Interest in the paranormal comes at different times for everyone and for others, maybe not at all. For quantum and laser physicist Andy Coppock, it came when he moved into a new laboratory. Then objects and chairs began to move without explanation. Coppock began recording audio and video of the lab overnight. While there were sounds of someone breaking in, video surveillance revealed no one. Instead of moving labs like others before him, Coppock dug deeper into how and why his lab appeared to be haunted.
Coppock and his business and research partner Michelle Brown will be lecturing at this weekend’s Central Texas Paranormal Conference at Norris Conference Center in Austin. Speakers include paranormal celebrities like Dustin Pari from Syfy Channel’s “Ghost Hunters” series to local paranormal researchers like Jeanine Plumer, the founder of Austin Ghost Tours.
Three friends, Jackie Mulligan, Stephenie Rockwell and Cathie Cunningham are behind the first-ever paranormal conference in Austin. What Mulligan called her “crazy and hare-brained” idea came to her as a goal that would take time to develop. But when she shared the idea with Cunningham and Rockwell on the way home from a visit to the famous haunted Stanley Hotel in Colorado last summer, pieces began to fall into place.
“We tried to make the first year really special,” Rockwell said. “We put our heart and souls into this event.”
The three women also put their checkbooks into the event. Rockwell, Milligan and Cunningham are funding the event themselves. However, Milligan said many of the speakers and vendors have been understanding that it is the first year for the conference and offered their services at a discounted rate.
“We may have been turned down by some sponsors who didn’t want their name associated with the ‘paranormal,’” Rockwell said. “But we aren’t being pushy with the subject and [we are] allowing people to experience it at their own comfort level.”
The conference will also feature speakers like Rita Louise, who does psychic readings, and Jeff Belanger, a writer for Travel Channel’s “Ghost Adventures.” Coppock and Brown, founders of Boldly Go Research, are among special guests lecturing on a more scientific side of the paranormal.
Coppock and Brown founded Boldly Go Research to continue to develop their knowledge on everything from physics to biomedical technology and most recently, the paranormal. Brown said a portion of the lecture will include “better ways to capture evidence with cameras.” They will also be discussing a breakthrough they have made in ways their paranormal research may help to better understand autistic communication.
The breakthrough originated on a ghost hunt in which a young autistic girl who was not communicating with present family members appeared to be communicating with something or someone that was not there. Coppock was able to capture part of the girl’s conversation with a ghost of the family member, and he wanted to try to use the same technology to help autistic children better communicate with the present world around them.
“The device is in an official trial down in Southern California and students are having great success in beginning to communicate,” Brown said. “Those are the kinds of things we are focusing on, what can we learn from the paranormal that has a tangible application to the world we can see.”
Other guests include Barry and Brad Klinge, investigators of the paranormal that were featured on Discovery Channel’s “Ghost Lab” as well as Aron Houdini, great nephew of Harry Houdini.
Aron Houdini holds the Guinness World Record for the most straightjacket escapes in one hour as well as the fastest underwater handcuff escape. His lecture will talk about his story and how Harry Houdini and himself had debunked a lot of paranormal claims. He said the audience will actually see and hear him dislocate his shoulder to escape from the straight jacket at the conference following his lecture.
“We’re kind of there for the non-believers,” Houdini said.
The variety of speakers will be coupled with a room where anyone can pay $5 to see vendors and shop around. There will also be two paranormal investigations following the conference on Saturday and Sunday night. The sold-out investigations will be at the Neill-Cochran House Museum and Rosewood Recreation Center to learn more about the history behind the haunted locations.
When discussing what they are looking forward to most, Milligan, Rockwell and Cunningham discussed the diverse aspects of the paranormal, the exciting escape acts of Houdini and getting to learn about the science behind the paranormal, but Cunningham mentioned every lecture will be unique as each speaker has their own personal experience.
Lecturer Barry Klinge said his interest in the paranormal came from personal experience and that he along with his brother enjoy sharing those experiences with people at events like the conference.
“You have an experience and it makes you wonder what it’s all about,” Klinge said. “Ghosts aren’t really the taboo, ‘hocus-pocus’ magical stuff. It is weird and it is strange, but we will prove it.”