Shawn Blaschka (pictured third from right, along with his team at Fond du lac’s Retlaw Hotel) has been with the Wausau Paranormal Research Society for over two decades.
By Northwoods News Staff
Shawn Blaschka, founder and director of the Wausau Paranormal Research Society (WPRS), doesn’t rent out headspace to nonbelievers.
“I don’t let that bother me in any shape, way or form because honestly, seeing is believing. If you’ve never experienced anything that you can’t explain, then it’s really hard to relate,” he said.
Shawn’s two-plus decades with the WPRS are a natural progression for someone who has felt close ties to the paranormal since he was a young boy.
It started with his father Edward, who worked in maintenance at the former location of WSAW Channel 7, which was originally built as a residential mansion. Edward spoke of several apparitions he saw in the building, including a woman dressed in Victorian fashion, a man seated in the president’s office, and a young boy hanging – the latter of which was also seen by Shawn’s brother Kevin and the station’s receptionist.
“The receptionist came running downstairs to the first floor where my dad was working, and he calmed her down,” Shawn recalled. “When they went back up, of course, nothing was there. After that, she only stayed on there for two or three months and then quit.”
Shawn had his first direct experience with an apparition at around the age of nine. He and his best friend David would regularly see a young boy, barefoot and dressed in tattered clothes, standing at the edge of the large yard where the two would play.
“Over the two or three years we saw him, he always looked the same – he never changed,” Shawn said. “I know it wasn’t any kids in the neighborhood. It wasn’t anybody that I knew. He looked a little bit out of time.”
Shawn oversees the WPRS’s nine-person volunteer team of paranormal investigators and investigators-in-training. Their backgrounds range from forestry to nursing to law enforcement to veterinary science and beyond.
“Once you’ve had something happen to you that you can’t find any logical explanation to it, it makes you more of a believer,” he said. “Most of the people in our group, if not all of them, have had experiences and they’re simply looking for more of that type of experience. They want to know what this is all about.”
Shawn, who is also a member of the Marathon County Historical Society, has a degree in criminal science from Northcentral Technical College and holds certifications in corrections, fire science and scuba diving.
The WPRS team leverages its diverse backgrounds and personal experiences with paranormal activity to offer advice and conduct investigations, free of charge, to those who contact them via their website or Facebook page.
“We don’t necessarily go out looking for places,” Shawn explained. “If it’s a public building, we have approached some of those businesses and inquired if we could check it out. We don’t do that with homes and stuff though. It’s simply by their request.”
He says that, while some of the individuals who contact the WPRS are frightened, frustrated or even angry, most of them are simply curious or seeking validation from an outside source.
“We’ve had a wide range of clients, from curious to very frightened or very upset, who don’t want to live in their house or want to move out because of unexplained activity. They’re afraid for their children,” Shawn said. “I would say the more common thing would be that people are curious. They’re not necessarily completely scared, but they want some credibility or some answers to make sure they’re not crazy – somebody else to confirm what’s going on there as being real.”
The WPRS aims to interview each person that contacts the group, but that doesn’t mean it investigates every case brought to it. Sometimes there simply isn’t enough for the team to work with – perhaps the activity described isn’t significant or frequent enough. In these instances, the group provides advice for tracking paranormal activity via a log sheet. That template is available online.
“We provide them a form they can use to log their experiences, writing down times and dates and what happens and what’s being disrupted,” Shawn said. “Then at some further point, we may be able to go ahead and investigate.”
The group also considers the history of the site where paranormal activity is being reported. “The history has a lot to do with the investigation because knowing what’s happened there in the past helps us to know about what may be residing there,” Shawn said.
Shawn was contacted by the team behind “Dead Files,” a paranormal-focused reality show on the Travel Channel, to provide historical context for a potential haunting at a Wausau residence. On the show (season 6 episode 5, “The Darkening”), he outlined how the site being investigated was once a factory. The owner of the factory had died suddenly of a heart attack, many believed due to stress associated with his job. Shawn also clued producers into a gruesome murder that had taken place blocks from the haunting.
If the WPRS does investigate a client’s request, there is an array of equipment they might use. Shawn said the group tries to follow a scientific process in which it uses specific equipment to gather evidence over time that is then reviewed by multiple people.
