The Tennessee Wraith Chasers, who travel the country investigating things that go bump in the night, include founding member and lead investigator Chris Smith, team leader Steven “Doogie” McDougal along with Scott Porter who serves as the team’s historian as well as a researcher, investigator Brannon Smith, and Mike Goncalves. The team also hunted the paranormal on the Travel Channel’s series “Haunted Towns”.
Ahead of “Haunted Live’s” debut as part of the Travel Channel’s Ghostober spooktacular, we had a chance to talk with Chris and Doogie about some of their experiences and about what “Haunted Live” will bring to fans.
Horror Fuel: “Was there a moment or event that made you want to become paranormal investigators?”
Chris: “It was after my first experience. I was in my late twenties and I was up at my grandfather’s old barn and he always told me that a man had shot himself in that old barn back in the fifties. I hadn’t really thought much about it and we always played around in the barn. I was up there one day looking for something in the loft and I saw, what we call now, a shadow person. It was just a big black mass. It darted to the left very quickly, to the point I knew it would be physically impossible for it to be human. I knew what I saw and it scared the hell out of me. I tell people that after I went home and changed my drawers, that I had so many questions. I really was curious. The first thing you experience is fear and the second is curiosity. That curiosity really fueled me to go out there and try to find answers. That was the starting point for me.
Horror Fuel: “Yeah, I’d be freaked out too. What about you “Doogie”?
Doogie: “My story happened twenty some odd years ago. I grew up in a haunted area. We owned a couple of Civil War forts. I had heard all the stories and always had questions, like how do people see stuff? My grandparents lived right at the bottom of one of the forts. After my grandad passed away, she would see stuff in her house and had interactions. That really got me curious because my grandmother was living by herself and she was scared. I wanted to figure things out, but before I could she had passed away. I made it my life’s mission to figure out what this stuff is and why certain people can see it. She’s probably got it figured out by now, but it makes me feel better that I’m still fighting the fight for her and to figure out what she was going through and what she was talking about.”
Horror Fuel: “That’s touching. I’m sure she’s proud of you.”
Horror Fuel: “If you will, tell us how your group got its name? It’s unusaul. I like that.”
Chris: “It’s a word that not a lot of people are familiar with. We get wrath chasers a lot. The reason why I liked it so much is that when I was sitting around trying to figure out what to call this thing, there were so many paranormal teams around at the time. I was researching paranormal names at the time and they all sounded the same. They all had the paranormal, or research, or ghost in it. A lot of people back then would see those words and shy away, like ‘Ah, it’s just another one of those crazy ghost people.’ But I thought that I had to find something different, something that stands out (I have a background in marketing). I know you’ve got to brand things for people to be curious about it. So, I wanted something that would make people see the name and wonder, ‘What’s this about?’ Online I was looking around for different words and things. I thought it was cool and connected to what we were doing and that came up and I was like ‘I like that word.’ Not everybody knows what it means, but everyone is going to want to know.”
Doogie: “Plus, it fits right in with me, I’m Scottish.”
Chris: “It was written in the stars.”
Horror Fuel: “Well, I like it. I’m part Scottish.”
Chris: “I’m a mutt [laughter].”
Horror Fuel: “Aren’t we all?”
Horror Fuel: “What is your favorite tool to use during your investigations Chris?”
Chris: “As far as technology wise I would go with the digital recorder. It always gets the best evidence. I always tell people that is the best way to communicate. I got a question from somebody yesterday about if you think your house is haunted, how is the best way to find out? There is really no specific way, but with the digital recordings, we’ve gotten some of the best responses we’ve ever received while ghost hunting. I also tell people that your own senses are the best piece of equipment you have, what you see, what you hear, what you smell. Trust your own God-given senses.”
Horror Fuel: “That’s good advice. Luckily, digital recorders are easy to find.”
Horror Fuel: “Doogie, I want to know more about the Devil’s Toy Box that I’ve seen you use. Will you tell me more about it?”
Doogie: “Well, that was kind of a thing that was put together years ago. It’s based on different belief systems. That thing is made of mirrors on the inside and outside it is all wood and usually has scriptures written on it. If anything gets in, it holds it in. The mirrors confuse the spirit. When it looks into the infinite the spirit can’t get out. From history, we’ve always heard that mirrors are a portal, a gateway to hell. It’s something we put together when we heard about it. I did a lot of research on it. People always say they want to help you out, but are you really helping someone when you say ‘Hey, you’ve got a haunting, good luck with that.” You’re not really helping. You’re explaining some things to them, but we actually want to help them. With the Devil’s Toy Box we have a shot of containing it and we’re getting outside the walls of the place and we can let the spirit go where it needs to go.”
Horror Fuel: “Do you usually dispose of them by blowing them up or was that a one-time thing?”
Chris: “[laughter] That was a one-time thing. The homeowner wanted us to destroy the box. We said that might not be the best idea, but we gave our word that whatever they asked us to do we would do. We also have heard that you can take an energy and burst that energy with a stronger energy. That was the theory behind blowing the box up as well. We don’t always blow things up. [laughter]”
Horror Fuel: “I have to admit, it did look a little fun.”
