KJ McCormick saw his first ghost when he was a kid -- 10 years old, or so -- during a summer vacation.
At the lake house in New England, dusk was settling over the shore. McCormick relays the 15-second encounter like somebody describing a dream. The figure he spotted by the banks wore a vest. Maybe he was a fisherman?
It turned, darting attention toward McCormick with a sense of urgency, but then said nothing. Instead, similar to smoke evaporating into the atmosphere, his first haunting image disappeared into trees.
"I got goosebumps," he said. "I didn't feel like he was evil or negative. It was more 'What the heck just happened?'"
That was long before McCormick, 38, of Boulder, was a paranormal professional with his knack for ghost-busting appearing on national television in a show that scares up more than 2 million viewers each week.
McCormick is an investigator for the Syfy network's "Ghost Hunters," a job that dispatches him into America's most notoriously haunted places, like a shut-down asylum, the Baseball Hall of Fame and a stately East Coast hotel.
Behind the scenes, McCormick is a carpenter who lives in Boulder with his wife and their 8-month-old son, Alexander, who will go as Tigger or a lion for Halloween. McCormick blends in well with Boulder, the town he moved to as a 19-year-old semi-professional cyclist. His wife is a bartender at the Corner Bar in Hotel Boulderado (which he has a hunch is haunted). He hikes and camps and plays bass in a band.
But a few things hint he is ghost hunter: That eerie ringtone on his iPhone that sounds like the soundtrack of a science-fiction movie and the casual T-shirt that he wears with his jeans and that spells "TAPS" -- which stands for The Atlantic Paranormal Society.
Childhood connection lands him ghost-hunting job
McCormick grew up in Warwick, R.I. Like many kids, he goofed around with the Ouija board -- though, in good investigative fashion, he took it a bit further to test whether his friends were moving the planchette. For science's sake, two sets of friends would independently try to conjure up spirits with the board and then compare the answers that appeared on the board.
"I love investigating," said McCormick, who, to this day, worries he'll die in a car accident because of what the Ouija board told him.
In his Warwick neighborhood, McCormick lived just a few houses down from his grandma and they shared frequent family dinners. When he was a teenager, his grandmother died of leukemia, which got McCormick thinking about what happens after death. Does she watch over me, he wondered?
One night, at age 15, when he was falling asleep, he said he felt somebody looking down on him.
"She was standing at the edge of my bed, looking at me, telling me everything was OK," he recalls of the figure of his grandmother with open arms.
Ever since, he's been fascinated by the paranormal.
Years later, he was watching "Ghost Hunters" on television. He recognized the lead investigator -- Jason Hawes, who originally worked as a plumber for Roto-Rooters and investigated haunts at night -- as his friend from childhood.
They connected at an event in the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, and stayed in touch. Tawes offered him the investigator job last February.
McCormick fills a technical niche because of his construction background.
On the hunt
When a ghost is near, McCormick says that he can feel it.
There are cold spots. The air thickens. The hair on his arm stands up and he gets chills. His adrenaline runs.
Sometimes, fully charged batteries in his ghost-hunting equipment -- like infrared cameras and electromagnetic filed detectors -- completely drain, he said.
"I don't get scared because I'm so curious," he said. "I don't run away from ghosts."
He doesn't like to run toward them, either -- like some cast members on the show do. McCormick prefers to sneak up on the spirits and coax them into making contact.
And that's exactly what he did when the Ghost Hunters team visited Otesaga Resort Hotel in Cooperstown, N.Y., for an investigation. Guests and employees of the brick hotel with white columns have claimed the fifth floor is haunted, with doors opening and closing at night and the playful voices of children echoing in the hallways.
But the Otesaga gave McCormick quite possibly the biggest haunt he's ever experienced to date -- though, who knows what awaits him in season 7.
During the investigation, McCormick remained still and he said his eyes focused in on a black apparition. The ghostly figure, he said, took notice of him and was peering at him from around a corner. It had shape to it, McCormick said.
"It was playing with us," he said. "It passed through the walls in the hallway like it was playing hide-and-seek. I'm still baffled."
Admittedly, he had a tough time sleeping that night in his room at the Otesaga.
To believe or not?
As a rookie cast member in season 6, McCormick also took a trip into the Norwich State Hospital -- a defunct Connecticut building that opened in 1904 and housed the criminally insane. The team caught on tape sounds from the asylum's ruins that sounded like cranking chains and McCormick said he heard ghosts telling the crew to "get out."
In the Baseball Hall of Fame, McCormick and his ghost-hunting teammates investigated claims that there were voices coming from a room of plaques. They tried to conjure up the sprits of baseball wonders like Ted Williams, Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb. They witnessed a black shadow.
Critics of Ghost Hunters have called it a pseudoscience -- slamming the show for unscientific methodologies -- and McCormick said people have told him the show is fake or a set-up.
But, more commonly, people launch into their own paranormal experiences when they meet McCormick. He said he plans on holding local events in the Denver-Boulder area, perhaps where people can swap their ghost stories.
The Pew Research Center polls show that nearly one in five Americans say they have seen or been in the presence of ghosts and one-third polled say they believe in the spirits.
Yvonne Miller, a nurse and mother of four from South Carolina, falls somewhere in between.
"Sometimes I believe, sometimes I don't," she said. "I'm a bit of a skeptic."
Still, she devoutly watches Ghost Hunters, which led her to McCormick's fan page on Facebook.
She and some friends will be staying at an old home next weekend that is rumored to be haunted, and she inquired with McCormick on what kinds of investigative tools she should pack.
Per McCormick's suggestion, she and her friends have ordered an infrared camera and digital recorder from eBay.
Contact Camera Staff Writer Brittany Anas at 303-473-1132 or firstname.lastname@example.org.