West Allis - It was a dark and rainy night, and thunder snarled over the West Allis Public Library - the kind of night that's perfect for a ghost story.
Which is exactly what the 50 people, give or take a few, gathered at the library came to hear. But not just stories, they were listening to tales of real happenings of the hard to explain.
Presenting them was Curt Strutz, who has visited "haunted" sites all over the Midwest. With his television crew, he sets up monitors and cameras in hopes of capturing the paranormal for his Internet and cable show "Paranormal Generation."
He calls himself a skeptic, and to prove it he cautioned people not to get all excited about odd things that show up in photographs. He showed one where there was a tiny but unmistakable light of the kind known in the paranormal world as an orb.
But instead of it being supernatural, Strutz told the audience, it was probably just a speck of dust in front of the camera lens that was illuminated by the camera flash. He knows that's possible because he has created "orbs" himself by pounding a dusty pillow and snapping a photo.
"I will get a room full of these things," he said.
The town of Story, Ind.
But he went on to describe other happenings that are seemingly inexplicable.
Some happened at the Story Inn, located in the tiny Indiana town of Story. Although the inn had been bustling from the late 1800s until the mid-1900s, it sat vacant for decades until someone bought it and turned it into a bed and breakfast. Guests were invited to write of their stay in the diaries provided in each room. But instead of writing about what a wonderful stay they had, they wrote of feeling someone sitting on the foot of the bed even though no one was there, of whisperings and of seeing a glowing elderly lady, Strutz said.
Being a skeptic, he said, he wrote it off as suggestible guests reading whatever previous guests had written and then having what they thought were similar experiences.
But that theory quickly exploded, he said, when an old crate was found containing front desk log books from the early 1900s. In those books, guests told the exact same stories of someone sitting on the bed, of whisperings and of seeing a woman.
Heavy breathing at cigar bar
Closer to home, Strutz described a visit to a supposedly haunted building right in Milwaukee's Historic Third Ward. It's Shaker's Cigar Bar, 422 S. Second St., where one of the group's microphones picked up heavy breathing. The entire crew was accounted for downstairs in the building's basement, Strutz said, so the mic wasn't picking up any of them. They knew they were the only ones inside the building because they had set up motion detectors.
The bar staff and owner have had their own strange experiences, he said. Just about everybody working there has gone down to the basement to get ice, put the ice bucket down, turned their back on the bucket to get the ice out and turned back to find the bucket had moved several feet away, he said.
That isn't as dramatic as the fright that bar owner Bob Weiss got one day when he was alone in the bar. Strutz related how Weiss told him how he was speaking on the phone when he felt a tap on the shoulder. But when he turned around, no one was there. It was creepy, but he continued his conversation.
Then came another tap. This time, he turned slowly and was electrified at seeing the material in the jacket he wore moving up and down with each invisible tap.
Weiss isn't the only one who has seen things in that mirror. An old sailor smoking has probably been seen more than anything else, Strutz said. Weiss is making the most of his apparent haunting, advertising Shakers as a haunted bar.
Much to wonder about
Strutz makes no money off his Paranormal Generation show. It's a self-funded hobby, he said after the presentation. His day job is as a children's entertainer with dates all over the country.
His West Allis audience left with lots to think about.
"I'd like to see that Shaker's Cigar Bar," said Liz Hartman, West Allis.
Claudia Gauger of Milwaukee said the program was wonderfully Halloweeny.
On a more philosophical level she said, "I'd like to think there is more than this" to life.
Robert Hazard of West Allis left puzzled.
"I couldn't explain anything any more than he has," he said.
His wife, Marilyn, called the talk fascinating.
"I'm not a skeptic; I think I'm open," she said.
It was their 12-year-old grandson, Reynold House of West Allis, who persuaded them to come. Reynold, who describes himself as a believer/scientific explainer, said he was not disappointed in the paranormal program.
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