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Paranormal activity: Chicago Ghost Conference arrives in October

And 'spontaneous human combustion' is one of the conference talking points

  • The Chicago Park District's Nightmare at 63rd Street Beach House at 6300 S. Lake Shore Drive last year.
The Chicago Park District's Nightmare at 63rd Street Beach House… (Carlos Javier Ortiz / Chicago…)
September 20, 2013|By Courtney Griffin | RedEye

“They’re heee-re!”

The fifth annual Chicago Ghost Conference will haunt the city for two days, Oct. 4 and 5, at the Irish American Heritage Center (4626 N. Knox). The conference will cover everything from ghost hunting to parapsychology, all topics that Ursula Bielski, founder and chief organizer of the Chicago Ghost Conference, feels right at home with--literally.

“I grew up in a haunted house in Chicago,” said the North Center native, who experienced numerous encounters with ghosts during her childhood. “My mother still lives in that house.”

An interest in Chicago history and folklore led Bielski, 44, to author multiple books over the past 20 years, all of which chronicle the city’s most historic ghost stories and sightings. Bielski is also the founder of the popular Chicago Hauntings Ghost Tour, and is a leading expert on paranormal activity in the city.

Arriving just in time for Halloween, the Chicago Ghost Conference will feature a multitude of special guests and celebrity ghost hunters, including Josh Gates of Syfy’s “Destination Truth,” John Zaffis of Syfy’s “Haunted Collector” and Christopher Fleming of A&E’s “Psychic Kids.”

Several live broadcasts will also take place at the conference, including a taping of the web show “30 Odd Minutes” (hosted by Travel Channel’s Jeff Belanger) and a live interview for “Darkness Radio” featuring Chris Quaratino, who was only 7-years-old when his family moved into a notorious Dutch Colonial style house in Amityville, N.Y., later the subject Jay Anson’s “The Amityville Horror.”

This year’s conference will also include several spooky art exhibits, including a photo spread documenting paranormal activity at Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery, located in southwest suburban Bremen, and “arguably one of the most haunted cemeteries in the country,” according to Bielski.

And while ghost sightings and other activities of paranormal proportions may get a bad rap as nothing more than lame horror movie fodder, Stephen Braude, a University of Maryland philosophy professor who specializes in parapsychology and a special guest of this year’s conference, is convinced there’s real proof behind these encounters.

“I've seen tables levitate in broad daylight under conditions in which cheating is easily ruled out,” said Braude, a Las Vegas native who defines his line of work as the scientific study of ESP, psychokinesis and the survival of bodily death. “I've seen a golden colored foil appear instantaneously on a woman's body … and investigated a physical medium under controls so tight that no magician has been willing to try to debunk the videos I obtained. Those are just the highlights.”

The conference is open to the general public, and according to Bielski, always draws a diverse crowd.

“We get a lot of people who are interested and involved in ghost hunting,” Bielski said. “And then there’s always a group of skeptics.”

As for the skeptics, Braude said he’ll tolerate those who question his work—to a point.

“Most of those who label themselves skeptics are actually deniers or passionate disbelievers,” said Braude, 68. “[They] often resort to the most obvious and sleazy maneuvers to dismiss the phenomena.”

Bielski, who founded the conference in 2007, said organizers have already sold hundreds of tickets and expect to sell out.

“There’s definitely a seasonal appeal,” Bielski said.

Admission for the Chicago Ghost Conference is $50. For information and to purchase tickets, visit the conference site at www.chicagohauntings.com/conference.html.

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