It’s hard to stump the staffers at Connecticut’s historical landmarks — they’re pretty well versed on their buildings’ one-time occupants. But there’s one common question for which they have no adequate answer: Is this place haunted?
Very old buildings commonly come with lore about spooky happenings, but rarely does anyone really explore these tales. To that end, officials with Connecticut Landmarks have tapped the East Haven-based Connecticut Paranormal Research Investigators (CT-PRI, for short) to get to the bottom of things.
Since May, the group has been schlepping its equipment — infrared cameras, temperature gauges, audio recorders, holy water — to four of the 12 properties maintained by Connecticut Landmarks. They concluded their on-site work last week, at Hartford’s oldest building, the Butler-McCook House on Main Street. After reviewing the evidence, they’ll put together their findings.
That will be the basis for a series of presentations for the public in September and October titled, appropriately, “Is This Place Haunted?”
The five-member CT-PRI was founded by Christine Kaczynski, who introduces herself as “coming from a family of exorcists in Greece.” A design engineer by day (she doesn’t charge for ghost-hunting), she’s been working in the paranormal field for 35 years and formed the group five years ago. Kaczynski points out that they’re not actually looking for hauntings, which are malevolent spirits, but for spiritual presences.
Kaczynski twisted her ankle a week earlier but discounts the possibility of otherworldly menace. “Mostly they play upon your fears,” she says of evil spirits. “They’re psychological attacks a lot of the time.”
Spots That Go Cold
Connecticut Landmarks long resisted the idea of paranormal research — after all, it’s a serious organization that deals with history and facts, said Rochelle Simon, director of communications for Connecticut Landmarks. But, after years of fielding questions from the public, the group’s officials realized they also were curious. Simon says they also were impressed by CT-PRI’s professionalism.
It takes the crew about 20 minutes to set up all the wiring and install infrared cameras in four of the rooms Butler-McCook House. Cynthia Riccio, Butler-McCook’s site administrator, has said that she feels a distinctive “presence” when she’s alone in the house. She suspect’s that it’s Frances McCook, the house’s last occupant.
The investigators do some preliminary photography to get the house’s layout and set up temperature gauges to check for spots that suddenly go cold. Adam Shefts of Wallingford, who joined the group about a year ago, does most of the tech stuff. Many of the gadgets are gifts from his family, even though his father thinks it’s a waste of time. His mother, though, is a believer, and his friends think it’s a cool hobby.
“I don’t go around telling too many people because I don’t know what their reaction is going to be,” Shefts says.
Jan Forcier of Bridgeport wanders the house, extending a digital recorder in her hand and petitioning any spirits to make themselves known. She’s hoping to capture electronic voice phenomena, or EVP, in ghost-hunting argot.
“I’m here to communicate with you. Do you mind our being here?” she says to the dark. “Can you tell me your name? Is there something you would like to say?”
If any spirits take her up on the offer, Forcier won’t know until she reviews the tape later; you can rarely hear spirits with the naked ear. Even on recordings, she says, words are usually muffled, as though they’re being spoken underwater. EVP experts claim that spiritual voices are either below 30 hertz or above 28,000 hertz; human voices are mid-range.
Sometimes presences make themselves known visually in the form of silhouettes or even full human shape, Forcier says. She’s never seen this happen yet, though.
Faint Orbs Of Light
Most of the action takes place in a room downstairs as the investigators watch the monitor, split into four screens for each camera, waiting for something to happen. When something does, it’s not flying furniture or the risen form of the house’s last occupant, Frances McCook, but usually faint orbs of light. Most are dismissed as dust, but at about 10:30, an orb that appears on Screen 3 (the music room) catches Shefts’ attention.
“It’s got substance to it, and it curves. It’s an oval shape, and dust wouldn’t be oval,” he says, jotting down the time and location. “The real important thing is that it changed shape — it went from circular to oval.”
The non-investigators in the room find this curious but aren’t particularly taken aback. A short while later, a brighter light that shoots across the screen has a different effect.
“Holy crap!” says the otherwise poised Simon of Connecticut Landmarks, putting her hand to her mouth. A few weeks earlier, she described herself as something of a skeptic, but lately she has been talking of eerie happenings. At a previous investigation at the Nathan Hale Homestead in Coventry, one of the cameras went black momentarily. The investigation at the Bellamy-Ferriday House & Garden in Bethlehem produced both spooky orbs and EVP.
None of this surprises the staff at some of these landmarks. Ghost stories at the Hale house, for instance, go back to the early 20th century — weeping, footsteps, chains, the works. On the night of the investigation there, workers told one story after another of odd events.
Hours Of Just Waiting
But an investigation can go on for hours with nothing happening. Sometimes the crew goes home empty-handed. On-site work takes about four to five hours. Nonetheless, time moves along at Butler-McCook with lively conversation. Kaczynski holds court, remembering some of her more harrowing exorcisms. Talk also turns to more earth-bound topics, such as the rise and fall of Krispy Kreme stock. They also talk about their favorite ghost-hunter TV shows, except for Kaczynski, who can’t stand any of them.
It’s doubtful that the Connecticut Paranormal Research Investigators would make for good TV. Watching a handful of folks stare at a monitor hardly sounds like a ratings blockbuster. But their earnestness is such that a non-believer can get caught up. Even staunchest skeptics can admire the crew’s dedication; the job requires an astoundingly high threshold for tedium. After crew members pack up a little after midnight, they’ll go home and review hours of audio tapes.
“It’s very tiring work; you could miss something in a snap,” Forcier says. “The energy has to be just right, and the conditions have to be just right.”
Sheryl Hack, executive director of Connecticut Landmarks, says taking the paranormal approach should be a fun way to tell the histories of its properties. And, she adds, the question of whether they’re haunted is worth answering.
“We’re committed to telling the stories of these places we steward.”