Strange Occurrences formed in Wellington, New Zealand, late in 2005, as a result of a heavy duty coffee drinking session I had with good friend Mark Marriott. The group name probably came out of that session – I can’t remember – but we liked that it was less predictable than Wellington Paranormal or whatever. To be honest, the four of us (including my partner (now wife) Denise and another friend, Karen, both press-ganged in) weren’t that serious about real paranormal investigation when we first started the group. We put up a web page that sat there for the best part of a year while we had meetings in strange locations and talked (mostly) about paranormal stuff, always over tea and biscuits. We at least had quite a lot of knowledge about photography, with Karen being a keen photographer and both Mark and me being seasoned pro photographers; knowledge we put to good use by offering reasonably well-informed opinions on paranormal photos that people emailed in. (This remains a specialty area for Strange Occurrences, and photography has remained my full time occupation since the mid 1980s.) But as far as real paranormal investigation goes, we knew only as much as we’d seen on TV, on shows such as TAPS and Most Haunted. I guess most paranormal groups formed as a result of watching those and similar shows, wanting to emulate them to some extent, so we were no different.
“We were watching TV late one night and there was an episode of the The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS) Ghost Hunters showing. Fiction aside, I’d never heard of paranormal investigation before seeing this show, and my immediate response was, ‘Hey, we can do that!’ I think Denise may have groaned, but I was too overwhelmed with enthusiasm to notice.”
- From “Spooked – Exploring the Paranormal in New Zealand” by Jo Davy and James Gilberd, published by Random House NZ, 2011
The group grew slowly over the next six years, and now consists of ten team members. We have so far had only one person leave Strange Occurrences, so the membership has been very stable. We’re all friends and the group is quite social. The growth of the group has led to making friends with people from different walks of life that we wouldn’t have otherwise met. Jo and Helen are both scientists, and British. Rob is a professional scuba diver (and now an accomplished photographer as well), Patrick an airport security officer. The last two to join are a hospital ER doctor from the US, Scott, and a recent university graduate in psychology, Jayne - our youngest team member. The age range of the group is 24-54 and we all live in New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington.
The book was completed while Jo was both pregnant and overseas, so Skype came in handy. We also did a research and investigation trip through Canterbury and Otago, in the South Island, during which Jo was jetlagged from flying direct from the US to Dunedin, feeling sick, and still pregnant. The book Spooked rolled off the press a few days after baby Alice was born.
"Spooked - exploring the paranormal in New Zealand" by Jo Davy and James Gilberd, published by Random House NZ, is available both in hard copy and for Kindle, though Amazon.
'Spooked' info page on New Zealand Strange Occurrences Society's site
But we are not always able to do this. It is fairly usual for us to visit a site and be able to explain some things while remaining at a loss as to the cause of other things, all of which leaves open the possibility of paranormal phenomena, however unlikely they may actually be. And we would love, like everyone else in this field, to not only experience but also record what we think is a genuine paranormal phenomenon, preferably a ghost! We haven’t achieved this yet (otherwise you’d be hearing about us via the Nobel Prize website, rather than here ;-), but we have had the bejesus scared out of us a few times.
Rob Wilson joined the team in 2010 with the Fever Hospital investigation being a personal quest. While working as a security guard some ten years earlier, he’d been involved in a strange incident in the hospital’s old Nurses’ Home. The other guard he was patrolling the upper level with suddenly and inexplicably fled the building, out the fire escape (then the only access). Rob decided to follow suit, for safety’s sake. As he approached the room leading to the fire escape, the wooden door slammed right in his face and the door handle dropped out on the other side. Luckily Rob was able to open the door with his multi-tool and escape. The other guard had been terrified by something, which left Rob pretty curious.
We didn’t get five yards from the door when it slammed again, right behind us and really hard. We turned to find the door still closed as we’d left it seconds ago. There was still no wind. It was one of those moments!
We composed ourselves as best we could and went back inside. We played with the door to see how it was possible that it slammed, and found that it was not possible. We moved one of the downstairs video cameras to point right at it, then we went to the monitor and the three of us stared at the screen fixedly for some minutes, expecting a repeat performance that didn’t happen.
It’d long gone 2am when Rob said he had to get home to his pregnant wife. Patrick and I did one last check of the complex, including what we believed to be the old morgue downstairs – anything but go back in the Nurses’ Home. It wasn’t until the two security guards drove up a bit after 3am that we went back in there. That was with the company of the two guards, and just long enough to pack up our DVD system. “Thanks guys, we’re outta here.” We managed to leave the remote control behind in our haste.
The Fever Hospital has only just been taken over by the SPCA, which is what the ongoing renovations have been for. They began moving in just before Christmas 2013. We wonder how the dogs are going to react to being there at night. We are hopeful of a final investigation of the Nurses’ Home early in 2014, before it also becomes occupied by the SPCA.
Paranormal photographs - free analysis service
With the digital files, we like to look at the Exif data, which is a small packet of information that most cameras append to the image file. It tells what the camera settings were, the date and time (according to the camera’s clock, at least), and other technical information that is always helpful in establishing what might be happening in the photograph. We always treat submitted photographs as confidential, and respect the owner’s copyright. Photos are usually circulated within our group for various opinions, but we never publish them without express permission of their owners. Sometimes, publication of a photograph has solved a great riddle, though. One of the best is described here: http://strangeoccurrencesparanormal.weebly.com/uncategorised.html
We never would’ve figured this one out without posting it on the US forum Paranexus, from which we received the extraordinary answer.
James Gilberd, 2014. (Posted here 1st October 2015.)