ST. PETERSBURG — Like many buildings in and near downtown, the ones housing Patty and Friends Antiques on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street North are big, old, lofty and, some believe, haunted.
Customers walking through the shop’s numerous rooms full of chandeliers, old pottery, dolls and costume jewelry are known to rush down the store’s creaky staircase to tell whomever is behind the counter that they felt a presence, or heard or saw something, members of the shop’s staff say.
“They see themselves as sensitive to that,” said Janine Silver, a manager there. “So I asked them, ‘Where did you feel it?’ And almost always they say the same spot.”
Belief in the possibility of something otherworldly lingering among the longtime shop’s many centuries-spanning items led the owners to invite paranormal investigators for a few after-hours inspections.
One was an independent investigator. The other was a local group of investigators called SPIRITS of St. Petersburg (Serving Paranormal Investigation Reporting Information Through Study), which recently took a look around.
SPIRITS has conducted investigations at famous sites throughout the Tampa Bay area, including Haslam’s Book Store, Tampa Theatre, Capitol Theatre and numerous homes and graveyards.
In a rare move, they recently invited the public to come along.
Silver said she really hadn’t been exposed to supernatural phenomenon before working at the shop, which is formerly a small apartment building. But she started to notice things were slightly off when she would come to work in the morning. Nothing sinister, just off.
“I knew that they were here because they would have a tea party, I call it,” she said. “I would know that they had had a party because there would be things in the hallway that were not there when I locked up the night before. It would happen on a regular basis.”
A typical SPIRITS investigation requires extensive historical research on a given property, a backpack full of various gadgets and a healthy amount of skepticism.
That research, which isn’t shared with the team until afterward, helps pinpoint potential individuals who might still be hanging around, as those who believe in ghosts believe. The gear is to measure changes in temperature and electromagnetic frequency, as well as to grab audio and photographs. The skepticism is to ensure they don’t overlook all possible causes for a strange occurrence, such as a nearby air-conditioning vent when someone experiences a sudden chill.
“We do try to look for natural explanations first,” said Mary, an investigator who didn’t give a last name.
Many who attended the Patty’s investigations seemed eager to uncover something otherworldly as they walked from room to room.
One particular room, an upstairs one with a record player, set off a few amateur investigators.
“The air feels a little thicker to me,” said one.
“My head hurts here,” said another.
The equipment didn’t register much, but the two reactions did occur in the same room in which some of Silver’s customers had reported feeling strange. It’s also where the teapots are.
“The first thing I will ask: Is there anyone here with us right now?” SPIRITS investigator Brandi Stark asks, holding the EMF monitor. “If the answer is yes, can you make this needle spike, please?”
The needle did the opposite, and Stark joked that the spirit was being defiant.
Investigators warn that signs of a haunting are going to be subtle — not like on TV.
“We’re not like the television show, where you’re going to find (signs of a ghost) every 10 seconds,” said SPIRITS member Miki Strange. “Those guys are there for sensationalism. We’re here to find something that connects to history, and sometimes we do, and it’s pretty neat.”
Past investigations of the site yielded footsteps and an unidentified man’s voice on the audio track. The day after the first investigation by an independent researcher, a blood-like substance showed up near the doorstep. Silver thought it was a joke, but it kept reappearing after she cleaned it up.
“I’ve worked in this building for five years; I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said. “If it reappears I’m going to send it for testing.”
The group is still analyzing its audio and photos from the most recent event, and will compile a report it will post on its Web site, spiritsofstpetersburg.com. They hope to hold another event at a similar location in the fall.