YBOR CITY — Fifteen minutes into his speech, Murray Silver became annoyed. Enough was enough, he thought. No more distractions.
He was trying to tell a group of about 40 people in the Cuban Club about the meaning of life and the purpose of death, but he paused.
"Somebody keeps walking in and out the door up there, and they're not among the living," he said.
He looked up at the mezzanine's doors: "Hold it down up there!"
A few women giggled, but Silver kept a straight face. It's not a joke.
He knows what ghosts look like, he says. He sees them all the time. And don't call him a ghost hunter, like those guys on television.
"I'm not a ghost hunter, I'm ghost bait," he said. They come to him, he said.
He saw more than 40 ghosts during his speech, he said. They walked through the doors and came on stage. They looked similar to each other and probably lived in the area at least 50 years ago, he said.
Silver, of Savannah, Ga., was one of the speakers at the Ybor City Paranormal Conference on Saturday. His one-hour speech rose and fell like a preacher's sermon, his voice booming across the theater without a microphone.
"I have set out to prove the existence of ghosts through the scientific method," he announced. "I've gotten to the end of my investigation, and I'm here to tell you what I've found."
He matter-of-factly described heaven, comparing it to a pyramid scheme, where only a few make it to the top. Then he described hell as not a place of suffering, but of purification. He described ghosts as people who don't want to move to the afterlife.
Some nodded their heads as Silver spoke, but many have their own ideas. Speaker Bruce Moen of Safety Harbor talked about mentally freeing ghosts from places they're trapped. Attendee Chiki Bustamante, 54, of St. Petersburg thinks ghosts are impressions of energy of people that remain after they die. Her mom, Barbara Maddux, 75, said they're probably the spirits of people who are visiting or choosing to stay back for a loved one or unfinished business.
Some people like to focus on historic facts, others prefer scientific proof, and some delve into the metaphysical. So how do these ideas work together?
"They don't," said organizer and Tampa Ghost Watchers president Bill Sharpe. "It's a different approach."
But that probably prevents people who believe in the paranormal from gaining the respect of the scientific community, Silver said. Scientists want concrete definitions and answers, which many paranormal investigators don't have.
"We're easy targets," he said.
And that's what he's working on, he said. He's talked to many religious leaders, doctors, psychologists and psychics, he said, and he has a definition of ghosts.
"It's when the spirit leaves the body, clouded by ego that has an overbearing desire to return to existence," he said. "That's a ghost."
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2443.