Steve Bartel hears a ghost story every time he tells someone what he does.
And that’s fine with him. Bartel is a member of The Rock River Area Paranormal Society that investigates paranormal activity in the area.
Bartel and fellow member Josiah Henson have been investigating alleged hauntings for the past five years. Locations have included the Oregon Public Library, The Road House in Oregon, Conover Square, Stronghold Castle, Maxson’s Riverboat and Restaurant and the Lorado Taft Campus.
“Absolutely there’s hauntings and paranormal activity in Ogle County,” Bartel said. “Everyone has a story. There’s a high concentration of places in Oregon. I don’t know if it’s the limestone it’s on, the river or the past Native American activity. It’s a very haunted area.”
RRAPS has 12 members. The group fields claims from business owners or residents or investigates their own suspicions. It will be holding an event at Stronghold on Halloween in a search for paranormal activity.
Henson has been interested in the supernatural since an experience he had in sixth grade. He came home from school one day with nobody home and heard his mom open the door and call out for the family cat.
He went to talk to his mother and nobody was there. Henson became upset and waited outside on the curb until his family got home.
“My mom said she would hear us in the house when we’re not there,” Henson said. “My brother said he’d heard things as well. This thing could mimic voices and sounds like my mom’s car. I’m not saying it was a ghost. I don’t know what it was.”
Henson and Bartel have an office at Conover Square and their own individual investigation company named Bartel & Henson Paranormal. They first became familiar with hauntings at Conover Square, participating in searches as customers.
One Halloween night, the pair had a group in an attic at Conover and had one of many paranormal experiences.
“We went to go downstairs and heard something metal drop,” Bartel said. “There was a thing of staples on the ground. Something had thrown it. Then it happened elsewhere in the room. It came at us. That was significant poltergeist activity.”
Another investigation at the Oregon Public Library yielded a similar experience. The group split up and the pair were in the children’s center and found something peculiar.
“We felt like we entered a hypercharged electromagnetic field,” Henson said. “We immediately knew something was up. It never happened again. Every hair on my arm stood up. It didn’t feel dangerous or evil. You could just tell it was something.”
Instruments are crucial to RRAPS’ investigations. They include cameras, recording devices and electromagnetic field (EMF) devices. There’s also a member of the group that’s considered “sensitive” to paranormal activity.
The EMF devices pick up magnetic fields. Paranormal activity is inferred when readings come up where they shouldn’t be, far from areas with power sources. Recording devices are used to pick up electronic voice phenomena (EVP). The group asks questions of potential spirits and listens back later to see if answers can be picked up.
Perhaps the most interesting of the devices is called the obelisk. It has a database of over 2,000 words and uses EMF readings to trigger a word and speak it.
“Sometimes the words are relevant to the situation,” Bartel said. “We were at a masonic temple in Freeport and someone said it was cold. The device said the word cold. There’s no microphone on it.”
At each place they investigate, Bartel and Henson are often left wanting to investigate more after experiencing mild phenomena. Ghost investigating television shows often spend days or a week at one location and condense it to look one night.
The RRAPS has no plans to give up on its quest to uncover paranormal happenings in Ogle County in the area. It hasn’t found its “holy grail” yet.
“We haven’t seen a full-bodied apparition (ghost) yet,” Henson said. “We’ve caught voices and a lot of small things. FBA’s are the holy grail-type moments.”