Brown River Queen cover art

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Things That Go Bump: Thomas House Edition Report

Thomas House.

Red Boiling Springs, Tennessee. Reputed to be one of the most haunted sites in the US, home to half a dozen colorful ghosts who aren't shy about making their presence known.

That's where I spent last weekend, in the gracious company of Historical Haunts, a TAPS family member group based out of Memphis. 

So Frank, you may be asking. Did you see anything? Hear anything? Is the Thomas House actually haunted, or is all the hype merely a mish-mash of publicity and eager amateur ghost hunters mistaking knocking water pipes for poltergeists?

Well, have a seat, my inquisitive friends, because answering that question is going to take some time.

I arrived at the House well-armed with an array of recording gear. My emphasis was on audio, but I had a bit of everything. Here's my gear, laid out on the small second bed in Room 18.

Parabolic mic and netbook recorder. Magbox and recorder. Tesla radio and recorder. Zoom H1 mic/recorder. Velleman Super Ear and recorder. Ramsey Tri-Field meter. Non-contact temperature gun. Camera. Batteries. And of course the ubiquitous K2.

Did I capture anything with all this gear?

Oh yes. I certainly did. I think the best way to describe my stay at the Thomas House is to proceed in chronological order, incident by incident.

Before I start posting things, though, a reminder. Most of what I captured is audio, and some of it is fairly faint. I can hear everything just fine through the speakers on my PC, but my PC is an old-school tower unit with external speakers. If you're listening on a laptop or a mobile device, the device's tiny speakers may not be able to accurately reproduce the softer sounds. If that's the case, even plugging in and listening through a simple pair of earbuds will present a vast improvement in what.

That said, here we go!


We arrived at the House around four in the afternoon. The projected five hour drive turned into nearly seven hours after a detour from the Natchez Trace sent us straight into bumper-to-bumper traffic through several middling small towns stretched across the interstate. 

We arrived, dumped everything in room 18, and set out to have a quick look around and stretch our legs before unpacking and getting set up.

The Thomas House is old. Built in 1890, and it shows. Walls bob and weave. Floors creak and doors don't quite shut. Dull painted eyes peer down on you from the hundreds of paintings and old photos that cover every inch of vertical wall space. Even the scale of the place is a reflection of the smaller people of the 19th century. 

One of the House's more famous ghosts is that of Sara, a little girl who died in the hotel in 1920. She'd been brought to the Thomas House to partake of the mineral waters that flow beneath the hotel -- at that time, such hot springs were thought to be a panacea. Sadly, they did nothing for poor Sara, who died after only 3 days there.

At the end of the hall shown above, on the left, is a small sitting room. Sara is said to play along this hall, and in the sitting room. We wound up in that room to take a break and rest a bit. There was already a child's ball there.

There were four of us in the room. Mike, Kelly, my wife Karen, and myself. We were all seated. Talking casually. There was no air movement in the room. No one stomping past in the hall. No one striking the floor from below with a jack-hammer. It was quiet and still.

Karen encouraged the spirit of Sara to move the ball. 

Like everyone else in the room, I watched.. I wasn't expecting anything. A brightly-lit room, in the early afternoon? It seemed an unlikely place for anything ghostly to commence.

So when she said, 'Sara, move the ball,' I wasn't anticipating any movement. Nothing in the environment seemed capable of inducing any kind of motion.

Until the ball simply rolled, on its own, half a full revolution.

We all saw it. The floor didn't shake, a passing truck didn't thunder past. The ball simply moved.

I took a photo immediately after this, as I cursed myself roundly for not gearing up when I left the room. So I can offer no video evidence to support my claim -- but like everyone else in that sitting room, I saw the ball move.


After a delicious supper (the cook at the Thomas House is extremely skilled), we split into three groups. My group was the first to enter the infamous Thomas House Chapel, which is said to be inhabited by two spirits.

The first is the Reverend Blankenship, the former pastor, who hung himself above the pulpit after he realized years of shady business dealings were about to be exposed. The second ghost is reputed to be that of Miss Polly, a poor homeless woman the church took in as a resident.

We entered the Chapel around 10:30 PM. I had my magbox, my Zoom, my thermal gun, and a so-called 'spirit box.' Karen had the Velleman Super Ear mic.

As we enter, we caught the first EVP. I heard nothing at the time, but on replay, a voice seems to say 'Meet her.' You can listen by playing the YouTube video linked below.

