At 15, Alyssa Charlanza fell in love with the paranormal. She has been educating herself on the concept ever since.
Now 22, Charlanza is the president and founder of Hoot Paranormal, a student-run organization that investigates paranormal activity throughout the city. The senior strategic communications major started the group about two years ago and based it off the former Temple paranormal society, “T-Lights.”
“What happened was they didn’t have enough members and what seemed like a lack of interest at the time so I took the group, gave it a new face and revamped it,” Charlanza said.
Charlanza said she considers herself new to the paranormal world.
“What really brings us together is our interest, but we haven’t had a crazy group experience yet,” she said.
Charlanza said one of the best features of the paranormal organization is that “everyone is coming to this with a completely different perspective all around. [Hoot Paranormal] breaks a lot of stereotypes.”
The first stereotype, Charlanza said, is that a specific scientific process is always used in paranormal investigations.
“We don’t operate from a solely scientific investigation,” she said. “It is not a science. It will never be a science. There aren’t seven steps to finding a result.”
Charlanza said the media does not accurately portray paranormal investigations. She said the group does not provoke spirits, despite the often conflict-seeking characterizations of paranormal investigators in shows like “Ghost Hunters.”
Group members aim to educate themselves by connecting with the paranormal. In meetings, members discuss the “do’s” and “don’ts” of ghost investigations.
“Our mission is that we are really about helping students get more in touch with their instincts and themselves so that they can be more in touch with the world around them both seen and unseen,” Charlanza said. “It’s about getting in touch with your instincts and applying them to a foreign situation.”
The group does not use any high-tech equipment. Members simply use their bodies, instincts and a recording device to capture an electronic voice phenomena, or EVP.
An EVP is a audio recording of a conversation with a spirit, Charlanza said. “They’re like people – some days they’ll talk to you and other days they won’t,” she said.
Last year, Hoot Paranormal investigated McGillin’s Old Ale House, located at 1310 Drury St. The tavern, established in 1860, is one of the longest running restaurants and bars in America.
A few of the group members said they had uneasy feelings in certain areas of the building.
“We debunked what they thought was a presence in their one bar area,” Charlanza said. “It turned out to be a draft from under the fridge.”
Another weird experience occurred with one of their guest speakers, Dave Juliano.
“Juliano came in and was talking about his equipment that was laid out on the center table,” Charlanza said. “All of the sudden the equipment started going off, and no one knew why.”
The group has also explored the Powel House and Elfreth’s Alley, the oldest residential street in the country, which they plan to revisit again.
Angel Solares, a civil engineering junior, is in charge of finding the locations Hoot Paranormal investigates. “I start with online research,” Solares said. “I type in ‘Philly haunted attractions’ and weed my way through to find homes or historical buildings.”
Solares said he usually emails places but finds it more fun to talk to people directly over the phone.
“They never actually call you crazy, but you can feel it,” Solares said.
Solares, 19, was introduced to paranormal activity through family members, who he said are “spiritual.” When talking about the paranormal world, Solares advises to “always have an open mind and to not be afraid to explore.”
Freshman Katie Willems, 18, was introduced to paranormal activity through shows like “Ghost Hunters” and “Destination Truth.” She said her interest continued to expand when she started going on ghost tours in places like Gettysburg.
“It’s different from what I thought it was going to be how it is on TV,” Willems said. “It’s crazy how many rules and regulations there actually are. Some [members] are more spiritual, some are more into the science of it. It’s cool to see the different perspectives.”
Regarding whether she, or other members, would consider this as a career, Solares said “it’s for fun. If it takes me somewhere, I’d follow it and use my civil engineering degree as security.”
Charlanza said she would love to incorporate paranormal investigations into her career.
“In some capacity or another, working with the paranormal field will always be a part of my life,” she said. “My big thing with this is that it’s a place where people can come together. It’s like, it’s not just you, it’s not weird, and we can talk about it.’”
Jane Babian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org