Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Story of Jay Road and Investigating Legends

Imagine my surprise when I found out that the area that I had grown up in and my family has lived in for generations (and my husband and I own land in that we hope to build on) was also home to a ghostly legend. I had never heard about this legend until I found it online one day, years ago. I was on the Shadowlands website and found my tiny little unincorporated hometown was listed - Boltonville. Specifically the area of Jay Road outside of Boltonville. Soon after, the legend was also featured in a book about all of the weird things that exist in Wisconsin.

So what's the legend? It says there was an old woman who lived alone with her cats until she perished in a fire started by troublemaking kids. Now her ghost haunts the road and her cats' descendants roam the area. Really? Not only had I never heard of this ghost story before finding it online, I also had never heard of this fabled woman and her burning house. I will say there are a lot of cats in and around Boltonville. But it's because a lot of people have unaltered outside/barn cats and they roam, littering the area with their offspring. Nothing paranormal about cats doing what nature intended them to do.

The other part of the legend involves a woman jogger who was supposedly killed by a car and she now haunts the road as well. I never heard of this before either and believe me when I say in our tiny, TINY town we would remember stories like this.

Another claim is that the road has parts that are dark even on the sunniest days. Yeah...there's something that gives off shadows like that. Ever heard of trees? There's many parts of the road that have trees growing together above the road. It's almost like driving through a tunnel. Unless someone cuts down those trees, it will ALWAYS be dark there. Again, nothing paranormal about it.

I decided to dig further into these stories. I thought, perhaps I just don't remember hearing any of these stories because they were before my time. So I asked my older relation. Again, my family has lived in the area for generations. I have the family tree on to prove it. We're all very familiar with Jay Road, or Seven Bridges Road as many of us still call it. My family used to take the road to Lake Michigan. You used to be able to literally drive the road straight to the lake (there is now a private subdivision of houses there, so it no longer goes straight up to the lake). My mom is very familiar with the road after the night she took the family car out on it (even though her father specifically told her to avoid the road because of the rainwater going over the road near the bridges) and got stranded in the stalled car in the middle of a huge puddle (that really was almost a pond!).

Anyways, I ask my family. Not a one of them has heard of any of the claims. One would think that a ghostly legend that has enough notoriety to be featured in a paranormal book would garner enough local attention that every kid would grow up fearing the area that it was set in. This was not the case, though. Finding nothing of interest, I figured it was something that someone made up and posted on Shadowlands to be funny or something. I sort of forgot about the legend and time went on.

Now there's a new rash of Legend Trippers going to the area and posting their antics on YouTube. I was just there this weekend for the local firemen's picnic and brought up the topic again. This time I asked other people as well, not just my family. Again, everyone looked at me like I was crazy. They had never heard of any of it. Even a man who is very interested in history and also has had family in the area for generations had never heard of the legend or of deaths in the area like that.

Which leads us to - are these stories true? I highly doubt there is any truth to them at this time. If anyone has factual evidence (like newspaper clippings that show stories about the two deaths), I would love to see them. Perhaps there is some dark side of Jay Road that even the locals are oblivious to.

How do we as paranormal investigators know if a story is true or not? Well the obvious first place to start is with the facts. We need to find evidence to back up the claims. There is something else that most myths/legends have in common, though. If you spot this in a legend, it would be wise to approach the claim with more doubt than belief. Many state something that would be impossible for someone to know. Have you ever heard something that ended like this: "...and then the man saw a [insert scary monster or ghost here] and heard a [insert ghostly sound here] and was never heard from again."? If the man was never heard from again, please tell me how everyone knew his story? How did everyone find out what he saw and heard right before he died/disappeared? The Jay Road legend is similar. It states that the old woman was "heartbroken and angry" so she chose to stay in the house after the kids started it on fire and perished. If she lived alone like the legend says, who was told by her that she was heartbroken and angry so she chose to die in the fire? If you spot a story like this, I suggest proceeding with caution before you start believing it.

I think one of our responsibilities as paranormal investigators is to help people understand how legends are formed and show them what to look for before they believe something without checking into it. I'll admit I question the ethics of groups who spread ghost stories without checking into the claims. It's one thing to have fun talking about ghost stories but it's another to spread the stories as believable events without anything to back them up.

