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Ghost hunters

Mark Miner holds his camera so Rachan Hopkins and Frances Bacon can see the photos during a recent search at Adair Village.  (Andy Cripe | Corvallis Gazette-Times)

Don't call them Ghost Hunters. Don't ask them who they're gonna call. The Paranormal Researchers of Oregon Society have a higher calling, and it isn't necessarily coming from Beyond.

"We're not here chasing down ghosts," founder and case manager Mark Miner, 42, tells his team as they assemble on a Saturday in July for a research project on Camp Adair. "We're chasing down history."

The all-volunteer group, organized earlier this year, consists of about a dozen people, most of them from Albany. Their mission is to explore areas of paranormal activity and find out what's really going on.

This summer, the group's investigative projects include Camp Adair, which some have called "the largest ghost town in Oregon."

Miner doesn't know if anyone has actually died at the former Army facility training center north of Corvallis, which operated from 1942 to 1946.

He knows German and Italian prisoners of war were kept there, however. He knows the Army demolished the existing town of Wells -displacing farmers, descendants of pioneers, and even a whole cemetery - to build the camp.

Given the nationwide stress of World War II, Miner wouldn't be surprised to find the remains of the camp - now mostly bare foundations quietly decaying among the weeds - are a hotbed of spiritual energy.

But he wants to know for sure. And for Miner and his investigators, being sure means more than wandering around in the dark with digital recorders, hoping to catch a ghost.

"These people were people. They're not just monsters in the dark," he says.

This particular Saturday was the group's first formal foray into Camp Adair

For half the following week, Miner's investigators will fight through crabgrass and blackberry brambles to find, measure and take snapshots of each crumbling block of cement. Today, however, they're just doing initial poking around.

Four teams of three check maps, cameras and water bottles, then split up to spend a couple of hours covering as much as they can of the 15-square-mile area.

Miner, media consultant Rachan Hopkins and researcher/investigator Frances Bacon make up Team 1. They start by looking for people to talk to in the town of Adair Village itself.

The team makes little progress on this sleepy Saturday. City offices are closed. At the local food mart and the adjacent sandwich and ice cream shop, employees say they have no stories of paranormal activity to share, nor long-term memories of the town's military days.

Miner, Hopkins and Bacon look around a little more, photographing a tall, empty concrete silo on the south edge of town. Its purpose isn't clear, although it reminds Miner of his Navy days and of a silo used to burn discarded ammunition.

From here, it's back to the deserted camp for a quick tour of some of the nearest ruins. Then: Regroup to come back another day.

Later, after the more thorough tours, Miner will find digital recordings belonging to some of the investigators contain sounds of faraway voices. But many people hike and hunt at the deserted training facility, now the E.E. Wilson Wildlife Area.

Ghosts? Miner thinks not. Case resolved.

The investigators harbor various levels of supernatural belief. Hopkins has had contact with spiritual entities several times, while Bacon calls herself "very much a skeptic," still waiting to hear or see something with her own senses that she can't explain.

Miner has always been fascinated by the idea of spiritual energy but stresses he won't say it's there if it's not.

Some apparent manifestations are actually living human beings, he says. Others can come from a person's own psychological condition. Still, he's seen and heard things he can't explain.

"I believe there is an afterlife. I've experienced too much not to believe that. But I take a skeptic's point of view," he says.

The group doesn't do exorcisms, the researchers add. Their place is to identify and explain the situation, and, if spiritual energy is present, to honor the memory of the person to whom it belongs.

"We tend to get a lot of results," Miner says.

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