The season is upon us. Gawkers have been driving through our parking lot with ever increasing frequency for the last three weeks- and Joel chased the first crowd of drunken thrill seekers off our lawn lawn not six days ago. Everyone is searching for a ghost.
The past three years brought us hundreds of people more seriously seeking out the world of the paranormal than these seasonal passerbys. This is the time of year when dedicated groups seek to expand their fan base through events and free lectures- some of them even make a few bucks for new equipment by leading investigations for the Halloween crowd on behalf of locations with a reputation to draw and sell these events. I see many old friends posting on Facebook- working hard to hold down their days jobs during the month of October while leading or participating in numerous late night hunts.
I do miss it. I do miss the many good people hosting paranormal events brought to the building. While I fully stand by our decision to no longer be hosts of said events in order to pursue massive renovations (and allow our business tenants 24/7 access without exception), I'll never forget the many good memories we made with the teams who came to Milton.
We did not buy Milton because of ghosts- or its haunted reputation. Not being an Alton native, I wasn't even aware of these things until our neighbors took it upon themselves to so inform us (side note: that may not be the friendliest topic of conversation when introducing yourself to someone who has just moved in next door). It was not for the romanticism of the paranormal realm that we first agreed to allow tours to be brought through our home- bus load upon bus load- as we spent Friday and Saturday nights quietly sitting in our room with the TV off, reading or writing as we hid in silence. We did it because we had no money and we had a dream for this building that required money to fulfill.
Doesn't that sound so...unappealing? "We did it for the money". It's true, and it took a long time to justify it. A good deal of time passed before I ever saw anything convincing in a paranormal way come out of this place- and yet we politely listened to everyone's earnest adventures and experiences as if our belief was equally as fervent. That sort of thing makes you feel like you're living a lie. I hated it.
It wasn't until we chose teams to privately lead paranormal overnights in The Milton Schoolhouse that I became aware of this beautiful, unspoken symbiotic relationship a historic location with a haunted draw can have with the paranormal world.
I read an article recently about Theodore Roosevelt and the strange balance of his near excessive lust for bloodsport and his incredible efforts to create the first national parks in the United States. It mentioned that hunters are often the most avid environmentalists. They enjoy nature, they derive pleasure from it more frequently than most of us do, and are more in tune with changes happening in the ecosystems in which they hunt. They are are often the most interested in seeing a long lived, balanced, healthy environment grow and thrive.
The connection struck me. Not only because it is one I would have never thought to have made- but because that relationship represented, to me, the same relationship we had with the hunters of ghosts who came through our halls.
Ask most investigators why they do what they do- and most will say because they want to find evidence of the paranormal in some respect. Press further and nine out of ten will tell you they do it because they feel honored or enjoy the opportunity to explore places most people will never see. The pursuit of ghost hunting draws historians who love to find the story behind a place; photographers that see beauty in remnants left behind from another era; and adventurers who embrace the thought of walking the same path as those who have left this life. I'll admit, not having ever been introduced to the paranormal business, I felt terribly uncomfortable charging $50 for an evening of walking around an often cold and dank schoolhouse. But I heard, time and time again, thankfulness and avid support from the paranormal community for our efforts to restore Milton. In fact, it would be accurate to say the paranormal community believed in us first- before the neighbors, the inspectors, the business owners around us...and even our close friends or family.
Perhaps it was because they had nothing to loose. But I think it was because- like deer and duck hunters- they were excited to see the Milton ecosystem improve. They saw that, with us, this building had a chance of surviving another few decades. The roof wasn't going to fall in; the place wasn't going to be demolished. The environment was taking on an new chapter in its story: a chapter of survival and renewal.
When we decided in 2013 that we were no longer going to host these events- we did receive some comments of confusion and outrage. But the reaction from the paranormal community was largely a sweet sadness, a wealth of warm wishes, and a great cheer on of the good things happening here. I will never forget- or forget to be grateful- of their support.
Our friends in that community shared in our excitement with the progress they saw from investigation to investigation. Their money bought countless sheets of drywall, rolls of insulation, gallons of paint, and quite a bit of Chinese take-out for those late night construction pushes. These people introduced me to new ideas (we had a quantum physics professor from University of Chicago on an investigation once who believed that "ghosts" were actually time travelers- the discussion was amazing!), new inventions (we've had teams who consider this the activity in this place consistent enough that they return to test new equipment- sometimes of their own making), and stories that shall be forever immortalized in that first book we write on those early years.
As the excitement grows with this newest coffee shop adventure- I want to say "thank you", specifically, to the paranormal teams who kept those winter bills paid while we worked to build out studios for artists and businesses in the building in those first three years. Many miraculous factors made it possible to get as far as we have in the last four years- but the role the paranormal community played in the revitalization of this old building was absolutely essential to what we've grown into today. I hope that other property owners realize how lucky they are to have you!
To our ghost hunting friends: I can't wait to sit down with you in Maeva's next spring, pour you a cup of coffee, and catch up on your adventures. Happy Halloween!