Unless I am presented with some hardcore evidence, I'm not going to believe that Jay Road is haunted and I shake my head in disbelief by how many groups of Legend Trippers head out there thinking they will catch something. My one request if people feel they MUST continue to do this - please be respectful. Don't take video of peoples' personal homes and post it on YouTube, talking about how it's all haunted. Don't horse around on the road, endangering your life and the lives of those around you. And remember that many people, like me, will question your methods if you believe a place is haunted just because someone posted it on the internet even though there is nothing to back up the claims.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A game changer for all of us

This is a topic I've put off for awhile, because it's sort of a sensitive topic...Legend Tripping.  Long story short, Legend Tripping is the adolescents' version of Paranormal Investigating.  You don't actually investigate pile in a car, drive somewhere someone else has already been, freak out, take a few pictures, and go home.  It's what sophomores do for fun in high school...heck I did it too when I was 16 and got my car!  But now there are groups that do this, seemingly full time, and it's caused a bit of an upset in the field.

It used to be places, homes, businesses, were actually HAPPY to have us come in. They called us, begged us to come, and were grateful for our help.  We were providing a service to people.  But then, the legend trippers came out in full force.  Blame the media, blame society, blame the fact that gas prices finally leveled off a bit, but in the end, it all came down to the trippers.  Because they were so numerous, and came and went so quickly, businesses came to see it as an opportunity, and began to charge people just to walk into a doorway at night.  

I remember doing some big places in my time...the Oshkosh Theater (The Grand), JFK Prep, and the historical societies of many cities (just to name a few), and I did it all for free.  On my own dime.  Everything - the tee-shirts, the equipment, the cases, the tapes and batteries, the evidence review and the car...everything.  And it's a costly sum, too.  We currently own thousands of dollars of equipment, and have invested hundreds in apparel and accessories.  This isn't just a group of juveniles hyped up on Red Bull in their moms' car...this is a TEAM that actually tries to HELP people, free of charge.  And now, you can't hardly go to a place without them asking "What's in it for me?" or "You need to pay the $50+ fee up front".  And the fees have been as low as $10-$20, and as high as in the hundreds.  And all this time, we've been asking for nothing and are now being charged for our charity?  That would be like having a Good Samaritan stop, pull you from your burning car, and you sending them a bill for your hospital expenses later.  Insanity, they call that.

From the business perspective, I get it.  I really do.  Letting groups come in all the time is a liability, and that costs money insurance wise.  But it's the number of legend trippers that have caused this upsurge of places charging to come in.  Back when we got started in early 2003, I could count the groups in this state on one hand.  Now, I swear to God if I went to a bar tomorrow and exclaimed that I heard some county park is haunted, there's 20 groups canvasing the area before the weekend is over.  You can't hardly throw a rock before some teenager squeals "What was that!?" and makes a fly-by-night group.  And more than them, even, it's the dissension of groups - splitting up and re-forming, making new groups, and thinking they have rights to lay stake to some kind of claim of property just because they were "from the area" or "it's in their town".  There's just too many, like a city full of McDonald's restaurants.  No place to fill up in gas, no place to cash a check, just burgers and fries everywhere.  Eventually prices will go up, people stop buying and move on, leaving a ghost town in their wake. 

There are many good groups out there, and some have been around a long, long time.  But there are a lot of groups out there who are doing this for "fun" and not for its intended purpose.  And those groups are dangerous, because they litter graveyards with vandals and they fill properties at night with trespassers, and roadways in the countryside with thrill seekers.

And it is these thrill seekers that have caused so many places to charge, since they all assume that's what every group is now.  I mean, you can't blame them, they must run across 10 thrill seeker groups for every one decent group out there, how are they to know the difference?  They collect the money and walk away!

KMPI is not a group of thrill seekers.  We're a group of people, a team of people, furthering the science and providing much-needed peace of mind to regular folks.  We're volunteers, and advocates for the community, and we're educating those who have an interest and a few who just have a few questions or concerns.  We are, what we are.  But we're not a bunch of thrill seekers looking to bum around on a Friday night all giddy and hyped up after the latest episode of  Ghost Adventures.  We're real people, with families and jobs, and we're making a difference.

Something should be done, though...a registry of sorts, maybe?  Something to differentiate the actual groups from the thrill seekers.  Because unless something gets done soon, the legend trippers and thrill seekers will have ruined the credibility of actual groups everywhere, and turn the whole thing into one big joke.