Amanda Hannah is no stranger to the paranormal. She’s been a paranormal investigator since 2013 and has had her share of frightening experiences, but few of them come close to what she experienced while filming the upcoming documentary “Balsam: A Paranormal Investigation.”
“There were two moments during filming where I was beside myself, just freaked out,” Hannah said.
Directed and produced by North Carolina native Tony H. Cadwell, “Balsam” explores the now-shuttered Grand Old Lady Hotel. Formerly known as Balsam Mountain Inn, the Grand Old Lady Hotel is sometimes referred to as the “Stanley Hotel of the South,” due to its isolated location and Colonial Revival architecture style.
“Balsam,” set to be released this December, follows a three-night, four-day paranormal exploration of the 40,000 square foot Grand Old Lady Hotel. The investigation is led by actor and paranormal investigator Kane Hodder, who played Jason Voorhees in the 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th installments of “Friday the 13th.” Described as a “horror icon,” Hodder has been on TV shows such as “Ghost Adventures” and is a founding member of paranormal society Hollywood Ghost Hunters.
Hodder was joined by Mark A. Richardson, Hannah and her business partner Maeve Ybanez, with whom she runs Wicked Wanders, a paranormal investigation business. Together, the investigators have 50 years of experience. The crew had free reign over the empty hotel while they were filming in August 2020.
The Grand Old Lady has been the site of many unexplained events, which was a big draw for the “Balsam” team. Over the years, guests have been able to record any mysterious occurrences in a special log provided by the hotel, though Hannah says she was not able to see the book during the investigation. Doors slamming, cold air and phantom footsteps have all been recorded, with rooms 205 and 207 being repeat offenders. But despite the hotel’s long history, Hannah says that relatively few paranormal investigations have been done in the space.
“The reason we chose this location was its ominous history … and the lack of exposure,” Hannah said.
Built in 1908, the hotel originally served as a resort for railway travelers in Western North Carolina. Business was good — that same year, the largest railway station east of the Rockies opened in Balsam, so tourists seeking fresh mountain air had easy access to the hotel. In 1982 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and has since had periods of growth and decline.
In 2017, hotelier and real estate agent Marzena Wyszynska purchased the hotel, but its future has been up in the air since 2020, when it closed because of COVID. The Sylva Herald reported in March 2021 that the property was for sale, despite Wyszynska stating that it was only temporarily closed and slated to reopen in spring 2021.
“It’s important to share the history of the building because its fate is unknown right now,” said Hannah.
As one of the investigators, Hannah says her focus is on the experience of being in a haunted location — how it feels to be in a space where there may be ghosts. On the other hand, her business partner Ybanez is the “skeptic,” says Hannah.
“We make a good team,” said Hannah.
In the documentary the investigators use different tools and techniques, one of the primary ones being a “spirit box,” a handheld radio device that scans through radio frequencies and is purported to pick up voices of ghosts.
The team also employs the Estes method, which involves one person sitting alone with a spirit box and wearing noise cancelling headphones. Another member of the party asks questions from another room and the person with the spirit box answers.
Despite their own beliefs in the paranormal, for Hannah and the “Balsam” crew, filmmaking isn’t about convincing viewers that each piece of evidence is, in fact, paranormal.
“We’re just here to document our experiences and let you decide,” Hannah said. “... We will never fake anything. We want to give you the most authentic experience that we can.”
“Balsam: A Paranormal Investigation” will be released Dec. 14. It’s available for pre-order on DVD and will be available on video on demand.