By Ben Lovelace
Museum Educator, John Marshall House
April 1, 2021
On Saturday, March 27, 2021, the John Marshall House had the pleasure of hosting the Center for Paranormal Research and Investigation (CPRI) from five o’clock in the evening until midnight, as they conducted an on-site investigation of the first and second floors of the Great Chief Justice’s 1790 Richmond home. Brad Bradley, CPRI’s Research Coordinator, describes their group as a non-profit academic organization that aims to research what the general public might consider to be “paranormal.” Interested in distinguishing themselves from ghost hunters, Mr. Bradley says CPRI “approach[es] things using not only the scientific method but also the true experimental design part of the scientific method.” Founded in 2000 as Virginia’s oldest paranormal research society and self-proclaimed as “skeptics and not debunkers” CPRI is a non-profit organization based outside of Richmond. CPRI has a number of volunteer members with a wide range of skill sets, backgrounds, and areas of expertise. For example, Allen Slonaker has been with the group since 2007, and possesses over twenty-four years of experience in law enforcement, the majority of which has been spent as an investigator. According to Slonaker, the “analytical and observational skills” he learned as an investigator directly apply to the scientific environment in which CPRI conducts their research.
This past Saturday was not the first time that the John Marshall House has hosted CPRI. In 2019, the group conducted what they call a “shotgun” operation in which they use environmental sensors to search for any sort of anomalies that may narrow their investigation to be more targeted and concise when gathering data. CPRI’s first investigation returned some vibrational and electro-magnetic field (EMF) fluctuations in the 1805 addition of the house as well as EMF fluctuations in John and Polly Marshall’s bedroom. On March 27th, they brought equipment capable of gathering film, audio, EMF data, ionizing radiation, and environmental sensors that detect temperature, barometric pressure, and humidity changes. During Saturday’s investigation, CPRI’s environmental sensors consistently went off for consideration durations, focused primarily in John and Polly’s bedroom. When asked what part of their investigation they found most intriguing, CPRI’s team indicated that they were most excited to examine the data collected in John and Polly’s bedroom. CPRI’s investigations often take place over extended periods of time (sometimes years), and that few conclusions have been drawn so far. Nevertheless, we at the John Marshall House are excited to welcome CPRI back in the future as they continue their research.
We asked CPRI how they think their research can be incorporated into our historic interpretations at the John Marshall House. Allen Slonaker put it rather eloquently when he described that knowing this activity is occurring adds an extra level of “depth to his fascination” with historic sites. It is not uncommon for visitors at the John Marshall House to inquire about whether or not any paranormal activity has ever been detected. This is a valid question for people to ask, especially considering how humanity finds fascination with what we might call the “paranormal” for thousands of years. One of the main things we hope to glean from CPRI’s research are explanations in technical terms that we can share with guests who inquire. We are excited to provide that extra level of depth for visitors to the John Marshall House by discussing unexplained changes in radiation, drops in temperature, or fluctuations in barometric pressure. In October of 2020, CPRI graciously attended the John Marshall House’s inaugural Haunted History Tours and presented some of the data they had previously collected with guests before they embarked on a guided Halloween tour. The CPRI team proved a fan favorite with our Haunted History Tour guests, so we hope to have them back in 2021, this time with even more information that they can provide to our visitors. If you are interested in learning more about the Center for Paranormal Research and Investigation, you may visit their website at https://centerpri.org/.