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Ghost hunters

Tommy Waters and Dawn Hauer of Hawk Paranormal Scientific Investigations move through the sitting room of the Daly Mansion in Hamilton, where they have investigated unusual sights and sounds. Waters and his team search for answers to people's reports of odd and ghostly sightings, weird noises and other unexplained happenings.

 

HAMILTON -- Sure, it could have been the wind, or a loose screw in the tripod or the natural sway of the floor in an old creaky home.

But it could have been something else, too.

For several hours one night, Tommy Waters and his crew of paranormal investigators staked out the Daly Mansion in search of signs of something beyond the explainable.

After all, it's no secret that strange and unexplained things have occurred at the Anaconda copper king's Hamilton mansion in the past.

And this, says Waters, just adds to the suspense.

The crew set up a video camera in the sitting room on the second floor of the mansion, facing the stairwell. It's not what they captured on film that was so remarkable, but the way the camera slowly, but distinctly, moved side-to-side when no one was nearby.

"That is one that got me excited," said Waters, whose real name is Tommy Mullens.

Waters is what the 41-year-old goes by within the paranormal community. He likes to keep his regular life separate from his investigations into the paranormal.

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Waters, the lead investigator of Hamilton-based Hawk Paranormal Scientific Investigations, searches for answers to odd sightings, weird noises and unexplained happenings. His clients are people who wonder whether grandma haunts the hall a decade after her death or who hear strange tapping noises at the same time every night.

And who are they gonna call? Tommy Waters.

Ninety-five percent of the time, the tapping is explained by the westerly winds; the sightings of grandma are usually just overactive imaginations. In most cases, the mystery is solved with a decidedly normal explanation.

It's the occasional unexplainable thing that keeps Waters on the hunt.

"Some of it is in our heads," he said, "but some is not in our heads."

Paranormal investigation became popular and more widely known after the launching of TV shows such as "Ghost Hunters" and "Ghost Adventures." The paranormal investigation community is vast, Waters said, but relatively small in Montana, with just a few not-for-profit businesses.

Waters, an Iraq war veteran who served 15 years in the Army, became interested in ghosts as a child growing up in Arkansas. His interest developed into research into paranormal activity, with friends asking him about experiences that they'd had.

Suddenly, Waters was investigating possible ghost sightings and eerie sounds. Waters guesses he's conducted more than 800 paranormal investigations, and he was employed by "Ghost Adventures" from 2009 to 2011, performing mostly online tasks.

It's hard to call Hawk Paranormal Scientific Investigations a business because Waters doesn't charge clients a fee. It's surprising how many people call seeking Waters' help secretly hoping that they're living among their dead loved ones. Customers may assume that their suspicions are going to be affirmation, but Waters just can't provide that in every case.

Ghost hunting is not for everyone. Those who refuse to believe never will. In fact, Waters is firmly in the middle, both a skeptic and a believer.

He uses electromagnetic field detectors and audio, video and photography equipment to debunk many ghost sightings. He uses science, he says, as much as possible during his investigations. Proof, he said, is key to the work.

So what is it exactly that he's chasing after?

"Ghost is such a loose term," he said. "What is a ghost? I believe there's something out there. Maybe our energy is still out there, but our bodies are not."

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The Daly Mansion is full of quirky unexplainable stories -- the smell of cigar smoke wafting from Marcus Daly's office despite no smoking on the premises, and the smell of roses in Mrs. Margaret Daly's bedroom.

And there's the well-documented story about a painting in the formal living room of the Daly Mansion.

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The beautiful picture, outlined by a gold frame and protected by glass, was moved to the adjacent music room during building renovations. Each morning, the staff would return to find the painting lying on the ground.

Every time it was placed back on the wall in the music room, it was found on the floor the next day. Upon completion of the renovation, the painting was returned to its original location, where it remained on display with no trouble since.

If the painting had fallen, the glass most certainly would have shattered, Waters said. but there were no signs of such a fall, so the mystery continues.

Whether the Daly Mansion is haunted, managing director April Johnson can't say.

"I've heard some weird things," she said. "I don't know where it comes from."

So, as an investigator, Waters smells the wallpaper in Marcus Daly's office and has on several occasions hung out in the grand house far into the night. Sometimes, his crew leaves having heard nothing more than the creaks and moans of a century-old home.

But he's yet to find an answer to what, or who, moved the video camera that one dark night.

 

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