Bob Chamberlain's mother-in-law loves Halloween. It is her favorite time of year to cause trouble; she smokes cigarettes late at night when everyone else is asleep, even though she knows there's no smoking allowed inside the house. Bob and his wife, Renee, shrug off such misbehavior. Why? Chamberlain's mother-in-law is dead. She died of cancer 10 years ago.

Halloween marks the departure of fall's sunburst-colored leaves as little ones parade through Portland's neighborhoods dressed as ghosts and goblins. But the autumnal change also signals an increase in ghostly activity. According to ghost enthusiasts, the moon's seasonal migration intensifies a magnetic field, attracting energy-hungry spirits. This time of year, it seems, ghosts and their hunters are extremely busy.

Chamberlain, ghost-busting leader of Northwest Paranormal Investigators, is a 50-year-old employee of Portland General Electric. A big, mustachioed man's man, he looks as though he'd be more comfortable driving an 18-wheeler than roaming through cemeteries and haunted houses carrying electromagnetic field meters. Yet Chamberlain has spent the past 10 years searching for ghosts, a calling inspired by visits from his late mother-in-law. Think of him as a sort of ghost whisperer, a man who talks to ghosts--and sings Christmas carols to ghost children in cemeteries every holiday season.

Chamberlain organized his own ghost-hunting group five years ago, after he split from another because of bad blood, bruised egos and a disputed photo credit in Good Housekeeping magazine. NWPI chapters meet monthly and quarterly, often at cemeteries in St. Helens, where he says he's got sort of an all-access pass to the Masonic cemetery. In Portland, Chamberlain lays claim to the infamous Shanghai Tunnels, where he helps lead ghost tours with the Cascade Geographic Society. During one pitch-black, solo visit to the tunnels, Chamberlain says he felt the presence of more than 150 people.

Recently, Chamblerlain and his team surveyed an old warehouse in Northwest Portland after being called out to investigate suspicious moaning sounds. Equipped with the standard ghost-hunting gear (paranormal metal detectors called electromagnetic field meters, infrared flashlights, night-vision goggles and 35mm cameras with 400-speed film), the group came up empty-handed. Chamberlain then employed a bionic ear--a satellite-type instrument with an earphone attachment that can detect sound through rooms and from up to five miles away. After adjusting the pitch of the bionic ear to the right frequency, Chamberlain picked up whispers of "Help me. Help me." He says it's the ghost of a woman who was buried under crates in the old warehouse.

Not all ghosts are calling for help, however. Some, says Chamberlain, are downright nasty. He claims he's been bitten and spit on--twice--by mean-spirited spirits. And then, of course, there are poltergeists. While they've been given a bad rap in a certain scary movie of the same name, Chamberlain says his poltergeists are not bad, despite their dark, ominous presence, "99 percent of the time."

Evil poltergeists, on the other hand, are very difficult to get rid of, he claims. Chamberlain says pouring salt around a house can serve as a deterrent, because of salt's ability to change a magnetic field. However, using salt could potentially trap a poltergeist already inside the house, so the practice is not recommended by NWPI, he says. Would moving rid one of the negativity? "No," Chamberlain warns, "they'll go with you. If you have a negative spirit in your house, they know they can feed off you; they're gonna move with you." A simpler remedy, he advises, would be a change in attitude, as negative spirits wouldn't dare feed off of "happy-go-lucky" types.

According to Chamberlain, it's not just poltergeists that like to travel. Ghosts, especially ghost children looking for guidance and parental support, are known to follow visitors out of cemeteries and other haunted sites. "We had a guy in our club, who went to a cemetery in Burns," he says. "He met a little boy over there that they call George. George ended up going with him from eastern Oregon all the way to Michigan."

How does one get rid of a ghost, then? According to Chamberlain, that's the stuff of exorcism and not of paranormal investigators. He warns exorcism does not always work.

Citing the films Ghost and The Sixth Sense as the best representations of his line of work, Chamberlain says ghosts exist for three main reasons: "One is they don't know they've passed on, so they stick around. Two is they don't want to go because they have unfinished business. The third one is they come and go whenever they please."

For a man who surrounds himself with the spirits of dead people, Chamberlain clearly enjoys the presence of ghosts and doesn't mind his mother-in-law's pranks or the spike in media interest this time of year. In fact, keeping an open mind is the No. 1 piece of advice Chamberlain offers DIY rookies looking for Halloween haunts. Always conscious of the ghostly-lunar-magnetic connection, Chamberlain advises newbies to schedule their ghost hunts around a full moon, when the pull is strongest and the spirits, ethereal and earthbound alike, are willing.

Seven Places to Get Your Ghoul On

The Maize at the Pumpkin Patch
Featuring six acres of cornfield and an estimated 300,000 stalks of corn, the Pumpkin Patch's annual corn maze is guaranteed to scare you silly, and then some.... Shhh, did you hear that?

16525 NW Gillihan Road on Sauvie Island, 621-7110. 10 am-6 pm Wednesday, 10 am-10 pm Thursday, Oct. 30-31. $4-$6.

Halloween on Alberta
About every seven years, "Last Thursday" and Halloween fall on the same day. To celebrate this union Alberta Street shop owners are seeing to it that kids go home safe and happy with big bags of goodies. Don't miss the Halloween parade and costume contest.

Northeast Alberta Street, 282-6608. Thursday, Oct. 31. 4-6 pm kids trick or treat, 7-8 pm costume parade and contest.

Adult Celtic Storyteller and Harper: Gwion
Experienced storyteller Gwion will tell the tale "Demon Lover," about a young wife and mother's desire to run away with a long-lost lover.

LaurelThirst Public House, 2958 NE Glisan St., 232-1504. Wednesday, Oct. 30. 9:30-11:30 pm. $6. 21+.

Harkness Haunted House
Who said good can't come of evil? Portland artists create a thoroughly horrifying experience and then hand over the proceeds to Operation Night Watch and the Portland Film Festival.

Medicine Hat Gallery, 1834 NE Alberta St., 234-0458. 6 pm-midnight Thursday, Oct. 31; 6-11 pm Friday-Saturday, Nov. 1-2. $6 adults, $3 children ages 10-16 (not recommended for younger ages).

Rocky Horror Picture Show
Halloween just wouldn't be the same without sweet Transylvanian transvestites, sex-addicted aliens and a very tasty Meat Loaf. Thank God for the Rocky Horror Picture Show!

Clinton Street Theater, 2522 SE Clinton St., 238-8899. Thursday, Oct. 31. 10 pm. $5.

Baron Von Goolo's Museum of Horror and Petting Zoo of the Unsettling
After decades of hunting ghoulish rarities and ghastly oddities from all over the world, Baron Von Goolo has decided to share his collection with the public. Beware...this museum/zoo isn't for the easily unnerved.

Located next to Toys R Us at Jantzen Beach, 6:30-9:30 pm Wednesday-Thursday, 6-10 pm Friday-Sunday, Oct. 30-Nov. 3. $3.

Dracula "Live and Loving it"
Join Willamette Radio Workshop and other Transylvanian enthusiasts for a live radio re-creation of Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre of the Air's first broadcast.

Kennedy School in the gymnasium, 5736 NE 33rd Ave., 249-3983. 7 and 8:30 pm Thursday, Oct. 31. .