You could be forgiven for expecting the president and founder of the Southwest Ghost Hunters Association to be, um—how should I put this?—a bit of a weirdo. When I tracked down Cody Polston, I certainly expected to be crossing the border into Kooksville. Happily, this didn't turn out to be the case. During our brief telephone conversation, Polston came across as a fairly down-to-earth fellow.
The author of a recent book called Haunted New Mexico: The Ghosts of Albuquerque, Polston tells me his organization is made up of both believers and skeptics, and he places himself firmly in the latter camp. Traveling throughout the Southwest to investigate allegations of paranormality, he's seen quite a few strange things. Then again, Polston admits he's never seen an actual apparition, which is kind of surprising—and, I would think, somewhat disappointing—for someone who's been fascinated his whole life with the otherworldly.
Polston, though, isn't discouraged. One of his main thrills is disproving false allegations of supernatural activity. "Southwest Ghost Hunters Association is a research-oriented group," he explains. "We're trying to find objective explanations for various phenomena. I first got into this by debunking psychics."
Speaking of psychics, Polston says his association refuses to use them, primarily because members believe that paranormal phenomena can't be explained using paranormal methods. The group's website says, "the use of the scientific method is crucial in studying phenomena known as ghosts." Members use a variety of equipment in their investigations, including infrared cameras, recorders, and EMF and thermal scanners.
I was a little disappointed when Polston explained that their outings aren't even remotely like the Ghostbusters movies. They don't wear fancy protective suits. They don't wield giant electro-zappers. They don't trap slobbering green phantoms in specially designed canisters. "That's just fantasy," Polston says. "I love Bill Murray and his sense of humor, and I've got the Ghostbusters theme on my phone, but it really doesn't work like that."
Although it's hard to get him to admit it, Polston does seem to believe in the existence of ghosts. "Our hypothesis is that they're a remnant of consciousness," he explains. He says research has been done at universities that shows that when a person dies, the brain typically shuts down in a set pattern. When that pattern is disrupted by unusual circumstances surrounding that person's death, a little piece of their ghostly personality can somehow be left behind.
"They [the ghosts] don't act like people," he says. "They seem to be phenomena that respond to various stimuli. That's where energetic principles come into play."
Polston's first experience that he views as paranormal occurred at Big Nose Kate's Saloon in Tombstone, Ariz., which was once frequented by the likes of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. Polston was investigating a ghost said to reside at the bar. The phantom is called The Swamper, a former janitor and handyman who's said to be spending his afterlife protecting a stash of silver hidden in the saloon.
"The folks at the saloon were really nice," Polston said. "They let us stay after hours. I remember the bartender's name was Whiskers. I was thanking him for being so good to us when a glass started wiggling at the other end of the bar. I looked in that direction and watched it rise up about a foot off the bar and shoot across the room."
Understandably, Polston was shocked by this sight. He was even more shocked when Whiskers calmly pulled out a notebook to record the disturbance. He told Polston the management makes them keep track of the glasses the ghost breaks.
Polston is convinced Albuquerque is one of the most haunted cities in America. "In Old Town alone we know of 14 ghosts," he says proudly, "then there's the KiMo, and the Wool Warehouse. In Santa Fe, there's not close to that many. Even in New Orleans, which calls itself the most haunted city in America, there's nowhere near as many."
His favorite Albuquerque ghost resides in Old Town. Her name is Scarlet. Polston says she was a prostitute in the '20s who got in a fight with another hooker over a rich client. The other prostitute stabbed her to death. "She's often seen in the alley directly behind South Plaza Street," Polston says, "the one with the covered wagon on it."
Why is he so fond of this particular ghost? "Well," he laughs, "she occasionally appears naked."
It seems Polston's interest in ghosts isn't purely scientific after all.