A High-Spirit Pursuit

"Why would a ghost continue to go to the bathroom?" asks ghost hunter Richard Senate. "You would think they would be far beyond that."

Restrooms may be one of the least traditional places Senate has stalked spooks, but the Ventura-based researcher of the supernatural has learned through experience that his most valuable asset is an open mind. "I believe that one must have a sense of wonder to do this sort of work," he says. "You must be a child at heart. If I ever get jaded at this, I will give it up and maybe get into bowling and real estate."

Senate refers to himself simply as a ghost hunter, rather than parapsychologist, a title he reserves for those completing accredited programs offered by the few, and by no means mainstream, institutions dedicated to the field. Nonetheless, he does nurture a certain skepticism, noting that though he's visited at least 200 reportedly haunted sites, he hasn't bumped into all too many phantoms, which strikes him, he says, as "odd, since I have been looking for them."

Having been called to unwittingly support a number of hoaxes, including one bed-and-breakfast's bid to liven up its image, Senate says, "It isn't hard to spot the fakes. As they are telling their stories, you start to think, 'I have seen this movie.' Ghost hunting isn't like 'The X-Files,' all walking around late at night with a flashlight. Many parts of it resemble police work with investigations dealing with interviews of witnesses and reenactments of sightings."

Irritated by what he sees as Hollywood's misleading portrayals, Senate has even considered forming a group called F.O.G. (Friends of Ghosts) to picket movies that misrepresent ghosts. Aside from diplomatic breakthroughs by Casper the Friendly Ghost, most of the landmark films dealing with specters, he says, have misrepresented them as intrinsically evil. He particularly abhors "Poltergeist" and "The Amityville Horror" for masquerading as stories based in fact: " 'Poltergeist' wasn't even about an actual poltergeist; it was about a haunted house built over the site of a graveyard." He gives better marks to the 1944 thriller "The Uninvited," starring Ray Milland, and the 1979 George C. Scott vehicle "The Changeling."

Senate himself, however, is not completely insensitive to the public's desire for novelty and showmanship. In his publication "Psychic Solutions: The Lizzie Borden Case," Senate packages, with each book ordered, a packet of the Bordens' backyard soil. He encourages readers to verify his conclusion, through their own independent psychometric readings on the sample, that both Lizzie and ax were innocent of said crime. Those with a more literal appetite for the supernatural can further indulge on "Edgar Allan Poe's Veal with Oysters" recipe book and other delights gathered by Senate during Ouija board sessions in Oxnard.

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