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Members of Black Hills Paranormal Investigations

Members of Black Hills Paranormal Investigations, from left, Scott Remboldt, Mark Shadley and Dani Jo Butler prepare to lead the two tour groups on the first of four, 90-minute tours at the Adams House in Deadwood. 

DEADWOOD, S.D. — The snow falling on the roads last week didn't scare off Matt Phelps, who drove with family for two hours from Kyle to Deadwood for the paranormal investigation at the Adams House.

"I bought these tickets in August," said Phelps, who stood in the visitor center adjacent the Victorian mansion off Sherman Street, warming himself. "Does the weather bring out the ghosts?"

"We'll find out," said Maurice "Mo" Miller, lead investigator of Black Hills Paranormal Investigations.

Ghost-hunting is serious business in historic Deadwood. A few years ago, the Travel Channel's series "Ghost Adventures" descended on the Bullock Hotel and the Fairmont Hotel with gadgets and night-vision cameras. They even re-enacted the shooting of Wild Bill Hickok. But don't get the team of Black Hills Paranormal, which runs the Adams House haunting hunts this October, started on cable television ghost-hunters.

"They blow things way out of proportion," said case manager Scott Remboldt, who stood in the doorway prior to the sold-out investigation. "None of us have ever been possessed."

"Never say never," said Phelps' girlfriend, Tony.

For two weekends this October, four times a night, approximately 30 amateur paranormal investigators have split into two groups and entered the Adams House. Rose Spiers, communications director for Deadwood History Inc., accompanies the groups as well to set the historical scene.

The Queen Anne home was the culmination of the empire of W.E. Adams, a grocery store magnate and multiple-term mayor of Deadwood. Dumbwaiters, oaken smoking rooms for the gentlemen, stained glass windows and heavy drapes became part of the tour.

"Are those curtains moving?" asked an unnerved participant, as Miller's group entered the dining room.

"Possibly," Miller said."Someone likely brushed past them, though. It's our job to debunk things."

His voice recorder on, Miller prompted the crowd to supernatural solicitations.

"It may feel weird to speak into thin air," he said.

"Are you intimidated when the house is full of guests?"

No (audible) response.

Another woman asked, "Do you like using that light?"

"Yes, we do," answered Dani Jo Butler, a psychic medium.

But Miller interrupted. "I think she was asking the air."

The air, the spirits, the lingering presence. It can be confusing at first. But for 90 minutes, the tours cycle through the downstairs and upstairs, often with the paranormal investigators — "the professionals" as Miller reminds people — directing people toward common "hot spots." A corridor. Steps to the attic, where a fire once burst out. The wallpaper.

Phelps' sister-in-law ran the EVP reader, like a digital price-checker that reads electricity levels, over the table as the lights flickered.

"That's likely the boiler underneath the floor," Butler said.

Heads nodded, and the dozen or so people shuffle into the next room.

This Halloween season, the public is welcome to ghost tours at the Fairmont and the Bullock. There's also a haunted house in Keystone. In its sixth year, tours with the Adams House cost $35 (and includes a complimentary black T-shirt). Spiers tells the group no one's ever been injured or demonically possessed, though a photographer with a local television crew had to repeatedly make the sign-of-the-cross as he entered the local room. Miller warned everyone of shadow figures on the wallpaper.

"Has anyone passed here?" asked Phelps, as the group entered the fireplace lounge.

"Yes, Mr. Adams was in bed for nine days before passing," said Spiers.

In an adjacent room, some guests inspected the sheet music still on the stand for the ghosts to accompany each other.

Floorboards creaked. A ParaScope — multi-colored tubes in a circle that reads static electricity — briefly blinks up blue.

"Knock if you are with us," Butler said.

Quietly, there's what sounds like a knock on a wall. The room excitedly lights up.

"No, I think that's the tour group upstairs," said Miller, who gets used to being a killjoy.

Before the tour, there were a number of ground rules provided. No whispering, which can confuse the investigators' "slam EVP sessions." No cellphones (save for a reporter's for note taking). And lastly, no one would be dressed up like zombies.

"If you hear anything, see anything, feel anything, or smell anything," said Miller, "let us know."

Upstairs, in Adams' bedroom, Mary Ellis Potts of Rapid City did just that, interrupting Spiers' talk.

"Oh my gosh," said Potts. "Something just slid my earring off."

She held up her earring

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Murmurs rippled through the group.

Ghosts usually aren't malicious to humans, the investigators maintained — just occasionally playful. Later, seated near the bed, Potts feels a dark energy near the bed.

"I was going to tell you that Mr. Adams is standing there," said Butler. "But you've figured that out already."

In Mr. Adams' study, spooky sightings now building, an ordinary Maglite flashlight that has been rigged up to respond to the feather-light nudge of a ghost's presence was set on the mantel overlooking Adams' desk, while Spiers gathered onlookers around the desk. Then, without warning, the flashlight inexplicably turned on.

A wave of excitement passed once again over the group.

"Wow, cool!" exclaimed Spiers. "I've been doing this for years, and only once before has this flashlight turned on."

When the light turned off, Butler asked, "How many spirits are here with us? One, tw--"

At "one," the flashlight turned back on and off.

"Thank you," Butler replied, calmly, complimenting the tricks of the ghost like a trainer at SeaWorld might pat an Orca on the beak after raising its fin "It's nice having you here, Mr. Adams."

The tour is not ghoulish, spine-tingling (though one woman is escorted out), or filled with stunts. It's just plenty of talking, few lights, and the heightened perceptions of strangers standing in a room waiting for the slightest sign.

"Have you ever tried singing them a song?" asked Phelps. "Could we whistle?"

There's silence, and then a participant softly whistled.

"No whispering, or whistling!" Miller said. "That throws off the investigation."

And with no more noises (and a long line outside for the next tour), the group made its way back down the stairs and outside. Standing outside, bundling up with coats, snow still falling, Potts stood with a man near her.

"I've never been, but I'd sure go back," she said.

"Things happen to you like that all the time," the man said.

"Oh stop," Potts said.

The two held onto each other, as they slowly walked down the icy sidewalk. Nearby, the wipers on the Phelps' windshield pushed away the slurry, as the frightening prospect of returning home on the roads, eerily came into the foreground.

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