People are experiencing certain haunts in downtown Martinez in a mind-altering way lately.
Crystal Willet, who calls herself a "spiritual magnet," and her paranormal crew are leading ghost walk tours, inviting participants to suspend their disbelief and open their minds to the spirit realm.
A few skeptics have been convinced by a rolling flashlight that goes on and off when spirits are asked yes or no questions, stainless steel dowsing rods that cross to respond favorably or pull apart to reject a notion that's been posed, and meters that illuminate, confirming electromagnetic energy and ethereal presence.
Willett's and her cohorts' integrity have passed Jody Rawleigh's litmus test. The owner of Legal Grounds describes a synchronistic pre-dawn event of the sound of a little girl's voice inviting him to play; spontaneous music coming from a child's electric piano at his Concord home; and then hearing of the appearance of a doll image in Willet's Martinez living room happening simultaneously.
A hair-raising effect has been Rawleigh's gauge of the theory that these girlish experiences reflect the spirit of children who may have perished in the 1905 fire at the Rankin building -- the current site of his coffee business.
Down the street, a familiar wafting scent of cigars once enjoyed by a purveyor of men's attire suggests his possible lingering presence in the current location of Alley Cats. Then, Central Valley Paranormal's ghost
And, Main Street Martinez executive director Leanne Peterson is a believer.
She accompanied Willet on a two-plus hour, pre-tour investigation of the circa 1876 train depot, where Peterson stores items for Main Street activities.
"And at the end, Crystal asked, 'can you make (the flashlight) brighter' and it went brighter," recalls Peterson.
Main Street Martinez is sponsoring the monthly walks that include additional tours this Friday the 13th.
"I pretty much don't go in there by myself anymore ... They're friendly ghosts, so I'm not that worried," she adds, referring to the notion that there are two young male spirits lingering there. "I am not a skeptic anymore. There are definitely spirits out there."
Joey Simeau, a longtime Martinez resident who's part of the "debunking team," understands people's initial doubt.
Even with hours of recording strange sounds and energy fields, he says, "until I get hit, literally knocked down, it's not enough to say this place is haunted. But in the end, if there's no (tangible) explanation, it can only be paranormal."
Along with the high-tech recording devices he brings to a paranormal investigation, Willet's implements are quite simple: her crystals and a cross.
The ritual of the sensitive medium -- known as the team's "spiritual warrior" -- with Native American roots is consistent: praying for the team prior to their arrival, expressing gratitude and honor for the spirits' presence and responses -- and then stating that whatever spirit manifests needs to remain at the scene.
"I let them know that we're not there to harm them; we're not asking them to leave. We're just curious about hearing their story," Willet says. "The more you build rapport and you honor them ... it's so we can get information. We're there to do research and they may have a message to give."
Barbara Lapsalis, volunteer coordinator for Main Street Martinez, didn't need any convincing and has been on every tour, with a curiosity ever piqued.
"It's given me a greater connection to my community," she says.
And, her experiences with Willet's team have shored up her belief. She felt a tautness and vibration in her shoulders while holding the dowsing rods as they asked the spirit if he was a young man.
"I felt a presence ... Some people on the tour were a little freaked out and stood in the back, not quite sure if it's true or not," she says. "I'm always in the front."
Lapsalis, 77, is looking forward to a chance to confirm a spirit presence Willet recently detected of her father at a Martinez restaurant, where he died of a heart attack 55 years ago.
Meanwhile, Willet has known at least one truth since her girlhood.
"There's something more out there. It's an open realm and we've just scratched the surface," she says.
What: Downtown Martinez Ghost Walk; no children under 12; ages 12-17 must be accompanied by adult
When: 8 p.m. on the last Friday of each month; added tour Friday, July 13
Where: Meet at Main Street Martinez, 649 Main St.
Information & reservations: 925-228-3577 or visit www.mainstreetmartinez.org