When Brandy Stark isn’t inside the University of South Florida classroom or working on her well-known coiled metal pieces, she can be found hunting – that is – that is to say to hunt ghosts.
Stark, who is a longtime St. Pete resident and professor of the humanities, is the co-founder of Spirits of St. Petersburg, a paranormal research team that has investigated hundreds of cases.
Through the company, Stark offers ghost tours in St. Pete that include stops at supposedly haunted destinations such as the Detroit Hotel, Jannus Live, and neighborhoods. She is also the author of several books.
In an interview with the St. Pete Catalyst, Stark shares his experiences. Answers have been edited for clarity:
How did you become a paranormal investigator? My interest started when I was a child. I loved ghost stories even though they scared me. In college, I started researching the role of ghosts in ancient culture to understand them in an academic sense. Bill Miller’s book, Tampa Triangle Dead Zone, became a standard for me because we had stories about aliens, which was a tough streak, but it’s about urban legends. I’m also an artist, and I had an art show where I talked about this local tradition, and that’s when I met some engineers who said they were doing research. So I founded the Spirits of St. Pete in 1997, and started doing ghost tours in 2018. There is no charge for surveys. The only way we earn income is through ghost tours and books.
What is your usual routine when someone contacts you to investigate their home or business? We are contacted by phone or email, but we have started doing Zoom interviews during the Covid-19 pandemic. The majority of the calls we receive are from homeowners. We are communicating with them to find out what is happening now and advise them on the next steps. When we are investigating we have many tools where we can find EVP [electronic voice phenomena] and electromagnetic fields, electromagnetic field readers, which are portable devices used to detect fluctuations in electromagnetic fields. We look at the data, and then we get together as a group and rule out anything that is explainable. The team usually comes home and will sort out the places with the highest level of activity. We do not operate the house, but we have seen activity stop in 95% of the houses we have been to.
Other than house calls, what place have you investigated that you think is truly haunted? When we investigate some companies, they do not want their name associated with the survey. Sometimes some don’t let us investigate. I stayed in a haunted room in Vinoy and the sacred cow which surprised me! I felt like someone was pacing around me. We investigated the Don Vista building, and its history is linked to the Don CeSar. When the Don CeSar was sold to the US military for use as a secondary hospital, the Don Vista property accompanied it. The Don Vista housed offices for doctors, the military, and then the Suntan Art Center moved in. An employee told me that she would hear background noises there. We got permission from the board to investigate and it was very cool. We had an executive vice president in a male voice and heard the word “Russia”. We hooked it up to a soldier, as the Don housed air veterans. We also investigated the Rose Cemetery in Tarpon Springs which is known to be haunted – and it sure is!
What is the experience that marked you? I met John Williams, founder of Williams Park, Demens Landings and the Detroit Hotel, at Williams House. I went there to meet students, and when I got to the building, I was the only one in the building. I heard someone talking behind me and I had my EMF device on me. It went up and I took some pictures and saw an orb on a chair. The chair was under a photo of John Williams and that day was actually his birthday.
Have you encountered any problems? One of our biggest issues right now is that we get so many calls from people who capture something with their security cameras and then realize it’s actually explainable. I am not a contemptuous person by nature, but I try to rule out anything and some people can be very adamant about their beliefs. Occasionally we come across cases with hostile entities that have a tyrant mentality. We heard growls from the captured TEUs and some of our team fell ill while at the site. There was a haunted socialist in Pasco County that we sometimes hook up with for these cases, but he recently passed away. Some people believe they have attracted a negative entity because of religious ideologies. In Buddhism, it is widely believed that if you have a mental problem, it can attract ghosts.
What are your feelings and thoughts about people who study their own properties or attempt to communicate with spirits? I advise people not to investigate their own homes. They might be dealing with the supernatural and might conjure or summon something – it’s a dangerous thing to do. What I discovered is that people love ghosts, but still fear them. TV shows and the rise of pop culture have caused more people to give it a try. You want to have healthy respect.
What would you like people to know about what you are doing? We are a research group, it is above all. Second, if we determine that a place is haunted, we see if it can be verified and help people understand the cultural aspects of ghosts. If a ghost exists, it is still not of this world, but you have some control. I like to understand the history of the property and I will not let our team know so that they can properly investigate without this prior knowledge so that it does not interfere with the initial investigation.
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