Most moms' groups meet in someone's living room, maybe at a restaurant. Even the library. But this night, Christie Chaidez, Liz Mason and Theresa Ban are sitting in a dark hallway of an abandoned building. Peeling paint hangs from the ceiling like it's melting off a hot surface, and a musty smell hangs in the cement corridor.
"Did you see that? The meter moved," says Chaidez, pointing to a small device in her hand with lights ranging from green to red.
"Really?" says Mason, her eyes lighting up. "There's something here!"
The gadget is an electromagnetic field detector, a device used by ghost hunters to pick up on unexplained fluctuations in electric energy. Chaidez and Mason are prowling the Maywood Home for Soldiers as part of their ghost hunting group, the Paranormal Moms Society. Chaidez helped found the group back in 2007 when she and a mom friend discovered their mutual interest in ghost hunting shows on TV.
"We thought, 'Why couldn't we do that, too?'" says Chaidez. "At first, it was just the two of us in a cemetery at night with a flashlight and a tape recorder."
Since then, the group has grown both in size and sophistication.
"At first, I thought we're never going to find anyone, but I was amazed how many moms out there were really into this," says Chaidez.
Its members, including Chaidez, Mason, Ban and Jennifer Morales, meet throughout the year to conduct investigations. The investigation at the Maywood Home for Soldiers was just for fun, but usually, the group investigates at private homes after people reach out to them for help. They arrive in the early evening and stay into the dead of night, often returning two or three times if necessary to validate or debunk the resident's experiences.
Of course, they love the thrill of an investigation, but their favorite part is helping people, especially other moms.
When they think about the two dozen or so investigations they've completed, one stands out. A mom in Palatine was distressed because her son, just 8 or 9 at the time, refused to sleep at their house due to the strange presence they'd experienced-slamming doors and eerie voices. She called the Paranormal Moms to investigate.
What they say they found was the spirit of a little girl, one who wanted to play at all hours of the night. The group advised the mother to lay a blanket down next to her bed at night and invite the spirit to rest beside her. After that, the activity quieted down and the little boy no longer was scared.
"That mom was literally in tears," says Chaidez. "She finally understood that the spirit didn't mean any harm."
At the abandoned Maywood Home for Soldiers, the group roams the halls with flashlights. The three women are reminiscent of the Scooby Doo gang, with each one having her own distinct look-Ban tall and thin with long blond hair, Chaidez shorter with bright red hair and blue eyes, and Mason with full black curly locks and dark-rimmed glasses. They're excited to be here, especially because they're the first paranormal group that's been allowed to investigate the place.
"It was originally a home for widows, women whose husbands were killed in the Civil War," says Mason. "In those days, as a woman, you would have been left homeless if you didn't have family to take care of you."
The Georgian revival building then became a home for the blind, a place for wounded soldiers from Vietnam to convalesce and finally, an assisted living home, before being abandoned in the early 2000s.
Since then, it's been sitting empty, becoming derelict. But Mason and Ban, who both grew up in Maywood, remember it fondly from their childhoods.
"Whatever is here," says Mason to Ban, "it must be because they loved the building as much as we did when we were kids."
The group uses surveillance cameras to look for shadows and movement within the building, as well as electromagnetic field detectors, night vision goggles and digital recorders to gather EVPs, electronic voice projections, or ghostly voices that they find when reviewing the tape.
Despite the fancy equipment, the group says at their heart, they're really just a regular moms group doing something they love that gets them out of the house and with friends.
"As a mom, so much of your time is given to other people-your children, your husband, your home, your work," says Chaidez.
"Some women want to go to the bar. This is our thing. We want to ghost-hunt."
What do their husbands, co-workers and friends think of their spooky hobby? Most are supportive, although they do meet some skeptics. Chaidez says her husband thinks she's "crazy," and Mason says she can't talk about it to her Latina mother, who doesn't believe in messing with the spirit world. Ban says most people she tells are intrigued, although her 15- year-old son wasn't impressed at first.
"He was skeptical, but I showed him some of the evidence we've found," says Ban. "All of the sudden, he's started watching the ghost shows with me."
As the sun sets and the investigation gets into full swing, there's one last question for the three investigators: Do you believe in ghosts?
"I believe there is a spirit life out there," says Mason.
"I think there's a lot of unexplained things out there," says Ban.
"Me?" says Chaidez, pointing to herself. "I've seen too many things not to believe."