Chad Lewis has traveled the world in pursuit of paranormal activity, and he’s stopping by the NYA Library at 1:30 p.m. this Saturday, March 9 to share about those experiences.
Ghost stories of any variety are sure to produce scoffers and skeptics, but Lewis approaches the topic with the frank curiosity of a researcher and a boyish sense of adventure that makes him both credible and engaging.
From high profile cases like the Loch Ness monster to local folk tales about ghosts in The Mill House, Lewis has had the opportunity to examine cases big and small, as well as the people who share their stories. After more than 18 years of paranormal investigations, one might expect Lewis to be an adamant proponent for the existence of ghosts, but he takes the approach that paranormal experiences are likely a combination of imagination and unexplainable events.
“I think these things are happening, I just don’t know what they are,” he admitted. “I’ve talked to thousands of witnesses over the years, and most of them are normal, rational, logical, down to earth people who may not even believe in the paranormal or supernatural, but they’ve had something happen they can’t explain and they’re seeking answers.
“So I think this really is happening, I just don’t know what it is. I don’t think most of these people are suffering from mental illness or trying to hoax somebody. They’re not trying to get on television, they’re not misidentifying things. They’ve actually seen something, but what that something is, that’s the trick question.”
Lewis said he originally became interested in paranormal investigations during high school in his hometown of Eau Claire, Wis. Not far away was the small town of Elmwood, which has been a frequent location of alleged Unidentified Flying Object (UFO) sightings. After talking with the locals about their experiences, Lewis became interested in studying psychology in college and began presenting his findings on why people believe in the weird and unusual while still an undergrad.
Those presentations quickly led to his listeners bringing up their own experiences, and occasionally asking Lewis to help them investigate haunted houses or strange sightings.
“That just led me off on a spiral of not only looking at why people believe, but what’s actually going on here,” said Lewis, adding that he enjoys the investigative process because, along with providing some chills, it also allows him the chance to delve into local history and stories from which the paranormal activities originate.
“Finding out how these stories got started is one of the fun parts,” he said. “I love digging up the history of it all.”
But it’s not all scholarly striving for Lewis. In fact, he views the opportunity to put those ghost stories to the test as, simply, a lot of fun.
“I always say, if you’re not getting scared at these places you’re not trying hard enough. When you first get to these places and it’s creepy and there’s danger around, your adrenaline is kicking and you’re excited,” he said. “For me, I think a lot of these places are really creepy, but that’s what I enjoy about it, that test of bravery. For a lot of young kids, a lot of these haunted places serve almost as a rite of passage. It’s a chance to test your own bravery by doing these things.”
Lewis explained that many haunted locations have certain “dares” associated with them. If you perform a certain action at a certain time or place, for example, you’ll be cursed with bad luck or worse for the remainder of your life. As a part of his investigations, Lewis routinely performs the dare in an attempt to test the legend.
“A lot of the threatened consequences involve bodily harm, death and dismemberment. Knock on wood, those haven’t happened to me,” said Lewis with a laugh.
At the same time, there has been evidence at times that something more than ordinary is at play.
“Each place I talk about in the program, I actually went there to investigate and try to figure out what was going on. A lot of times things will happen, but they are always very subtle, little things,” said Lewis. “For example, we’ll capture a ball of light on our cameras that wasn’t there to the naked eye, or strange noises on our audio recorders. But it’s always just enough to make you say, ‘What was that? Was that really something out of the ordinary?’ It has never been a full apparition or people speaking in tongues or things like that. It’s always just enough to make you feel like something was weird, but could you explain it?”
Over time, Lewis has compiled enough case studies to write 15 books, and he currently does about 100 presentations annually on his findings. For the past six years, his investigations have become a full-time career, and he has become a recognized expert on the topic. He has been featured on the Discovery Channel’s “A Haunting,” William Shatner’s “Weird or What,” and ABC’s “Scariest Places on Earth.”
While Lewis has a background of international and statewide ghost hunting, he also enjoys bringing in more local cases that the audience in NYA will recognize and appreciate.
“One of my favorites in NYA is the old Mill House. The interesting thing about that case, which makes it unique from a lot that I investigate, is that nobody is really certain as to why it’s thought to be haunted,” said Lewis. “A lot of the cases I investigate, they seem to know or suspect why there might be weird things happening — whether someone was murdered or suicide or untimely death, or someone just loved the area. This one is different.”
While it might seem unusual for someone with Lewis’ credentials to spend time presenting at small town libraries, he said these types of stops are actually some of his most beneficial.
“I like these little communities because these are the best places for me to collect stories as well,” he said. “People start sharing stories about their own experiences. I’m amazed when I do these presentations not only how many people come, but how many come to share their own stories. On any given night, I can collect 20-30 stories from people in the community.”
Of course, that input allows Lewis to continue investigating new cases. But he also wants to inspire others to visit the locations he talks about to experience the thrills for themselves.
“I enjoy the places that are open to the public because I want people to visit these places. I think that’s the biggest draw for me, the adventure of it all,” Lewis said. “When you go to these places, hopefully something happens. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t, but you’ll certainly have an adventure.”
Contact Paul Downer at [email protected]