MEET HER EVP click here

Which is strange, but hardly the only strange thing going on at that time.

My magbox is a simple but effective machine. A magnetic pickup on a two-foot-long extension rod feeds a sensitive audio amp. It's quite capable of identifying 60 Hz house current and nearby cell phones in use. If noncorporeal entities somehow manipulate EM fields, it could detect that too.

It was dead silent on the walk to the Chapel. Because we were well away from electrical lines or circuits. As soon as we entered, though, it began picking up the usual 60 Hz hum present in all buildings with electricity. There was a 'dead spot,' about waist high, where the buzz fell to nothing. But that's not unusual.

Unless you consider that the Chapel HAS NO ELECTRICITY. No supply line. Even that was taken down years ago. I didn't know that when I entered. 

So what was my magbox finding? Ghost circuits? Some odd localized electric field?

I have no idea. I turned the magbox off because the hum was so loud. When we left, a mere hour later, I turned it back on -- to find the new battery was completely drained.

I can't explain that either. I once forgot the magbox. Left it on a headstone in a cemetery in Birmingham. It stayed there running all night, for a total of something like 16 hours, and the battery wasn't drained.

But an hour in the Chapel, in the presence of electricity that wasn't there?


Anyway. On to the next!


I've used my trusty Zoom H1 mic for years now. It's a sensitive, reliable machine with a truly excellent recorder built in. Musicians and journalists use H1's for recording in the field. 

I noticed something strange, though, on the Chapel recording. Present throughout the entire event was a constant, soft noise that my ears didn't hear. As I listened to the recording, though, I kept hearing a dub-dub, dub-dub dub-dub. A sound rather like that of a beating heart.

I did NOT have the mic in a jacket pocket. It was resting on a table. It is not built to pick up heartbeats from people sitting a meter away. 

So what the heck is the sound?

I have absolutely no idea. You can hear it for yourself below by clicking the link.



We found chairs in the cramped, junk-filled Chapel, seated ourselves, and the EVP session began in earnest.

I heard nothing at the time, but when a speaker invites any entities present to speak, a faint little voice chirps 'hi.' You can hear it below; the 'hi' is about six seconds into the clip.

HI FROM CHAPEL Click here to listen


Many visitors to the Thomas House report being touched.

I myself was not touched. But Karen, my long-suffering wife, was touched not once but twice during our session in the Chapel.

She described both events thusly: First, a sudden rush of extremely cold air, approching from behind. Followed immediately by a cold touch on the back of her neck, moving from just above her collar to her hairline, as though a cold fingertip stroked her. 

I quickly inspected the area for anything that might have hung down or reached in from the side. In both cases, the area was clear. No cobwebs, no hanging lamp cords, no bric-a-brac in the vicinity. The chairs all had low backs. And it was way too cold for bugs of any sort.

I had 3 mics running at the time. My Zoom. The recorder on the magbox -- yes, the magbox was switched off, but the onboard digital recorder was still recording via its own internal mic. And she had the Velleman Super Ear. 

All three of the mics picked up a faint whisper spoken by parties unknown shortly after the second touch. All three mics. 

Let's start by listening to the entire second touch incident, recorded on my Zoom. The whisper is very faint, about 35 seconds into the recording. You'll hear us discuss the touch, hear me verify nothing is near, hear someone say 'there's nothing around here,' and finally you'll hear a woman add 'that we can see.' Then, if you have headphones or loud speakers, you'll hear a faint rustling whisper. Don't worry, the next video contains an amplified looped whisper. But I wanted you to have the full context before I present that.

SECOND NECK TOUCH INCIDENT click here to listen

I listened to all three recordings, from all three mics. I isolated the whisper, added some amplification. Then I combined all three recordings onto the same track. What you'll hear below is a looped recording from the Olympus recorder, followed bny a loop from the Velleman, and finally a loop from the Zoom. It sounds like someone is whispering "He's coming out the door."

WHISPER AFTER TOUCH click here to listen


We spent about an hour in the Chapel. Later, several of us moved to the hotel's conference room. 

Note the door on the left side of the image frame. See the panes of glass that make up the door. That will be important later.

We seated ourselves around the table. By now, it is well after midnight. An EVP session is begun -- at one point Stephen mentions that the 'door is open,' speaking metaphorically, because that door is actually closed.

