Moments before the clock strikes 12 at White Cemetery near Barrington, two figures suddenly appear in the shadows of a baggy-fendered old Chevy blocking the burial ground's only exit.
Shutting the door of his 2006 Chevy HHR with the '40s retro look, Vince Sheilds and Frank Rosko show up at noon as promised to talk about their Chicago Paranormal Investigators operation and the "Chicago Haunted Handbook." The book features "99 ghostly places" to visit in the suburbs and city. The legend of White Cemetery and its "ghost story" spread across two pages. Cuba Road, the only way to drive to this cemetery, earns a book mention with stories of ghostly old cars and gangsters.
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By day, framed by colorful maple trees and a black wrought-iron fence under a canopy of bright sunshine and blue skies, this quaint final resting place for bodies since before the Civil War doesn't seem scary. Neither do Sheilds and Rosko. But they are ghost hunters.
"We do this because we like doing this. It's fun," says Sheilds, 29, who grew up in Elgin before graduating from Huntley High School in 2002. A center fielder for his high school baseball team, Sheilds spent four years in the Marines, most of that time stationed in Hawaii. To make a living, he does marketing for events and drives a delivery truck.
But in the past 3½ years, Sheilds, Rosko, and partners Steven Fuller and Tiffany Sawczenko of chicagoparanormalinvestigators.org have visited hundreds of spots thought to be haunted by denizens of the afterlife.
"I have questions about what happens after. I was a skeptic," Sheilds says. "I'm definitely not a skeptic anymore."
Even in this bucolic, peaceful cemetery, "you get a weird vibe," says Sheilds, whose book reports of daytime visitors to White Cemetery seeing unexplained shadows that look like people holding hands. Nighttime tales include stories of people claiming to see mysterious lights, shadowy figures or other activity.
"Oh, it's active -- active with security," says Priscilla Rose, the clerk of Cuba Township and a member of the cemetery board for the past 17 years. Security cameras monitor the grounds, and security guards get extra hours at the cemetery as Halloween approaches. A new sign warns that the cemetery gate often is locked around the holiday because of vandalism fears. The Haunted Handbook reminds would-be ghost hunters to always follow the laws and "not get arrested."
Chartered since 1855, White Cemetery probably accepted burials before then, according to research by the Barrington Area Library staff. Visitors still come daily to visit loved ones who've died in recent years, and the cemetery, which abuts a residential neighborhood, needs to remain a respectful place, says Rose, who clearly tires of legends about ghosts.
"Once upon a time, there were stories in somebody's mind, and now there's this thing called the Internet," says Rose, who adds that she's been called to the cemetery many times at night when deputies arrest trespassers. "I've seen lights," she says. "You know what it is? It's my headlights."
Cemeteries house a few people who died from tragic events and mysterious circumstances, but Chicago Paranormal Investigators also has looked into museums, theaters, parks, bars, restaurants and private homes.
Armed with an electromagnetic frequency detector, a thermometer and a geophone that lights up when it senses vibrations, the crew travels to nearby states and works odd hours. They've sensed sudden temperature drops, heard strange noises, seen odd things and experienced unexplained failed batteries in their cellphones and equipment. Sometimes, they discover logical explanations for ghostly happenings.
"We debunk certain things," says Rosko, 28. As an electrician for a large communications company, Rosko says he's found that some odd noises and such can be explained by earthly problems "like bad wiring."
"People get so worked up. They call, and they are scared," Sheilds says. Some of those folks are disappointed and even a little ticked when an investigation doesn't find proof of a ghost.
"We do have a sense of humor about it," says Sheilds. As proof, Rosko, who also does gigs as a standup comedian, says he once performed his act at a haunted house and "got booed off the stage."
The investigators don't charge for their services (although they do lay claim to the stories, photos and videos they acquire), and take requests online and at (773) 414-9859. Of the hundreds of places he's investigated, Sheilds says a handful have made him a believer in ghosts.
"When something does happen, it's so shocking. You're so excited something's happening," Sheilds says. "Four or five times I remember walking away saying, 'Whoa!'"
In a private home in Elgin, Sheilds says he saw strange dots of white or blue light, which the children in the home called by name. "They weren't dust particles in front of a flash," Sheilds says in rebutting the most obvious explanation. The family wouldn't use one empty bathroom, and a motion detector placed in there went off repeatedly, he adds.
"That's one of those times we walked away saying we don't know what's going on," Sheilds says.
Using the geophone that records vibrations, Sheilds often asks questions with instructions to knock once for yes and twice for no.
"I've had full conversation with something," he says, adding that once, when he asked if he was welcome to stay, his geophone signaled "no."
The books Sheilds wrote with Jeff Morris, founder of a ghost tour company in Ohio, lists only the "ghostly places" people are allowed to visit, includes directions and hours, and reminds people to be respectful and follow all laws.
"Man, this time of year, it's crazy," Sheilds says, noting requests for ghost hunters always increase before Halloween.
"We try to get an investigation on Halloween night, but who knows?" Sheilds says. "Maybe we'll go trick-or-treating."