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Publish Date: 10/29/2005

CU students Rachel Nielsen ,left, and Jonathan Tsengouras use video and photo equipment to search for signs of ghosts in Vance Brand Auditorium on Friday. The two are gathering material for a paper for their parapsychology class. Times-Call/Kristin Goode

Local team searches for signs of elusive specter in Vance Brand Auditorium

LONGMONT — They scoured Vance Brand Civic Auditorium from top to bottom, looking for ghostly apparitions, ectoplasmic mists and translucent orbs.

They shot video and took digital pictures in the balcony, in the control booth, on stage, backstage and in two storage rooms, trying to capture paranormal activity.

In the storage room behind the stage, 23-year-old Rachel Nielsen said she got goosebumps and her eyes started watering, signs that a ghostly presence was nearby.

She and 20-year-old Jonathan Tsengouras are taking a parapsychology course at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where they study the paranormal. As part of the class, they decided to visit the auditorium to prove or disprove the presence of a ghost, nicknamed “Edison” for the power he supposedly exerts over the auditorium’s electrical systems.

Edison is rumored to be the ghost of a janitor who was supposedly killed when the auditorium’s balcony collapsed during construction in 1978.

Stories of the incident abound on Haunted Colorado Web sites, although John Benton, the auditorium’s facility manager for 18 years, said nobody ever died in the Skyline High School auditorium.

A number of Internet sites report that students have felt cold spots in the auditorium, seen lights turning on and off when nobody was running them, and heard footsteps on the catwalks and screaming in the hallways. Another student claimed to have seen a ghostly figure watching from the back of the balcony.

Tsengouras is a graduate of Skyline High. As a marching band student, he practiced and performed in the auditorium for four years. He claims to have seen ghostly figures and heard strange noises, and he can’t understand how anyone at the school could say there are no ghosts in Vance Brand.

Nielsen and Tsengouras say a previous foray into ghostbusting, using thermal imaging cameras, picked up ghostly figures in a cornfield.

They decided they would tackle the auditorium’s ghost Friday morning, because many people have told stories about it but nobody has ever gone in with equipment to try to prove Edison’s existence.

As they split up, taking different aisles through the auditorium, both were convinced they saw a ghostly figure on the balcony. After climbing up to investigate, they whispered and conferred over whether they had actually seen anything.

Tsengouras claims he saw the head and torso of a man standing beside a large American flag, which graced the stage for one of the school’s theater productions.

When the two stopped to look at their pictures, nothing out of the ordinary appeared.

“It’s fun to play around and see what we catch,” Nielsen said. But, she readily admitted, “I don’t think we found anything.”

Charlene Cashion, the auditorium’s business manager, said she has worked there for eight years and never experienced any paranormal activity, but “walking in and out, with the ventilation system, you hear noises, but not footsteps or anything.”

In the event Cashion did see something, she said she “would probably never come back here at night.”

Nielsen and Tsengouras asked Benton to explain some of the stories they have heard about the auditorium.

A skeptic in his 19th year at Skyline, Benton said he has videotaped the stage at night and even spent the night in the auditorium by himself, and he never experienced anything that couldn’t be easily explained.

Spotlights that used to turn themselves on at “ghosting” levels, for example, were the product of a “very unreliable” analog control board that would cause dimmers to fire whenever transient voltage moved through it, he said.

Now the auditorium uses an all-digital control board, and the ghostly lighting effects have been absent for years, Benton said.

He added that people’s senses are heightened at night; they are more aware of the auditorium’s ventilation system, which can cause cables to sway and fire doors to rattle, he said.

Benton added that he doesn’t mind students telling ghost tales, as long as they maintain their focus on what they are doing, whether it be rehearsing or building sets.

As for the story behind Edison, he said the balcony did collapse during auditorium construction after it was installed incorrectly the first time.

But “the thing about someone dying here is not true,” Benton said. “Nobody died.”

“It sounds like he is hiding something,” Tsengouras said, unconvinced by Benton that Vance Brand is Casper-free. “The more he talked about it, the more he made me think there is something, and he doesn’t want people in his drama class getting unfocused.”

Tsengouras added that even though he and Nielsen didn’t find anything at Skyline, “that is not going to stop us from investigating things in Longmont and other parts of Colorado.”

Paula Aven Gladych can be reached at 303-684-5211 or pavengladych@times-call.com.

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