“Everyone should be a little skeptical. When we investigate a case, we certainly don’t go there thinking, ‘Yeah, it’s haunted’. We go there with an open mind and do the protocol that we follow and take the steps we need to take to record the atmosphere, and then review all that scientific evidence that we may have captured afterward and see if it makes sense or not.”
The size of the building and nature of the reported activity ultimately determine the size and scope of an investigation. In terms of equipment, Shawn said that nearly all investigations involve the use of multiple cameras.
“We try to photograph with a regular camera, with infrared cameras, with a full-spectrum camera. There are different sources of light that your eye can’t detect and it’ll capture those sources.”
The group also uses electromagnetic field meters. The tool was originally designed to detect EMFs from, say, nearby power lines or household appliances, but has become a staple for paranormal enthusiasts and was popularized when the series “Ghost Hunters” premiered in 2004.
“You’re looking for these changes that come and go, and you can’t recreate them,” Shawn said. “It’s thought that spirits can alter the field and raise the field when they possess a specific space.”
The WPRS team also uses vibration and motion detectors and infrared thermal probes to record room temperatures.
“It’s thought that spirits need energy to manifest, and they sometimes pull energy from other sources to do that,” he said. “One of the things people always say is, ‘Oh, I felt cold spots’ and the reason they’re feeling cold spots we think is because a spirit can pull energy from the heat energy in the air.”
The group may also use an electronic voice phenomenon recorder.
“You’re recording with an audio device and asking questions, leaving space for any sort of response that may be given,” Shawn explained. “You’re not going to hear anything with your ear when you’re doing this normally – that is why it’s called an EVP. Generally when you review that tape later with headphones and you amplify it, sometimes you hear things that you did not hear with your own ear when you were doing this.”
His most significant experience with the EVP recorder was at a Wausau business back in 2009.
“One of the questions I asked is, ‘Is there anything you’d like to tell us or a message you want to give us’ and very clearly – and again, I didn’t hear this when we did it – but very clearly it says, ‘Get out’,” Shawn recalled. “I’ve got dozens and dozens and dozens of EVPs some better than others. Some are really hard to hear; some are very clear. This one, there’s no question what you’re hearing. It’s as if someone was standing right in the room and said it.
“It was so clear in fact that we questioned each other, like, ‘Did somebody say that?’ Because it was so hard to believe – it was so clear.” Listen for yourself here on the WPRS website.
After the WPRS gathers and reviews all of its information from a site, a report is prepared. There are a number of case studies on its website, with identifying information omitted to protect clients’ identities.
WPRS does not claim to be able to remove paranormal activity. Shawn said its primary purpose is to work with clients to help them reach a greater understanding of what they are experiencing.
“Our goal is to educate, to answer questions, to make that person feel more comfortable with what’s happening, and to give them suggestions on how to make their life better with whatever is there or be able to coexist with it.”
While each case is different, Shawn does have some general tips for creating a peaceful coexistence with the paranormal:
- The first is to keep a log of all activity – not just the nature of the activity, but dates and times, rooms in which activity occurs and other notable details like smells or the weather on a given day.“ Sometimes there’s a pattern of things and it can give us answers as to what might be or who might be haunting your building or house.”
- Second, acknowledge the presence of the paranormal, verbally and out loud.“ By acknowledging it, a lot of times it calms that activity down and it’s not as frequent, because it’s gotten its message across to you and understands that you know it’s there.”
- Third, set boundaries with your resident spirit.“ Another thing to do that I recommend is laying down ground rules, much like you would with a child. It’s weird, because you’re talking to something unseen and you’re saying, ‘I don’t like it when you’re in this room or that room. It’s fine if you want to be in these areas, but when I’m in these rooms, please, I prefer you not be in here with me,’ something like that. We’ve done that at many investigations and, believe it or not, it actually calmed things down a lot.”
Shawn believes that not all, or even most, paranormal activity is malevolent. He sees those inhabiting the spirit world as quite similar to their corporeal counterparts – with a range of personality types, motivations and intents.
“I think a very small amount of cases of hauntings or activity are demonic,” he said. “Most people think that it’s demonic or malevolent because it does something negative in their own lives. My belief system and my thought, and in most of the paranormal world, is when a person’s soul passes on or their energy leaves their body and they go to the spirit form, I feel that their personalities stay intact. So, if you were not a very nice person in life, you’re more than likely the same in death.”