The bar at The Lodge in Antioch isn’t crowded, but it’s still early on a Friday evening. A few patrons perch on bar stools, sipping beer under the careful gaze of the giant moose head mounted on the back wall. Around the corner from the main bar, one or two people try their luck at the electronic slot machines.
Derrick Warner, one of the owners of the pub and eatery, stands in the narrow hallway connecting the main bar area to the more secluded dining area in the back. To his right hangs a black-and-white photo depicting the damage the back of the building suffered in a 1949 bombing.
“We were told it was an Irish-Italian dispute,” he says of the photo. “But I wouldn’t know. Allegedly this was a collection point [for illegal gambling]. [They] had 180 bars on the chain – of course they didn’t each take their winnings or losings to headquarters, they’d take them to another bar. And this was one of the other bars, the collection points. But you had to be the proper ethnicity. If you were Italian and this was Irish, you were a no-go.”
With Warner are paranormal investigator Nick Sarlo and psychic Liz Nygard of Shadow Hunters, a paranormal investigation team based in Lake County. Sarlo, Nygard and their team of four additional investigators are no strangers to The Lodge and are more interested in the bar’s spectral patrons than its living ones.
They lead the group down into the building’s basement. At the foot of the stairs, one immediately notices an odd fixture: a stone archway with two squares cut out on each side, serving as windows. Steel rods have been cemented into the windows, much like prison bars. Warner says a steel door once was housed in the archway to separate the main basement area from another long hallway housing storage rooms branching off from both sides of the hall. He speculates this most likely was a lookout point, where bouncers kept a sharp eye out for the law.
“This is where the illegal gambling would have taken place,” Warner says. “And the trouble is we don’t know who didn’t come back [up the stairs].”
“Well they had a lot of fun here,” Nygard says. “Why not stay?”
Shadow Hunters will return to The Lodge on July 16 for a special Shadow Hunters Parahunt – a paranormal investigation open to the public – and bring along fellow ghost hunters, thrill seekers and adrenaline junkies to see what goes into a paranormal investigation.
“We want others to join us so they can see what it’s like to actually be on a paranormal investigation,” Sarlo says. “Because a lot of people are like, ‘I can’t do that stuff. I’m too scared.’ But what it is, when you come with us, you don’t necessarily have that fear factor. … Because it’s kinda cool to think that you’re interacting with the other side.”
Sarlo himself is a converted paranormal skeptic who didn’t believe in the existence of metaphysical beings or events until he experienced one after the death of a close friend from high school about 10 years ago.
“I was sitting in my room and it was really, really hot outside – it was about 92 degrees outside,” he recalls. “And I was just watching TV and all of a sudden out of nowhere, the temperature dropped to at least like 30 or 40 degrees in my room. And all of a sudden, all these thoughts of Jackie were going through my head – stuff we used to do, stuff we used to say. And then her scent came in the room; Jackie had a very distinct scent about her. And then I felt a hand on my shoulder.”
Sarlo says the entire experience lasted no longer than 25 seconds, but that was all he needed to be convinced there was indeed a world beyond that which he could see and he quickly formed a team of friends to investigate it. In 2014, Nygard joined the team as its psychic and medium.
“A lot of times stuff will happen right out of the gates as soon as you get on location,” Nygard said. “Sometimes you don’t even have the machines set up to record and to do everything and things are already happening. So depending on which location you’re at, you hit the ground running, and it’s such an adrenaline rush.”
Nothing is guaranteed while operating in the paranormal world – a world whose existence is hotly debated on both sides of the spectrum – and Nygard said ghost hunting is often like fishing: some days you catch something, some days you don’t.
“Here’s the thing, too,” Sarlo adds. “With ghost hunting, when you’re on a ghost hunt, you’re on their time. You’re not on your time. It’s if they want to interact with you or not.”
Shadow Hunters has investigated private residents, businesses and other local sites throughout Lake County and is setting up new haunted locales to explore. These investigations are filmed and posted to its YouTube channel, Shadow Hunters YouTube Series.
The Shadow Hunters use a variety of tools to detect and document any preternatural activity that occurs during an investigation. Electronic, hand-held tape recorders are used to capture E.V.P. – electronic voice phenomena; laser grids, much like the popular laser lights used during the holiday season, are set up to track any paranormal movements across a room.
Since embarking on this journey into the unknown, Sarlo has not forgotten Jackie, the friend he lost all those years ago and who inspired him to create Shadow Hunters. Each year, in collaboration with her family and inspired by Jackie, Shadow Hunters hosts Spirits in the Spring, a community event combining magic and the paranormal. Admission to the event is requested in the form of canned goods, which are donated to the Warren Township Food Pantry.
“When Jackie passed away, her parents opened up her car and saw she was doing her own food drive and didn’t tell anybody,” Sarlo says. “We really got the idea from Jackie’s dad, [professional magician] Jim Stan Magic Man. He did something called Jackie’s Magic. … A whole bunch of magicians are there, and it’s the same thing: You gotta bring canned foods. So I thought, well, why not mix the paranormal with magicians. We have four or five magicians, and we have four or five paranormal speakers. And everyone gets along and it’s a really fun event.”
The next Spirits in the Spring is slated for June 2018.
While Jackie hasn’t returned to Sarlo since that first experience more than a decade ago, Sarlo says she has passed on a message to him through another medium who approached him at a paranormal-focused event, Ghosts on Film in Chicago.
“There was a lady there named Mary and she was a psychic,” Sarlo says. “And she goes, ‘Just want to let you know that Jackie appreciates every single thing you’re doing. She’s very, very proud.’’’
Nygard said living and working in the world of the metaphysical is unpredictable but often exhilarating.
“It happens when you least expect it,” she says. “A lot of times, in my personal opinion, when I’ve had a lot of activity at home, it’s [when] something personal’s happening in my life, kind of like we’re the spirits’ soap opera. So they’re watching us and we’re watching them.
“We’re probably more interesting than what’s on cable,” she adds with a smile.