RANDY PLESSOR seems like a normal-enough guy.
He has a pleasant wife whom he met online and married a year ago. He has a 19-year-old son who somehow dodged the truculence typical to teenagers. He has a stable job in a stable industry, as computer specialist for an Easton pet-food company.
But mention ghosts, and the cuckoo bells go off.
"I'm feeling coldness all around me, cold, icy-cold. Can you feel it?" he asks. (No.)
"It's 85 degrees out here tonight, but it's so cold you can see my breath," Plessor continues, exhaling forcefully. "Can you see it?" (No. Sorry.)
In a country where just a third of the people believe in ghosts, Plessor is firmly in the fervent minority.
He knows some people might think he's crazy. In fact, he even pokes fun at himself: When the song "Thriller" erupted at a recent ghost investigation he coordinated, Plessor grinned as he said: "No, Michael Jackson is not here with us tonight. That's just my ringtone."
And he cheerfully admits that he might see and feel things others don't. "I am sensitive to hauntings," he said.
But Plessor, 45, has remained devoted to the supernatural, ever since July 2006 when, he said, a photograph of his family flew out of a car seat pocket on a road-trip and hovered in midair, even though the car windows and vents were closed.
Now, Plessor and his wife, Cindy, lead paranormal investigations twice a month at Fort Mifflin, hunt ghosts for free at supposedly haunted houses as members of the Norristown Area Paranormal Society and are developing a reality TV show, "Ghostly Intentions," to compete with the popular "Ghost Hunters" series on Syfy (formerly the Sci Fi Channel).
They make no money off their efforts and have sunk $25,000 into ghost-hunting gear and other costs.
Hauntings are Plessor's hobby, his passion - his religious mission, even.
"You can't see Christ, either, but we still believe in the Rapture and the second coming," he said. "I believe in the ultimate haunting called Easter. What happened on the third day? He rose! What words did Jesus say? 'Weep not, woman, go telleth all about me!' How can I refute these holy words!"
A haunted house?
On a recent balmy evening, Plessor's mission took him to Quakertown, Bucks County, where Kas and Dan Tedesco say they've lived with ghosts for years.
"Things were quiet when we first moved here [in 1985]," said Kas, 79, of the 1940s commercial garage converted to living space.
"But after a few years, things started happening: I got slapped in the face, I had the covers pulled off my bed, cameras that don't work, doorknobs that rattle, lightbulbs that get blown into a million pieces, the TV switching on full-volume in the middle of the night. I've seen shadow people. I've seen legs going up the stairs in old-time shoes."
A few weeks ago, Dan awoke when he heard something in the hallway. He grabbed his gun and went to confront a shadowy figure he saw in the gloom.
"Just when I brought the gun up to fire, it disappeared," said Dan, 59. "I checked the doors and windows, and everything was locked up."
Behind the Tedescos' home sits a scrapyard, full of weeds, lumber, old wheelbarrows and other construction-related debris.
Plessor, with a red miner's light on his forehead cleaving the pitch black of night, walked into the junk until he couldn't go farther.
In his wake were his wife, son Terry, Dan Tedesco and fellow "paranormal investigators" Keith Myers of Conshohocken, and Michele and Gerry Fox of Horsham.
All had some digital gadget in hand and running, including audio recorders, electromagnetic detectors, temperature gauges and video and still cameras.
"Who is out here with us tonight?" Plessor bellowed into the darkness. "Are you frightening this family? Can you tell me your first name and your last name?"
As Plessor waited for an answer, Michele Fox, 52, grabbed her forehead and winced. She believes she gets headaches and goose bumps when spirits are near.
"Ow!" she said, showing her goose-bumped forearm. "There's a man here now. A man who killed a little girl."
A camera-carrying Myers, nearby, announced: "I got battery drain!"
Plessor said he felt a coldness surround him and huffed repeatedly to see if he could see his breath.
After a half hour of research, the mob moved back inside to consider their findings, undecided about what they experienced.
"This isn't a television show: There aren't going to be drums going 'DOOM DA DOOM DA,' and we're not going to have a bloodcurdling scream and then cut to a commercial," Plessor said. "Hauntings are not always dramatic. You just keep the recorders running and evoke the spirits. Often, you don't know what you have until you get home and review the recordings."
The focus soon shifted to the computer, where Plessor showed various photographs suggesting paranormal activity. Most were unfocused or grainy, leaving watchers straining to see ghosts in the images, like a supernatural Rorschach test.
In the boneyard
Cemeteries are a sure thing, Plessor assured his listeners.
So from the Quakertown home, the mob moved in a car caravan to nearby Union Cemetery.
Plessor stood amid the headstones, audio recorder in his outstretched arm.
"Can you tell me your name?" he asked.
Plessor got excited — and then noticed the bright lights and crowds at nearby athletic fields.
Unfazed, he grabbed his wife's hand as he began strolling and explaining that spirits sometimes respond to living history displays and old music, especially Big Band tunes.
"C'mon, Cindy, sing with me!" he said, launching into the 1945 Modernaires tune "Coffee Five, Doughnuts Five."
The roar of locusts and click of Myers' camera greeted the end of the song.
As the investigators fanned out through the mosquito-besieged boneyard, the night took on the feel of a fishing expedition.
"Can you please tell me your first name and your last name?" Plessor said to the headstones. "I am trying to understand who you are."
Cindy interrupted the silence: "They don't perform like circus clowns."
Plessor gestured toward distant trees, pointing out shadows.
He kept his recorder rolling, explaining past "EVPs" — or electronic voice phenomenon — his group has captured.
"Sometimes they're just two words or so: 'Help me.' We get that a lot. 'Get out.' 'What's your name?'" he said.
Plessor's son aimed his camera randomly and just kept shooting, stopping occasionally to examine images containing fuzzy, glowing circles.
