It is pitch dark at 8 p.m. when the Boise chapter of the International Paranormal Reporting Group meets at Idaho City's Pioneer Cemetery. Beau Beaucher, one of the paranormal investigators, loans me a flashlight. I didn't bring one because I thought the light might hinder our search for ghosts.
"No, you'll need it out there," he says. Then he tells me the rules. No whispering because it can cause false identification on audio recordings. No shouting because it can cause a panic. But most importantly, no wandering off alone.
We break up into groups and head through a spiked iron gate, bent and rusted with age, into the cemetery--if ever there was a cemetery likely to be haunted, this is it.
There are no lush green lawns or neat rows of gleaming marble headstones. The cemetery is a sprawling network of overgrown trails through dense forest on the side of a mountain. The graves are crudely marked if marked at all; many have rotted wooden signs bearing the word "unknown." Some are just patches of disturbed earth.
Beaucher's team is armed with a camera, digital voice recorder, handycam with night-vision and a combination electromagnetism detector and digital thermometer.
We stop and sit down and begin to ask questions of the darkness: "Is there anyone here?" "What was your job?" "Why did you come to Idaho?" If any of the investigators make a noise, they announce it for the benefit of the audio recording.
Satisfied that the site is a dud, Beaucher ushers us on. Between the headlamps and glow of assorted instruments, our procession looks like something from a sci-fi film as we search for the oldest graves possible. We stop and ask more questions. Again there is no response.
Beaucher says paranormal investigations are the last unexplained field of science and that not finding evidence is still valuable data. "Plus I always wanted to be a detective as a kid," he says. "But this way there isn't anything on the line if I don't solve the case."
Then a team member with a thermometer tells us he may have found something: a noticeable temperature fluctuation over the space of several feet. We stop, cameras armed, as Beaucher examines the readings.
"The battery's dead," he says. "It was a fresh one. So this might be a power drain." The others nod knowingly. It's getting late, so we start back toward the cars and the team explains that spirits are known to affect and manipulate energy.
IPRG and their fellows are deadly serious about their work. For them, it's not a quest into the darkness, it's research. The difference between their lab and a university's is that the white coats have been replaced with parkas, and test tubes with graves. That, and like Beaucher said, even the lack of evidence is still data.