Children love ghost stories. Some children never grow up.
Others grow up and become paranormal investigators. Ghost stories in Abbeville and Greenwood counties piqued the interest of Patrick Welsh and Courtney Bautista. They, along with members of their team, the Paranormal Society of Savannah, will visit Abbeville to research alleged hauntings.
The visit to Belmont Inn in February was prompted by Bautista, who grew up in Abbeville and related ghost stories she grew up with to her team members.
People want answers as to why things are happening, she said. “This is the main reason we do things, to give them closure.”
Welsh formed the team two years ago. He and his father had discussed it for years, he said. “When COVID-19 hit, people were staying home and we were bored to death. I thought it was a good time to go out and get stories.”
His dad, brother-in-law and a childhood friend agreed and they started the team and it snowballed from there, he said. The team now has 17 members who bring a variety of knowledge and skills to conduct investigations.
One goal is to teach people how to get answers. Welsh said the team will offer a class on paranormal research. Investigative efforts are free. The class costs $20. The Abbeville class is scheduled for 12:30-5 p.m. Feb. 12 at the Belmont Inn.
Paranormal activity covers anything that can’t be explained, such as supernatural phenomena, ghost activity and poltergeists, Welsh said.
One purpose of classes is to teach people how to conduct an investigation, explain the basic equipment and mistakes to avoid. Lessons also involve professionalism, such as getting permission to go on to property.
Bad actors can get hurt and destroy property, or they vandalize, get drunk and bust up beer bottles on private property, he said.
“We have talked to some residents and property owners who told us that and we had to reassure them that this is not our cup of tea. We don’t vandalize; we respect each other’s property,” Welsh said.
You wouldn’t believe how many people go into places they shouldn’t and face black mold, lead, asbestos or places that are falling down, he said. You always want to check a location first.
“You enter a place illegally, some bad things can happen to you, health-wise,” Welsh said. “We stress safety before every investigation.”
Bautista joined Welsh’s team in March. She said she was a member of another team and had conducted a workshop and decided to come over. As a case manager her duties range from handling phone calls and working on computers to graphic design, editing videos and working with audio and video.
It’s a change from her jobs as a barista and a cemetery tour guide. “When I want to destress I go through files and evidence,” she said.
One of Bautista’s favorite memories is her first investigation with team. At Grove Point Plantation in Savannah, she and another team member contacted the spirit of a little boy. Part of their equipment was a voodoo buddy (a heat-seeking teddy bear) that is really good for use with child spirits.
They asked the spirit to touch it. She said the spirit literally flung the bear across the room — it went flying off the table.
“I was losing it; it freaked me out a little,” Bautista said.
Welsh’s interest in the paranormal started as a child when he saw apparitions. Eventually, he described a vision he had to his grandfather who said Welsh had described his great-grandfather, a man who was killed in the 1930s.
His great-grandfather apparently was the meanest man in town. He was an alcoholic and abusive. Welsh said one story involved his pistol-whipping a preacher who had chastised him for his tardiness at a church service.
According to his grandfather’s explanation, his brother got tired of their father’s behavior and shot him six times in the back.
“I had him visit me several times as a kid and never knew why,” Welsh said. He did research and genealogy to find out why he was coming. “He wanted me to tell my grandfather he was sorry. And that he had been in limbo that whole time.”
“I think he was given a choice to repent or stay where he was at, in limbo, but I never saw him again after that,” he said.
“I think a lot of times they want someone to talk to, to listen, someone to play with. A lot of them, I think, are fascinated by technology, such as running water and electricity. A lot of them didn’t have that back then.”
Learning stories is one of the reasons he handles investigations. Welsh said he has learned more history than he ever knew about.
“The general need people have of wanting to learn is what keeps us going,” he said. You want to see and do more and learn of the history of cities they visit.
Abbeville, for instance, has a family atmosphere. “It feels like Mayberry to me. It’s a down-home kind of feeling where everyone is so nice; it’s a beautiful town; then we heard all the paranormal stories.”
Those stories involve the Belmont Inn, the Opera House and Bautista is interested in the old Rock House in Greenwood County. Welsh said people have shared stories about possible paranormal activity in Abbeville County through social media.
Investigations can take up to two weeks, Welch said. Team members check the history of a place, talk to locals, then do research. Equipment includes laser grids, video and audio recorders, radiation and EMF detectors.
The team features men and women with different voices as some spirits might respond to a person with a high-pitched voice, while others prefer a deep voice.
Maybe half the cases the team gets involve paranormal activity, he said. Some people have gotten upset because they believe their property is haunted, but the team didn’t find anything.
“We don’t make up stories, we tell them like it is,” Welsh said. “It’s kind of like fishing; sometimes you don’t catch things, you don’t even get a bite, but you keep on coming back.”
And when they find something? Most of the time it’s playful spirits, Welsh said. In 30 years of investigations, he has met a malevolent entity once, maybe twice.
In case anyone is wondering, Welsh said he has never seen anything like “The Exorcist.”
“That stuff creeps me out. It’s one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen.”
When necessary, the team can do a blessing to help a spirit cross over. If there is a malevolent presence, something above their pay grade, they’ll call in experts, he said.
Some people want to join a team after watching ghost-hunting shows on television, Welsh said. “It’s something you’re either interested in or not, there’s no in-between.”
Qualifications to being an investigator include having a good sense of humor and good listening and communication skills, he said. Nearly 300 people expressed an interest in being on the team. The classes are meant to weed out people who, as Welsh explained, “are not from planet earth.”
Just for reference, Welsh said it is no insult to be called ”Ghostbusters.” “Most of us love that movie,” he said. “We kind of take it as a badge.”
“Basically we’re interviewing the ghosts to see if we can come up with answers for the owner,” Bautista said. “It’s worth it sometimes. You get some good stuff. I just hope we bring Greenwood and Abbeville some answers.”