For a local ghost hunter who’s approaching the incandescence of the national limelight, Joshua P. Warren comes across as surprisingly calm.
Then again, this is a guy who intentionally seeks out the eeriest corners of Western North Carolina in hopes of running across lingering spirits or other unexplained phenomena that would make a lot of folks gulp, blanch or even run.
The Buncombe County native’s passion for investigating otherworldly mysteries has brought him to a whirlwind sort of moment: He’s frantically juggling personal appearances and is even making plans to stay awake around the clock for interviews.
Ghost hunter goes global
In the feverish weeks leading up to Halloween — typically the busiest time of the year for paranormal researchers — the exhausted 27-year-old Warren is chatting with interviewers from across North America (and as far away as Europe and New Zealand) to promote his new book, How to Hunt Ghosts: A Practical Guide, published last month by Simon & Schuster.
The intriguing paperback offers Warren’s take on understanding and locating ghosts — all presented so logically that even die-hard skeptics would have to at least consider the possibility that such entities do exist. He also sprinkles in references to unexplained mists, glowing orbs and apparitions — including a friend’s sighting of a ghostly (and somewhat sinister) monsignor.
In a close encounter of the glitzier kind, Warren is tentatively scheduled to appear on NBC’s Late Night with Conan O’Brien on Oct. 30 — a nugget of information I gleaned on a recent evening ramble through the Grove Park Inn with him and other members of L.E.M.U.R., the paranormal-research team Warren founded in 1995. (Fittingly, the acronym for the League of Energy Materialization and Unexplained phenomena Research spells the name of the nocturnal primate whose own name derives from lemures, the Latin word for ghosts or specters.)
The potential New York gig means that Warren and the other members of the L.E.M.U.R. team will trade off hosting duties during two nights of Halloween events at The Melting Pot restaurant in Biltmore Village. A series of strange occurrences reported there — including ghostly footsteps and unexplained figures — has team members convinced that the upscale fondue eatery is haunted. And if all goes as planned, the L.E.M.U.R. team will show the live broadcast of Late Night at the conclusion of the first evening’s events.
Somehow, it’s not hard to envision Warren on national TV. Exhibiting poise and polish beyond his years, the paranormal bloodhound speaks about his research in such cautious, reasoned terms that it’s hard not to take him seriously. To be sure, the veteran author is no media novice — he’s already appeared on the Discovery Channel, the Travel Channel, NPR and CNN, among other outlets, and is a frequent guest on Coast to Coast AM with George Noory, a national radio show specializing in unexplained phenomena. (It’s broadcast locally on WWNC 570 AM.)
O’Brien’s producers, however, are fretting about whether there are enough laughs to be found in the paranormal to keep a comedy show snappy, Warren reports. But if the baby Sasquatch story comes up, he’ll no doubt have the audience in stitches.
Sitting in the Grove Park Inn’s Palm Court late one recent evening — mere feet away from the spot where the legendary “Pink Lady” reportedly met her demise — Warren chortles as he recounts how a man called him up to say that he had a baby Sasquatch (aka Bigfoot) at his house.
Warren rushed over to the man’s house, only to be told that Baby Sasquatch was dead, its remains mostly eaten by the man’s dog. Nonetheless, the man offered up “evidence” — a piece of skull, a hair and a few photos.
“The photographs were pictures of the woods, and there would be maybe a little dark spot between a couple of leaves,” Warren recalls, barely containing himself. “He said: ‘Did you see him in there? You can see that Sasquatch staring back at us from behind that tree.'”
On closer examination, the hair looked for all the world like a black piece of thread, Warren says with some disdain.
“Obviously I was very disappointed,” Warren reveals. “But it’s just an example of [how] you never know what the heck’s going to happen.”
Baby Sasquatch, Conan O’Brien — Warren takes it all in stride.
Believing by degrees
As someone who didn’t used to believe in ghosts, Warren seems to takes pride in his own caution.
After he penned his first published book (at age 13), he began writing articles for the Asheville Citizen-Times. His first newspaper story, published around Halloween, described some reputedly haunted spots around Western North Carolina. As a result, the budding investigator was deluged with hundreds of letters and phone calls — including invitations to check out more haunted locales. Each subsequent article brought more invites.
“The funny thing that happened along the way is I sort of started changing my opinion about the legitimacy of some of these reports,” notes Warren. “I mean, I talked to people like police officers and judges and doctors and people who had nothing to gain — if anything, a lot to lose — by … admitting having had one of these experiences. I finally figured all these people can’t be lying or crazy or just misinterpreting what they’re seeing.
“That’s when I first thought that it would be a good idea to take some scientific tools to some of these locations to see if I could actually document anything in the objective environment that is connected to any experiences. And very soon, I found out that indeed there are things that can be documented. This is not a complete subjective experience that people are having, at least not all the time.”
Warren founded L.E.M.U.R. eight years ago — the same year the Grove Park Inn hired him to investigate the Pink Lady, said to be the ghost of a young woman who reportedly fell to her death while staying at the Inn in its early years. L.E.M.U.R. now boasts about 10 members, who tote around an impressive amount of gear.
In a quiet hallway of the Inn, Warren reaches into a knapsack and pulls out some ghost-detecting equipment, including a remote temperature gauge, two sorts of electromagnetic field meters and a 3-D camera.
L.E.M.U.R. team member/audio expert Forrest Connor interrupts us to show a digital photo he’s just snapped of Warren and me that reveals a glowing orb above our heads. (Team members report that orbs sometimes show up in digital photos or on video footage even though they’re not visible to the naked eye.) A subsequent photo shows no such oddity, which leads L.E.M.U.R. Vice President/digital-imaging specialist Brian Irish to hesitate to judge it as otherworldly.
Warren theorizes that an orb might be a ghost manifested as an efficient energy form that attracts dust particles via an electrostatic charge.
“And what we may end up with is a small clump of particles, sort of like a flying dust ‘footprint,’ if you will, of the ghost, that sort of marks the ghost’s presence as it moves around,” he suggests.
Despite all his research, Warren readily admits that he’s never seen a traditional apparition himself. But he does report witnessing a swirling, bluish-gray mist during an investigation at a home whose owner was so bothered by an apparition that she called 911 to report an intruder. And in the basement of the historic Zealandia mansion on Beaucatcher Mountain, Warren felt a touch on his shoulder when there was nobody behind him. (In that case, he says that subsequent video footage revealed an orb shooting behind his back at the precise moment he felt the touch.)
As we amble along another hallway, I ask Warren a question that undoubtedly troubles some potential ghost hunters: “Are there malevolent ghosts that could harm you?”
At that, Warren’s hand-held electromagnetic field meter goes wild, emitting a squealing burst of sound.