Are we haunted?

Denise Roffe has seen a full-bodied apparition — what most people would call a ghost — three times. 

The first time was when her mother died and she saw her form passing through a garden and entering a house in Stone Mountain, Ga. The second time was when she saw a woman dressed in old-fashioned finery in the ladies’ lounge at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta. 

“We were doing a paranormal investigation,” Denise recalls, “and I saw her for just a second with my flashlight. I screamed.”

The third time? That would be at the Wren’s Nest last year. More on that later.

Denise is co-founder of the Southeastern Institute of Paranormal Research, a group of ghost-hunters who use small electronic equipment to measure sounds, energy fields, and other manifestations of spirits who have gone before. She and her colleagues led several nights of ghost-hunting sessions at the Wren’s Nest last year, drawing more than 200 people. They can’t hold the sessions in person this year because of the pandemic, but we’re offering them virtually on Zoom for six evenings in September and October starting this Saturday. (For tickets and dates, CLICK HERE.)

Denise inherited her interest in the paranormal from her father, who saw his grandmother’s ghost when he was a child and spoke often of such mysteries with his daughter. She has been ghost-hunting for more than 20 years, the last 12 with the SIPR. She has written a book about ghosts — “Ghosts and Legends of Charleston” — and has led dozens of investigations  in Savannah, Charleston, and Atlanta-area landmarks such as the Fox and the Southside Theatre Guild in Fairburn, where a theater troupe performs in a vintage movie house.

“Theaters are by far the most active places for the paranormal,” Denise says. “The only thing I can figure is it’s all the energy you get when people produce a play and get together to see it.”

The other misconceptions have to do with what people see on the ghost-hunting shows that have become a TV staple. “They see people yelling at ghosts, demanding that they come out, and then something happens and everyone jumps,” she says. “The truth is that we mainly debunk. We capture sounds and electronic phenomena and analyze them. Most of them turn out to be ordinary things. A few of them turn out to be disembodied voices or some other evidence of the paranormal.”

As for that full-bodied apparition at the Wren’s Nest: During an investigation last year, Denise walked past the doorway to Joel Chandler Harris’s bedroom — the room where the author died in 1908 — and glimpsed a man standing in front of the fireplace contemplating the mantel. She saw him well enough to make out his face.

Our director then, Melissa Swindell, took Denise to the family room, where she examined photos of Harris’s children displayed on the wall. She recognized one of the faces. She believes the apparition she saw was of Julian Harris, a distinguished writer and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who helped his father found the Uncle Remus Home Magazine in the last few years of his life. Maybe they were having an editorial conference.

You’ve heard of living history demonstrations at house museums? We had no idea.

Ghost-hunting, Ghosts, Southeastern Institute of Paranormal Research

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