Bugs, illuminated by the camera's flash?
"Orbs," he corrected.
At night's end, Plessor had no pronouncement on paranormal possibilities, at least until he scrutinized the recordings later. Still, he left the graveyard with a warning: "You have to take great care, because they could follow you home."
Fort Mifflin is a verdant relic, a sprawling, 240-year-old military fort that sits so close to the Philadelphia International Airport that jets roar within thrilling proximity overhead every few minutes most afternoons.
The ghost stories here are plentiful and legendary. Among the more memorable: the Screaming Woman and the Faceless Man.
Elizabeth Pratt was the wife of a sergeant stationed at the fort in the early 1800s, according to the 2008 book "Fort Mifflin: A Paranormal History" by Anthony Selletti. The couple lost their two young children to yellow fever in 1802, and Elizabeth Pratt succumbed to the disease the following year, according to Selletti's book.
William H. Howe was a Union deserter who fatally shot a man trying to arrest him. He spent months imprisoned at Fort Mifflin before authorities hanged him there in 1864.
Believers say that they can hear Howe's restless spirit, the Faceless Man, wandering fort grounds and poltergeist Pratt's screams of anguish, according to Selletti's book.
Wednesday was the 145th anniversary of Howe's death.
But to Plessor, Howe's hanging seemed mere seconds ago, when he visited the fort for a ghost-hunting expedition Aug. 23.
"It's very heavy down here!" Plessor choked, as he stood in a cavelike bunker where Howe had been imprisoned. "It's not humid; it feels heavy. It feels like there's a noose around my neck!"
He held out trembling hands. He mopped sweat from his forehead.
"Billy, if this is you, come closer to me," Plessor said. "We're sorry for all of your sadness. It must be hard to sit in this hole in the ground.
"I'm smelling that smell again. It smells like aftershave. Do you smell aftershave?" Plessor asked the three paranormal investigators who circled him, thrusting digital gadgets his way. "Someone just yelled 'Atten-HUT!' in my ear!"
The gadgets whirred and clicked. Minutes passed.
"If you want me to leave, make that [electromagnetic] meter go higher," Plessor said.
The numbers didn't change.
"If you don't want me to leave, make that meter go higher," Plessor amended, seconds later.
The numbers didn't change.
"I'm hearing: 'Get out!' " Plessor said, climbing out of the casemate to cooler air outside.
Earlier, Plessor and his helpers visited the site where Howe hanged.
They encountered a stationary cold spot that a temperature gauge showed was about 30 degrees frostier than the air around it.
Plessor, assessing the experience later, called it "the daddy of them all."
Discussing their lack of visual, audible or olfactory proof of paranormal activity, Plessor and his helpers offered excuses faster than a waffling politician.
"There's no way to prove a subjective experience," said Barbara Selletti, a living-history volunteer who portrayed Howe's widow in a re-enactment for Plessor's group.
Her husband, author Selletti, agreed: "Beyond the numbers [of digital recordings], it's all just personal experience."
Still, plenty of people wandering Fort Mifflin's grounds say they've experienced paranormal happenings.
At a recent event honoring Vietnam veterans, re-enactors who spent the night at the fort reported seeing "black, pajama-like shadows" that spooked them so bad they fired blanks from their period firearms at them.
Some saw jiggling doorknobs, a figure peering from an unoccupied room and a hissing shadowy figure.
At night's end, "I was picking up trash when I heard the most pleasant woman's voice in my ear say: 'Thank you!'" said re-enactor Ryan Rentschler, who was so unnerved that he ditched the fort sleepover to camp out in a friend's van.
Last weekend, Heather Trent joined Plessor's outing, stopping occasionally to greet ghosts.
"Hi, Eli!" she called, waving to an empty field.
A medium and a member of Plessor's paranormal group, Trent said that she sees spirits daily wherever she goes.
"There is a Colonial soldier with a gun pointed at us," she warned, as the paranormalists passed by the fort's old prison cells.
"He's cocking it!" she added, as another ghost hunter called out: "Are you defending your fort?"
Trent gasped loudly. "Aah! I heard: 'Fire in the hole!' It feels like I should get down on the ground," she said.
The fort has been a big draw for paranormalists since the Sci Fi Channel featured it two years ago on "The Ghost Hunters," fort executive director Lee Anderson said. "Ghost Hunters Academy" recently filmed its premiere episode at the fort; it is scheduled to air in November, he added.
And although Anderson remains a skeptic, he welcomes supernatural-seekers, whose efforts raise nearly 40 percent of the fort's $250,000 budget, he said.
Plessor's group charges $50 per person to participate in an investigation. But like others that operate at the fort, they donate all proceeds. That has meant $1,500 this year from the Norristown paranormalists, Anderson said.
Although they appreciate their cash supporting a good cause, most ghost-hunters there last weekend were more interested in the thrill of the hunt - whether or not they got paranormal proof.
Ten-year-old Amanda Colliluori led her investigation team on a hike around the fort's perimeter, where soldiers had dumped their comrades' corpses during one particularly bloody battle. Trent, who said that she could smell rotting bodies when she walked that area, remained behind.
As Colliluori rounded a corner, she screamed: "Ooh, look!"
But it wasn't the spirit of William Howe, Elizabeth Pratt or even Casper who waited there.
"A bunny!" she shouted in delight, as her father rolled his eyes and smiled.
WANT TO TRY YOUR HAND AT GHOST-HUNTING?
The Paranormal Association of Research and Assitance will host an investigation at Fort Mifflin on Saturday.
Cost: $75 per person.
All proceeds benefit the fort.
The event will run from 4 p.m. to midnight. Call the fort for reservations, at 215-685-4167.
Note: This story was edited for space in today's paper. This version is extended from the one in print.