The Difference Between Spirits and Ghosts

Ever leave soul cakes on your doorstep, during Allhallowtide? They’re offerings for the dead, the only thing they can eat …a partial forerunner to our own “Trick n’ Treat” traditions. While the interest in things going bump in the night elevates during All Hallow’s Eve, or “Hallowe’en,” the Oct. 31 date has its share of scary stories, many with no logical explanation. Both McHenry and Lake counties offer no shortage of places associated with paranormal activity year round.

Those incidents bear investigation. The McHenry County Paranormal Research Group has a mission to identify paranormal issues in attempting a resolution of conflict between spirits and living persons by helping those spirits cross over to the light. Its founder is Tony Olszewski, a beloved figure in the local law enforcement community with 21-year tenure including stints as a McHenry County Sheriff ’s Department detective and Holiday Hills police department chief.

“As I’ve said in many instances, our group is here to help those who have passed, and those who are still here,” said Olszewski. “It’s not a sport, so our focus is different from other groups, making us somewhat unique. Spirits are all around us, everywhere. It becomes a haunting when they interact, or bother, the client, and the term ‘ghost’ is by connecting with a person, place, or thing. Most spirits want to be undetected and unnoticed.”

Olszewski provided a thumbnail index for the three types of contact: intelligent (active interaction), poltergeist (noisy and purposely disruptive), and residual (a repeating imprint, similar to a tape loop.) Spirits also require energy to “feed” on, and interact, whether from electrical sources or individuals.

Those forms of energy manifest themselves as orbs (luminous and non-luminous with their own energy source), ectoplasm (a visible mist, or fluid form), shadow people, partial or full-body apparitions, rods (streaks of light), and psychic blur (energy between the object and a camera.)

“Spirits know your heart and intent…our group has learned much, and come far since starting in 2006,” he said. “We’ve always had a revolving group of people that are empaths, investigators, mediums, and empirical data researchers. We use multiple forms of evidence-gathering data that’s layered, and time-coded for a specific point referral in the investigation. We use a single-blind approach, where the investigators aren’t aware of what’s there, or the historical narrative.”

Olszewski related one incident, from his sheriff ’s deputy tenure involving the Stickney Mansion in Bull Valley. George and Sylvia Stickney built the two-story home in the secluded rural area in the mid-1800s, and the house itself was designed to have rounded corners in place of traditional 90-degree angles to prevent spirits from becoming trapped. Both were spirtualists.

A second-floor ballroom was used for spiritualist gatherings and séances. George Stickney died in a corner of the second-floor. His wife continued with her spiritualist activities until her death and the dwelling came into the possession of residential owners. Stories began to circulate about disembodied sounds, voices, moved furniture, and apparitions.

“We were told the owner hung himself,” said Olszewski. “The couple that lived there had complained of vandalism on the second floor, moved furniture, part of the tin ceiling pulled back. So, we staked it out one night, with four detectives. The couple went out to dinner, and we checked everything, before they left. When they returned a few hours later, they showed us where the ceiling had been peeled back again.

“No one could have gotten in, or gotten out. This is one of those things unexplained conventionally.” The home is now owned bythe Stickney House Foundation, which is attempting to restore the house to its original state. The basement area is occupied by the Bull Valley Police Department, and they will not discuss the matter of hauntings.

Another unconventional explanation suited the former Grant Township Hall on Washington Street in Ingleside. It was also home to Joe Tancl, a retired member of the Fox Lake Fire Protection District, who lived upstairs and acted as the building’s caretaker until his passing in Dec. 1968.

“He was a well-liked man, a well-respected man, and was the caretaker for the place,” said the district’s current chief, Ron Hoehne. “We lived in Ingleside for a long time, and I knew him, when I was young. He had served under the previous chief, and my father, Stu, took over from him in 1981. I heard the stories about the hall, and you wonder.”

Stories about noises and bumps being heard in the upstairs areas during township meetings were common, along with other occurrences. In 2009, the current occupants, the Fox Lake-Grant Township Historical Society, invited Olszewski’s group to investigate, and see what they could find. Meters, used for temperature readings, indicated cold drops in certain areas precisely where magnetic meters honed in on a presence.

The most startling piece was delivered during a reveal to the society. “Remember, when you take a digital picture, that’s it,” he said. “You can’t double-expose it, or alter the original results. We had detected a presence, and a team member snapped a picture of me. It showed another individual somewhat superimposed. One society member said, ‘That’s Joe!’ He produced a photo of Mr. Tancl… amazing. Not a harmful spirit, either.”

The group continues with site investigations and remote readings, still seeking to help resolve conflict between the departed and the inhabitants living with them.

“Spirits are all around us, getting them to cross over and go to the light can be difficult,’ said Olszewski. “In 2017, we had sixteen investigations, and in all, but three cases, we got everyone to cross over. Many times spirits are fearful of leaving, or have done something they feel God will not forgive them for. We want to help them get to the light, and it’s a way to find peace.

“After they’ve crossed over…they can still come back.”