WHEELER, Ore. (KOIN) — When one steps gingerly down into the dark, quiet basement of the Old Wheeler Hotel, the imagination starts to run wild. Layers of time are uncovered by the thin beam of light Jay Verburg shines across the tiled walls.
“This is one of the last spots remaining that actually shows what was going on back here with the lab,” Verburg, an historian and paranormal researcher, explained. He’s talking about an old hospital lab. There are decaying cupboards, empty glasses, a broken-down chemical ventilation hood—all of it covered in a thick layer of dust, and a little mud from a flood a few years back.
Peeking inside the cabinetry, you can see that some of the shelves still have legible labels on them, the neatly printed names of employees past. But is it possible some of them never really left?
Oregon Paranormal’s research team is trying to answer that question.
Skeptical of specters
Since 2009, the group of paranormal researchers has set out to take a scientific approach to the unexplained. Working on cases for months, sometimes years, they’re determined to approach with a critical eye.
“I’ve been called the poo-pooer of the paranormal because I’m so critical of the data we’re looking at,” said Casey Goodwin, the group’s co-founder. But he said this is the approach that sets them apart.
Their cases involve a great deal of historical research. The case study of the Old Wheeler Hotel is a mix of history—and mystery.
A haunting history
The hotel sits right off of Highway 101, overlooking Nehalem Bay. It used to be right along a railroad, where trains hauled lumber products from the saw mill operated by the Wheeler Lumber Company. Construction on the hotel started in 1920 and took four years to complete. Now, nearly a century later, it’s much more than a stop for travelers.
In its heyday, the hotel’s business grew with the lumber trade. But, after just a few years, it shut down when the stock markets crashed.
The Old Wheeler Hotel was later turned into a hospital and earned a national reputation as a pain clinic for new, experimental techniques.
Time turned once more, and the building eventually turned back into a hotel again. But many in town, including Verburg, still remember its past.
“When it comes to the paranormal research of things, you’re looking for details that tell the past of a specific location, not just a region,” said Verburg. “You did have a hospital, you did have a hotel, you had a place of leisure, you had a place of pain—all rolled up into one location.”
A location that is now the focus of a new documentary, The Permanents: A Paranormal Case Study. The film digs deep inside the familiar haunt over the course of several years, working to record some of the experiences so many claim to have.
As Verburg walked through the hotel’s rooms restored with unique artwork, period styling, and antique furnishings, he explained the hotel’s owner, Katie, has seen different kinds of activity in each room. Perhaps the permanent residents have taken a liking to different spots. He said the most activity he has ever experienced firsthand happened once when he was staying in Room 5.
“I heard the door handle jiggle,” said Verburg. “I thought someone was playing a prank on me, and all of a sudden the door completely swung wide open.”
Verburg said he tried to recreate a scenario in which the old door, with its decorative knob, would swing from its frame, but found it was stuck tightly shut.
Another time, Goodwin said he was staying on the property in the off-season, when he heard women’s voices in one of the rooms. Knowing he was the only person there at the time, his first instinct was to call police. Instead, he knocked on the bedroom door—the voices immediately disappeared.
For more than three years the team has worked meticulously to try and document those types of occurrences.
Ben Robison, a fellow paranormal researcher who has partnered with them on this project, said good documentation and surveillance can sometimes be most helpful in ruling things out.
“We’re trying to get the best vantage point or areas where we believe the activity is,” Robison said as he gestured to a table of camera monitors and audio recording equipment. “What we are trying to do is communicate with something we don’t know if it’s there or not.”
“We go through and we do baseline readings,” Goodwin explained, indicating how they mark the ground in places where high-energy readings register things in the normal environment.
Picking up strange energies
Current paranormal research suggests you may be able to capture a spirit with instruments that measure electromagnetic frequency, or EMF. This is hard to measure, however, when plenty of everyday items, like radios, TVs, phones, and even wiring, all give off their own energy fields. Evidence gathering isn’t easy. A range of gear that reads all different kinds of EMF can help catch a spirit—or explain why one might think they saw a ghost.
“We don’t know what ghosts are made of,” Robison said. “We don’t know how to detect them, essentially.”
Goodwin said in many cases, clients who call them with paranormal worries end up discovering high EMF levels in their home.
“When they’re constantly being bombarded by that, they can start hallucinating—seeing things and hearing things,” Goodwin said.
Sometimes, the evidence researchers gather isn’t discovered until after they play it back.
“We use these to do what we call EVP sessions—electronic voice phenomena,” Robison explained as he held up a high-end audio recorder. “They have what they call a wider frequency response range, basically have a wider window [than the human ear].”
Goodwin explains that during an investigation, one person watches cameras while another monitors audio.
“We’re looking for blips—any kind of spike in the audible environment,” he said. “Listening for those anomalies and jotting them down in a log.”
They’ve caught voices before. One particular time was in the basement.
“It’s probably one of the loudest EVPs I’ve heard of a man’s voice,” Verburg said.
KOIN 6 News wanted to see first-hand how it worked. After hours of setup, mapping out other sounds, energies, and frequencies in the house, KOIN 6’s Emily Burris sat down in the upstairs piano room, and pressed record.
Verburg asked questions to the empty space. Despite the stillness, total silence is impossible. Cars passing on the street, soft drips of rain on the window, even the growl of a hungry stomach adds to the noises that the team has to later sift through as they pore over the evidence they collected.
A few well-timed spikes on an EMF meter grab the paranormal investigators’ attention, but that night, the spirits stayed silent.
Putting the soul in spirit-searching
Oregon Paranormal hopes their continued work, and the eventual release of their film, will help to change the narrative on haunted horrors regularly portrayed in movies and on TV.
“I don’t believe hauntings to be a bad thing,” said Verburg. “It’s not something you need to fear, it’s not something you should run from.”
They say the hotel, and its guests, have always been friendly and welcoming, even if they can’t greet you in person.
“People are drawn to the mysterious, and what’s more mysterious than someone coming back—or never leaving?” asked Goodwin.