EAST COUNTY — There’s the old American-Indian man with the hunched back who walks along Morgan Johnson Road.
And the spirit of a dead child who haunts a building off DeSoto Road.
“I grew up here, where ghost stories are a part of life,” said Lynne Megef, who says the spirit of her husband permanently sits on a couch in her living room, in a home off State Road 70.
A room filled with people who believe in the supernatural packed the Braden River Library Oct. 24, to share their ghost stories with the Ghost Hunters SRQ, a Sarasota non-profit whose purpose is to prove or disprove paranormal activity.
Marko and Maggie Sumney, who founded the group in 2000, and Kathie Micko, the group’s historian, call themselves skeptics.
“Ghost don’t just pop out because we’re there,” said Maggie Sumney, who works as a compliance coordinator for the city of Sarasota. “Experience has taught us to be patient. It’s actually pretty boring to hunt ghosts.”
The ghost hunters rely on science to detect ghosts. They refute urban legends. Of the seven formal investigations they’ve led, including tours of the Myakka Schoolhouse, The Players Theatre and the Mansfield Ohio State Prison, they have rarely detected paranormal activity.
But still, when a believer comes to them with a request for an investigation, they hunt, because certainty gives clients closure — or beginnings, if their science confirms ghosts.
Marko Sumney, a carpenter who wears a long, dangly earring, also sports a ghost-hunting tool belt, which holds flashlights, tape recorders, walkie-talkies, thermometers, compasses and EMF (electromagnetic field) readers.
The EMF will blink when it detects paranormal activity, and the tape recorder captures voices.
A voice caught on the recorder from an Oct. 26, 2007, visit to The Players Theatre, which the Sumneys play for the audience, hisses in a cartoonish voice, “No way. Shut up!”
Maggie Sumney relies on intuition.
“My feelings are all I have,” Sumney said. “When something paranormal is nearby, my hair stands up. I call it a spiritual hug.”
Micko, the researcher, develops a thorough report before investigations begin. She interviews employees and customers of potential ghost-hunting sites and tours the facility to search for anything normal that might be confused for the paranormal.
For example, she looks for mold and checks the status of the air-conditioning unit.
The ghost hunters say spirit-filled places often feel dense, making it difficult to breathe.
But, that feeling could be because of a broken air conditioner.
“You don’t just say, ‘I have got the willies and I was touched so there must be ghosts here,’” Micko said. “You have to back it up. If the homeowner or business owner has experiences, we try to disprove it. Once we do, if we do detect activity, what stands is the spirit.”
They hunt at night because ghosts rest during the day.
Although they lean conservatively in the politics of ghost hunting, it doesn’t make them non-believers.
“People who don’t believe in spirits are people who have had no reason to believe in spirits,” Maggie Sumney said.
The Sumneys can’t point to one moment that made them believers, but Micko recalls hearing yelling in her sleep after her uncle died.
Beneath a fog of doubt that trails ghost hunting, the Sumneys and Micko have learned truths.
Spirits become aggravated when flesh-and-bone people change routine.
“You can’t remodel a place in which a spirit lives,” Sumney said. “You are disturbing their place.”
Such disturbances never turn hostile.
“Ghosts can’t hurt you,” Sumney said. “But your imagination can.”
If they do sense “bad spirits,” the ghost hunters will leave a place immediately.
For the believers in the audience, who often gasped or nodded their heads to stories to which they could relate, hearing from a professional brought comfort.
Cathy Habora, an East County resident who lives off Morgan Johnson Road, says an American-Indian man floats into her house a few times per week.
“I don’t care what anybody else says,” she said. “The old man walks through the dining room, and I don’t know where he starts and stops.”
The ghost hunters said they will investigate Morgan Johnson Road if more people come forward.
Contact Josh Siegel at firstname.lastname@example.org.