Johnstown native Georgia O'Connor makes her living as a "translator," facilitating conversations between her clients and their loved ones. What makes her services unusual is that those loved ones are no longer alive.
"It's helping living people communicate with the dead," she said. "Helping those with bodies communicate with those who no longer have bodies."
It's an ability she's had as long as she can remember, she says. When she was very young, she would tell friends about the ghosts around them, and she was surprised at their reactions - for her, these ever-present spirits weren't scary.
The Leader-Herald/Bill Ackerbauer
Georgia O’Connor is seen in the office where she meets with clients at her home in Amsterdam. O’Connor says she helps people communicate with deceased relatives.
"I learned quickly to stop talking about it with people," she said. "During high school and elementary school, I tried really hard to hide this."
O'Connor says she's not the only one in her family who is sensitive to the presence of departed spirits, and she thinks everyone has a little bit of this ability, especially children. Most adults might only be receptive to communication from the other side in the form of dreams or other rare glimpses, she said.
"With me, it's just clearer."
After graduating from Johnstown High School in 1994, she went to the University of New Hampshire to study wildlife biology. She then transfered to the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse. After college, she moved to Texas, got married and had children.
She moved back to the Capital Region five years ago to be closer to her family. Now separated and living with her three young children in a quiet residential neighborhood in Amsterdam, she meets clients in her home office. Translating the messages of the dead for the benefit of the living has been her main occupation for the last eight years.
"I'm a single mom with three kids -this is how I make my living," she said. "Within months of starting to do it professionally, it was enough that I stopped doing other work. ... I realized I don't have time to do two jobs - I need to focus on this."
O'Connor occasionally conducts open readings - public events in which she communicates spirits' messages to members of the audience, but most of her work is done in private sessions, either over the telephone or in her home office. Her rates range from $90 for a half-hour telephone session to $400 for an in-person session with a large group of people.
Contact from beyond
O'Connor says she doesn't have much control over who "comes through" with messages for her clients.
"I don't summon anybody," she said. "Whoever's here is who I talk to."
The living are surrounded at all times by spirits, she said.
"Everybody has four or five at least," she said. "Some people come with just enormous numbers of people from the other side."
Sometimes, spirits will compete for her attention - a constant stimulus that she consciously tunes out when not working, she says.
O'Connor explains that some spirits show themselves to her visually, while some only communicate verbally. One's personality in life affects how he or she manifests to the medium as a spirit, she said: Those who were big talkers in life tend to be auditory in the spirit world, while "those who struggled with communicating or were very shy are more visual with me."
O'Connor says spirits usually give her information to pass along to "validate" for the client that he or she really is in the presence of a certain loved one.
"When a family member communicates, a lot of times they will use the same phrases they used while they were here," she said. The client will "hear through me that their loved one is saying something like 'Hey, babe, what's up?' I think it's surprising for a lot of people that it's that conversational."
She is able to convey messages to clients over the phone - even those calling from overseas - because those on the other side are not subject to the same limits of time and space, she said.
Beth Wickerham first learned about O'Connor when she saw an item in a newspaper announcing the medium would conduct an open reading near her home in Saratoga Springs.
She was impressed with O'Connor's performance at that event and asked a friend to set up a private session.
"She knew absolutely nothing about me when I arrived," Wickerham said.
O'Connor told Wickerham she sensed the presence of her parents, which Wickerham thought seemed wrong - until O'Connor asked whether she'd been adopted. She had.
"She told me the exact circumstances of why I was adopted," Wickerham said, describing conversations she has had with her late adoptive father, facilitated by the medium.
"With Georgia, you're actually able to have a conversation [with departed loved ones]," Wickerham said.
She said O'Connor also has conveyed advice from a "spirit guide" - a guardian angel-type being that Wickerham thinks might have been a person she knew in a past life.
O'Connor said "spiritually advanced" clients such as Wickerham can be put in touch with spirit guides, who can "help clarify the decisions they have to make."
From skeptical to shocked
Stacy Snyder Waner, who grew up in Johnstown and went to high school with O'Connor (when her last name was Czechowicz), said she didn't know then that her friend was clairvoyant.
"I had no idea she had this ability," said Waner, now a real estate broker and business owner in Port St. Lucie, Fla. She and O'Connor reconnected on Facebook few years ago, and O'Connor surprised her with an odd message.
"She said, 'Somebody on the other side needs to talk to you,'" Waner said. "I was very skeptical ... but it did not take long for me to be shocked at what she was saying."
Waner said O'Connor "described this guy, who she said was 'kind of like a father-figure.'"
O'Connor told her the man was "pointing to a blue medical sign."
"It was my father-in-law," Waner said, explaining she understood the message to mean her husband's late father wanted her to become an emergency medical technician - something she had done previously but had stopped because of an injury.
"He said I should get back to doing that because I helped people and I was good at it," Waner said.
Waner said O'Connor also passed along a message from her late father-in-law to her husband.
"I told him what she said, and he was speechless," Waner said.
Waner stressed she is not the kind of person who normally seeks out supernatural experiences.
But she said she is convinced that O'Connor helps people, especially those grieving for lost loved ones.
"She helps put them at ease and gives them some sort of peace," Waner said.
O'Connor says she often faces skeptics, and some clients come to her with misconceptions, asking her if she practices witchcraft or deals with demons.
"I think a lot of people coming here for the first time expect to see me with a turban on my head and a crystal ball in the middle of the room," she said. "Or they expect me to have tarot cards, or some other prop like that, and I don't."
A session with O'Connor doesn't involve any rituals or symbols, and her office looks more like a typical living room than a Gypsy fortune-teller's parlor.
O'Connor says when she's not connecting the living and the dead, she likes to do "normal things" like spend time with her kids, work in the garden and volunteer with the local neighborhood watch.
She says she doesn't believe in claims made by many other self-proclaimed psychics.
"I don't think anyone can predict the future," O'Connor said. "The whole point of us being here is to make choices. It's all about free will and the choices we make, and every choice we make alters our future in some way."
For more information about Georgia O'Connor, see her website, www.thespiritmessengeronline.com.
Features Editor Bill Ackerbauer can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.