By Leo Capobianco
Dimitrios Haritos and Michael Cardinuto were in the woods off Mount Misery Road in West Hills late one cool September night in 2007 when suddenly, a blue-green ball of light flew at them.
The two members of Long Island Paranormal Investigators (LIPI), a local ghost-hunting group, instinctively dropped to the ground, as they recalled in a recent interview. Tales of Native Americans warning settlers of evil spirits there, rumors of a haunted cemetery, and a ghostly police officer—just to name a few—have been passed down through the years, according to Weird New York, a book of local legends. LIPI’s investigators visited the infamous site repeatedly to conduct tests and concluded that it is indeed haunted.
“It looked like somebody threw a ball at us,” said Haritos, 33, a captain of LIPI’s Ronkonkoma-based investigative team who works as a medical biller by day. “It was like a blueish greenish ball of light that came at us. Me and him hit the dirt. We thought something was thrown at us.”
Mount Misery, of course, isn’t the only place said to be haunted on Long Island. Nor is LIPI the only locally based group exploring hauntings in homes and businesses. Hicksville-based Gotham Paranormal Research Society (GPRS), Fearless Long Island Ghost Hunting Team, LI-based Shadows of the Paranormal, Eastern Suffolk Paranormal, Long Island Paranormal Research Association, Ghost Hunters of Long Island and the Long Island Ghost Hunting and Tracking Society are also searching for proof of a world that lies beyond what we can normally comprehend. Yet while Hollywood and television’s depiction of ghost-hunting and paranormal investigations continue to rise in popularity, these genuine Ghostbusters are adamant that art pales, comparatively, in its imitation of life—or the afterlife, in their case.
Outside LI, more than 3,600 active teams are conducting research in the paranormal field nationwide, according to Paranormal Societies, which bills itself as an online directory of these organizations. Popular cable shows such as Ghost Hunters, which has followed a paranormal team on their investigations on Syfy since 2004, have also fueled interest.
“Every time there’s a new paranormal show on TV or a new season of a popular show begins, the calls start coming in,” said Angela Artuso, director of GPRS. “For example, the new Ghostbusters reboot has been released, and the calls are already starting just due to the movie alone.”
Besides callers requesting investigations into paranormal phenomena, some want to join the hunt. But joining a paranormal investigation team isn’t easy. Many teams require applicants to get background checks, pass exams, and undergo training on specialized equipment.
LIPI ensures that its new recruits understand the different types of spirits they may encounter, how to identify false evidence, and how to analyze videos, audio recordings, and photos.
“Is this a full-time job? Yes. We just don’t get paid,” said Cardinuto, 36, the co-founder and lead investigator of LIPI, whose day job is being a caretaker at Able Community. He and his group conduct about 40 investigations annually.
Both he and Haritos said they were drawn to this type of research from an early age. Cardinuto recalled a handheld video game that turned itself on after his grandfather died. It had no batteries in it. Even spookier, Haritos said as a child he saw a ghost pilot walk by his bedroom and disappear in his bathroom.
“We ended up running over and talking to our mom about what happened there and she took us to the library at town hall to get the history on the house,” Haritos recalled. “We ended up finding out that the house was a summer home for an actress back in the ’40s, and her boyfriend or fiance was a pilot and his plane had crashed around the time me and my brother had seen the spirit walk through our house. It was really crazy.”
Haritos later started doing paranormal investigations with a group in Massachusetts. Then he took what he learned back to Long Island. Cardinuto got his start in one of LI’s creepiest haunts.
“We were all just hanging out one day playing hockey, and I dared two of my guys to go into Kings Park Psych Center. Sure enough they did, and they heard loud banging, and had no idea what it was,” Cardinuto recounted. “We started investigating after that and bought some equipment. I didn’t think I was going to capture anything.
“I thought a lot of the urban legends were just made up,” he continued. “Once we started investigating, that’s when things started to happen, and I started to believe more and more. I’m very skeptical about going into locations, but there’s a lot of things that have happened through the years that I just can’t explain.”
Many paranormal investigators devote much of their free time to research, and they’ve made personal sacrifices. They’ve invested thousands of dollars into assembling teams, buying equipment and paying for travel expenses. These paranormal investigators often do not consider this as a hobby—it’s their lifestyle.
