(Editor’s note: Just in time for Halloween, join in a ghost hunt at Springer’s Point on Ocracoke, near the very site where Blackbeard, the infamous pirate, met his demise. It was his ghost we were hunting for, but did we find him? Find out in this article that was published in The Island Free Press in October 2007.)
It is about an hour before sunset on a spectacular Ocracoke evening. It is the night of the new moon — the last day of summer.
There are seven of us heading down the path through the North Carolina Land Trust’s property to Springer’s Point. We walk through the canopy of live oaks and native shrubs over a high hammock and head to the shore of Ocracoke Inlet. Then we make our way through tall marsh grasses toward a small, sandy beach that faces Teach’s Hole in the inlet.
We are looking for ghosts — one ghost, in particular.
Teach’s Hole was the site of the death of the notorious pirate Edward Teach, also known as Blackbeard in1718.
It is said that Blackbeard and his band of pirates camped and partied on Springer’s Point and that his headless spirit still roams the beach there. We are hoping that on this evening, we will contact his spirit.
We are serious about this.
In the lead is Kevin Duffus, the Raleigh-based author and filmmaker, whose next project will be a documentary on the pirate and who has arranged this evening.
Also with us are two paranormals from the East Coast Hauntings Organization (ECHO), based in Washington, N.C. They are Christine Rodriguez, the founder and director, and Sonya Holley, the lead investigator.
Pat Garber, writer, historian, and executive director of the Ocracoke Preservation Society is also part of the group. The final three of us are with the media — Catherine Kozak, a staff writer for The Virginian-Pilot’s Nags Head bureau, me, and photographer Don Bowers.
As it turns out, eight others will join us that evening. One, we will discover, is the spirit of a 24-year-old Native American. But what about the others? Is one of them the spirit of the pirate Blackbeard?
Earlier in the day, we had talked with Christine Rodriguez and Sonya Holley about their work and about what we might see and experience on our journey to Springer’s Point and perhaps into the spirit world.
Rodriguez, 52, was graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in psychology. She first became interested in paranormal phenomena when she was living in Florida about five years ago. There she was executive director of an organization that investigated paranormal activity. In 2004, she and her husband, Milo, an aeronautical engineer, relocated to Bath, where they owned a home, and she started the East Coast Hauntings Organization.
She was joined by Holley, 37, who is an eastern North Carolina native who lives in Washington. A wife and mother, she spent 10 years as an operations manager for a resort and has been interested in paranormal activities since she was a teen-ager.
They explained that ECHO is a non-profit, volunteer group that is devoted to the study of paranormal activity. They are not paid — not even expenses — for their investigations.
ECHO’s goal, according to its Web site, is “to gather, collate, and educate from data gathered through field investigations, historical documentation, and professional, field-tested experience.”
Rodriguez emphasizes that the group uses scientific equipment and methods to investigate the paranormal, such as digital cameras, infrared cameras, electromagnetic field meters, tape recorders, meters that detect electronic voice phenomena, and dowsing rods. Dowsing rods are bent brass rods with copper sleeves on the handles used to locate spirit energy and to communicate with the spirits.
The investigators also use their natural, clairsentient abilities “to study the nature of paraphysical reactions humans experience while being exposed to supernatural phenomena.”
The investigators are paranormals, they say, not mediums. They do not use Ouija boards nor do they conduct séances. Also, the spirits do not talk directly to them nor do they usually see them. They communicate through the dowsing rods or some other means. The spirits may show themselves as orbs.
An orb is defined on the ECHO Web site as a “circular-shaped ball of spirit energy believed to contain the soul, personality, and emotions of a deceased person or animal. These may be visible to the naked eye or invisible until caught on film. They may also have streaking tails of ectoplasm or glowing energy.”
The paranormals cannot see the orbs. They show up only in digital photos or on film. However, they can sense the presence of the orbs. They say that people who are clairsentient can feel the presence of spirits and they can tell if a spirit is male or female. Male spirits, they say, have a stronger presence.
The feeling they say is like getting chill bumps but not being cold, of feeling as if your hair is standing on end.
“It’s like a wave of energy that starts under the skin,” Rodriguez says.
When she sets out on investigations, Rodriguez says she is “not just going out to find a ghost.”
“I’m trying to find out why it happens,” she says. “It’s research. It’s a passion.”
So as the sun gets closer to setting, we get ready to head out to Springer’s Point. We change from our late summer garb to long pants, long-sleeve shirts, and socks and shoes and cover ourselves from head to toe with insect repellent.
We gather cameras and notebooks and lanterns and leave Blackbeard’s Lodge, where the group is staying, and, which, the paranormals claim, is also inhabited by spirits — at least one male and a female who have been there since the two women arrived.
At Springer’s Point, it is a warm and humid evening with almost no breeze, and despite our preparations, the mosquitoes are swarming. The sunset is perfect. The water is like a mirror. It turns colors of blue and green as the huge orange suns sinks into the western horizon. Small groups of pelicans glide over the flat water, and mullet break the surface, jumping and splashing.
Duffus scouts locations for filming, while Rodriguez and Holley wander along the beach and make forays into the woods with their electromagnetic field meters.
The two paranormals wander past us along the shore and disappear into a grassy area in the shrubs. We can hear them laughing and talking.
