By Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
If you talk to employees of Carter County’s 911 service, they’ll tell you that weird things happen in their offices. Strange bumps and knocks are common. People have seen things move with no discernable source. One former employee even caught what some believe is a phantom face over his shoulder while taking a photo for a social media profile. They don’t really want to use the word haunted, but what else would you call it?
Still, when we think of haunted places they tend to be locations where people have lived and died. Homes. Hospitals. Maybe sites of great tragedy like a hotel fire or a battlefield.
But a 911 dispatch doesn’t really fit the bill; especially one with no recorded deaths.
At least, it doesn’t fit if your definition of ghost is “spirit of a deceased person.” But what if it’s something else? Or what if the building doesn’t matter as much as the location it stands on? Or the person experiencing it?
The theories are, frankly, as numerous as the personalities authoring books and producing television programs to push them – and all equally impossible to prove. (At least with our current science and technology.)
All we can really do is look at the stories, and in this case, our story starts with a selfie.
“So, it’s probably 2 a.m. one night up at 911, and I go to take a selfie and change my profile pic,” Grayson code enforcement officer Joe Hammer explains.
At the time, in September of 2017, he was working as a 911 dispatcher. Like many first-responder jobs, a 911 dispatchers evening is often long stretches of waiting, punctuated by intense bursts of activity. It was during one of those lulls when Hammer took the photo and then, “uploaded it to Facebook and didn’t think anything about it.”
It was only after someone else pointed it out to him that he saw the face himself.
“A Grayson police officer comes up, and I’m sitting there talking to him, and the other dispatcher’s like, ‘What is that behind you? In your picture,’” Hammer remembered. “And I’m like, ‘What are you talking about?’ She’s the one that noticed it and showed it to me.”
It was the first time he’d seen anything out of the ordinary, and he’d never had any other experiences in the office, but, he said, many of his co-workers had experienced things they couldn’t explain.
“At that point, there’s night shift dispatchers who’ve worked there for 10 or 12 years, talking about it being the middle of the night and hearing stuff upstairs with no cause. Hearing people walking up there,” he said.
One of those co-workers was Heather Hanshaw. But Hanshaw didn’t just hear things. She saw things move.
This was before policy changes that required at least two dispatchers on each shift, so often Hanshaw would find herself alone, especially on overnight shifts.
“I’ve worked with 911 for going on 13 years,” Hanshaw explained. “Now there are two people on shift at all times, but when I started here the midnight person worked by themselves. So, someone would leave at midnight, and from midnight until seven, I think it was, you were by yourself. Unless somebody would stop in, or if an officer came and got paperwork or something, you were there by yourself from midnight until 7 a.m.”
You shouldn’t be hearing things, and you definitely shouldn’t be seeing things move. Hanshaw, however, has experienced both.
The noises, she said, she could explain away. Or try to.
“Sometimes you could hear doors shut, and we sometimes think, well, is it the air conditioning or whatever. But no, I mean, these are like heavy doors.”
She said there is another area above dispatch, but that can only be accessed from outside.
“You can’t even go upstairs (from the 911 dispatch). It’s a different access point and everything. You will hear people stomping around, walking around, big stomps. You will hear stuff up there in the middle of the night and nobody’s there.”
It happens late at night too, she said, when there is no chance of any other county employees being around.
“Most everything that’s going to happen, would happen around three or 3:30 in the morning. Three to four in the morning is like peak times for anything to happen in there.”
It was around that time in the morning that she saw the chair move too.
“The head dispatcher at the time, his name was Don Craft,” she explained. “He had a chair there he loved. He kept reupholstering it, and it was just a computer chair, but he just refused to get rid of it.”
She said she came and sat down, to start some paperwork, and had turned on the television.
“There was a little bit of downtime, and it was, I would say around three o’clock in the morning – three or 3:30 in the morning – and I turned around and the chair was rocking by itself.”
There was no chance that anyone else touched it, she said, because she was there alone. There was no chance that an air conditioning or heating vent was blowing on it and causing the motion either.
“When I say that it was rocking… it was actively going back and forth, back and forth. Like somebody was actually sitting there rocking in the chair, but nobody was there but me.”
Hammer, likewise, is convinced that his photo shows something other than glare or a reflection. For one, he said, there is no light that could have been reflecting on the door to cause that image. You can see some light illuminating the opposite side of his face in the photograph, but he said that was from a ceiling fan. He also said it couldn’t be a reflection of the back of his shirt, because there was no design on the back of that particular t-shirt. Plus, he said, the flat brown door wasn’t particularly reflective or painted with a glossy paint.
“After that happened, we started taking pictures of the door to try to replicate that and never could,” Hammer said.
So, what’s causing these “haunting” phenomenon in the 911 center?
Hammer and Hanshaw both noted there are several cemeteries and burial plots within view of the building. He also mentioned the old holding cells found beneath the floor of the judge executive’s office when renovations required the floor in there to be torn up. No one even knew that room was there until then, he said, so who knows what else might have been on the property before. Or, he said, what entity might be connected to the entire property.
“Maybe that’s an old, tortured soul from the jail, and maybe that’s who the picture is,” he said.
Hanshaw also mentioned the jail, but rather than the holding cells beneath the courthouse, she was referring to the stone structure standing between the courthouse and 911 offices.
“I’ve heard the jail was haunted,” she said.
And possibly it is the lingering soul of some poor, departed inmate. Or of some long dead jailer who can’t stop showing up for work every day – going through the same motions in death that they did in life.
Another theory might not even require a dead person. Some folks believe that heightened emotions can make an imprint in space-time – sort of like the way a magnet works on a cassette tape or a laser on a compact disc to make a recording. Then, when conditions are right, these incidents and impressions can be “played back” like hitting start on a DVD. These sort of “residual hauntings” as they are called are often associated with traumatic deaths. But some theorists believe any heightened emotional state can cause this, meaning one could be created by a still living and breathing person. A person, for instance, who received a traumatic 911 call. Perhaps leaving a chair rocking as they moved to answer the phone.
It’s certainly the type of environment that might prove conducive to such an imprint – if the theorists are on the right track.
None of the stories from the 911 center seem to indicate any of the hallmarks of what paranormal researchers call “intelligent” hauntings either. They aren’t interacting with people. They don’t seem to be attempting to communicate with anyone. These types of hauntings are attributed to everything from the still self-aware souls of departed persons to non-human entities. But they also interact a lot more. Nothing there has ever tried to do that, as far as Hanshaw has noticed.
“It never touched me. Never harmed me. I didn’t have anything like grab me or scratch me. It was just like somebody was in there visiting, watching TV with me most of the night.”
But that didn’t stop Hanshaw from asking whatever it was to respect her space, just in case.
“I know this is silly,” she said. “But after that happened I said, ‘Whoever is in here with me, you know, I’m not scared. But I won’t harm you if you don’t harm me.’ And I turned back around and went back to work, instead of watching the TV. But, the entire time, I don’t think I got back up to go to the bathroom the rest of the night. And I don’t think I turned around and looked at the chair.”
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