SAN JOSE -- Turns out that after a bit of initial shoegazing, nearly all of the 50 or so people clustered in the candlelit, shadowy upstairs parlor of downtown's The Old Spaghetti Factory wanted to hear a personal message from the dead.
It was a Sunday seance, led by Livermore-based psychic adviser Irma Slage, who says she has been chatting with and seeing people living in the afterlife since she was a child but didn't know that's what they were.
"Imagine my surprise when I was in my 20s and someone I knew died, and I could see them in my home before I found out," said Slage, who has been doing psychic work for more than 30 years since. "When I realized she had died before I saw her, I realized I had a lot to think about."
While Sunday afternoon's event wasn't exactly what might come to mind upon hearing the word "seance" -- linked hands, floating tables, mysterious raps and maybe even a gooey dollop of ectoplasm -- it was a bona fide attempt to reach spirits, organized by the San Jose-based Bay Area Ghost Hunters group.
"A local historian once told me there are no ghosts in San Jose, but she's wrong," said Deb Wible of the ghost hunters group. "Who could even declare such a thing?"
No mystery house
Most of the people in attendance were members of the ghost hunters (not affiliated with the cable TV show with a similar name), which has a stated mission of creating "a networking group for the free flow of paranormal information both in person and on the Internet."
As such, the crowd leaned heavily toward those already convinced that a tangible spiritual presence exists in the day-to-day lives of the living.
Slage first discussed the grounds and building -- while The Old Spaghetti Factory might not have the paranormal prestige as, say, the Winchester Mystery House, it's got a bit of a rep -- but things really picked up when the floor was opened to personal questions.
"My boyfriend passed away four years ago. Who was he with and what happened to him?" asked Laura Johnson, of San Mateo.
Slage told Johnson that he wanted her to know that "justice would be served."
Johnson later said the man in question was beaten to death in 2008 as he worked as a night manager at a San Mateo restaurant. The crime remains unsolved. Johnson acknowledged that she is a strong believer in contacts with the afterlife and was pleased with what Slage told her.
"It would be nice if justice would be served," she said.
Others asked about messages or a status update from deceased grandmothers, parents, siblings, and even a recently deceased pet; Slage correctly stated the species as cat, but missed on its gender.
At one point, a woman wanted to know what her late husband wanted to tell her before he passed away, unable to speak.
Slage said the answer might not be something she'd prefer announcing publicly and suggested they talk one-to-one. However, she offered that it might be best to ignore the situation, to which the questioner responded positively.
"Most of the stuff people want to ask is very personal, involving someone deceased," said Slage's husband of 45 years, Ted. "But Irma tries not to get very personal. She doesn't want everyone in the room to know things."
Slage said that by going through her spiritual guide, she can "enter your world" and considers it a "privacy issue."
The author of two books on the paranormal does frequent seances, answers psychic questions -- in person, by phone, email and now Skype -- and finds satisfaction in helping people with paranormal problems and assisting the troubled spirits themselves.
That's a sentiment that members of the ghost hunters agree with.
"I think we have a moral obligation to help the spirit out," Wible said. "To not do so is like seeing an accident, saying 'Lookie, lookie!' and driving right past it."
Contact Eric Kurhi at 408-920-5852. Follow him at Twitter.com/erickurhi.