But I suppose something wants in, because after we've been in there about 15 minutes the door begins to rattle and shake. You can easily hear the noise in the clip below. Our reactions are also there, as Sarah, seated at the head of the table with a clear view of the door, reports no one is there.

RATTLING DOOR Click here to listen

What made the door move?

I don't know. Something did, but it couldn't be seen. I can offer nothing in the way of physical explanations.

That wasn't the last conference room event, either. None of us hear anything after the door rattle. The REMpod beeps and boops, as the temperature in the room fluctuates. But no one is touched, and aside from the door nothing moves.

Toward the end of the session, Sarah notes that 'it seems very still now.' Maybe not so much, because the Velleman mic caught a single word from nowhere, that seems to say 'repent.'

REPENT Click here to listen to the unaltered audio

Odd, especially in light of Kevin's own visit to the Chapel, in which he spoke about forgiveness, hoping to offer the Reverend some comfort. 

Below is the word again, this time amplified.

REPENT amplified. Click here to listen. 


Once upon a time, I worked nights. I lost count of the number of days I worked until the sun rose. I was a night owl's night owl.

But those days are long gone. By 3:00 AM, I was barely able to function. So I took to my bed -- my tiny, tiny bed, which, of course was haunted.

The story is that the tiny second bed in Room 18 was once owned by PT Barnum. It was one of two beds that were said to disturb occupants by shaking all during the night.

I volunteered to sleep in the bed, and I did, but honestly the thing could have launched me through the roof and halfway to Nashville and I doubt I;d have noticed. 

Nevertheless, the Thomas House wasn't done with us.

Karen brought along a noise machine, because I snore. I know, shocking, but it's my one flaw. So she retired to the slightly larger, possibly less haunted bed in the main bedroom and fired up her sleep machine while I collapsed onto the PT Barnum bed and waited for the poltergeist to arrive. 

The door between bedrooms was open. I heard the steady hiss of the sleep machine start up, heard her go to bed.

A few minutes later, the sleep machine went off. Came back on. 

This was repeated three times. I wondered why she was fiddling with the thing, could hear her get up and down, but I was too exhausted to comment.

Unknown to me, Karen wasn't turning the sleep machine off. It turned itself off, three times, forcing her to get up and turn it back on. On the third and final time, she says she told whatever was causing the machine to turn off that she was very tired, and would it please stop playing with the machine?

It did. 

I may have audio of this. I left my parabolic mic running in the small bedroom. But since I took so many mics, and I have a day job and I am trying to finish a new book, I haven't had time to process the audio from the parabolic yet. 

But it happened. I heard it, she witnessed it. Something caused the sleep machine to shut itself off three times, and the phenomena stopped when asked to stop.

 Make of that what you will.


 I witnessed strange events at the Thomas House. I saw a child's toy ball move, without apparent cause. I witnessed inexplicable equipment malfunctions. I recorded a number of anomalous sounds and voices.

And I haven't even finished processing all the audio. But what was captured, and what I saw, is sufficient to convince me the Thomas House is home to activity that defies mundane explanation.

I will of course continue to analyze my remaining audio, from both the Tesla radio (which spent the entire night on the porch) and the parabolic, which was stationed by the shaking bed in Room 18. Any further events of interest will be displayed here. 

Thanks for reading! Thanks as well to Stephen, Tanya, and Kevin of Historical Haunts.

Stay spooky, people.

“There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

--Hamlet, Shakespeare

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Things That Go Bump #2: Thomas House Edition

As I mentioned last week, I'll soon be taking a trip to the Thomas House in Tennessee, in hopes of recording some of the haunting activity frequently reported there.

I'll take a camera, of course, but my strategy is concentrate on capturing audio phenomena. To that end, I've collected my gear, and here's what I'll be taking:

* A homemade Velleman stereo super-ear amp, with digital recorder onboard.

* A homemade magnetic sensor. This device is extremely sensitive, and it transduces EM signals down to audio. Which means if everyone's K2 meters light up, I can stick my nosy 2-foot-long probe near the spot. If the source of the reading is, for example, common house electrical current, the mag box will retun the unmistakable sound of 60 Hz house current. It's also sensitive enough to pick up cell phone emissions, which I suspect are another common source of K2 readings. The mag box also has full-time digital recording (like the Velleman, by means of a small digital voice recorder Velcroed to the side.)

