There are plenty of strange things about Las Vegas, but perhaps the most perplexing is this: I just told the concierge at The Venetian that I'm in town hunting the ghost of Liberace, and he didn't even look up.
Ghosts are as common in Sin City as top-heavy drink girls. Bugsy Siegel floats through the garden of the Flamingo, Houdini roams the showroom of the Plaza, and Redd Foxx stalks the halls of his mansion, dick snaking unapologetically out of his bathrobe. And that's not even counting the myriad crapped-out suicides. But around these parts, in death as in life, it's Liberace who steals the show.
Since succumbing to complications from AIDS in 1987, Liberace has taken up residence at a restaurant called Carluccio's Tivoli Gardens, a few blocks off the Strip. Liberace owned the place and even had his own private lounge attached to the dining room, allowing him to slip in and man the glittering keys to the delight of unsuspecting diners. Walk inside Carluccio's and you wonder whether the cartoonishly flamboyant pianist ever really left. Besides the all-mirror-and-plastic-flower interior, there are the continued reports of hauntings: electrical surges, ladies' restroom stalls that lock and unlock themselves, crashing bottles.
Tonight, the L. V. Paranormal Investigation team of Mike Carrico and Osvaldo Luna have gathered to see if the man whose mama called him Lee can come out to play. By day the two 36-year-olds work at the casinos—Carrico supervises porters; Luna is a housekeeping manager. By night they're on the prowl for the paranormal. "My wife thinks I'm full of shit, and my father-in-law thinks I'm a joke," Carrico says. "But it's a calling."
Carrico and Luna are the kind of guys who have been giving the International Ghost Hunting society a more youthful demographic lately. The governing body of the boo-curious, the IGHS says its list of 15,000 members in 87 countries is thick with young recruits. The society's goal is to distance itself from the taint of Ouija boards and babbling psychics, modernizing—and perhaps even legitimizing—ghost-hunting with tools that promise tangible proof: thermal scanners, electromagnetic-field meters, Geiger counters, night cameras, motion detectors, and tape recorders.
But is it for real? Could Grammy Mae still be trolling the kitchen from beyond the grave pimping her famous lemon icebox pie? Among the thousands of IGHS-approved Internet sites, there are countless pictures of "orbs," mysterious balls of light of varying size said to signify the presence of a specter. To the skeptic they could just be bits of floating dust, refracted light, or a finger in the lens. But electronic voice phenomena, known as EVPs, are harder to shake off. Tape recorders left running in haunted areas often pick up faint, disembodied voices crying out from the other side. (EVPs form the basis of White Noise, a new film starring Michael Keaton—speaking of life after death—and figure prominently in the new Sci-Fi Channel docu-series Ghost Hunters.) "We were the first ghost organization to teach that ghost voices are filled with emotions," says Dr. Dave Oester, co-founder of the IGHS. "They're not monotone, as taught by traditional groups."