There's one thing you should know about Grant Wilson right up front. You can call him and paranormal investigation partner Jason Hawes almost anything you want ... just don't call them "ghostbusters."
"This is a sore subject," Wilson said. "We do not bust anything. We investigate people and places that are potentially haunted."
Not only do Wilson and Hawes -- a pair of plumbers by day -- run The Atlantic Paranormal Society in their spare time, but they also star in the Sci Fi Channel reality-sitcom "Ghost Hunters," which documents their extracurricular and extraterrestrial exploits.
And while original ghostbusters -- Drs. Spengler, Venkman and Stantz -- supposedly sucked spirits into tidy storage containers before saving New York City in the hip 1984 movie starring Harold Ramis, Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd, The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS) has no such delusions of grandeur. Simply put, the group's goals are to validate and educate.
"We can disprove over 80 percent of the cases we investigate," said Wilson, who grew up in Rhode Island, but studied computer science and graphic arts at Utah Valley State College -- where he met his wife, Reanna Clement of Spanish Fork -- in the late 1990s. Later, Wilson returned to Rhode Island to work with longtime friend Hawes, where the two currently dabble in both plumbing and the paranormal.
He said most of the group's cases "deal with normal people in normal situations, but they don't realize it," he said. "For that reason we like to be referred to as investigators because we are spending more time investigating the people and their situation than we are 'busting ghosts.' It's a great movie, but it did a serious disservice to the paranormal investigation field."
Wilson's interest in the unknown was sparked by his own personal experiences. He would not share the exact details of those incidents, saying only that it happened over a long period of time in a realm of the paranormal that isn't so well covered.
"All I can say is that I had multiple encounters with something and I had many witnesses to back it up," said Wilson, 30. "When I went to find answers, they just weren't there. People were just taking stabs in the dark. They were trying to describe what I experienced and it was totally off, so I knew they didn't have any basis or ground to stand on."
In his own personal search for answers, he eventually crossed paths with Hawes, who had already formed TAPS. Wilson, who was designing Web sites for free in an effort to build a portfolio, offered to redo TAPS' site.
"I offered my help, we met and hit it off right away," Wilson said. "He, too, had had an experience that was causing him to search for answers. We worked together, shared ideas and eventually made a group that was huge."
Today, TAPS has bases in most states and 14 other countries. There is no official Utah chapter at present, the nearest being in Colorado. One prominent area group is the Utah Ghost Hunter's Society, a Midvale-based organization that disperses information about supposed haunted areas in the state. Wilson said TAPS is in contact with a few people in state to see about starting a local group and hopes one will be affiliated soon.
When TAPS investigators embark on a new case, it is with the initial goal of disproving it as a haunting. That approach may seem backward, at first glance, but serves the group's purposes well.
"If you go into a home looking for a haunting, then everything you see or hear that seems out of the ordinary, you will then chalk it up to dead Uncle Fred," Wilson said. "If you go in trying to disprove, then you will be harder on the potential evidence you come across, and if you then exhaust all possibilities for a normal reason for the event, then you're stuck with some rock-solid evidence. We don't like to mislead people. If you've got a ghost in your house, we want to have rock-solid evidence that could persuade a skeptic before we go stating our opinion.
"The world is full of groups that try and prove the paranormal. They are too obsessed with finding evidence because they haven't had a substantial enough brush with it to convince them of its existence. I have. I've seen it head-on, with multiple witnesses. I don't need any more convincing. I know paranormal activity when I meet it, so it may be easier for me to know what is authentic and what is not, than for someone who has never really met it."
In some cases, perfectly normal occurrences are mistaken for otherworldly experiences.
One case TAPS debunked involved a woman who thought she was being attacked by a sexual predator from beyond. She was receiving electrical stimulations and hot flashes. It turns out she was just going through menopause.
Another woman reported hallucinations. TAPS determined she was mixing a new prescription with an old outdated one, and those together created a hallucinogen.
"Sure enough, she was seeing things," laughed Wilson, "but it was because of the medication."
One client even tried to fool the investigators by hiding a speaker in a wall, which then broadcast voices.
