One of the bylaw rules of the Portland Ghostbusters – and it’s amazing this needs to be said – is that members don’t actually trap ghosts.
“We don’t do paranormal investigation,” said the group’s co-founder, James Nelson. “We have actually gotten messages from people who say, ‘My house is haunted, I need somebody to come check it out.’ I know people who do paranormal research, so I forward those along to them, but we’re just a cosplay group, we’re not actually going to come out and bust ghosts.”
No, the Portland Ghostbusters won’t clear ancient demonic entities from city skyscrapers, but they will show up to raise money for charity and lead slime making workshops for kids.
Similar groups of cosplaying Ghostbusters exist all over the world. The clubs call themselves “franchises,” but only as a nod to Bill Murray’s line in the first “Ghostbusters” film, “The franchise rights alone will make us rich beyond our wildest dreams.”
Really, each Ghostbusters chapter or club is its own entity, not beholden to any international ghost-busting authority.
James Nelson co-founded the charity cosplay group in April 2012. He posted a message on the fan website gbfans.com asking if anyone in the Portland area wanted to start a franchise. He heard from Boone Langston, and the two met for the first time over beers at McMenamins Broadway Pub to draw up plans for their ghost-busting team.
Langston has mostly left busting behind as he pursued fame in his other passion – Lego building. He was one half of the “Bearded Builders” team that appeared on the competition TV series “Lego Masters.”
But back in 2012, Langston and Nelson formed the original Portland Ghostbusters. They soon recruited three others over the message board and made their first appearance at Rose City Comic Con that September.
Today, the group has grown to about 20 active members, making it the largest Ghostbusters franchise in the Pacific Northwest. They’ve joined in walks and fundraisers for Make a Wish, the Autism Society of Oregon and the Lupus Foundation of America and raised money for Doernbecher Children’s Hospital with appearances at Spirit Halloween stores. They also attend birthday parties at no charge and lead slime-making workshops with kids at museums and conventions.
“We never charge for a birthday party,” said Joanna Nelson, James’ wife and co-president of the group. “We don’t get paid to do this, this is all voluntary, we all have normal jobs.”
Rather than set a fee, the Portland Ghostbusters accept tips that go toward replenishing their slime supplies, making donations to other charities, and covering their costs for appearances at parties where families cannot afford to pay.
Much of this work came to a pause during the pandemic, but for the opening weekend of “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” members staged at two Century 16 movie theaters to pose for photos with moviegoers and show off their ghost busting gadgets.
Shawn Marshall joined the group in 2013 after spotting members at Rose City Comic Con. He’d been a lone wolf Ghostbuster for years, building his own proton pack in 1984 after the first movie came out.
That year, Marshall had attended a lecture on visuals effects by Richard Edlund, who had just worked on the original “Ghostbusters” film and had the Egon Spengler pack from the movie on display.
Marshall and a friend brought a camera and a ruler, and hastily took a bunch of reference photos of the pack. Then they went home to construct their own versions.
Marshall’s proton pack, which he still wears today, was made using wood, PVC pipe, a Pringles can, White Out correction fluid caps, a super 8 film canister and a cast made from his mom’s roasting pan. In the days before readily available home computers, he pried warning labels from Atari games, electrical boxes and a weed whacker to add some graphic elements to his creation.
Since then, he’s also fabricated his own PKE meter and Ecto goggles used in the films.
Marshall readily admits that the film “Ghostbusters” didn’t exactly change his life – though he did win a $100 costume contest prize that first year.
“I come at it from a builder, makers angle,” Marshall said. “It’s a fertile ground for making cool things that people like seeing.”
While some members take pride in building their own proton packs, store bought accessories work just as well. And don’t let the tech intimidate you. New Portland Ghostbusters need only a flight suit, a ‘no ghost’ patch and a name patch to get started.
What draws in Ghostbusters cosplayers is part nostalgia, part geeky fun.
“I remember for my seventh birthday, I asked for a Kenner proton pack,” James Nelson said. “That was the best birthday present I’d ever gotten. Of course, I was a Ghostbuster that year for Halloween, and I remember playing Ghostbusters with my friends. Watching it again ... I just had this sense of the joy and the wonder that I had as a kid.”
Scott Grohs, who joined the Portland Ghostbusters in 2015, had been a fan since he was a kid watching “The Real Ghostbusters” cartoons in the 1980s.
“The real genius of Ghostbusters, I think, is it’s not just that there are ghosts, and they can be busted,” Grohs said. “It’s that with the right equipment and a little bit of training, you can bust them.”
Mykel Gosch, a Portland Ghostbusters since 2018, echoed the sentiment. You don’t need to be superhero to be a Ghostbuster. Anyone can be a Ghostbuster.
“The best thing about being a Ghostbuster is having your actual name on your uniform,” Gosch said. “So, you can be Batman, you can be Superman. But when you’re a Ghostbuster, you’re yourself. You’re just a better version of yourself.”
Learn more about the Portland Ghostbusters at portlandghostbusters.org.