As Vince Marshall walked through Greenwood Cemetery, the L-shaped wires in his hands moved of their own accord.
"I hold these out like two six-shooters," Marshall said.
It was roughly 30 years ago when Marshall watched his brother use dowsing to locate a plugged sewer line in his father's backyard. Interested, Marshall began trying his hand at the process.
"I played around in the backyard, doing this and that, looking for utilities — nothing practical," Marshall said.
Then he met a couple who used dowsing to locate the graves of cowboys who had died while working along the Chisholm Trail. It was that connection to history that moved Marshall's dowsing from an occasional pastime into a serious study.
"I'm interested in history, that's why I say it's 'dowsing for history clues,'" Marshall said. "It's something that points me toward what's going on in a family, in a community — the history before the settlement of this area."
Dowsing rods can be made of any material, including plastic, wood or paper, but Marshall uses copper wire. Twisting the wire into an L-shape, he adds loose plastic piping for handles.
"I've done a lot of experimenting because I wanted to see what worked best," Marshall said.
Wearing a gardening apron filled with different types of markers that he can stick into the ground, Marshall tucks his elbows at his sides and steps slowly across an area.
"When I dowse, I walk across graves or a target," Marshall said. "A target could be an underground utility, a pipe or a wire, or it could be an old trail."
Marshall takes heel-to-toe steps to determine the length and width of the object, noting when the dowsing rods swing outwards in opposite directions, then return to pointing forwards again.
"Most people's rods cross...mine go outward, but I can't tell you why," Marshall said. "All I can say is we're all wired differently, I don't know how. I don't fully understand it."
Using dowsing, Marshall locates oil wellheads, wagon paths, Indian trails and even railroad tracks that have had the rails removed. He can judge which mode of transportation was used by measuring the distance between the ruts.
What is of most interest to Marshall is locating unmarked graves. Whether in a cemetery or on private property, he volunteers his time to find out what is beneath the earth.
"Generally, I can find the outline of a body," Marshall said.
By measuring the length of the grave site, he can tell if a child or adult is buried there.
Marshall can determine whether the person was male or female by walking at the head end of the grave site, at a right angle to the length of the buried remains, and seeing which way the dowsing rods swing. If the rods point away from the head and grave site, then the gender is female, but if the rods point towards the grave site, then the gender is male.
After he first tested the process on various pipes buried at his house, Marshall found he can also determine how deep an object is buried by stomping his foot on the ground over it and counting off the seconds before the dowsing rods react. Each second that passes is equal to one foot of dirt over the object.
"I stand right over the grave and I can tell the depth of the burial," Marshall said. "I stomp and I think it sends a reflection back."
Though he is not sure why or how dowsing works exactly, Marshall believes it is not because of anything special about the dowsing rods themselves. Rather, it could be linked to a person's aura and a connection of the eyes, thumbs and ground. He has found that dowsing often does not work if a person's thumbs are not touching the holders for the rods.
"The control of the hands and thumbs are right next to the visual control area in the brain," Marshall said.
Marshall gives demonstrations and workshops about dowsing, teaching others the methods he has found successful.
"I think we all could (dowse)," Marshall said. "Some of us have to work at it."
Marshall will lead a dowsing tour for Newton Public Library's Third Tuesday genealogy outing at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 19. Contact the library at 316-283-2890 for directions to the presentation site.
For more information about Marshall's dowsing process, visit http://dowsefiles.info.