A haunting presence: Ghostly figures have been seen at the Good Shepherd Center - but are they really spirits?

Melanie Hendricks and her family can't get enough of the show "Ghost Hunters." The popular show on the Sci-Fi Channel sparked Hendricks' investigative spirit this past Friday the 13th so much that she organized her own search party.

She and her family trekked to the Good Shepherd Center near their Wallingford home around 11 p.m. that evening, and what they encountered had them seriously startled.

"I don't really believe in ghosts," Hendricks said, "but I was a little creeped out that night."

Her husband, Rand, toted his digital Olympus camera as the family was determined to capture some paranormal activity.

A handful of their photos returned with orb-like figures, and a few others captured a floating white mass.

"It was bizarre," Hendricks said. "In some of the photos, there was nothing; in others, there were these orbs and figures."

Needing validation

While a true explanation for orbs remains in debate, they have only been captured in photographs. Some experts believe that they suggest paranormal energy; however, others believe they are the product of light reflecting off dust particles and mist.

North Seattle ghost hunter and paranormal aficionado, Shannon Stidman dedicates her life to getting to the bottom of some of these questions. "Some people think [orbs] have greater significance, such as spirits or portals to the spirit world," Stidman said, "but none of these theories has been validated."

After assessing Hendricks' photos, Stidman claims the paranormal activity within the pictures is a result of refracted light and mist. "All I see is mist and fog [in the photos]," Stidman said. "Digital cameras are notorious for these kinds of things."

The stories

Although the pictures may not reveal anything truly paranormal, others have experienced similar activity within the Good Shepherd Center. Local actor Shawn Telford claims he saw a floating female figure last Halloween on the building's fourth floor.

"I was at a Halloween party there last year, and [I] will never forget that night," Telford said. "A friend and I were near the stairwell when we heard what sounded like footsteps approaching us from behind. When I didn't hear a voice from whatever was coming from behind me, I knew something was paranormal."

Telford claims he turned and caught a glimpse of an apparition - an older woman dressed entirely in white - but has not had any similar experiences since he has returned.

Neil Barham and Rich Phelps, both Good Shepherd Center keepers and tenants, have heard a number of stories like Telford's. Though neither has seen anything paranormal, they recall the stories of those who have.

"We've heard a few different stories of people who say they've seen and felt presences around the building," Barham said. "Some claim to have seen an older woman roaming around the old chapel."

The two, however, said they have never experienced anything outside of abnormal noises, such as unexplained crashes and clanging, from the century-old building.

Seeing is believing

Originally erected in 1906, the Good Shepherd Center was once an all-female Catholic school and refuge for "wayward" girls. Property manager Mark Wilson, who has been with the center since 1982, theorizes a possible explanation for these recurring phenomena.

"Some of the women I've spoken to over the years who once occupied the building felt that they were prisoners in the old center," said Wilson, who himself has never experienced anything paranormal in the building.

While those closest to the building claim they have not experienced anything first-hand, more stories continue to surface. In a 2005 Gallup survey, three out of four people claim to possess some form of belief in the paranormal.

"There's more to this world than meets the eye," said Telford, who acknowledges experiencing paranormal activity outside the Good Shepherd Center since last Halloween.

For Hendricks, she, too, has a new outlook on paranormal activity. "I had never noticed anything in Wallingford before that night," Hendricks said, "but now I believe in the possibility of energies."

(Editor's note: Melanie Hendricks was formerly the advertising representative for the Herald-Outlook. She continues to work for the parent company, Pacific Publishing Co. Inc., as the advertising representative for Magnolia News.)

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