Travel Channel's "Ghost Adventures" host Zak Bagans wasn't yet aware of any paranormal gifts when he was a teenager living in Glen Ellyn.
Yet he remembers some weird, ghostly stuff that happened to him in the suburbs.
Zak Bagans' The Haunted Museum to open in Las VegasZak Bagans' The Haunted Museum to open in Las Vegas
Former Glen Ellyn resident and paranormal expert Zak Bagans is opening a museum near the Las Vegas Strip this spring, featuring his personal collection of haunted, creepy items.
All the items in The Haunted Museum, set in a 40-room historic mansion, have death or curses involved with them, Bagans said. That includes Dr. Jack Kevorkian's suicide van, an actual mummy, Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein's caldron, Michael Jackson's "Propofol chair" and Peggy the Doll. Bagans said the doll is considered one of the most haunted and dangerous objects in the world, and people can be affected just by looking into its eyes.
Visitors must sign a release to enter the museum, and there will be an age minimum.
"Even back then ... whenever I heard the word 'ghost,' you had my attention," Bagans said.
Bagans recalled one night when he and some friends drove down Munger Road in Bartlett. Legend has it that the road's railroad crossing is haunted, but Bagans and his friends were searching instead for an old farm house that was said to disappear and reappear.
Sure enough, they saw it. And then, he said, it was gone. When they drove back again, he remembers the house reappearing with a glowing red light coming from the inside. A door opened, and a figure appeared in the doorway.
"I'm getting chills just talking about it now," Bagans said. "We just took off. It scared the hell out of us."
Another time, Bagans and some Glenbard West classmates were at the house of a girl he'd met that night. She pulled out a Ouija board and started asking it personal questions about Bagans. The answers were spot-on.
"That freaked me out. That was one of my experiences where I was like ... the spirits there knew who I was," he said. "I remember storming out of there because it bothered me so much."
Fast forward to today, and Bagans still gets freaked out regularly, but now it's in front of TV cameras in haunted locations all over the country, including abandoned hospitals and sanitariums. Before "Ghost Adventures," Bagans hosted other TV shows about ghosts, the afterlife, spirits and demonic possessions, including "Paranormal Challenge" and "Deadly Possessions."
"There are other shows out there that (communicate with the dead) that are pure entertainment. But we're die-hard, passionate investigators that eat, sleep and breathe paranormal, and work with the best in the field," he said. "This is more than a TV show. This is more than what people perceive as entertainment. This is pure research that we do."
After nearly 10 years of working in the field, Bagans, 39, is considered a top paranormal expert and was once dubbed "The Dr. Phil of the Paranormal" because he helped people understand and deal with spirits on the show "Ghost Adventures: Aftershocks."
Bagans also is a New York Times best-selling author, a filmmaker and creator of The Haunted Museum in Las Vegas, which will open later this year.
"They (audiences) think it's just a TV show and all we do is walk around dark buildings, but it's so much more than that," he said. "(Dealing with these energies and spirits) can be physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausting. ... It's a very serious thing."
It also can be dangerous, he said.
"It could have the power of a god," he said of what he encounters. "It could have the power to possess you. It's a very, very deep experience."
Bagans made a documentary film, to be released later this year, about a place ghost hunters considered one of the most demonically possessed places in the U.S. -- The Demon House in Gary, Indiana. Bagans ended up buying and bulldozing the house because he said its demons were too intense and dangerous.
Since he was a kid, Bagans said he's had a sensitivity for spirits and been "an old soul," interested in history. His parents were divorced, so he spent the first 15 years of his life living in Florida with his mom, and summers and holidays here with his father. Bagans moved to the suburbs for his senior year of high school at Glenbard West, before moving to Michigan to attend film school.
He called his time in Glen Ellyn "the best years of my life" and fondly remembers going to Cubs games (he's still a huge fan), Fourth of July parades and working at the now-closed Sportmart where he sharpened ice skates, drilled bowling ball holes and sold treadmills ("I was good at it!" he said, laughing).
Bagans returned home recently to film an episode on Bachelor's Grove near Homewood, and Excalibur nightclub in Chicago. They'll be featured on the new season of "Ghost Adventures," which premieres in late March.
Now living in Las Vegas, Bagans has many more projects in the works but still squeezes in time to do animal cruelty prevention work in Nevada.
"We humans absorb a lot of negativity in this world," he said, "but dogs are pure joy."
-- Jamie Sotonoff
• Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are always looking for people from the suburbs who now work in showbiz. If you know of someone who would make an interesting feature, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.