“I literally gave up everything for this organization,” said Cardinuto. “I’ve given up jobs where I could be making over $85,000 a year. It wouldn’t work with the schedule here, so I said, ‘Nope, this is what I do.’ I don’t get paid for it, but money is not everything to me.”
Most paranormal investigation teams do not charge businesses and homes for investigations. These investigators only have their passion to motivate them in their research.
But paranormal investigation can be dangerous, such as when teams visit historic buildings that are falling apart or have exposed wiring. Before going in, the team will check if it’s safe to visit. They often consult with local historical societies to learn about the locations that they want to investigate, as well as get permission to enter the premises.
The same rule applies to investigations in businesses and private homes. Investigators do not know what they’re walking into or what kind of people they’ll encounter, so teams often give potential clients a questionnaire to fill out, as well as conduct an interview before sending a crew along.
“We had a man one time who contacted us and said he only wanted the tiniest investigators, and he only wanted women,” Angela said. “And we were like, ‘That’s not happening.’”
The questionnaire also helps the team point the client in a direction where non-ghostly problems can be solved. For example, the preliminary inquiry may reveal that the client should see a medical doctor for mental illness, call Child Protective Services, or get law enforcement involved.
“We had one that wanted us to investigate him,” said Angela. “He would cover himself in aluminum foil and be totally naked. He said, ‘C’mon, I’ll show you. You have to investigate. I sit in my house all day covered in foil so they can’t get me.’ We deal with a lot.”
Other than environmental threats and odd clientele, paranormal investigators are also faced with another and sometimes greater danger: the paranormal itself.
RETURN TO MOUNT MISERY
Five LIPI investigators returned to the Mount Misery woods to conduct another probe in September 2013. While the group walked down the path, they sensed they were being watched. They heard growling and caught a whiff of something that worried them.
“One of the characteristics of a demonic haunting is you’ll smell a rotten-egg smell,” LIPI’s Cardinuto said. That was the odor in the woods that day.
The group recorded odd sounds on their audio equipment while their feelings of being unwelcome grew. They decided to pack it in early, as a tension in the air made them feel unsafe. Then, one of the investigators saw something scatter across the ground. She went in for a closer look and asked the others if they could see it too. But no one else could—at first.
Haritos said he stared hard at the ground where she pointed. Slowly the creature materialized and came into focus. It was a creature with an alligator-like body, a pig-like snout and horns. Its sunken-in red eyes glared back at Haritos.
“As soon as I made contact, and I focused in, I got this really intense feeling of ‘You need to leave now,’” he said.
Immediately the group grabbed their stuff and walked back to their cars. Cardinuto and Haritos stayed behind to serve as a barrier between the team and whatever might be pursuing them. On their way to the entrance, the group heard another growl. Cardinuto and Haritos’ knees gave out as if something had run into them from behind. But when they looked down, nothing was there.
Once the investigators reached the woods’ entrance, they pulled out a Prayer to Saint Michael card and begin to recite the words meant to ward off evil spirits. The group finished their prayer and paused. The woods had become oddly quiet.
“As we turn around to leave, we literally audibly hear a woman laugh at both of us,” said Haritos.
The team returned to their offices, where Cardinuto sat the two witnesses on different ends of the room. Up until this point, Haritos and the other member of the team had not discussed what they had seen with each other, or with the rest of the group. Cardinuto separately asked each one to draw what they saw.
“Their drawings matched,” said Cardinuto. “I’d say about 95 percent.”
After they found that the two witnesses’ accounts matched, the team looked through their demonology database and found a match. They prefer not to repeat the creature’s name, for fear of inadvertently summoning it. But six days after that incident, the team returned to the same area and conducted what would be the last investigation LIPI has ever done at Mount Misery.
The team went deeper into the woods, expecting to find more paranormal evidence. They kept smelling the rotten odor, catching odd sounds on their audio equipment, and felt a presence watching them. After several hours, the group decided to leave.
While they were walking back down the path, Cardinuto said he looked back and saw five figures standing in a row staring at the group. He described the figures as wearing brown cloaks but having no facial features. Inside of each hood was a black void that seemed to swallow any light.
