Saturday, October 8, 2011

August 6, 2011: A Very Big Bump in the Night

The news to report about our August investigation falls nicely into two ominous categories: "Be careful what you wish for," and "All clichés are based on truth."

The first category refers to my longstanding frustration at not having any close encounters at the Merchant's House. Other members of the team have seen swirling mist and heard disembodied voices. But I've yet to experience a single unexplained sound or playful tap on the shoulder (which many visitors have reported, especially during the annual Ghost Tours).

The closest I've come to any of that happened on October 1, 2010 - when I got goosebumps while standing in the rear parlor. Like the beard I shaved off long ago, I no longer have a firm conviction that the sense of something I got brushing up against my stubble was anything more than wish fulfillment and/or the work of an overactive imagination.

For the past several months, I've roamed the house alone - inviting all manner of supernatural visitation. Me, who used to stop liquid intake hours before so I wouldn't have to leave the group to use the bathroom. Now, I am the man without fear. Need someone to fetch a fresh battery for the digital audio recorder? No problem. I'll go three flights up and back, alone, to get it. It's not like anything's going to happen, right?

The hard evidence we collect - spectacular though it may be - almost always comes in the form of EVP captured on tape and revealed once Dan Sturges has sifted through hours of audio and video recordings (see the April and June blog entries).

As for the latter category that tonight's investigation falls into ("All clichés are based on truth"), let me make this crystal clear. When it comes to haunted houses, things really do go bump in the night. To hear for yourself, access this web page, then scroll down to the last two audio clips:

Listening to that clip outside of its proper context, you wouldn't peg it as the most extraordinary and unsettling event to have happened in the past eight months. So here's the scenario:

At 8:01pm, our investigative team (Dan, Anthony, Mike, psychic Cathy Towle, Stephanie and me) had made our way from Eliza Tredwell's bedroom into the adjoining bedroom of her husband, Seabury. At Cathy's urging ("I think we should talk about Seabury"), Dan was asking a series of questions meant to provoke a response from the Tredwell patriarch (such as, "Do you feel you were a strict father?"). At 8:09pm, Mike noted that he heard "a sound, like a clap if you held a piece of paper between your hands and clapped." Anthony's take on the sound was, "I got the impression of a clap on a chalkboard."

At 8:10pm, Cathy announced to the group that she heard a woman's voice singing (it's become standard protocol for Cathy to note, out loud, her psychic impressions). "I feel like the whole family is here tonight," Cathy said, then commented on Dan's increasingly provocative inquiries to Seabury: "He's been answering your questions in a stern way, Dan."

It's 8:12 now, and Anthony says, "I'm smelling tobacco, like a cigarette" - a sensory experience that both Mike and Dan share. At 8:14pm, Stephanie tells the group," I'm seeing a peripheral flickering." Acting on a hunch, she asks, "Does somebody want these lights turned off?"

And that's when it hit. Literally. In the exit interviews conducted the next day, two schools of thought emerged: Either we were getting a direct response from an intelligent entity who wanted the lights to be turned off - or, it was a poltergeist (a physical manifestation of subconscious tension created by one of the six living beings in the room). If the latter, most bets were on Stephanie as the source, since it was later revealed that an event in her personal life caused her to rethink her presence in the house, since the moment she walked in the door.

Mind you, this is all hindsight. At the time, the origin of the bump seemed utterly supernatural - and "freaked out" is a highly accurate way to describe the effect it had on our jaded little group of regulars. Loud, unexplained noises have been documented before, Dan points out, but always by recorders left in unattended rooms - never with six eyewitnesses positioned mere feet away.

The "bump" came from inside the closet - which, upon inspection, had no contents that could have fallen down. Besides, the sheer force of the impact seems to be the work of something that was thrown with enormous force (and this being a closet, there's not enough room for the sort of wind up and pitch necessary to create such an impact).

As for the impact the event had on me? Later that night, I found myself bravely volunteering to go up to the third floor office to fetch a headlight (we decided to conduct an investigation of the kitchen in near total darkness). I bolted all the way up to the office and back, singing nervously to myself as a crude strategy to ward off whatever was behind that freaky "bump."

One giant leap forward in terms of interacting with the paranormal, and I'd taken an embarrassing step back. Here I was, gifted with this unique journalistic opportunity to explore Manhattan's most haunted house. Now, something extraordinary had happened - just as I'd been craving - and my response was to break the land/speed record for going up and down a set of stairs while crooning a Beach Boys tune.

It was "California Girls," by the way. Should you ever need to put the kibosh on a ghostly encounter, I can tell you from experience: That the tune is to Casper what garlic is to Dracula. But this discovery, notable in its own right and sure to help field researchers for years to come, is really nothing to be proud of.

