Ghost hunter

Tonight Whidbey residents probably won’t think twice if they see bed-sheet ghosts walking on streets or knocking at their front door.

But at least one Oak Harbor resident claims he has seen, heard, felt and even smelled the real thing — otherworldly apparitions that haunt places across the globe, often where traumatic or horrific things occurred.

In fact, Troy “Angel” Hodges actively seeks out poltergeists. He claims to have heard them screaming in Arabic in Iraq, seen the ghostly orbs in Scottish castles and even witnessed a friend get scratched by a spirit at a historic hotel on Whidbey.

Hodges is Whidbey Island’s own expert ghost hunter and he has the latest spook-detecting equipment to prove it. The basic hardware, he explained, is an infrared thermometer, a voice-activated digital recorder, an electromagnetic field detector and an infrared camera.

“I guess I’m just a weird, odd kid who likes things that a lot of people aren’t interested in,” he said. “I’m your typical D & D playing geek.”

While Hodges is definitely a unique local character, the practice of ghost hunting is actually not that unusual these days.

Spurred on by TV shows like “Ghost Hunters” and “Most Haunted,” more and more people are organizing “hunting parties” to try to find evidence of apparitions in scary places. One popular Web site lists more than 300 ghost-hunting organizations in the U.S. and United Kingdom, according to Wikipedia.

For Hodges, his interest in the paranormal started from fear. When he was a child, his mother would watch the show “Sightings,” which featured ghost and alien stories. The idea of unexplained and unknown creatures truly frightened him, and obviously left an indelible impression on his young mind.

Then after Sept. 11, Hodges and a group of his friends joined the military. He soon found himself as an Army private in Iraq, walking in the dark over bombed-out ground to a guard tower. He said he first noticed the distinctive “dead people smell” — not the odor of corpses but an unexplainable metallic smell. Then he heard screaming in Arabic from empty spaces.

A soldier friend told him it was “spirits floating there that can’t leave.” Skeptical, Hodges started taking photos.

“I found things on the photos that I couldn’t explain,” he said. “There were these orbs, these little balls of light.”

That’s when his interest piqued. After he got stationed in Germany, Hodges and some friends brought an infrared camera and other equipment to Auschwitz. Again, he said the equipment somehow picked up many orbs, which aren’t visible to the human eye.

They traveled all over Europe, sometimes conducting ghost hunts in castles in the middle of the night.

“Running around these deep, dark castles was a lot of fun,” he said. “We usually only had one red flashlight for reading a map.”

When home on Whidbey, Hodges has had some trouble tracking down ghosts. Part of the reason, he said, is that the island simply doesn’t have the deep-rooted history of Europe or the horrors of places like Iraq. Hodges believes that most of the spirits are of people who died in traumatic ways and often don’t realize they are no longer living.

Also, some people on Whidbey are reluctant to open buildings or homes to a guy who believes in ghosts. Hodges is aware of the skepticism, but doesn’t seem bothered by it.

“They look at you and think you’re just a retarded kid who’s seen too many ghost stories,” he said with a laugh.

But he got his big chance to do some ghost hunting last summer. He was at his friend’s computer store when a couple of women came in with stories of strange happenings at the historic Captain Whidbey Inn near Coupeville.

Stories of an old woman’s ghost wandering the halls of the inn have been around for many years. Hodges said he’s also heard about a room where girls can be heard laughing, a room where a mysterious bed impression appears and a haunted cabin.

After enduring some teasing for owning ghost-hunting equipment, Hodges and a group of five friends traveled to the inn late at night to see what they could find. He detected cold spots with the infrared thermometer; he said he was able to follow and photograph an orb as it moved through a room.

Then they tried out an old ghost-hunting trick. They yelled and insulted a spirit in order to anger it, pushing it to manifest itself. And it worked, Hodges said. His friend suddenly felt a bolt of pain and a fresh scratch mark appeared on his body.

That was enough for the ghost hunters, who quickly made their exit.

“I didn’t want to be there anymore and get shoved through a window,” he said.

But even with that spooky experience, Hodges continues to seek out haunted places on Whidbey. He’s heard plenty of claims: There’s the the headless ghost of Isaac Ebey, the apparition at the Navy Exchange, native spirits guarding Chief Snakelum’s grave, ghosts in the old morgue at Skagit Valley College, even a haunted mailbox on Zylstra Road

Someday, he hopes to test the veracity of the ghost stories.

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