ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The former owner of a 180-year-old adobe building hears the door of a potbellied stove opening and wood being stacked inside, but no one is there.
Mysterious whispers echo in the current owner's ear. Things fall off shelves for no apparent reason.
These are just a few of the strange goings-on that artist Josh Bond, owner of the Old Cuchillo Bar in the southern New Mexico ghost town of the same name, has asked the West Coast Ghost and Paranormal Society to investigate on his property.
"The creepiest I had was a voice whisper in my ear," Bond said. "When things fall in the house, I just sort of write it off."
When he saw an advertisement about WCGAPS, a Phoenix-based nonprofit organization, Bond thought the group could at least explain what was occurring.
Andy Rice, who started WCGAPS about two years ago after investigating more than 200 supposed hauntings and ghosts over more than 13 years, said the group tries to explain the mysteries their clients relate to them using science or common sense.
Only about 5 percent of the group's investigations can't be explained by electromagnetic radiation, thin walls, faulty wiring, lights from passing cars or other normal explanations, said Rice, who called his investigators not ghost hunters, but ghost debunkers.
WCGAPS is booked through July with investigations, mainly in the Southwest. Rice said the historical value of the Cuchillo property made it stand out among the places requesting the group's services.
'A lot of history'
The Old Cuchillo Bar dates to 1830 when it was a stagecoach stop. At one time, freight was unloaded and taken by wagon to nearby mines in Winston or Chloride.
The 5,000-square-foot complex has housed a trading post, stables, mercantile, post office, hotel and saloon over the years.
"It just has a lot of history, that place does," said Gayle Shepperd, who owned the property with her husband, Harold, from 1978 to 2006. "I've heard tales of poker parties and ... things like that going on."
In recent years, the facility was used for weddings and baby showers and the general store was where visitors stopped to ask which residents were still among the town's dwindling population.
Once home to 2,000 people and the hub of the county, Cuchillo has about 35 residents, Bond said.
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Like Bond, Shepperd also recalled odd things, like hearing the sound of someone starting the wood stove.
"I distinctly heard somebody putting wood into the fire. I looked in there and there was nobody," she said. "We said, 'Well, our ghosts are at play.' We just discounted it."
Gun mystery put to rest
Shepperd put to rest at least one mystery: a trio of guns Bond had found wrapped in a sack in an empty grain bin.
"My mother put those there," she said, explaining that her mother used the empty bins for storage.
Bond, 36, an artist who makes metal sculptures and home furnishings, bought the complex in 2006 and has finished renovating the old hotel into a 3-bedroom vacation rental or artist retreat. He hopes to open a microbrewery in the old saloon.
Bond seemed ambivalent about whether the property is haunted.
"These people claim to debunk it scientifically. I write it off to coincidence many times in my mind, but I'd like to see it proved scientifically," he said.
Rice said he's not out to persuade people to believe in the paranormal.
"Until they have a personal experience, I cannot change someone's belief," he said. "I don't take the time to try to convince them, because it is a useless argument."
Rice, a business analyst, said he became interested in investigating reports of hauntings after exploring an abandoned house with friends.
At the top of a staircase while his friends were on the steps below him, he said, someone or something pushed him down the stairs, lifting him off the floor and leaving scratch marks on his back.
The experience led Rice to work about 40 to 60 hours per week for WCGAPS, investigating for free and seeking donations. He hopes in many cases he can put clients' anxiety to rest.
"I'm hoping to go out and calm their fears. Other than my first experience, I have never experienced anything that's harmful. I want to explain what's there, whether there's something or nothing," Rice said.
For the investigation at Cuchillo, Rice says he'll research area building codes and the site's history, talk with residents, review the property's title history and look at photographs of the original buildings.
WCGAPS's Web site contains audio links to alleged paranormal phenomena, like voices, which Rice says don't fall into the normal frequency for human voices.
Other than the push down the stairs, Rice said he's heard or seen a few strange things, like the "full-body apparition" of a woman he saw move across Monti's La Casa Vieja restaurant in Tempe, Ariz., which is housed in the city's original pioneer home.
Did he capture the image?
"It was exactly where we didn't have a camera placed," Rice said, but a camera did record his and the other investigator's reactions to the figure.
Often hotels or restaurants hope WCGAPS will confirm something paranormal because it's good for business, but owners of private homes usually are relieved when their haunting is explained, Rice said.
As for Bond, "I've really kind of lived in denial of the fact, but I'm curious to know."
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