I got what I asked for and backed away from it. Maybe it's because I started this project eight months ago as a hardcore atheist, then evolved into an agnostic. Now I'm fairly certain in my own mind that a ghost responded to a question with a loud bang against the inside of a closet door.

It's not the fear of being assaulted by spooks that concerns me. It's the broader implications behind the creeping certainty that the souls of the dead exist right here alongside us on a plane that's just out of our sensory reach. That thing you do behind closed doors that nobody knows about? They're all over that, buddy. The dead are onto every last little secret held by the living - and that's a much more terrifying, and humbling, feeling to experience than the beat your heart skips when things go bump in the night.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

You May Already Be a Winner

Would you feel any better if you knew that some specific force, for some special reason, put you at the right place at the right time? Or maybe you're the type of person who's happy enough to just enjoy a good thing without needing to know how it found its way to your door.

One seemingly normal day--May 11, 2011--artist and Gestalt Psychotherapist Joy E. Sanjek decided to visit the Merchant's House. Living nearby, she'd passed it many times over the years and was aware of its haunted reputation. Given her history of brushes with paranormal phenomena, she knew she really should have stopped in sooner.

What caught her attention on this particular day was the 50 cents admission (in celebration of the Museum's 75th anniversary), and the first-ever opening of the servants quarters to the public. That free glass of Founder's Punch (the same recipe served on the Museum's opening day in 1936) didn't hurt either. It was non-alcoholic, by the way, so don't think the following recollection was informed by the fleeting pleasures of a light afternoon buzz.

"When I got to the house," Sanjek recalls, "there was a raffle with a Ghost Hunt as a prize, and it was actually Lee-my ex partner/soul mate's birthday. He died a few years ago, and I thought that was another reason for me to go to this place. So I bought a couple of tickets and heard they were pulling the winner that Saturday night when Dan would be doing his Ghost Hunting 101 lecture. I spoke to Anthony that day and asked him to look for my name when you pull the ticket, because I called Lee up and said, 'Lee, I'd really love this to be something I win.' And we laughed."

Lee, or somebody, must have been listening--because Sanjek won the right to accompany the team on an investigation. But she didn't win because her name was the first one chosen. As luck, or fate, or paranormal intervention would have it, that night's winner was a generous soul who declined the prize--leaving Anthony to go fish for a second time, and draw the name of a Gestalt Psychotherapist who paid her first visit to the Merchant's House on the anniversary of a loved one's death, which was also the anniversary of the museum's birth.

"It's the first time I can remember winning anything that actually mattered to me," noted Sanjek. For the hardened veterans at the Merchant's House, this collusion of happenstance and wishes seemingly granted by the dead was definitely notable-but not particularly unusual.

So keep your eyes peeled for a future blog entry devoted to other tales of coincidences that come with a Twilight-Zone-meets-O-Henry twist. Also be on the lookout for Part II of the July blog-a stand-alone entry that details some unique "firsts" for paranormal sleuthing at the Merchant's House (spoiler alert: It has something to do with the basement, the garden and messages from several of our deceased grandmothers).

Friday, June 10, 2011

Cool Breezes and Swear Words

This is my seventh investigation--and although I've yet to have a full-bodied spectral sighting of my own, I've seen enough to go from Atheist to Agnostic to Borderline Believer when it comes to the question of whether or not ghosts exist.

But just because you'd think it's highly likely that deceased servants and family members roam the Merchant's House doesn't necessarily mean they're going to make their presence known.

Imagine a group of people coming into your home once a month with recording devices and Electromagnetic Field Meters and probing questions about everything from what color your wallpaper was 100 years ago to whether you have any regrets.

Dan Sturges, in his exit interview following this June investigation, explained what we perceived as a somewhat lackluster night by noting that we're not dealing with eager participants in a Reality TV show desperate for our attention: "You're really at their mercy-whether they're in the mood to speak with us, or if they're even around; or maybe we're not in the right state of mind."

One of the things I like about Dan's investigative technique is the routine protocol that's been developed. We say 'hello' when we open the house, 'goodbye' when we leave, and 'thank you' when we're done investigating each individual room or stairway or vestibule. If there are spirits in the house, he says, they ought to be treated politely.

Dead people are still people, right? If you buy into that, then it stands to reason they've retained all the feelings and flaws and personality they had when they were alive. "So if one of the servants is in a shitty mood," reasons Dan, "then they're not going to talk just because we're asking the questions."

Pardon the swear word, folks. This blog usually doesn't work blue, but Dan's casual six-letter variation of a four-letter word does segue nicely into discussing one of the two EVPs we picked up on this muggy June night. In the first, you (or at least, I) can clearly hear a man's voice say "Oh, shit." That's what several of us thought we heard when Dan played it back for us.

Later in the evening, we picked up an EVP directly following Anthony's question, "Are you a working person, are you a member of the family?" The reply seems to be "I wish you wouldn't have told me that"-although it's difficult to say what the "that" is, since the comment caught on EVP doesn't seem to be connected to Anthony's question.
Click here to listen.

