Listening to the Voices
By S.E. Burns
“What is the point?” was what I clearly heard when I asked if a spirit would pull my hair. I remember looking at Earl, who remained his usual calm, cool and collected self.
I was at the Duffy’s Cut archeological dig in Malvern with Professor Earl Schandelmeier III, one of the four authors of “The Ghosts of Duffy’s Cut,” the remarkable story of how two local men discovered the remains of a group of early 19th century Irish immigrants who died—or were murdered—during a cholera epidemic. While the term “ghosts” was used loosely in the early days of the investigation, it takes on a more specific meaning now. Earl focuses on what are called EVP’s (Electronic Voice Phenomenon) at the site, recording an astounding number of voices that appear to be from another realm. He has been one of the four primary researchers on the Duffy’s Cut project over the last eight years.
In 2002, as an undergraduate history major at Immaculata University, he was invited by Dr. William Watson, and Professor John Ahtes to help with some primary research (very early source and facts checking). “Normally I am not one to volunteer, but for some reason, this one time, I immediately said that I would do it.” He set off the next day for the Chester County Historical Society, located two articles, and made one phone call back to Dr. Watson; and has not looked back since. In 2006 they applied for a non-profit status and the Duffy’s Cut Project was born.
Intrigued by EVP’s myself, I found it very fitting to talk to Earl about “these spooky voices from beyond” this week as Halloween is quickly approaching.
Q. What are your religious beliefs?
A. Tibetan Buddhism with western influences. My entire life I was raised as a Presbyterian, (hardcore mother and grandmother while father was as equally atheistic) but I always knew, felt differently. From past lives, to divinity, the spirit world, to karma, I later learned that my intuitive beliefs were fully and completely encompassed within a religious philosophy that I had known nothing about, had never been exposed to, and that were diametrically opposed to everything my family believed.
Essentially, the Dalai Lama teaches, (and this point is extremely important in my own life) that the Buddhist should not proselytize, but instead should work in guiding others to seek personal enlightenment in their own, personal way. We should act as an example to all people, of all religions, exemplifying the love and compassion necessary to reach Nirvana. Each person has their own path to walk, all I can do is attempt to personify the love and compassion I wish to see in the world which of course is much easier said than done.
Q. Are there any conflicting issues with what you are doing at Duffy’s Cut and your belief system?
A. No, in fact just the opposite. I like to think that what we are doing, uncovering the mystery of what happened to the men who died at Duffy’s Cut, shedding light on potential murders of some of the men, telling their story to the world for the first time, actually personifies my belief system. I have worked in this project for so long because I feel a great compassion for the men; a need to help preserve their memories, but also in a spiritual sense, bring them peace and help them move on.
Q. What is an EVP, and how does it work?
A. EVP stands for Electronic Voice Phenomena – essentially the voice or communications believed to be coming from the spirit realm. Recently, I have been using a Franks Box, or specially designed radio frequency scanning device, that is thought to pick up and record these communications. The technology is relatively new, ten years old, and works on the following premise: By taking a radio receiver and using it to continuously scan or sweep either AM or FM frequencies, and mixing in the white noise, the spirits can manipulate and use this energy as sort of a “telephone” to our world.
Of course as you scan the radio frequencies you expect to hear any number of assorted words, and sometimes even phrases coming through, however, what we look for is distinctly different than those radio interruptions. To be considered EVP’s the communication must come through over top of the white noise and radio, or fall above or below the white noise and radio bands. In each case there is a clear and distinctive difference – the argument between skeptic and believer in this new technology lies in whether this distinction actually signifies contact with the spirit realm.
Q. Do the voices answer your questions? If so, are any of them not related to the deaths of Duffy’s Cut?
A. Yes, during several sessions conducted near the site we have had some very strange answers recorded with the Franks Box EVP device. We have had answers seeming to come both from men who died there in the summer of 1832, but also from a number of other places and time periods as well. It is difficult to isolate any one particular entity, so we are often at the mercy of the entity that is the strongest (having the most energy to expend speaking with us) and is also willing to speak.
To get these EVP’s I like to compare it with deep sea fishing. You must troll with questions (often focused on emotion) until you get a lucid/sentient response. Then you ask follow up questions until you lose contact. When you do make contact it becomes like opening a door to a crowded dance club – you scream out questions, one or more people hear you, some respond, some seem to want to pass the message on to someone you may have asked for, while others bully their way forward and won’t allow anyone else to speak. There are also EVP’s that seem to be less sentient, lost in the moment of their death, and can recall nothing but those final minutes of their life. All of their responses are narrowly focused and specific; they are also most easily enticed to come forward through emotion.
There can be very long periods of silence between the doors being opened (contact), sometimes five minutes, sometimes an hour. Contact can last for a few seconds, to as long as ten minutes in some cases – with specific individuals returning over multiple sessions (these sessions must be offset by at least three hours). Finally, there is almost always a distinct lifting and clearing feeling at the end of contact.
Q. What are three of the most interesting words or messages you have recorded?
A. In my experience with the Franks Box, we invited the Chester County Paranormal Society to investigate the site; they have some of the clearest EVP’s I have ever heard there.
For example: When asked to curse – “F-ing whore.” Naming one of the Duffy’s Cut team members – “Dr. Watson.” Where are you? – “The Abyss.”
In addition, when asked what they thought of the contractor they worked for, Mr. Duffy, – “The devil.”
Q. Has an EVP or anything else paranormal ever frightened you at the site?
A. I have never been frightened by anything paranormal at the Duffy’s Cut site. I have has other experiences that have left a deep- seated sense of respect for what I am searching for, a bit of a healthy trepidation, if you will, but those stories are for another time.
Q. Is there a particular question that you are apprehensive about asking during an EVP session?
A. No, although I think that one must be careful not to call forth anything that might have malicious intent, malevolent, something “evil”, or even “demonic” in nature.
Q. What do your family and friends think of your involvement with the afterlife?
A. My wife is interested, she will listen to the final results, the EVP’s, video, but does not physically participate in my investigations. My son is 13, and as such, I keep him isolated from most of my work with the paranormal. I keep only a few close friends, and they are open minded and very interested. It would be extremely difficult to tolerate me with a closed mind!