FOR A LONG TIME NOW, CREEPY THINGS have been happening at San Diego’s 105-year-old Hotel del Coronado. Windows open and close on their own. Doorknobs are hot to the touch. And a mysterious woman has been seen wandering the hallway outside Room 3502. Who ya gonna call?
If this were a movie, the hotel might have dialed ghostbusters Dan Aykroyd or Bill Murray. But real-life spooks are the business of another Aykroyd: Dan’s younger brother, Peter, 37, who spent a night at the Hotel del Coronado to check out the ghostly goings-on.
“There are lots of things out there that need to be explored,” says Peter, an amateur ghostbuster (he prefers to be called a paranormal researcher) with the Los Angeles-based Office of Scientific Investigation and Research. He first came across the 300-member organization while researching television projects on the supernatural.
The group tries to track ghosts with a collection of high-tech tools—including night-vision goggles, radiation sensors, toxic-chemical indicators, a microwave imaging system and high-frequency sound detectors—and they do it for nothing.
“There’s no big money in ghost-busting, only in writing movies about it,” says Peter, who earns his living as a musician and composer (he co-wrote “Conehead Love” for Cone-heads). But for Peter, who helped Dan research 1984’s Ghostbusters, finding evidence of the supernatural is thrill enough. “When those alarms go off on all the different machines, that’s compelling stuff,” he says.
Once, during a fabric store stakeout, a handful of buttons mysteriously appeared on a table. And during the Del Coronado surveillance last October, Aykroyd and his team saw a lamp move and heard a glass crash onto the floor. “When it broke, everyone kind of looked at one another and said, ‘What the hell was that?’ ” he remembers. (Having ruled out tremors and wind, he still doesn’t know what caused the crash.)
The Aykroyds are no strangers to the supernatural. Peter Sr. and his wife, Lorraine, both Canadian government workers, entertained the boys with tales of family séances and left psychic research journals lying around their Ottawa home for their sons to read. And then there was the handwriting on an old slate at their lakeside summer home in Kingston, Ont. The family believed it to have been scribbled posthumously by the boys’ great-great-uncle Andrew. “The gist of the message is that there is a thin veil between us and them,” says Peter, who admits such family interests resulted in a “fair share of abuse from friends who didn’t believe.”
After high school, Peter set off to follow in Dan’s footsteps. He won a place with Toronto’s Second City comedy troupe in 1976, then did a brief stint on Saturday Night Live in 1979-80, the season after Dan’s departure. “Peter has a great sense of humor,” says Dan, 41, noting that as a teenager the younger Aykroyd would walk around the house like a robot, repeating the phrase, “Consume mass quantities,” which Dan later appropriated for his Conehead routines.
After he was let go from SNL in a cast shake-up, Peter joined Dan in Hollywood, where the two bought a house together. Peter found work acting and writing soundtrack music for his brother’s films. Although his own acting career has not panned out, Peter insists he has never been jealous of his brother’s fame. “Dan is a steamroller,” Peter says. “His success is a result of his abilities. I haven’t been intimidated in the least, and when we have our differences, we resolve them on the spot.”
In fact, the two spend much of their free time together, frequently lunching at trendy L.A. restaurants and taking in the sounds at Los Angeles-area blues bars. Though Dan is now married with children, “I try to keep his fool in the nightlife scene,” says the never-wed Peter, who is currently dating a 23-year-old makeup artist. For his part, Dan supports his brother’s psychic endeavors. “Some people don’t believe, but I believe,” says Dan.
Both brothers admit, of course, that often there are mundane explanations for seemingly ghostly events—perhaps a faulty air conditioner or a practical joker. “I believe in ghosts, but I don’t go into a house believing a ghost is there,” says Peter, who learned to detect basic magic tricks as part of the OSIR’s training program. On the other hand, if he were to come eye-to-eye with an otherworldly being, Peter isn’t sure how he’d react. At home one night after an evening of ghostbusting, he screamed when he saw a towel slipping off a doorknob. “Then I thought to myself, ‘Is this what would happen to me if I came face-to-face with something?’ Would I have a heart attack? I suppose I would.”
LORENZO BENET in West Hollywood