Dale Kaczmarek doesn’t consider himself a ghost hunter. “I’m not out there with a gun, hunting ghosts,” the 63-year-old says. Nor is he a ghostbuster—though people started calling him that in 1984 when the Ivan Reitman-directed film was released. (Incidentally, a wall of dusty celebrity photos in Kaczmarek’s basement includes a framed shot of him with Ghostbusters star Dan Aykroyd, whose sincere interest in the paranormal inspired him to write the movie with Harold Ramis.)
“I’m a ghost investigator,” he clarifies. “A paranormal researcher.” He’s also the author of several books—Windy City Ghosts, Windy City Ghosts 2, Field Guide to Haunted Highways and Bridges, among others—and president of the Ghost Research Society, a group that has been looking into hauntings and similar phenomena since 1977. (Side note: If you can scare up a minute to visit the group’s website, ghostresearch.org—with its spectral cursor and “Unchained Melody” instrumental soundtrack—it’s a real scream.)
The Ghost Research Society is headquartered in Kaczmarek’s basement, in a house he shares with his wife on a quiet street in southwest-suburban Oak Lawn. Cheery ghost decorations adorn the exterior of the house—only temporarily, it turns out, during the Halloween season. But downstairs, it’s ghosty 365 days a year.
Kaczmarek’s office, tucked in a corner, houses an extensive library of books and reference materials, a file cabinet stuffed with investigative paperwork, maps of supposedly haunted locations around Chicago and the burbs, and dozens of ghost knickknacks he’s collected over the years.
Spilling into the nearby furnace room are research materials, including a series of artifacts that he’s brought back from investigation sites—a tendency he says his wife “does not like at all.” Among the objects is a brick from “Death Alley” behind the Iroquois (now Oriental) Theatre in the Loop, scene of a 1903 blaze that would be the deadliest theater fire in American history. Another of his macabre treasures is a railroad spike from the site of a 1918 train wreck near Hammond, Indiana, in which 86 circus performers perished. “Sometimes, unfortunately, a ghost can be attached to an item brought back,” he says.
The main room in the basement is home to several computers, back issues of Fate magazine (“true reports of the strange and unknown”), as well as Ghost Research Society equipment. “We have a very extensive arsenal of tools that we use in investigations,” Kaczmarek says. “Everything from EMF meters that pick up deviations in electromagnetic fields to different forms of cameras, including infrared, full-spectrum, and ordinary digital cameras that can [detect] anomalies. We always say ‘expect the unexpected.’ You never know what you’re going to get involved with.”
Around Halloween every year, Kaczmarek’s schedule fills up with talks, lectures, and haunted tours. But ghosts, he reminds his audiences, don’t just appear in late October.
What keeps him going after all these years, he says, is the pursuit of “that aha moment—or that aha piece of video or audiotape that I could bring to the public and say, ‘Here, I believe, is definitive proof that something exists beyond the grave.’ ” v
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