REALLY, I AIN'T afraid of no ghosts. However, I'll admit, it is pretty spooky down in the damp basement of the Waldo Block, stalking errant electrical energy amid the oil barrels and heating pipes with two ghost hunters and a professional chef.
In this cellar, Lisa Schroeder—who comes off as the no-nonsense type in her kitchens at Mother's Bistro and Mamma Mia Trattoria—has set out small altars for several spirits. On top of a wooden cabinet rest fake flowers, a Tigger doll, and an apple for a woman who apparently drank herself to death there decades ago.
"I've tried everything—sage smudgings, Chinese feng shui—and then my friend who's a witch came and said we should feed them," says Schroeder, an imposing woman with round glasses and a loud laugh. "I'm not obsessed with it, but I'm open to it."
Schroeder thinks spirits are potentially to blame for a series of weird mechanical problems that have plagued her neighboring restaurants: a water heater breaking and causing a flood, a paper shredder bursting into flames, a bunch of accounting files getting mixed up.
For the good ghosts who occupy the 125-year-old building, Schroeder leaves fruit and biscotti. ("I feed all these people upstairs, I gotta feed them, too.") For bad ones who cause trouble, she takes a different tack: "I've lit a candle and said, 'Get the hell out of here.'"
On this Saturday afternoon, brothers Kurt and Darrin Page hold out an electromagnetic field (EMF) reader to the altar—its light stays a solid green rather than jumping to yellow or red. No ghostly spirit detected today.
The Page brothers pack a big black briefcase full of electronics for their exploration of the Mamma Mia basement: digital cameras, digital voice recorders (ghosts seem to whisper at a frequency our ears can't detect, they explain), and the essential EMF reader.
The pair, who run "paranormal research group" Portland Paranormal Investigations, had asked Schroeder if they could check out the building after hearing about various hauntings; the Waldo Block has a storied past as a Chinese boarding house renowned for opium smoking and gambling.
Their investigative work is purely pro bono.
"I want answers," says Kurt, the much more talkative of the pair. "I want to know what happens after we die."
Portland Paranormal Investigations started seriously about a year ago. But the brothers have been interested in the paranormal since they were teenagers—and got a call they swear was their recently deceased grandpa phoning from beyond the grave to say, in his distinctively rough voice over a staticky land line, "I love you."
For investigators in a field of pseudo-science, the pair are surprisingly fastidious about details meant to avoid fraud accusations. No flash photography; working in the pitch black is best. Keep talking to a minimum so you don't yammer over the sounds of ghosts.
The duo starts their preliminary walk-through up in the restaurant, showing Schroeder how the EMF reader works. She grabs the device and jabs it against herself to see what reading she gives off.
"Why would ghosts give off energy?" she asks.
"They absorb the energy around them in order to manifest," says Kurt, and he wanders out among the tables, holding the EMF detector out like a divining rod.
Another "ghost whisperer" friend told Schroeder a few years ago that a young woman who used to live in the boarding house was restlessly walking up and down the stairs to the restaurant bathroom. But when Kurt runs the detector over the ladies room's blood-red walls, he comes up with zilch. Instead, as he turns around and faces the empty dining room, the lights start rising from green to yellow to orange and stay that way as he walks around. Something weird is going on.
"It could be her," he says. "Or, does this building have WiFi? It could be that, too."