On a recent chilly evening, Scott Tolbert and his team made their way through the pitch-black Brannon-Heard House in downtown Cumming equipped with cameras, audio recorders and other tools to find the source of strange sights and sounds reported at the house.
“We’ll try to do some EVPs, which is electronic voice phenomenon,” said Tolbert, founder of Inner Light Paranormal, a group who looks into unexplained phenomena around the area. “You try to get their voice on recording, and that’s what we get the most of. As I’m doing that, I’m doing video as well. Sometimes if we’re lucky, we can get some energy orbs on our night vision cameras.”
For more than 13 years, Inner Light has explored the unnatural, going across the state and to Virginia, and Waverly Hills in Kentucky, “which is the place to go to, one of the most haunted places in the world,” Tolbert said.
Tolbert said he has had a passion for the paranormal since he was a child, his first experience in a cabin with his father.
“The door jiggled upon us, and there was nobody that lived around the cabin for miles,” he said. “That was my first experience, and I just always had the connection with the other side. I wanted to see what was out there.”
To help find ghosts and spirits, the team uses audio recorders, video recorders, electromagnetic field, or EMF, meters, special phone apps and a talk box through a cycling AM/FM radio.
“Usually for a four- or five-hour investigation, it takes weeks to go over the evidence because we have multiple cameras, multiple of these recorders, so you have many hours of footage you have to look over,” Tolbert said. “So, it takes a lot of time.”
With others likely looking to debunk their work, Tolbert said Inner Light takes steps to make sure they are not giving false positive readings, such as trying to recreate sounds naturally and EMF meters picking up wiring in the house.
“We have a lot of high EMF in both locations tonight, and I think that some of it came from … the box for the wireless downstairs giving off a lot,” Tolbert said. “These houses have old wiring I’m sure, which doesn’t mean a bad thing, but you’re going to have high EMF.”
At the Brannon-Heard House, the team was investigating weird happenings reported by members of the Sawnee Association of the Arts, which has operated out of the house since July.
“The first experience was a slamming door up here,” said Kris Straukas, with SAA. “I actually saw it open and creep open about five inches and close right in front of me.”
The house was built around 1907 by Charlie Brannon and was purchased in 1945 as a residence for the Cliff Heard Family and later Heard Antiques.
“This was a home to a family,” Straukas said. “I’m a history buff, so the more I learn about the house the more I respect the history of the past.”
The property was also known as the Brannon Hotel and used as lodging for teachers at the old Cumming Public School, now the site of the Cumming Playhouse.
The city of Cumming took over the house in 2007 and started renovations, and the SAA moved in this July.
Straukas said she has also seen a shadow figure in the house, and Kris Weeden, also with SAA, said she also experienced a slamming door when she was the only one in the facility.
“I don’t know what it was, but the door did slam,” Weeden said.
Straukas said she has heard from members of the family that “Granny Heard” could be in the house, though they said there is a sure Southern way to calm her: a little moonshine.
Also in downtown Cumming, Inner Light went by the Foster House, which was built by Henry Foster in 1887. Foster, who owned a general store and served as sheriff, lived in the home with his wife and seven children.
“We have had people see a lot of things in here,” said owner Amanda Davis of one room in the house. “Before we actually finished renovating the house, a couple of people were standing on the porch and they saw a man with overalls and a lady in a white dress walk through this wall into the other room across the hallway.
“They walked through the walls, and the ghosts stared out the window at the couple until they left. It was almost like the ghosts were scared of the people, wanting them to get off of their land.”
Davis, who has operated a restaurant and event facility in the house since 2003, said she hasn’t just heard tales of ghosts and strange noises, she has her own experiences.
“I’ve actually heard my name being whispered back here in the kitchen, then my mom has seen … a ghost, a little boy,” she said. “When she turned the corner, she saw him, and then he was gone.”
The house has been renovated and refurbished to a 19th-century look, including an antique grandfather clock Davis bought at an auction. She said the clock kept time when she purchased it but not by the time it made it to the house and still did not work after bringing it to the restaurant.
“About three years later, two days before I got married, we were here decorating,” she said. “It was about 10 o’clock at night, I walked up here by myself and I heard something ticking. I looked over, and the clock was working. I always thought that was my wedding present from the ghosts.”
Davis is not the only one in her family to have a strange experience. About a year ago, her daughter, Ellie, 8, had her own experience at the restaurant while there on a sick day.
“I was all alone, then I looked over in the hallway and some black smoke came through,” Ellie said. “I turned around and … I could see it a little but it was at the corner of my eye. It scared me so much I could not remember a lot of stuff.”
Ellie said she hasn’t seen anything since then but is “obsessed with ghosts.”
The Foster House is so full of stories Davis even has a pamphlet for customers detailing ghostly sightings.
“We never had any bad feelings, and we always try to respect their home and hopefully let them know we wouldn’t do anything they wouldn’t approve of in their home,” Davis said. “It’s exciting, and a lot of people like to talk about it and I have a lot of customers who ask about it.”