A group of amateur paranormal investigators are documenting what they claim is evidence of otherworldly haunting at various historic locales in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties in a YouTube video series.
The "Chill Seekers" hail from Modesto and were formed by Carissa Simpson and fiance Keith Weldon, both 29. They have been joined by other young paranormal enthusiasts for encounters with "ghosts" at the Murphys Hotel, National Hotel in Jamestown and the old schoolhouse at Columbia State Historic Park.
They have filmed a half-dozen videos thus far, averaging about 12 minutes in length, appearing on their own chillseekers.com website as well as a YouTube channel.
They've been reaching out to Central Valley and Bay Area spots, but the first episode shot about nine months ago centered on TuolumneCounty haunts while the latest, uploaded earlier this week, details the Murphys hunt.
"We have always been interested in ghosts and haunted places but about a year ago me and Carissa stayed at the National ... it was our anniversary, and we had heard that it was haunted so we decided to do our own ghost hunt," Weldon said. "We loved it so much we began looking for more places and started assembling a team of like-minded individuals. 'Chill Seekers' was born and we now have a lot of money and time invested into the group."
Weldon estimates that investment is about $3,000 in video equipment and items like a REM-Pod, which he said detects interruptions in its electromagnetic field, and a spirit box that he said scans through radio frequencies for spirits altering them to communicate.
He said when the recordings are played back, "electronic voice phenomena" can be heard, purportedly the responses of ghosts to questioning.
In their Murphys Hotel episode, they interview staff about their encounters before an overnight stay alone in the historic section of the hotel while all guests staying that night utilized a new addition on the property.
Their investigation claims to reveal at least two ghosts, one whose voice they record as saying he is a "man" and another who identifies herself as "Eleanor." For decades, legend has held that a woman named Eleanor haunts the hotel, pining for a lost love who sought his fortune in gold and never returned to her.
Infrared video captures balls of light, or "orbs," that the "Chill Seekers" say are signs of spirits' activity.
In an interview with the group, hotel front desk manager Deanna Broglio shares her own encounter, when she heard what sounded like water running in the vacant saloon.
"When you opened the door to the saloon, all the beer taps were on," Broglio said.
Likewise, the spook known as Flora, or more commonly just "Flo" at the National, appears to be a friendly prankster, according to long-time employee Cheryl Brandsted.
Flo is known to flick lights on and off and move guests' keys, Brandsted said.
She came to work at the National 13 years ago and was there for four years before an experience convinced her of a ghostly presence.
"I was not a skeptic, not really a believer. If you believe, I'm not calling you a liar but nothing had ever happened to me," Brandsted said.
Then one Sunday morning, she said she "felt like someone was standing right behind me."
Brandsted saw no one but soon enough a rubber bar mat and metal snifter "came up and smacked me on the butt," she said. "It was like a statement of 'Don't doubt me.'"
She said it gave her a "feeling of peace" although it was also "the strangest experience that I ever really have had."
"She came to me that time and ever since then I haven't doubted," Brandsted said.
Simpson and Weldon believe they recorded male and female spirit voices at the National and, in the episode, she explains to viewers that Flo's fiance Henry had been shot and killed in the front doorway.
Brandsted said she recalls their visit to "do a little investigating" and added the hotel was recently contacted by the A&E cable network, which has a ghost-centered show called "Paranormal State." She said the hotel declined a request for a visit because it would have been disruptive during a busy week.
Weldon said the investigations are "mostly a hobby" but if a television contract were offered, "down the line, that would ultimately be the goal."
Their visit to the Columbia schoolhouse picked up no electronic signals at first but a "surprise" awaited them when they left and come back toward the end of the episode.
The team expects to return to the Mother Lode for more investigations, with Weldon citing the Willow Hotel in Jamestown, the Fallon House Hotel and Theatre in Columbia and other locations in Columbia State Historic Park as future targets.
"People seem to have a lot of stories and experiences up there," he said. "Some places, there's a lot of skeptics. A lot of people think it's fake and we don't seem to get that up there. People have seen and heard too much themselves to just brush it off."
The YouTube episodes can be found at www.youtube.com/user/chillseekers.