* A parabolic mic with full-time digital audio recording. The parabolic is too large and unwieldy to walk around with, so I'll just set it up in some lonely, out of the way spot, turn it on, and let it record. Maybe a ghost will get careless and complain about all the live people tramping around and I'll catch that.

* A so-called 'Tesla radio,' also equipped with a digital recorder. This is basically an untuned AM radio, with weird antennas Signals drift in and out willy-nilly, and since some researchers believe communication is possible with such a device, I'm bringing one. 

* Finally, my trusty Zoom H1 field mic, which is tough, sensitive, and capable of truly detailed recordings. 

Below are some snapshots of the gear.

Why yes, it is homemade. Since parabolics run 600 and higher even for small ones, I won't be buying one anytime soon. Recording is straight to a Dell netbook. This little rig works well, even if it is basically a squirrel-shield and leftover parts from other projects. Oh, and why does it having a blinking red LED? 

Clear disk. Dark, unfamiliar room. With the LED blinking away maybe I won't walk into it again.

Next up, the Tesla.

There's a story about Nikola Tesla building a very primitive radio in his laboratory and listening to it late in the night. The story goes that he heard things he couldn't explain, and since this took place well before the advent of commercial radio stations, and since Tesla invented basically every bit of electrical technology we enjoy today, a lot of people take the story seriously. 

Hey, it looks cool, it's sensitive to a broad spectrum of radio frequencies, and it cost me 13 bucks to build. You've got an old-school germanium diode, a tiny capacitor or two, and then I added a preamp and topped it off with a quarter-watt audio amp and a cheap digital voice recorder. So speak into the spiral antenna, Miss Ghost, and be heard.

Last, a couple of items. Pictured below are the Velleman super ear and its recorder, on the left. On the right of the Velleman is the mag box, also with its recorder. The small black box on the far right is a Ramsey Electronics Tri-Field recorder, which can reveal the presence of electric fields, magnetic fields, or RF fields. 

Also shown is a sonic screwdriver, because who goes ghost hunting without one, right?

The mag box has a two-foot-long probe. Here's a picture of the magnetic sensor at the end:

I hope it's safe to say I'll be able to cover the entire audio spectrum and a good wide swath of the EM spectrum, too. 

The downside of all this, of course, will be the mind-numbingly boring task of listening to each and every minute of everything recorded by all the recorders. 

That's the real glamor of engaging in paranormal research -- listening intently to fifteen hours of audio in hopes of catching a single muttered 'Hey.' 

Switching gears from ghost hunting to writing for a moment, noted book reviewer Big Al reviewed the latest Markhat novel, THE DARKER CARNIVAL.

You can read the review by clicking here. The reviewer liked the book -- always a nervous moment, believe me, reading a book review of your own book -- so I'm thrilled. 

Here's an excerpt from the review: "It is a rollercoaster ride of twists and dead-ends until puzzle pieces start falling into place. Then Markhat finds himself confronted with something he never imagined he would find himself doing or having the will to carry out."

Now that's what any writer wants to see!

If you're curious, you can still buy THE DARKER CARNIVAL from Amazon by clicking here.

Things That Go Bump #1: Thomas House Edition

I've always wanted to spend the night in an alleged haunted house.

Finally, the time has come. Soon I'll be joining the Historical Haunts crew for an overnight stay at the famous Thomas House Hotel, a site rumored to be positively teaming with ghosts, spectres, haunts, haints, boogers, poltergeists, shades, revenants, tulpas, pookas, shadow people, and at least one confused Irish leprechaun who wishes people would stop laughing at the buckles on his shoes.

Seriously, the Thomas House has a certain reputation for frequent unexplained phenomena that stretches back quite a few years. Built in 1890 by the Cloyd family, the Hotel was a lavish estate, catering to the wealthy who flocked to the area to partake of the hot mineral springs thought at the time to promote health. 

There was a golf course, riding trails, and at one point a pet bear was housed on the premises. There were also a number of deaths (a child drowned in a swimming pool, and a rider suffered a fatal fall from a horse) and several fires. 

Most of the activity seems to be fairly typical -- knocks, disembodied voices, cold spots, dragging sounds, even a few moving apparitions. 

People have captured a few interesting experiences. Here, for instance, four musical notes sound and are captured by a video camera:


And here is a clip of a child's voice, in a room where no children were present:


I'll be thrilled if I can catch anything so clear.

