GENOA - Dowsing rods in hand, Robin Christy steps across the threshold into the cramped cell in the lower level of the Courthouse Museum in Genoa to check for paranormal activity. A 33-pound iron ball and shackle lies on the floor, a testament to years of the hardship of incarceration.
Inside, the 19th-century lockup is built like an old safe - its thick, browned steel plates bear the scars and marks of former residents.
Looking on, Richard Senate and his Western Nevada Community College ghost-hunting class give Christy encouragement.
As she moves forward into the dark, the dowsing rods cross.
Senate says this is a sign that spirits may be present.
Dowsing rods are one of the oldest techniques for ghost-hunting according to Senate. An electromagnetic field (ELF) meter and a static electricity charge detector are the standard tools of the trade. But the batteries in the static electricity detector are dead, so they'll have to make do.
Still pointing the wire rods at whatever anomalous energy may be present in the cell, Christy begins to ask it questions.
"Do you wish to talk to us?"
The rods cross. "Yes," is the answer.
Senate asks his students to come up with some more questions for the spirit.
"Were you killed?" asked one.
"Are you a Washo Indian?"
"Can you see us?"
"Can you appear for us?"
The dungeon-like room, already smothering most every inconsequential sound - the shuffling of feet and rattling of pens, cameras and notebooks - goes completely silent.
The sticks cross in Christy's hands.
The answer: "Yes."
Everyone looks around. Flashes from students' cameras shoot off - light bounces around in the dim room, everyone hoping to catch an elusive orb.
But there's no sign of the spirit.
Senate is not deterred. Twenty-seven years ago, he was an ordinary archaeologist and historian whose run-in with the ghost of a monk changed the direction of his life and work forever.
He encourages Christy to keep asking questions.
One of Senate's students, Teresa Jarrett of Dayton is a strong believer in the so-called hidden dimensions. She says she is a psychic who started seeing ghosts at about age 2 or 3. She tells a story of being baby-sat by a woman whose husband had recently passed.
Not only did she see the dead man, but says she played a game of checkers with him. "At that age, you don't really know what you're supposed to believe in," she says. "If somebody asks you if you want to play checkers, you just play."
Her mother Charlotte Louis of Fallon backs up her daughter's story.
"A lot of my friends were afraid to come over to the house growing up," laughs Jarrett.
Still at the cell door, Christy asks another question.
"Can you make a sound?"
Again, the room is quiet.
"Try asking it to make a sound right now," suggests Senate.
"Can you make a sound right now?" asks Christy.
As the rods cross, a loud blast of white noise comes from the other side of the room.
It's Senate's static electricity detector going crazy in the bottom of a bag across the room.
Perhaps the batteries weren't dead after all.
n Contact reporter Peter Thompson at email@example.com or 881-1215.