"They thought they could get on a show by saying their house was haunted," Wilson said. "They had fooled other paranormal investigation groups, but we came in and found this speaker wire that led to nowhere, the voice was coming out of the same place and, sure enough, there was a speaker built into the wall."
Even if the group is able to disprove 80 percent of the claims, that still leaves 20 percent that contain authentic paranormal activity. Reaction to those incidents can offer more dire challenges than a mere spine tingling.
"When you have a sudden paranormal experience, the adrenaline flows no matter what," Wilson said. "It's what you do with that energy that counts. You can wet your pants or you can laugh and move on. It's the knowledge that counts. All fear is, is a lack of knowledge. You have to know what you're up against and your fear is quenched."
When evidence of paranormal activity is unearthed, TAPS' mission becomes one of education.
"If we do find some valid activity in their home, we're not 'ghostbusters.' I mean, we investigate and if we find something in your home, we're going to educate you about it so that you know how best to handle it," Wilson said. "Chances are it's not a real threat to you except coming around the corner and seeing something you weren't prepared to see. People don't realize that if they're not afraid of it, they can take control of the situation. There are some situations that are honestly negative and it's not safe to confront. Then we hook them up with whatever religious representative that they have and try to help them take care of it."
"Ghost Hunters" runs Wednesday evenings at 7 and 10 on the Sci Fi Channel, and has aired the first four of 10 initially contracted shows. Despite being pitted against one of the presidential debates and key American League Championship Series games between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, the program has been holding its own, relatively speaking, in its time slot.
"What's cool is we're in the top 10 highest-rated shows in Sci Fi of all time," Wilson said, noting that he received 500 e-mails from interested fans in the 12 hours immediately following the show's first episode.
Wilson said the fifth episode, which will air this Wednesday, contains some extraordinary examples.
"I can tell you that kind of steps the whole show up a notch because we got some stuff that blew us away," he said. "I think episode 5 is probably going to be some of the most controversial evidence ever put out there. We're having a hard time validating it, because if it's fake, it's a darn good fake. And if it's real, it's mind-blowing."
Wilson and Hawes do not charge clients for their TAPS services. They feel that not only maintains their credibility, but also allows them to help people who have similar questions to their own.
"I feel that if you charge to remove something that is very difficult to prove is even there, then that is prime sham material," Wilson said. "I'm not going to come into your house, fall on the ground and say you've got three demons which will cost $1,000 apiece to remove. That's just ridiculous. Your credibility just goes down the toilet when you start charging money. Also, rich or poor, all people deserve help. It's not like they can just call the police. Where else are they going to turnfi"
When he's not stalking spirits all over New England, Wilson is your typical father of three boys, ranging in age from 19 months to 6 years.
The boys think it's fun watching their dad on TV and are not overly frightened by the subject matter.
Reanna Wilson said she's let her children watch a couple episodes. "They grew up watching 'The Lord of the Rings' and movies like that, so scary things don't usually bother them. ... We don't hide anything from them, but we keep them as innocent as we can."
One imagines there is an awkward pause when the Wilson boys are asked what their dad does for a living.
Not so, Reanna said.
"When they are asked what daddy does for a living they tell people he's a plumber," she said. "TAPS really is a hobby for dad."
That Grant Wilson's hobby led to a television show was completely unplanned. A story about TAPS in the New York Times drew the attention of literary and network agents, which eventually led to the TV deal.
"This show fell into our laps and we still can't believe it," he said.
Part of the show's charm is the sense of humor of its stars.
"Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson are a big reason why 'Ghost Hunters' has been such a success," said Adrienne D'Amato, a Sci Fi Channel spokeswoman. "They bring passion and drive to a rather unconventional pursuit, and do it with a brand of honest humor that is pure Jason and Grant."
Wilson said he hopes people don't get the wrong idea about the show.
"Don't take it too seriously; it's fun," he said. "We're the same people before, during and after the show. We don't change for the show. We're not actors. We've been doing this for a long time. The evidence, while we're having fun and it is a show, the one thing we don't tamper with is the evidence. That stuff is real. It's not re-created. It's not filtered out. It is what it is."
Doug Fox can be reached at 344-2546 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story appeared in The Daily Herald on page A1.