Echoes from the past

Alumni friends celebrate two years as paranormal investigators

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by Josette Keelor

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Phil Rossi (’01), left, and Tee Morris (’92) are paranormal investigators. After meeting in 2007, the two JMU alumni started Old Spirits Investigations in the summer of 2021. Photographs by Christina Rossi Photography

SUMMARY: Tee Morris (’92) and Phil Rossi (’01) realized a shared interest in the supernatural, years after they each attended JMU and played trombone in the Marching Royal Dukes. Now, recently celebrating two years as paranormal investigators with Old Spirits Investigations, the best friends are excited to discover what history they'll uncover.

In 2021, Tee Morris (’92) and Phil Rossi (’01) went on their first paranormal investigation.

The site was Belle Grove Plantation in King George County, Virginia — the birthplace of James Madison. “He had the reservation ready to go,” Morris said of Rossi, his longtime friend and co-proprietor of Old Spirits Investigations. “He had the date; he had the time. All I had to do was say yes.”

“I made it a little hard for him to say no,” Rossi said.

While walking around the plantation with a video camera, Morris decided to speak aloud to any spirits that might be listening, telling them to go easy on him. It wasn’t an entirely serious request. Later, while reviewing the footage and wondering if he’d wasted a day of his life, Morris heard something he hadn’t noticed at the site. “I’m new at this, so go gently on me,” came his voice on the recording.

“No,” a deep voice responded, followed by, “Get out.”

Morris recalls yelling for his wife and handing her the headphones. “She listens, and she just said, ‘What was that?’”

The camera was brand-new, right out of the box, and the card was fresh, he said. Nothing had been recorded on it.

“That was when Phil and I sat down and said, ‘OK, what else do we want to do?’” Morris said.


Phil Rossi (’01) and Tee Morris (’92) share a laugh.
Phil Rossi (’01), left, and Tee Morris (’92) share a laugh while investigating reports of ghostly activity in Brentsville, Virginia. The two longtime friends met in 2007 and discovered a shared interest in writing, gaming, music, podcasting and the paranormal.

A Richmond native who double majored in Theatre and Mass Communications at JMU, Morris is a technical editor at Booz Allen Hamilton. He’s also a content creator on Twitch and YouTube, and is an original author of the books Podcasting for Dummies (with Chuck Tomasi), Discord for Dummies and Twitch for Dummies. 

Rossi, a native New Englander, came to JMU as a Music major before he switched to Technical and Scientific Communication. He’s been in several bands over the years and plays trombone, keyboard, bass and guitar. A customer relations management product owner and business analyst for Saint-Gobain Life Sciences, he’s also an audio engineer for the Parent Footprint with the Dr. Dan podcast.

Although they graduated 10 years apart, Morris and Rossi share a love of podcasting, and both men were trombone players in the Marching Royal Dukes.

Rossi first reached out to Morris in 2007 when he was visiting the Washington, D.C., area. He knew Morris was a JMU alumnus and approached him about podcasting. “It was the beginning of the ultimate bromance,” Morris said. He and Rossi have since collaborated on podcasts and separately written several sci-fi horror and paranormal novels.

The two men first became invested in ghost hunting during the COVID-19 pandemic, when, after playing the video game Phasmophobia, Rossi asked Morris if he’d like to “try this for real.” 

Having recently celebrated the second anniversary of Old Spirits Investigations, Morris and Rossi, who are based in Northern Virginia, have been to numerous locations and experienced an array of responses from the spirits alleged to haunt those spaces.

Ever the supernatural skeptic, Morris says he’s the Dana Scully to Rossi’s Fox Mulder — the main characters from the hit 1990s/early 2000s sci-fi drama The X-Files, which also saw two revival seasons, one in 2016 and one in 2018. Morris and Rossi are so fond of the comparison that Rossi’s wife, Tina, gave them keychains with puzzle pieces that reference the show: Rossi’s says, “Scully it’s me,” and Morris’ says, “Mulder it’s me.”

Though Rossi might have initiated their first ghost hunt, he calls himself a bit of a skeptic as well.

“I want to believe,” Rossi says in true Mulder fashion. “I had some, we’ll call them interesting experiences as a kid and as a young man. But we’ve had enough experiences now since we’ve been doing this … that I can say with confidence there’s something else going on beyond our realm of science and explanation.”

Morris agrees. “Have I proven in two years that ghosts exist? No, I haven’t. But has some really unexplained stuff happened to me? Absolutely.”