They return to report that they have encountered two spirits — a male and a female. Perhaps they are young people, the women say. The spirits were hiding and playing with them, they say, following one and then the other.
Holley has taken photos of Rodriguez with her digital camera. She shows them to us, and there is a white circle of light behind her — an orb, they say. We are impressed.
When it gets darker, Rodriguez leads us to the area that she thinks is the best place to contact spirits. She unpacks her dowsing rods and begins trying to communicate with the spirits.
“Show me spirit energy,” she says, holding the rods straight.
She says there is a spirit present.
“Hello, spirit, we want to talk to you,” Rodriguez says.
She tells the spirit to answer her by crossing the rods into an “X” shape for “yes” and an “L” shape for “no.”
“Is there anybody here who wants to talk to us?”
The answer is no.
“Is there anyone here who is not in our group?”
The answer is yes.
Holley, who is snapping digital photos and counting orbs, tells Rodriguez, “They’re beside you on the left-hand side. There are several.”
Through asking a series of “yes” or “no” questions, the paranormal determines that we are talking with a 24-year-old Native American male. There are seven other spirits in the group — six males and one female. They are not related to each other by blood and did not know each other in life.
The questioning continues and the dowsing rods continue to move. Rodriguez asks questions, and she asks us what we want to know.
The 24-year-old lived on Ocracoke in the 1600s. There was a village on Springer’s Point. He did not know any pirates. He did not see any white men arrive in ships. He knew how to catch fish in the waters. In the group of eight spirits, there are some who are not Native Americans. They apparently do not want to communicate with us, though at times, Rodriguez says, they switch off on the dowsing rod.
“Is this the same male?” she asks at one point.
The answer is no.
“I thought so,” she replies. “Give me back the 24-year-old male.”
At the end of the session, Rodriguez asks, “Do you know that you have passed on?”
The answer is yes.
“Have you seen the white light?” she asks.
Again, the answer is yes.
“The white light is the way out, the bridge across. Would you like to know how to get out?”
Sonya Holley, who is still taking digital photos, says, “They’re coming back, gathering around you.”
Rodriguez tells them that the white light is the way out, a way to peacefulness, and that they can go back and forth through the light.
There are a few more questions, and then Rodriguez ends the conversation with the spirit.
We hike back out of the woods, much of the time in silence.
We have not contacted Blackbeard, but have we indeed watched Christine Rodriguez communicate with spirits?
We all reflected on the experience after we left.
I was particularly interested in the orbs that appeared on the digital photos. They appeared not just on Sonya Holley’s photos, but also on some still photos that Kevin Duffus took. None appeared on Don Bowers’ photos, though he noted that might be because he has a much more powerful flash.
We were all interested in the dowsing rods. Was Rodriguez making them move, voluntarily or involuntarily?
I got as close as I could and watched her hands. I did not see her move a muscle, but I wanted to know more about the dowsing rods.
As it turns out, I found out more the next day from Catherine Kozak, the Virginian-Pilot reporter.
As we walked out of the woods that night, Kozak asked me if I had felt strange during the spirit investigation. I had not, but she had.
“I felt like I was ‘buzzy’,” Kozak said later. “I was aware of it for a while, but I thought maybe I just had the creeps.”
She said it was a real physical sensation, as if she had the chills but was not cold and as if her hair was tingling.
The next morning, she visited the two paranormals in their room at Blackbeard’s Lodge and the sensation came back. Rodriguez noted that a female spirit was standing next to Kozak.
Rodriguez gave Kozak a set of dowsing rods. Kozak held them, while the paranormal asked a couple questions.
“She asked, ‘Are you a female?’” Kozak said, “and the rods very quickly crossed into an ‘X’ for yes. I did not move anything….It was a very assertive movement of the rods immediately after the question was asked.
“It was rather convincing,” she adds, “and I am a skeptic.”
Don Bowers is a skeptic also, though he does note that Rodriguez had warned him that spirit energy might interfere with the flash on his camera. He said his flash did malfunction several times, on and off during the evening, for whatever reason.
Kevin Duffus said he was disappointed that he didn’t get an opportunity to question Blackbeard.
“But,” he says, “I was not surprised that he didn’t appear — or that he didn’t reveal himself to us.”
He thinks the orbs that appeared on the photos when Rodriguez felt the spirits’ presence is certainly “suggestive” that they were there.
“There are many layers of history at Springer’s Point,” he says. “And many people have passed that way.”
Christine Rodriguez also is not surprised that Blackbeard’s spirit was not present.
She says that looking for a particular person based on legends of his ghostly presence and not sightings doesn’t always mean that he can be contacted just because he was at a certain place in his life.
“There is a long history out there,” she says. “It was very possible that we would find other spirits.”
Rodriguez and Holley also encountered a number of other spirits and heard stories about spirits on their trip to Ocracoke — at Blackbeard’s Lodge, at shops in old buildings that they visited, and on walks down the lanes of the old village.
“It’s a pretty busy place over there,” she says. “I’ve never gone anyplace before where, in one day, I ran into so many spirits.”
She says she will return to meet more of Ocracoke’s spirits.
But will Blackbeard be among them?
(Editor’s note: This article was first published in The Island Breeze in October, 2006.)