is located because that’s the place where John Dillinger is said to haunt with a few of the gangsters. It has a huge history of people in northern Wisconsin gathering there. So I think I would probably haunt someplace like that. You’re out in the country, it’s a beautiful wooded northern Wisconsin town and you couldn’t ask for much more.
CP: What’s the best place in the Twin Cities to go for a ghost sighting?
CL: I would recommend – and I’m biased on this because of the whole Dillinger connection again – but I would recommend the Wabasha Street Caves in St. Paul and not only because it’s deemed to be haunted by several men who were shot to death in there, former gangster that hung out – but you have all these hauntings and a very good possibility that something would happen to you there, but you also have a very unique history. This place started out as a mushroom factory, turned into a glass plant, then it was a speakeasy, a nightclub, and it still continues to live on over all these years. It was a hang out for St. Paul’s gangster element so you have not only the opportunity for a haunting, but you certainly have an opportunity for a very exciting history lesson as well. So I would recommend people travel to the Street Caves there and they actually give tours, which is very unique.
CP: It was nice talking to you.
CL: Well, thank you. And keep an eye out ‘cause you never know when you might see something weird.
Lewis’s book The Minnesota Road Guide to Haunted Locations is a must-read for anyone looking to freak themselves out this Halloween or any time of the year. He will be discussing the books at the Maple Grove Library this Sunday. Free. 2:00 p.m. 8351 Elm Creek Blvd., Brooklyn Park; 952.847.5550.