His most terrifying experience happened on Mount Weather in Clarke County, Virginia, at the site of the Trans World Airlines Flight 514 crash, which killed everyone on board on Dec. 1, 1974. “We went to the spot during the day, and we picked up very clear voices,” Morris said. His device was reporting responses directly to the team’s questions, and he zoomed in with his camera to make sure nothing else, such as wildlife or insects, could be producing the noise.

“The atmosphere was very somber,” Rossi said. “You could just feel this heaviness, sadness, kind of confusion. By no way did it feel threatening. I even thought there was some level of gratitude, because our whole philosophy is we’re here to connect with you, to be able to tell your stories so these stories are not forgotten and that you are not forgotten.”

But then they made the decision to return to the site at night. “This was maybe our third investigation,” Rossi said. “I have never felt more unwelcome than at the crash site of TWA 514.”

That experience set the standard for their paranormal investigations. “To this day, all the places we’ve been to, nothing really compares to being out there in those woods at night,” Rossi said. “And it wasn’t because it was nighttime, because walking up there to the site, we felt OK. Maybe a little nervous excitement, but the moment you cross into the path where that plane hit and broke apart, there was a noticeable shift.”

“When we started talking, that was when I was like, ‘Oh, this was a huge mistake,’” Morris said.

“What have we done?” Rossi remembers wondering.

“Trauma begets paranormal activity, because I think about where we’ve gotten our strongest evidence, our strongest hits,” Morris said. “It’s a journey with a lot of unexpected twists and turns. You’re not going to find all the answers, but it’s fun looking for them.”

The timing of their paranormal investigation venture has aligned with a cultural resurgence in searching for truth in the unexplained. Why the resurgence? Because of the pandemic, Morris said. Across the ages, belief in the paranormal has spiked immediately after cultural traumas, such as the Civil War, World War II and the 9/11 terrorist attacks. “It’s those types of things that seem to trigger a genuine interest in paranormal investigation,” he said.

Tee Morris (’92) and Phil Rossi (’01) are pictured in a field.
Phil Rossi (’01), left, and Tee Morris (’92) adjust their paranormal investigation equipment in a field in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Not all investigations are scary, though. Morris and Rossi recalled their visit to the Byrd Theatre in Richmond, Virginia, as a high point because of the joyous memories it exuded for them. “They call it a cinema palace,” Morris said. “It’s just breathtaking.”

Even the responses they recorded brought fun, childlike exuberance. “It just had a very positive energy,” Rossi said. “It felt good to be there.”

With their wives, the team has visited various other locations, including former asylums and The Candy Factory in Manassas, Virginia, where they clearly heard the name Edwin on their electronic voice phenomena audio recorder. Morris’s wife, Pip Ballantine, researched the name and learned that on Dec. 25, 1921, the town of Manassas held a funeral for four kids who had been hit by a train, one of whom was named Edwin.

They couldn’t find any further proof, a challenge for a team that relies on official documentation of a location’s historical past before making claims about the spirits that might inhabit the space. “There are no hard facts in investigation and paranormal science; however, there are some things that are really hard to deny, especially when they happen to you,” Morris said.

For him and Rossi, it’s the storytelling element that most interests them — “these little forgotten moments in history,” Morris said.

“We want to breathe life into this history, into these stories in a way that we are reaching out and getting feedback and interacting with these echoes from the past,” Rossi said, referencing Old Spirits Investigations' mission statement.

As for the places they want to visit next, they each have a wish list. “At the very top I would say the Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Louisville, Kentucky,” Morris said. “It is infamous for its history. That’s a rite of passage for many. Closer to here, the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in West Virginia is another gem.”

Rossi would like to see the Rose Island Lighthouse in Newport, Rhode Island, which people can rent for overnight stays, as well as the White House — though he doubts they’ll get approval for that. And no paranormal investigation list would be complete without the Colorado hotel that inspired Stephen King’s The Shining. “I think it would be incredible to investigate the Stanley Hotel, whether or not there are spirits,” Rossi said.

While many places may capture their imagination, the friends also dream of returning to their Harrisonburg roots. “The elephant in the room — I would love to get a crack at the tunnel system at JMU,” Morris said. “Even when they were used on a regular basis, I’m sure those tunnels were creepy.”

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Published: Monday, October 30, 2023

Last Updated: Friday, January 12, 2024

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