Mike Chandler, a handyman and painter from Eldena, uses a bronze, L-shaped welder’s rod that, he says, helps him to find and identify dead bodies. He calls it a “divining rod,” and insists sorcery isn’t part of the act.
The 52-year-old considers himself a student of the art, which involves a technique that might seem alien or supernatural to some people.
At Oakwood Cemetery in Dixon, Chandler demonstrated the device by holding it out and away from his chest, taking small, rhythmic steps forward.
“I could be standing here talking to you about it and it’ll do it,” he said, referring to the swing and turn of the rod when it “hits” on a body – left for women, right for men.
As his feet shuffled across the grass near a headstone, he maintained a tight grip on the short end of the metal, and made sure not to use his thumb. That could manipulate it, he said.
Chandler hypothesizes that successful detection is largely dependent on blood type and “the metal in your blood that’s grounding you to the earth.”
That’s why it doesn’t work on animals, he said, because the energy is specific to humans.
The man who taught Chandler believed in a connection with the spirit world. Chandler doesn’t claim a religion, but he considers himself spiritual.
“A lot of people fear stuff like this,” he said. “Some people are very scared of it. One of the toughest guys I know will not touch this.”
In July, Chandler’s divining rod was put to the test.
Denise McLoughlin, 63, of Prophetstown, is family history coordinator for the Tampico Historical Society. She is compiling the genealogical past of Howell Searcy, a Confederate soldier initially buried in Morrison.
McLoughlin said that Searcy, who died in 1929, was moved to Tampico Memorial Cemetery in 1930, according to Daily Gazette archives. The soldier, who also is reportedly a first cousin of the notorious Jesse James, has a makeshift headstone with white, hand-painted lettering.
The historical society wanted to change that, but needed more evidence about his location to be sure, she said.
McLoughlin had heard about Chandler from Pat Gorman, president of the Lee County Historical Society. At last month’s group meeting, Chandler gave a presentation and demonstration at the cemetery.
“My interest in having Mike come out ... was to tell me how many bodies were there … and gender,” she said.
McLoughlin already knew about a second body. A death certificate shows that Winnie, Howell’s wife, was buried there in 1902.
McLoughlin emphasized that Chandler didn’t have prior knowledge about the number of bodies in the ground, and she needed him to confirm that both Howell and Winnie were together.
“Sure enough, he found two bodies, … one male and one female.” she said. “It gave me goosebumps. In my mind, it’s solved this mystery.”
The goal now for the historical society is to make sure to get a decent headstone with both names, McLoughlin said.
The concept of divining reminds her of fairy rings, she said, a phenomenon where mushrooms grow in a circle around graves and in fields, and often are found in folklore.
While she doesn’t know why they sprout in a pattern, the concept must be grounded in fact, she said, even if she doesn’t understand it.
“I certainly had my doubts, but I was open to it,” she said. “I wanted to see [the divining rod] before I blew it off as a prank.”
So, is divining fool-proof?
Some souls send stronger signals, Chandler said.
That might explain why the process works for some and misses on others.
McLoughlin soon will make her own divining rod in an attempt to identify several other unmarked burial sites in an abandoned cemetery south of Tampico, she said.