An empty ballroom with 20-foot ceilings will be shrouded in darkness.
A handful of people will wait patiently to make a connection with an entity that some believe has lingered for centuries in one of the most haunted buildings in New Orleans, a former orphanage, hospital and convent that today houses the Bourbon Orleans Hotel.
True believers and skeptics will come together to prove, or debunk, the haunted tales of the Bourbon Orleans at the second annual Ghost Camp from Sept. 11 to Sept. 14.
The deep history that dates back to 1817 inspires countless tales of paranormal activity from the hotel’s checkered past: quadroon balls, gambling parlor, Civil War hospital, convent, orphanage, and its current state, an elegant inn.
“Investigating the Bourbon Orleans is difficult because you are looking at such a large range of history,” said Mark Laville, a member of New Orleans Ghost Hunters and a policeman in Mississippi.
“We are talking about parties, dances and people falling in love, and then an orphanage,” he said, rattling off the circumstances that might leave lingering ghostly vibes. “Totally separate emotions, so it is hard to know what you are looking for to try to make contact.”
Visitors and employees alike have reported paranormal activity, in particular on the third and sixth floor, tour guides say.
Casey Crouch, a 35-year-old former assistant hardware store manager from Covington, attended last year, eager to learn more about techniques, equipment and how to sniff out paranormal activity. Crouch, who proved to be a worthy investigator, is now a permanent member of the New Orleans Ghost Hunters.
“Last year in the ballroom we caught an apparition on two separate mediums, video and photography,” Crouch said. “We all felt it in that room that night. ”
Etienne Skrabo, tour development manager at Gray Line Tours, said the most frequent reports are of apparitions: children playing in the hallways, a lone dancer in the ballroom, a nun who committed suicide and a Confederate soldier.
As opposed to the 1980s hit movie trilogy, “Ghostbusters,” in which four fearless spirit-exterminators save Manhattan, Laville says he’s a skeptic. There’s no exorcism or ghost hunting machines for New Orleans Ghost Hunters.
“We don’t go in there to prove that something exists. We go in there to prove that (a ghost or apparition) doesn’t exist. We try to come up with a logical explanation for it,” Laville said.
During the Ghost Camp weekend, attendees will work with the New Orleans Ghost Hunters to investigate paranormal activity on the Steamboat Natchez and in the Bourbon Orleans ballroom and Room 644 — believed to be the most haunted room in the hotel.
“We look for physical proof of a ghost,” said Laville. “We look to capture physical evidence on video, auditory and still photography to prove that something is there. We may get an anomaly and be able to explain it, and we might get an anomaly that we can’t explain.”
Ghost Hunters do a sweep of the room to eliminate auras caused by mere faulty wiring or Wi-Fi. They utilize infrared and ultraviolet cameras to capture images, specialized voice recording equipment to capture electronic voice phenomena, and electrical network frequency to detect suspicious changes in magnetic fields.
“We go in there to find out if there is energy, why that energy is fluctuating and, if there is not a natural explanation, then why is the energy level fluctuating. It may possibly be a spirit. Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t,” Laville said.
One of the most popular events at the camp is a séance. Although they say they don’t believe in séances, the Ghost Hunters will set up their equipment, ready to capture any evidence of activity.
The four-day camp also connects campers with the haunted history of New Orleans beyond the hotel.
“We have seminars discussing a variety of paranormal topics. A cocktail tour of haunted bars, a cemetery and voodoo adventure, an investigation on the Steamboat Natchez, and even a live radio broadcast with New Orleans Ghost Hunters,” said Skrabo.
Laville tells the skeptics out there to keep an open mind about an “unexplained” apparition or sound.
“I believe we can explain it, and I believe we will explain it through physics and bio chemistry,” he said. “We don’t have the technology yet to say exactly what it is. It is human nature to put a supernatural or paranormal (meaning) on something we can’t explain. So let’s take that out and get to a scientific explanation for it.”
WHEN: Thursday, Sept. 11, to Sunday, Sept. 14
WHERE: Bourbon Orleans Hotel, 717 Orleans St.
CALL: (504) 523-2222
COST: Event Package (includes all tours and seminars): $500
Full package with hotel accommodation: $975
Ticket sales close Tuesday, Sept. 9.
INFO: For more information and ticketing details visit http://www.bourbonorleans.com/ghost/
All age event
GHOSTS AND SPIRITS COCKTAIL TOUR
When: Thursday, Sept. 11, 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.
GHOSTS ON THE MISSISSIPPI: STEAMBOAT NATCHEZ
When: Friday, Sept. 12, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
SATURDAY NIGHT GALA GHOST HUNT – 19TH CENTURY GALA DINNER AND GHOST HUNT IN THE ORLEANS BALLROOM
When: Saturday, Sept. 13, 8 p.m. to 1 a.m.