These two outtakes are highly unusual for the sort of EVP we get at Merchant's House, which can almost always be interpreted as interactive responses to an in-the-moment question. Interesting, though, that both of the June EVPs seem to be coming from someone who, as Dan so eloquently put it, is in a "shitty" mood.

On a positive note, there was an odd moment in which it's quite possible that a former resident of the house summoned up one of the elements in response to a plea made in jest.

It was a muggy night, and among our crew (Dan, Anthony, Mike, Cathy and me), there was a great deal of brow mopping and fanning. Loyal to its period, the Merchant's House has no air conditioning; and the fans we had that night, even on full blast, weren't providing much relief.

Calling out to the ether, Mike joked, "Can you make it cooler?" Just then, Dan said he felt "a cool breeze going right down my face." Although a window was open, it's worth noting that nobody in our overheated gang experienced anything even remotely resembling a breeze that night, cool or otherwise-and the standing fan, pointed away from Dan, was just moving dead air.

In his exit interview, Dan reconstructs that moment, noting an unusual trajectory: "A cold sensation hit me in the back. It went over my head and down my face." Asked if he believed this was otherworldly relief granted upon request, cool customer and enduring skeptic Dan plays it like a diplomat: "I can't say, 'oh my God, there was a ghost blowing on my face.' It was cold. It happened. I can't say if was paranormal or not...but it did feel good."

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Lots of (Living) Souls Around

We had a full house tonight-before and during the investigation. And while a new method of gathering EVP proved interesting, that was all it proved. With no accompanying EMF activity, it's dodgy at best to say we were chatting with the dead. As usual, though, there was no shortage of unexplained phenomena to document and question.

Earlier in the evening, Dan Sturges gave one of his occasional "Paranormal 101" lectures that map out the basics as they apply to his ongoing investigation at the house. With nearly 50 folding chairs taking up temporary residence in the front parlor, the capacity crowd filled the room with far more living souls that it's used to accommodating.

We had high hopes for the night's activities once the lecture was done-because strange things often happen during or after such public events. From holiday parties to musical recitals to their annual Ghost Tours, many people (some unfamiliar with the place's haunted history) report sudden chills, feelings of being watched, mischievous taps on the shoulder from unseen hands and three dimensional spectral apparitions.

Maybe it's because there are more potential witnesses around. Maybe it's because all those crashing atoms and crackling electromagnetic signatures are turning the place into a paranormal capacitor. Maybe it's because the Tredwells were a sociable bunch who liked to play host and still enjoy a good party. My guess is sometimes it's all of the above and sometimes it's a few of those reasons, and other X factors, overlapping at the right place and the right time.

One thing's for sure, though - new blood (or "unjaded energy" as Dan put it), and new methods of gathering data, frequently yield unexpected results.

Tonight's new blood, joining Anthony, Dan and me: Laurence - a paranormal investigator who first visited the Merchant's House in 2009; Yoshi - Laurence's son, who recently experienced some experiences Dan says "warrant further investigation"; Darci - a friend of Dan's who'd never been to the house or on a paranormal investigation; and Jason - a shaman in training.

Tonight's new method of gathering data came courtesy of Laurence. An Ovilus, he explains, "translates, or interprets, EVP by displaying words pulled from a list of 714." Those words appear on the screen a maximum of three per time. Laurence was using a digital hand-held Ovilus as well as an iPhone app version. The results discussed in this blog all came from the hand-held device.

As for the difference between previously captured EVP (see the April blog) and what we observed on the Ovilus, Laurence says, "When you're doing EVPs, you're imprinting the 'voice' of the ghost directly onto the recording device. With the Ovilus, it's supposedly the thought of the entity pulling the word out of the dictionary - so it makes it kind of a longer process. It's the difference between me telling you words and me typing words. That's purely speculation, of course. Exactly how that works, no one knows. So what is it detecting, or I should say why it is reacting by displaying certain words is unknown."

With this disclaimer in mind, I was set to dismiss the device as nothing more than a Ouija Board that required batteries. Dan also brought up the good point that even if we could prove we were speaking with a ghost, the conversation would still be limited to those 714 words.

That said, the Ovilus did provide a few goose bump moments. In the Tredwell matriarch's bedroom, Anthony's name came up on the screen as he addressed a question to Eliza. Asking her if she knew what happened to him recently, the device generated the word "leg." He had hurt his leg the previous Monday.

Dan asked of Eliza, "Are you comfortable with us in this room?" The Ovilus said "safe." In Seabury's room, Dan asked "Gertrude, were you born in this room or the rear bedroom?" The Ovilus said "died." Gertrude was born in the house, and died, in the front bedroom (which we refer to as "Seabury's room").

