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Ghost hunters set sights on historic Waterloo home

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Annette Freeseman, center, Director of Historical Programming at Grout Museum District, shows the master bedroom of the Rensselaer Russell House to cameraman Seth Alne, left, and brother Jesse Alne, right, of the Calhoun County Paranormal Investigators Friday, Feb. 17, 2012, in Waterloo, Iowa. The Calhoun County Paranormal Investigators looked into some of the questionable phenomenons in the house that was built in 1861. (MATTHEW PUTNEY / Courier Photo Editor)

WATERLOO, Iowa --- Officials at the Grout Museum District say they want more young patrons and a good ghost story might do the trick.

In the wake of the popularity of paranormal investigation television shows, a local group of ghost hunters is searching for paranormal activity at the Rensselaer Russell House Museum.

The house, built in 1861, is one of the oldest in Black Hawk County, but it's not its age that entices the Calhoun County Paranormal Investigators.

"This house has a great story behind it," said Jesse Alne, a founding member of the group.

Tragedy struck the Russell family early in the home's history. Their 5-year-old daughter, Genevieve, fell into a well on a nearby property and drowned in 1862. Her funeral wake was at the home. People have reported seeing a girl in the upper windows of the home and have heard footsteps from the second floor when no one is up there, Alne said.

The story --- and the home itself --- is enticing to the investigators.

"It's one of those houses that just looks like it should be haunted," Alne said.

For Grout officials, the interest could be a boon.

"There's a lot of people interested in these things," said Annette Freeseman, director of historical programming. "Especially young adults, and that's a group we don't see all that much."

The museum also offers numerous artifacts owned by the three generations of the Russell family that lived there, Freeseman added. Alne said that makes the investigation more exciting because it has a stronger personal connection to the people who lived there.

"This place has the most original artifacts from the family than any place we've investigated," he said.

The group set up video and audio recording equipment, electromagnetic field detectors and stayed overnight Friday. Alne said although he hopes to get interesting results, he goes in with an open mind.

"You never go in expecting big things to happen," he said.

Alne said he knows some people are skeptical about paranormal investigation, but said he asks skeptics to keep an open mind.

"If you come to me and say 'I don't believe in ghosts,' I say go on an investigation," he said. "Put yourself in a position to see one."

Seth and Jesse Alne created the Calhoun County Paranormal Activity group in 2005. They have investigated historic landmarks and homes including the Villisca Ax Murder House. Two of the group's investigators were chosen to be part of the Biography Channel's "My Ghost Story," which will air in the spring.

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