I was a Boy Scout who never sat beside a roaring campfire without hearing a good ghost story.
During those years, now long ago, our troop would camp in some of the creepiest locations imaginable along the Florida Gulf Coast. Evenings in those camps were naturally spooky, as aged, live oak trees dripping with Spanish moss seemed to gather round behind us as we sat in front of a raging fire, a pyre that had been created from their brethren. I always felt that they were watching us, silently hating us for it.
And the ghost stories told at those times…oh, they were always scary. I remember the tale of "Doodalo," a killer of great repute. Though he was caught and hanged for his crimes, every evening his red-stockinged leg could be seen sticking up out of the grave, bent at the knee, in a nightly struggle to rise from the dead.
My favorite, though, was about the "Oochi Monster," a terrible being that roamed the woods of Defuniak Springs, Florida. If it ever gotcha, it would transform you from a lad of good deeds into an evil, soul-eating zombie!
But all that was kids' stuff, and as I moved into adulthood, my belief in ghosts went the way of Santa Claus. However, I purposely remembered the tales, so that I could frighten youngsters with them around some future campfire.
Imagine my surprise, then, when in January 1983, I took time-lapsed pictures of the Pensacola Naval Air Station National Cemetery and saw ghosts in the prints! For the first time in my life, I had in my own hands the other side to the argument over whether ghosts exist.
The side of the argument that I had previously subscribed to was that physical proof of ghosts did not exist, and that whenever evidence had been submitted for consideration, it was proven to be a hoax. Before January 1983, my opinion on the subject would have been a standard, sarcastic "Ghosts! Yeah, right!"
Yet, what I saw in the photographs was compelling evidence that I could have been wrong in my assumptions.
January 30, 1983 began as a very cold morning along the Gulf Coast. The camera I had with me that early morning was brand new, a birthday present from my parents five days earlier. As I drove by the cemetery at 2:00 AM, I noticed that it was brightly lit by street lights, so I decided to pull over and take my first ever time-lapsed pictures.
I did not yet own a tripod, so I pulled the car up on the curve and parked it next to the six-foot-high wrought-iron fence. I stood on the front fender of the car. The fence was spiked, so I held the camera down on a spike as steadily as I could in the chilly night air. I took three shots, counting to 30 on each one as I manually held the shutter open. I remember being a bit unnerved during the few moments I spent there.
Was it because I felt a presence other than my own? Was it because I was a civilian on a military base doing something that would get negative attention by security police? Or was it because I was bone cold? I cannot say. All I remember was that I wanted to hurry and get the shots so I could get out of there.
So what's going on in the photographs? First, let's examine the visage of the face in the tree trunk. While I took the pictures, I did not notice any shadowing on the tree. Now, I have shown these pictures around, and some people have said, "Okay, but it definitely is a shadow." And I have always agreed that it is indeed a shadow. But what then is a ghost? Might a spirit take on a form that we would recognize?
Then, there are the "energy beams" to consider. What in the world caused those patterns? After speaking to several experts on photography, including college-level instructors of the craft who looked at the negatives, they all agreed that something "weird" happened in those three shots. No one questions that light entered the lens to form those patterns. The question is where did the light come from and how was it emitted?
I cannot tell you how long I've thought about an answer to that question, as there were no light sources around me that could have made those impressions when I took the pictures. All the light was behind me from the street lights. To this day, it remains a mystery.
Since taking those photographs, I've opened my mind to the possibility that it could be true; that ghosts do exist and that this can be proven using our technology.
Since 1983, I have been searching for further proof, but have yet to find any as compelling as my own. I still have an open mind about the existence of ghosts, but as the years begin to quickly pass and I get older, I am beginning to believe that I may never know the truth without a doubt, until that moment when I, too, move into the realm of the supernatural.