When you decide to spend an evening with a paranormal investigation team, your first job is to leave your expectations in the car.
A team of investigators from Stones River Paranormal brought equipment-both high-tech and rudimentary-for an extensive study of the historical Engel Stadium. The team is based out of Murfreesboro, but a smaller branch is forming here in Chattanooga.
The team approached Janna Jahn, executive director of the Engel Foundation, and she agreed to open the stadium for an investigation.
“I love the idea of wondering what spirits might be lingering at Engel,” she said. “I think it’s something Joe Engel would’ve loved.”
The investigators are split into four groups, each team responsible for a certain area of the stadium for hourlong investigations. Each member carries a variety of gadgets: EVP (electronic voice phenomena) recorders, infrared cameras, K-II EMF (electromagnetic frequency) detectors and basic cameras.
One device is designed to beep and light up when two wires are pressed together by a spirit.
“We come into an investigation not necessarily thinking something is there,” said John McKinney, leader of the Chattanooga branch of SRP. “When I first started, I actually didn’t believe in ghosts. But now, I do.”
McKinney began investigating with his dad when he was 17. Recently, the crew spent an evening at Ruby Falls and captured what they believe is an apparition on film. He works closely with his father on the investigation, and the team has quickly become one of the more well-respected ghost investigation units in Murfreesboro.
Jahn led the team on a brief tour throughout the stadium before the investigation.
The history of the stadium is rich with stories and larger-than-life figures.
The history of Engel
Named after the late Joe Engel-president of the Chattanooga Lookouts in 1929-the stadium was much more than a ballpark.
As the stadium was set to open in 1930, Engel opened the doors and fed 11,000 people affected by the Great Depression. A year later, history was made when 17-year-old Jackie Mitchell, a female pitcher, struck out both Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig during an exhibition game.
In 1936, Engel gave away a house. Attendance at this event was estimated at more than 26,000. Willie Mays made his professional debut at the age of 16 in 1947. The stadium also served as a stop for a Billy Graham Crusade in 1953.
By 1965, the Lookouts had lost their Major League affiliation with the Philadelphia Phillies, and despite attempts to “Save the Lookouts,” the stadium fell silent.
Engel passed away four years later in 1969.
Baseball returned to the stadium in 1976, and the stadium was home to the Lookouts until 1999, when the new stadium was constructed.
Engel Stadium was leased to both Tennessee Temple University and UTC during the following years.
The Engel Foundation was established in 2009, and the stadium was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Today, the stadium is owned by UTC and leased by the Engel Foundation. After the filming of “42,” the stadium has garnered more interest.
Jahn said the Engel Foundation has three focus areas moving forward: athletics, entertainment, and historic preservation and education.
“We’re starting to book dates for 2014,” she said. “We’ve gotten some interest from some tournament organizers, sports leagues, travel companies and concerts. There’s a lot of things that are starting to pop up on the calendar for 2014.”
The stadium was split into three different areas: left side, right side and basement/field. This split was necessary to avoid overlap and contamination of audio and visual evidence.
Each area was explored by the teams for an hour while one team monitored the “command center,” where four live cameras were streamed. Team members in the center would document and timestamp “unusual activity” on the screens and use walkie-talkies to communicate their findings with the field investigators.
Engel Stadium is spooky without lights. The basement-underneath the bleachers-is dilapidated and layered with debris from the stadium’s glory days and also the homeless, who use the area as a shelter.
McKinney and his team were picking up activity in several areas of the stadium throughout the night. In particular, he believes he made contact.
“Definitely the home locker was more active than I thought it would be at first,” he said. “After talking to everybody, the entire right side was active. Surprisingly, the baseball diamond is also active. It’s out in the open, but several members picked up on a presence.”
“Activity” can be determined in several ways. McKinney used a flashlight technique to allow spirits to communicate. When asked a question, the spirit was expected to touch the end of the light to respond.
McKinney and Tammie Mclendon, another team member, believe they also made contact with the ghost of Joe Engel himself in the press box area.
“We’re still trying to figure out the story behind it because [the spirit] told us its age,” he said. “We also figured out its name, and the first three letters were ‘D-A-D.'”
The team is still trying to conclude if the exchange was related to spirits or electrical currents.
An official evidence reveal will take place within the next few weeks, in which McKinney will deliver the findings to Jahn and the Engel Foundation.
Regardless of the findings at Engel, McKinney was grateful for the opportunity to explore the historical stadium.
“I’m fascinated by the unglorified history that you can’t find in textbooks,” he said. “Like at Engel, a lot of people don’t know the history of the place. But when you talk to people like Janna Jahn and hear all of these amazing stories that no one would ever know, it’s really cool.”
Jahn spent time with each group during the investigation. She said that although she didn’t experience anything herself, she still enjoyed having SRP explore.
“I didn’t experience anything,” she said. “But it was funny that they felt something in the press box and the office. We’re very excited about the possibility of recreating Joe Engel’s original office.”
Jahn will continue efforts to restore the stadium in the coming months. SRP hopes to explore other areas around Chattanooga that may be haunted.
“We’re wanting to expand to three investigators and, once it starts getting busier, a fourth and fifth,” McKinney said. “We have two investigations scheduled for the spring.”