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Sunday, September 7, 2014

Oak Hill Cemetery Investigation with Expedition Unknown

The gates to Oak Hill cemetery in downtown Birmingham, Alabama.

I'd like to open tonight's entry by extending a heartfelt thank both to the crew of Expedition Unknown, paranormal investigators par excellence, and to the knowledgeable and intrepid volunteers from Oak Hill Cemetery, who not only joined the late-night investigation but provided us with a wealth of information about the sites and stories we explored.

Expedition Unknown conducts public investigations of various sites on a regular basis. You may see their upcoming events calendar by following their page here. I heartily encourage anyone interested in the paranormal to consider attending an event. You'll be informed, entertained, and exposed to sound investigative techniques.

Oak Hill Cemetery is nestled in the heart of Birmingham, and due to the tireless efforts of the Oak Hill volunteers and staff, the cemetery is beautiful. If you live in or about Birmingham, or you're simply interested in Southern history and folklore, Oak Hill is a wonderful place to visit. Guided tours are available, and you can even speak with historic re-enactors who assume the garb and roles of some of the graveyard's most famous and colorful citizens. Please visit the Oak Hill website here.

My visit to Oak Hill began at 8:00 PM last night -- Saturday, September the 6th, 2014. It was a hot night in Alabama, as most summer nights are. The sky threatened rain all afternoon, and though there were gaps in the clouds directly overhead, lightning danced on the horizon all around.

We met the Expedition Unknown crew in the old chapel. There, we discussed equipment and a few ground rules. The EU crew doesn't employ a lot of the practices you'll see on TV ghost hunting shows -- no 'provoking,' for instance. No Ouija Boards, no taunting, no seances. Basic respect for the property is stressed -- these people are, after all, beloved family to someone out there. 

I like that about EU. You won't find them leaving so much as a gum wrapper behind, because they're classy folks, and they're serious and professional about their investigations.

The Cefalus were grocers. 
Now then. I set out with a variety of instruments, to the extent that I really should have brought a pack-mule and a Sherpa or two. Note to self: limit gear to all future field trips to what I can carry in one hand and a small backpack, no more. Also, if it's hot, BRING WATER. I sweated, like an overweight 51-year-old pig last night, and I fully expect to discover at least one EVP sample which says 'Hey that guy in the Harley shirt needs to start working out right after HE TAKES A SHOWER EWW.'

Science isn't easy, and sometimes it doesn't smell good, either. But I digress.

We were led around the cemetery by Renee and Tammy, who supplied us with the stories behind the names on the gravestones and the vaults. Which was wonderful. I'm often saddened by cemeteries because the stark name-born-on-died on inscriptions on the markers reduce whole lives to nothing but a span of years. It's good to be reminded we are more than just the measure of our days.

I have more than 3 hours of audio to analyze. Six hours, really, because I had not one but two digital recorders running. So far I've been through a fraction of that, and I've already isolated what may be an EVP a mere 3 minutes into the investigation.

Our first stop on the tour was the Erswell family vault. Edward Erswell was a prominent cabinet maker in early Birminghad, and he turned his woodworking skills to the manufacture of caskets during a cholera epidemic which killed thousands. 

Photo taken by Carrie from Flickr -
The Erswell family vault because a grim staging space during the cholera outbreak, when bodies arrived at the cemetery in such numbers they couldn't be prepared and buried immediately. So the corpses were stacked in the Erswell vault, to await burial.

Yeah. Bodies stacked by the dozen in the brutal Alabama summer heat. I leave that scene to your imagination, and I hope your imagination has a strong stomach.

My static field detector, ever vigilant. 

We weren't quite to the Erswell vault when I picked up my first anomalous sound. We're all walking, in a group. 

Everyone knows to 'tag' sounds they either make themselves or recognize as background noise. Cars passing, for instance. Someone will say 'Tag, car.' This way, no one later interprets the sound as that of a Class IV Free-Floating Vapor, or the shade of Benjamin Franklin out to fly kites in the lightning. 

The sounds you are about to hear were not tagged. I do not recall hearing them, or I certainly would have remarked upon them. They are so loud I have applied neither noise reduction or amplification.

What are they?

I have no idea. They are not words, that I can discern. They are moans or cries of some sort. 

First, listen to the long snippet, which contains the conversation between two investigators as we walk.

The investigators are discussing EVPs. You should hear the first faint moan at 5 seconds in. The second louder one is about 7 seconds in ("you have 3 of them..."), clearly audible over the words. The last moan sounds about 9 seconds in.

The moans are nearly as loud as the spoken words, and I have no recollection of them.

Here's the loudest moan, isolated:

But that's one advantage of investigating with a group. I know several other recorders were running at the time, so I'm reaching out to them and later I'll be able to compare their recordings to mine.

I will keep you updated as to whether anyone else captured or identified this noise.

The second phenomena took place inside the Erswell vault. Which by the way is now free of corpses. But is it free of history?

Expedition Unknown brought along a so-called 'spirit box,' which rapidly scans FM radio bands and broadcasts the jumble of sounds via a small speaker. Surprisingly, these spirit boxes have been known to form words and whole phrases from the usual gibberish, and last night may have produced just such a phenomena.

We gathered inside the steamy, dark confines of the Erswell vault. The story of the stacked bodies was recounted, and as various instruments and recorders worked Expedition Unknown brought out their SP-7 spirit box. 

I've posted a link to a 14 second cut of the whole session below. 

In the clip, investigator Stephen Guenther asks if anyone is with us in the vault. At the 14 second mark, it seems as if the box responds with 'get out.'

Here's the response, slowed by 36% for clarity:

There's a lot more audio for me to go over. I will post more excerpts next week!

A final cautionary tale.

One of the pieces of gear I took was a device designed to pick up and record faint EM radiation. And when I say faint I mean very faint -- it was so sensitive I could turn my phone's volume down to zero, pull up a song, hit play, and listen to the song over my super-amp device from a good distance away. It was picking up the tiny signal generated by the phones even tinier audio amp. I was really proud of that device.

Testing it here at home proved it's a viable instrument for picking up faint EM signals and rendering them audible. I could easily identify common sources, such as 60 Hertz house current, or the high-pitched whine of a nearby cell phone, or the buzzing of a fan motor.

But, once in downtown Birmingham, when I switched the amp on in the chapel before the investigation I was horrified to hear, loud and clear, a country station blasting out music.

I hadn't counted on being immersed in such a strong field of urban background EM fields. And as such I used fixed internal components to set the amplifier chip's gain to a maxed-out 3000X.

To make matters even worse, in the final moments of the investigation, I put the amp atop a marker while I aimed my mic toward an EVP session. I then walked away, and left the mic, the magnetic pickup, and the audio recorder attached to the chassis there in the cemetery. 

Good going, Tuttle. Smooth move. You da MAN.

I was nearly back to Oxford when I suddenly realized what I'd done, because my brain is ever-vigilant, but four hours behind. 

Thus, I am forever grateful to Oak Hill expert Renee, who not only found my derelict EM amp but is keeping it safe and seeing it home. To Renee, my thanks! 

And to everyone else, a good night. Because staying up late is yet another task my silly brain is not suited for. 



  1. Ok, I didn't hear the moans but I did hear that GET OUT - that was pretty cool!

  2. They were moaning over your conversation!!!

    Very interesting. Very interesting, indeed.