Since I plan to focus primarily on capturing EVPs on this visit, I'm bringing out the big guns. Namely, my homebuilt parabolic microphone, which I plan to install in a quiet place somewhere, preferably with a nice long line of sight. 

I've added a new feature to the parabolic. This time, it will be connected to an old Dell netbook, which will record directly from the mic. This way, I'll be able to quickly scroll through the recording while I'm at the Thomas House, without waiting to dump the audio file from a tiny digital recorder before sitting down to listen to the whole file. 

Here's what the whole rig looks like. Please excuse the state of the lab; Igor is visiting relatives in Transylvania all this month.

The parabolic element (the clear dish-shaped thing) is actually a $20 'squirrel shield' built to hang above bird feeders. The tripod is an old junker with a bubble level that does a nice job of holding up the dish. The mic is held at the dish's focal point by a band of sheet metal. A small battery-powered preamp boosts the signal, and the little Dell netbook records it live, using Audacity sound processing software, which is free.

Here's a close-up of the Audacity monitor screen:

The pre-amp has a gain control, and I can also adjust input levels from the Audacity dashboard. So once I'm at the actual location, I'll tweak everything to catch very faint whispers, and just let it go.

That's just one piece of gear I'll be taking. Next week, I'll show another. 

Anything captured on a recording will also be revealed here. 

If anyone has any suggestions for other gear, let me know!

MidSouthCon 34 Roundup

There are few constants in life. Cars and friends and yes, even publishers all come and go.

But one event I look forward to every year is MidSouthCon. 

MidSouthCon is, of course, the premiere science fiction/fantasy con held every March in Memphis, Tennessee. 

To me, it's more than just a gathering of like-minded fans of a genre I love. It's become a place to see old friends and make new ones. The people who run the con work their asses off to bring order to the chaos that is fandom, and they do a marvelous job every year. So let me start with a shout-out to the Con staff, who herd cats, wrangle authors, appease editors, placate publicists, and generally make sure everyone has a great time.  You guys and girls rock!

The 34th MidSouthCon was no exception. I had a blast, met a lot of fascinating people, grabbed some incredible art (from Ann Stokes, Mitch Faust, and Sam Flegal), hung out with ghost hunters (Historical Haunts), and finally got to spend some real time with authors I respect and admire (Rosalie Stanton, Cecilia Dominic, Steve Bradshaw, Tim Bohn, and Robert Krog, among many others). 

Meeting and actually speaking with artist Ann Stokes was also delightful. I'm constantly amazed at the innate, well, niceness of the artists, authors, and other creative people at the Con. It's not artifice, either -- the Con simply has a friendly vibe that resonates year to year.

I was on a number of panels this year, on topics ranging from cryptozoology to character development. I've come to love panels, not so much because I get to talk, but because I'm sitting next to people who have profound things to say. I learned something valuable I can apply to my own writing every time I sat down, and there aren't many other venues that provide me with that experience.

I also took pictures. It;s hard to sit in the lobby and catch everyone in cosplay when you're a panelist, but I did the best I could. You can follow the link below to Flickr to see the best of the pics I took. 

Link to Frank's MidSouthCon 34 pics:

I was eligible for two Darrell Awards this year -- one in the YA Novel category, for All the Turns of Light, and one in the novel category, for The Darker Carnival.

I'm happy to report that All the Turns of Light won 1st runner up, and my Markhat novel The Darker Carnival won the Darrell Award for best novel of 2015!

That sounds like bragging. Maybe it is, just a bit. But writing is a lonely business. Sometimes I wonder if anyone is reading me anymore. Having the Darrell awards jury choose one of my books tells that nagging little voice in my head, the one that whispers "you're wasting your time, moron, no one likes your stuff" to shut up for a while. That's always welcome.

I'll be honest -- I'm exhausted. It was fun, but at my age, fun comes at a price. So I'll leave you with a couple of extra images from the Con.

The Darrell Award:

My prized Ann Stokes image, 'Arachnafaria.' Taking good pictures of art is hard, please forgive the image quality. The actual piece, which is on canvas, is stunning:

Finally, a pic of the author presenting a professional, properly authorial image on a panel:

Night night, kids. I'm off to take a huge dose of Vitamin C and hope to avoid the onset of the dreaded Con Crud...