MOUNT VERNON, Wash. — During the darkness of a summer night in a cabin in Minnesota in the early 1990s, 12-year-old Travis Fletcher heard heavy footsteps, movement in the kitchen and the click of the stove turning on.
His stepmother and stepsisters heard it, too, but no one else was there. Not that they could see, anyway.
“They were freaking out, and I was like ‘This is awesome!'” recalled Fletcher, now 38.
That night sparked a lifelong interest in finding and interacting with ghosts or spirits — an interest shared by Fletcher’s friend, Brian Lee.
Lee and Fletcher, co-founders of Washington Abnormal Research Network, or WARN, are paranormal investigators focused primarily on activity in Skagit and Whatcom counties.
Since their curiosity was first piqued by ghosts or spirits, they have spent much of their time searching for them in cemeteries and haunted buildings.
“When something goes bump in the night, we fist-bump back and say ‘What’s up, dude?'” Lee said.
The two launched WARN on Halloween in 2012. Their goal is to get to know what they call any remaining presence from those who have died and to try to find out if they can help them get closure.
“One of my favorite questions is: Is there anyone you want me to get a hold of for you?” Fletcher said. “It would be kind of weird to email someone out of the blue about their dead grandfather, but I would do it.”
Some of the WARN investigators’ favorite area haunts are the former Northern State Hospital buildings accessible in the public Northern State Recreation Area in Sedro-Woolley and Bay View Cemetery in Bellingham.
At the cemetery, some headstones date back more than 100 years.
A large, two-person gravestone referred to by area residents, including the WARN investigators, as the “Death Bed” marks where a man was laid to rest in 1916.
Fletcher and Lee said that gravestone is one of the few in the cemetery that gives them eerie or uneasy feelings.
As they approached it one day in June, Fletcher said his heart began racing and his chest tightening.
It was here that Fletcher said he was once shoved by an unseen person and Lee said he saw him fall. That same day, the two said they heard Fletcher’s first and last name called from one of the devices they use during investigations.
Among the dozens of devices the WARN team carries are sensors that measure temperature, electromagnetic force and vibration, voice recorders, regular digital cameras and infrared cameras.
The spookiest of them are those that scan radio frequencies and project otherworldly voices, and others that light up green, yellow and red dots to indicate energy is present.
After placing the energy sensor on the Death Bed gravestone that day in June, Fletcher demonstrated how an increasing number of dots lit up as he moved his cellphone within inches of the device.
Later while Fletcher and Lee were standing about 2 yards from the gravestone, green and yellow dots lit up more than once. They said that was a sure sign the spirit of the man below was stirring, perhaps trying to communicate with them.
While that gravestone is one of thousands at Bay View Cemetery, Fletcher and Lee said they find it a much quieter site to investigate than the dilapidated Northern State buildings.
“We’ve never left Northern (State) without some kind of evidence, whether it’s visual or sound,” Fletcher said.
They said they think that’s because those at the cemetery are in a final resting place separate from where they spent their lives.
The buildings of Northern State, on the other hand, were places where patients of the former state hospital for the mentally ill spent many days of their lives, often up until the end of their lives.
“There’s what we call living memory there, coming from the hospital. There are still strong emotional connections for some,” Lee said.
The hospital operated from 1912 to 1973.
The farm and old barn buildings later became part of property owned by Skagit County and open to the public as the Northern State Recreation Area, and have since been left in disrepair.
The buildings on the main hospital campus where patients and staff lived remain closed to the public. They have been maintained by a state skeleton crew on a shoestring budget and largely unoccupied.
In some with once grand staircases and artfully arranged window panes paint has peeled for years and unruly trees have broken through the glass in places.
Fletcher and Lee imagine that’s where they could find many restless spirits if given the chance. Spirits of some who lived there and may have not yet found peace.
Information from: Skagit Valley Herald, http://www.skagitvalleyherald.com