Chris: “Oh yeah, we’re Tennesse boys. We gotta do something explosive now and again.”
Horror Fuel: What is the most intense thing you have witnessed together?”
Chris: “Oh man, there’s been a lot, especially with the two of us. We’ve been doing it a little longer than the other guys. There’s so many. There’s two that really stand out. The first, we were in an old Civil War era home that Doogie and I had been in, long before the television show was thought of, we were up there investigating and the guy had called us in because he was having trouble renovating it because he couldn’t keep any workers around. They were hearing things, seeing things. The story was there was a rogue Civil War soldier and he was hiding upstairs when the Union Army caught up with him and executed him up there. We were never able to confirm that story. We were up there asking questions and doing an EVP session and all of a sudden we started hearing footsteps coming up the one stairway. The way the house was constructed was that there was one big room on the top and one big room on the bottom with one stairway. As it got closer and closer the room got darker and darker. I don’t know if it was a full moon that night but with the one window in the room, you could see your hand in front of your face. You could see very clearly. As those footsteps approached it got darker and darker. It got to the point where it was almost pitch black. We backed up into a corner and looked each other like ‘Are you seeing what I’m seeing?’ It was pretty freaky. Then it dissipated. It was pretty frightening, for me anyway.
Doogie: “We didn’t really have an escape plan for a black shadow mass that took over the whole room.”
Chris: “We were about to go Scooby-Doo and there be some Doogie and Chris size holes in the wall.
Then there’s Rocky State Penn, we filmed there a couple of years back, for the season 2 finale. We were in this cell block on the ground and there were these little things dancing around that looked like shadows. I always describe it as like the tooth fairies in Guillermo del Toro’s movie Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. These creepy little things that run around. That’s the only way I can really describe them, little black figures. One of them even touched you Doogie didn’t it?”
Doogie: “That’s where I got ass punched by a ghost [laughter]. Yeah, something punched me right where my leg meets my butt, just bam. It had to be one of the creepiest things I’ve ever seen. There was a huge storm that night. There were tornadoes. It electrified the atmosphere. As soon as the storm rolled in that’s when we started seeing these things. We were just looking at each other. You can’t see them on camera, but you could see them with your eyes. We kept looking at each other asking ‘are you seeing what I’m seeing?’ All of a sudden something punched me right in my butt.”
Horror Fuel: “You will soon be doing Haunted Live on the Travel Channel. How different do you think it will be to be communicating with viewers live during investigations?”
Doogie: “I think it’s going to be cool that viewers will be able to interact with us. It will be more eyes on the investigation. We’ll have a whole new arsenal. But there will be a challenge as well because you only have a limited amount of time and as every investigator knows, ghosts aren’t a trick pony. They don’t work on command. The difficulty of the show is hoping that we can find what it is we are looking for at the time. But it will help to have viewers there to help us look at places we don’t have eyes on. There’s also an energy factor. The more jazzed up we are the more energy we have going into an investigation and it will help feed whatever is there. It’s a little stressful but very exciting. We will only have one shot. It’s going to be very raw. I’m sure our senses will be heightened, our energy will be heightened, hopefully, that will give them what we call the “paranormal protein” so that they can get out and show themselves.”
Horror Fuel: “Can you give us a hint about where you might be headed for the premiere?”
Chris and Doogie: “[laughter] We’ve been threatened [laughter].
Doogie: “It’s a very haunted place [laughter].”
Chris: “I can tell you this, it has a very nice history, nice to us means that there was some brutality, there was some tragedy. I think everyone is going to love the history. From what I hear, like Doogie said, it’s very haunted.”
Horror Fuel: “I look forward to seeing it.”
Horror Fuel: “How will Haunted Live work?”
Chris: “Our equipment tech Mike, our eye in the sky, he’s going to be watching the cameras and over us. He’ll be accepting messages and giving us feedback. We’ll be hitting the live feed through the crew that’s on site.”
Horror Fuel: “How many episodes will we get of Haunted Live?”
Chris: “We’ll be doing ten, ten episodes of the spookiest places on earth. Hopefully, we’ll have more to come.”
Horror Fuel: “I hope so. Doing an investigation live while communicating with viewers is a fantastic idea. Add that with the fact that you guys are so entertaining and you’ve got a winning combination.”
Horror Fuel: “What are y’all going to be doing for Halloween?”
Chris: “When we’re not filming we like to go around the country, give the fans a chance to hang out. We’ll be at the Thomas House in Red Boiling, Tennesse. It’s a place we’ve been to at least forty times. It’s very haunted. It’s a cool experience. We’re going to do a Q&A session and hang out with the fans and have dinner with them. At the end of the night, we’ll all split up into groups and go around. It’s an old hotel with a lot of response. That’s how we’ll be spending our Halloween.”
Doogie: “When the sun goes down on Halloween we’ll be getting our spooky on.”
Horror Fuel: “[laughter] That does sound like a lot of fun. And Doogie I love how you put that!”