Ghosts Monthly Meet Jake Warga
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Commentary: Ghost hunters visiting a cemetery late at night
May 17, 2004 from All Things Considered
MICHELE NORRIS, host: Commentator Jake Warga belongs to a ghost-hunting group. Its members investigate reports of strange noises in old houses. And about once a month, they visit a cemetery late at night.
What are we looking for? Well, ghosts.
Unidentified Woman #1: Ooh, I got ecto. Look at this.
WARGA: Most of us are flashing away into the darkness with digital cameras, hoping for an orb, the circle I like to call dust, or ecto clouds, strange fog I like to call breaths. I don't believe you can capture a ghost or spirit on film, but most everyone, including myself, is carrying a cassette recorder, hoping to capture on tape an unexplained voice, a voice other than the living.
Unidentified Woman #2: Is there anyone here that would like to talk with us?
WARGA: People are goofing around, chatting, forming small groups and walking off into the darkness over grassy hills. By the time I look up, I'm alone, my head lamp lighting the path of my gaze over neat grass and rows of headstones. I read some of the markers. Some had long lines, others short. I spot some artificial flowers hanging from a small mausoleum. They really defeat the symbolism inherent in real flowers. Flowers represent life--beautiful, alive, their bloom short, then plucked, usually in the height of their beauty. Flowers are meant to remind us that all things die, except plastic flowers.
And this stack of tombs has illuminated fiber-optic cables sticking out through sconces that look like candles. I make a mental note to myself: Be cremated.
I come across a huge pile of flowers from a recent service outlining a grave, so new there's no marker. A framed photo shows a Hispanic man, maybe 25, younger than me. He looks happy. Always smile for the lens is how I was taught. It only takes a camera 1/60th of a second to capture a smile. It's hard to imagine that that smile I give could well live longer than me, as a print and then in the memory of others. When does a mere piece of photo paper become more than just that?
I snapped a picture of my father once in his little garden right before he started chemo. He was beaming with pride among his freshly potted flowers. I enlarged that same photo for his funeral service. It rested on an easel at the foot of his closed coffin. Although people looked sad, weeping as they walked past it, my father's face was locked forever in happiness, smiling at his son behind the camera. It's the last image we all have of him. I haven't been to his grave for a long time.
I'm not scared walking around the cemetery alone at night looking for ghosts. And I don't think I'd be scared if I ever did hear voices on my recorder. What really scares me, though, even now, is that I don't hear anything except some other ghost hunters giggling just a couple of trees over.
HEATHER (Ghost Hunter): Shut up.
MARK (Ghost Hunter): OK.
WARGA: Mark is always flirting with Heather on these cemetery expeditions. Life continues on the surface.
NORRIS: Jake Warga lives in Seattle.
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MELISSA BLOCK (Host): This is NPR, National Public Radio.