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[September 26, 2009]

Local husband-and-wife team hunts for ghosts [Seattle Times]

(Seattle Times (WA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Sep. 26--W hen they pull up in their 1978 Chevy Step Van emblazoned with "Northwest Paranormal Investigation Agency," Bert and Jayme Coates inevitably get friendly greetings from people.

And why not? A 2008 Harris Poll said 44 percent of Americans believe in ghosts.

That means somebody sitting right near you at the office is a believer, if it's not you.

Friendly greetings are what the Gold Bar couple got Friday afternoon, as they parked in front of Central Saloon (better known by its previous name Central Tavern, before it started serving hard liquor) in Pioneer Square.

Employees at the historic place, established in 1892, say they have experienced supernatural occurrences, and it wasn't by Seahawks fans after a game.

Tonight, the Coateses will bring their electronic gear to the Central and go down to its basement to hunt for ghosts.

On a screen outside the joint, they will project what their camcorders have picked up in the dark using infrared light.

Plenty of ghost stories surround a number of old Pioneer Square buildings.

At the Central, David Lewis does maintenance and is the "barback guy," who restocks all the booze in the mornings. He said he has had his share of ghostly experiences.

The tavern has a stage in the rear, and in the back of the stage is a stained-glass window to the alley.

"In the middle of the day, I watched the stage and saw something go across and block out the sunlight. But there was nobody there," Lewis said.

Terry Wagner, the Central's kitchen manager, remembered that early one morning, "I could actually hear people walking across the stage." Twenty-five years ago the hit movie "Ghostbusters" popularized tracking down apparitions. The movie still resonates.

"Hey, 'Ghostbusters!' " a passing pedestrian yelled at the sight of the Coateses' van.

These days, however, the Syfy Channel hit reality show "Ghost Hunters" has propelled a new supernatural craze. It features two plumbers-by-day who run TAPS, The Atlantic Paranormal Society.

Modern ghost hunters such as Bert and Jayme tout their high-tech gear -- the video camera with infrared capability, a detector of electromagnetic fields -- to find spirit activity.

That's all fine, but so what, asked Benjamin Radford, managing editor of The Skeptical Inquirer, a publication endorsed by numerous credentialed scientists.

"All this equipment, it makes them feel scientific and makes them look like they know what they're doing," said Radford. "But none of it has been proven to find ghosts.

"Because of that TV show, it has democratized ghost hunting. Every pizza-delivery guy can look for ghosts." Bert and Jayme freely acknowledge their lack of scientific training.

"It's a hobby, and we're very passionate about our hobbies," Jayme said.

He's 42, she's 40, and they've known each other since attending Redmond High School. They have a daughter, 17.

Neither attended college. They both worked recently at Genie Industries -- he was supervising production lines, she was in logistics -- until the company's layoffs.

Now, while looking for jobs, they have more time to devote to ghost hunting.

That all started for them about six years ago, when, said Bert, he decided to "face a fear that I had had since I was a kid of 8 or 9." That ever-present fear for him was dwelling on what would happen after he died.

After watching the Syfy Channel and its ghost stories, Bert decided to begin researching the supernatural. He wanted to know if this was what happened after death.

That led the couple to form their organization, which now has 22 volunteers.

They also got that spruced-up 1978 Chevy Step Van and electronics they value at $12,000 to $15,000.

They catalog their forays into ghost hunting on their Web site, nwpia.com, complete with videos and photos they say are of ghosts.

Bert said he saw "a full-bodied apparition dressed all in white." Jayme said she's seen a black shadow in the shape of a man "go right by," and heard "a disembodied voice like that of a child, calling out for 'Mama.' " They know there are plenty of skeptics and even some who might think them kooky and foolish.

"We believe because we've seen it," said Bert.

And, he said, because of the ghosts, he has conquered what was that omnipresent childhood fear about death.

He doesn't mind any cynicism about his passion. Out there, many Americans seem to agree with him.

"I've seen what could be out there," said Bert.

Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or elacitis@seattletimes.com To see more of The Seattle Times, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.seattletimes.com.

Copyright (c) 2009, Seattle Times Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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