Budding ghost expert. Paranormal Investigation Ghost Hunter Society member. Not-very-powerful-middle-aged-medium. I.T. specialist.
Jeanne Kretchmer leaned against a doorframe in Stevens House with her arms crossed, occasionally blowing her blonde-grey bangs from her forehead. From her oil painted portrait on the wall, Helen Stevens, founder of Minneapolis’s first one room schoolhouse, looked through the corner of her eyes at Kretchmer as she began her lecture, “Everything You Wanted to Know About Ghosts But Were Afraid to Ask.”
Outside, the street lamps’ cool rays bounced off the white picket fence and illuminated the undersides of tough leaves flanking the banks of Minnehaha Creek. Inside, twenty Minnesotans clung to plaid fleece, knit sweaters, and neatly tied scarves. They shifted an inch or two, as much as they could without knocking into one another. Legs crossed and uncrossed, butts wiggled, arms dangled and folded into laps, causing floorboards and folding chairs to creak. On top of the 19th century piano, fake orange candles flickered to spastic rhythms. Old gas lamps created a transparent film over the peach walls of the tiny room.
They had come for different reasons. Jana Norland and her sister drove in from the Western suburbs to hear Kretchmer speak. After all, the presentation might help them in their own ghost hunting. The pursuit of their hobby had caused them to criss-cross the nation seeking out haunted houses, pushing the boundaries of safety (like that time when the sisters had gone to the cemetery and heard that god awful, indescribable noise that sent them running back to their cars, lit up with pastel colored lights). A middle-aged school teacher (who wanted to remain anonymous because she wouldn’t want “any students or parents to know about this”) came looking for answers to strange movements on the bookshelves in her house. And then there was the writer of ghost stories for juvenile fiction readers, an interested researcher who brought along her skeptical friend.
As the lecture began a representative from the Stevens House introduced Kretchmer and thanked her for speaking. A small woman in her sixties wearing a beret and chic skirt, she proceeded to the back of the room, where she would occasionally hold up pieces of paper, conspicuously letting Kretchmer know just how much time she had left.
“I’m a very logical person,” Kretchmer told the group as the lecture began. Although she believes in the supernatural she’s also “part skeptic.”
It was her first time giving a lecture for the Paranormal Investigation Ghost Hunter Society “Ghost Hunters” series. A three ring binder of plastic sheet protected articles and notes guided Kretchmer through her presentation. She flipped through page after page on poltergeists, orbs, entities, vortices, portals, famous hauntings (like Abe Lincoln’s phantom funeral train and Abigail Adams hanging her laundry in the White House), demons and angels, cleansings, tips on safe communication with the other world, sittings and séances. Everything- in short- anyone would need to know about ghosts. Except whether they exist. That was a given.
The woman in the beret kicked kept things going, gently rattling her piece of paper in the air. It was time to move on to orbs. Yellow orbs, Pink orbs, and orb orbs. Orbs are light; half-materialized spirits, Kretchmer told the audience. But you need to be open to spirits through all your sense, not just sight. Kretchmer listens for hollow noises. She opens her nostrils to any unusual smells (always reassuring herself that rooms are free of entities, whose foul stench immediately gives them away as the scum of the spirit world). She pays close attention to her body, concentrating on the skin, choking sensations, and breathing patterns.
Kretchmer’s words resonated with Jana Norland in the audience. “There’s definitely something in this house. I don’t know who or what, but it’s in here,” Norland told her sister during a break over apple cider and powdered doughnut holes. “There, actually,” she said pointing to the upper corner of the room.
As she pointed, others began to take notice. On an inhospitable bench squeezed along the back wall, the ghost story writer poked her friend in the stomach, causing her friend to giggle. The writer bulged her eyes out at her friend hoping to quiet her down.
Back from the break, Kretchmer acknowledged the existence of skeptics. She knows there are plenty of times when the doubts of others overshadow her narrative. As a rule, she gauges her family and coworkers’ reactions to her ghost hunting. When she’s among her IT colleagues, she waits for the green or red light to continue speaking about the paranormal. It’s easy for her to tell who thinks she’s crazy, and who is open to the idea. For the most part she finds people to be curious, belief or disbelief aside. Her father tells her not bring up the “spooks” but never skips a beat when she does. It’s her father who “pretends he’s not interested, when he really is.”
It was her father, after all, she told the group, who was there when Kretchmer had her first encounter with the supernatural as a nineteen year old. He witnessed her first inexplicable bout of depression that “cheesy as it sounds, felt like a rain cloud that follows the cartoon characters around.” It was her parents who listened when Kretchmer opened up about what was happening. It was her parents who heard Kretchmer say, “it sounds horrible, but I feel like some one is going to die, and I feel like it’s going to be [my brother’s best friend.]” It was her parents who received a phone call the next morning letting them know that their son’s best friend had in fact died unexpectedly in his sleep.
Her father remains skeptical about her “spooks,” like the ones that live in Kretchmer’s house now. (There are many of them, and because she lives alone, Kretchmer feels much more protected with them there than if they were to leave.) But now Kretchmer has found a way of communicating with and about the paranormal among those who don’t doubt her. Kretchmer has honed her skills as a medium, doing “energy work” with a California based medium, throughout the 1990s and 2000s. Last year when she saw a local ghost expert give a lecture in Minneapolis, she approached him and began studying with him.
And this helps her validate her experiences, like the time in the 1980s when Kretchmer went to study with another powerful medium in California. The medium hosted a retreat where Kretchmer saw a spirit materialize. The young man stood in the corner of the room in casual dress—jeans, red high tops, and a red and white striped shirt, a “regular 1980s outfit.” He couldn’t have been older than 21. He had wedged himself into the retreat center room where the participants had gone to bed when Kretchmer saw him. They all awoke and then all saw him. A woman asked the spirit if he saw a light, the spirit responded that he did. And then, poof. Woosh. Gone. Dematerialized into chunks of vapor.
It was the first spirit Kretchmer had ever seen.
The audience shifted in their seats. Two audience members—the sisters—gasped. The writer’s friend didn’t laugh.
It was still until the sound of rustling of paper towards the back of the room broke the silence. The woman in the beret form the Paranormal Society stood up with her time sign. There was no time left.
Before thanking Kretchmer, the woman in the beret asked her about cleansing ghosts from houses. She said she knows that in Europe property values go up if you have a haunting, but that in America they go down.
“When do you think Americans will adjust their attitudes and welcome spirits, like they do in Europe with property values?” She asked, waving a pencil towards Kretchmer as she spoke.
Kretchmer, still leaning against the doorway with crossed arms, sighed deeply and rolled her eyes. “I don’t know,” she said, “but wouldn’t that be nice?”