The LIPI team quickly left. They have never returned to Mount Misery.
“You have to respect what you see and what you feel,” Cardinuto said. “I’m not going back in there because you never know when you push too far and it decides, ‘You know what? I’m going to push back.’ What happens at that point?” HOLLYWOOD VS. REALITY
Just like members of law enforcement, real-life paranormal investigators caution against looking to TV and movies for an accurate depiction of what their jobs are like.
“What you see on TV, I would say probably about 90 percent of it is fake,” said Cardinuto.
Other local paranormal investigators also suspect that reality TV shows about the field exaggerate their findings, most likely to boost ratings.
“It’s more about entertainment value, and they take a lot of liberties,” said Bill Artuso of GPRS, an accountant from Brooklyn when he’s not hunting ghosts alongside his wife, Angela.
As he and other investigators put it, the media’s exaggeration warps the audience’s perception of what paranormal encounters are really like, and often stirs up a lot of paranoia.
“Some of these shows come on and immediately want to say that the house has a demon,” explained Angela Artuso. “People watch that and they’re petrified. We get calls going, ‘I think we have five demons in our home.’ We have to sit there and explain that you are watching TV and it’s a show.”
Television isn’t the only culprit. Books and movies that claim to be based on true stories have been found to stretch the truth as well. Perhaps the most infamous example is The Amityville Horror, which has spawned a long list of books and documentaries seeking to prove or disprove the stories of flying pigs, bleeding walls and other hauntings that were made and remade into one of Hollywood’s most enduring horror movies, and put that Long Island community on the paranormal map forever.
“You have to remember that what you’re seeing in a movie may be based on a true story, but there is always going to be that element of Hollywood attached to it that sometimes even the families don’t even know are going to be thrown in,” Angela said.
Not all movies are guilty of this manipulation, local paranormal investigators said. LIPI recalled that the writers of the original Ghostbusters movie did their research. Some of the equipment that the characters have in the movie is used in the field, and some of the science that the characters discuss can theoretically work, according to LIPI’s investigators.
“When they’re on top of the Temple of Gozer and you see Egon say, ‘These readings are off the charts!’ they show a little gray box,” said Haritos. “That’s an IM 17 Geiger Counter. We use them in the field today.”
The Geiger Counter is an instrument that detects any ionizing radiation, such as alpha particles, beta particles, and gamma rays. Many believe that when a spirit manifests itself, it gives off Radiation and Electromagnetic Frequencies. EMF meters are also used.
“They use sound meters, and they talk about how if a ghost has a constant ionization rate,” Haritos continued. “With the Psychokinetic Energy Meter, if you can depict what range of ions a ghost would exist in, using protons you could grab it like a lasso. So the science is sound. We’re just not there yet with the technology.”
The PKE meter is a fictional device in Ghostbusters that, in the movie, detects any ghosts in the surrounding area.
Dan Aykroyd, who played Ray Stantz in the original Ghostbusters, also grew up in a spiritual home. His parents believed in the paranormal and would host séances in their home. His father, Peter Aykroyd, published a book called A History of Ghosts: The True Story of Séances, Mediums, Ghosts, and Ghostbusters. Dan Aykroyd used a lot of his firsthand experience and incorporated it into the film.
“Dan Aykroyd did his homework,” said Haritos. “He is a true believer in all things paranormal. He talks about UFOs that he’s witnessed and all of this other stuff.”
For more than 10 seasons, Ghost Hunters has given a reasonably accurate depiction of how paranormal teams conduct their investigations. The group who stars in the show, The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS), was in operation for 14 years before the show even launched.
“They were a team way before the show even came out, and they’ll still be a team way after the show stops,” said Cardinuto. “They’re a great group of people.”
TAPS has 130 teams nationally and worldwide. GPRS is a member of the network, which continues to grow. These paranormal investigation teams on LI and beyond have collected countless photos as well as audio and video evidence over the years they’ve been out in the field.
Perhaps if more people accepted that there may be things in the world that they don’t understand, these groups may yet prove the existence of a parallel world. But the question remains, when there’s something strange in your neighborhood, who you gonna call?