Not everyone believes in ghosts, but everyone has a ghost story.
Sarpy County has its share of local mythology about apparitions spawned by a grisly demise.
There is the house in Bellevue where toys move on their own and voices between the wall murmur answers to questions asked by ghost hunters.
Then there is a cemetery on the outskirts of Springfield, rumored to have midnight guests that have been dead for over a century. Departed guests that set right any headstones that have tipped over due to the ravages of time (or cruel pranksters).
The majority of these stories begin with “I heard that ...” and travel a long road of age and superstition. But there are those who take it upon themselves to apply science and technology to the unknowable.
Nebraska has several groups who dedicate varying amounts of time and energy into investigating reported hauntings. From local legend hotspots like Ball Cemetery to private house calls, they seek out and try to identify who – or what – is causing homeowners distress.
One such group is Paranormal Research & Investigative Studies Midwest, or PRISM. Based in Omaha, this group has investigated and recorded evidence from paranormal situations, free of charge, since 2003.
Carl Norgard is the director of PRISM. One investigation he remembers well was at Haunted Hollow in La Vista. The haunted house theme park is centered around a 19th century farmhouse.
“The meters in there went crazy, and we had our sensitive there, who told us it was haunted,” Norgard said.
A sensitive is someone who can “feel” spirits using extrasensory perception. Norgard said that PRISM's sensitive can see the dead.
During an investigation in Bellevue, Norgard said the owners saw shadows without anchors dance in the hallways. A house in Springfield investigated in 2006 would have temperature drops of more than 15 degrees in the house, and the doors would open and close by themselves.
PRISM joined several other groups and ghost hunters Oct. 12 at the University of Nebraska at Omaha for the Paranormal Summit, sponsored by UNO's Paranormal Society.
Brian Heath, a member of PRISM, spoke at the event.
Heath is an Omaha police officer of 18 years. His interest in ghost hunting took off after he watched one of several TV series that star investigators. Heath calls himself the debunker because he has maintained a level of skepticism toward the supernatural.
“I believe in it, but I try to keep an open mind,” Heath said.
He's been with PRISM for four years, and in that time has encountered several instances of creepiness. Heath said he was shoved by an entity while in the Villisca Axe Murder House, an infamous Iowa site of eight murders.
While PRISM performs investigations at sites like graveyards and prisons, they also do house calls.
Residents in Sarpy County have contacted PRISM to come discern if their homes are haunted. PRISM usually receives an email, Heath said, and he'll decide whether it's legitimate or not.
They'll do a pre-investigation by meeting with the residents and then a full investigation if they think they might find something.
That's when the cameras get set up. Audio recorders try to capture the maddening whispers of the departed while night vision video recorders try to track movement.
Unfortunately, the results are often grainy. But sometimes photos are bewildering, depicting swirling masses of what appears to be conscious smoke in a room, or a human head without a body in mid air, just barely discolored enough to stand out.
Why do most investigations happen at night? Heath said it's because most investigators have day jobs.
“We usually do it on the weekends, but we owe the clients a level of professionalism, because they're often worried,” Heath said.
One of the most well-known haunted places in Sarpy County is Ball Cemetery, located on the outskirts of Springfield. It's a small graveyard, entrenched in a wooded area and guarded fiercely by neighbors, whom Heath said will drive away trespassers, sometimes at gunpoint.
A couple dozen graves, several of them for infants, stand in loose rows. Some of the older headstones have been ravaged and stained by time to the point of illegibility.
Deep cracks wound several stones, and Heath said the legend goes that spirits set them upright if knocked over.
Heath said Ball Cemetery is one of the creepier places he's been to.
“It's downright eerie,” he said. “You feel like something is there.”