Good old fashioned EVP, in the form of a few notes of piano music, was captured by a voice recorder while we were all in Seabury's room. At the same time, a video camera was trained on the first floor parlor piano (the one that passersby on the street have heard play for years, both before and after it was restored to functional condition). Interesting to note that the keys do not appear to move while the music is heard on the tape. Also interesting that on a hunch, we set the camera, let it roll and left the room-based on Dan's certainty that he heard the piano play during last month's investigation.

While all seven of us were in Seabury's bedroom, Both Anthony and Yoshi heard noise, seemingly coming from the floorboards in the adjacent bedroom. Creaking sounds are nothing unusual, especially with a house as old (and with as much wood) as this one-but in the exit interview two days later, Anthony explained why this particular incident caused him to call it out to the group: "We were in Seabury's bedroom and I was referring to a lot of floor squeaking in Eliza's room...I remember a couple of times saying, "What's that; knocks or creaks.'

Photograph by Bob Estremera

Yoshi's recollection backs up this account: "Anthony said he heard a couple of creaks, and I peeked over to where the fireplace in Eliza's room was, and I heard the same thing; a kind of creaking-like someone is sneaking around, and they take one step and it makes a creaking sound. It was noticeable, not like expansion; at least that's what it felt like."

No EVP was captured which accounts for the sound. Like the piano music Dan heard in April, this seems to be yet another incident where in a room full of people, only a select few hear that unexplained sound. Anthony, who recalls hearing some creeks in the hallway before the floorboard incident, pointed out that the noise both he and Yoshi heard was "unusual for me...because when I walked into Eliza's room, these sort of sighing, squeaking floorboards continued. Normally when I've heard something the house, it's a one-time thing-or by the time you get there, it stops."

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Everything You'd Expect from a Dark and Stormy Night

Almost immediately after the last (living) visitor exits the Merchant's House Museum, its staff observes a ritual the servants must have performed thousands of times-closing the windows and shutters and turning off the lights floor by floor.

When they hand the house over so we can begin our investigation, that's how we usually find the place: darkened, but hospitable - as if somebody's expecting company to arrive. At this point, the only illumination is coming from the two gas chandeliers in the parlors. It sounds like a cliché, but they really do cast flickering shadows on the imposing portrait of Seabury Tredwell in a way that gives the uneasy illusion his eyes are following you. Put some white sheets over the furniture, and the place would be a dead ringer for the Hollywood ideal of a haunted house. Classic.

Now cue the torrential rain punctuated by menacing claps of thunder followed by dramatic bursts of lightning. Then try not to flinch when you capture a crystal clear audio recording from a long-dead servant; and disembodied footsteps from the floor just above you. Now look at the Electromagnetic Field Meter as it moves more times in one night than most paranormal investigators see in a lifetime.

Our April 16 investigation was everything you could want from a dark and stormy night spent in a haunted house - as experienced by a veteran paranormal investigator, a calm acoustic expert, a protective Board member and a skeptical but jumpy reporter.

This is my fifth investigation; and by now, we're a tight little gang: Dan, Mike, Anthony and me. But tonight the really interesting stuff happened when, like that ominous turning point of every Scooby Doo episode, the gang separated to cover more ground.

Anthony had work to do that kept him in the third floor offices for most of the night; which left Dan, Mike and me to explore the house. After our first pass, Dan joined Anthony in the office to review the audio recording devices for EVP. And then there were two. Great. In the blink of an eye, we've gone from Scooby Doo to Ten Little Indians. Not that I'm complaining. A good mystery, and maybe a little scare to boot, was exactly what I signed up for. And what better place to find that than in a haunted house during a dark and stormy night. April 16's investigation was a soaker, with rain pounding on the windows from start to finish as well as appropriately dramatic thunder and lightning throughout the night.

This is one of those rare instances where Hollywood hokum and the paranormal party line are in step. Apparently, there really is something to the notion that during a drenching storm, the air is charged and that does a number on all of us who are made out of atoms and also somehow lifts the veil between the two worlds and makes it easier for someone to reach out and touch you, so to speak.

Photograph by Bob Estremera

We found this out when Dan's hunch to start in the ground floor kitchen (as opposed to our usual top to bottom sweep) paid off with the most crystal clear clip of EVP I've ever heard. If you're familiar with those paranormal Reality TV shows that are clogging up the airwaves these days, you've likely heard what they say are the voices of the dead as captured by some sort of digital or analog recording device. Even with the audio cleaned up, most of these purported quotes from the grave come out muddied and generally indecipherable.

Most of the time (and I've done this a lot), my perception of the phrase doesn't come close to matching what the helpful subtitles are telling me I should be hearing. But this clip of ours - recorded just four minutes into the investigation - contains a man's low-pitched voice, clear as a bell and unmistakably saying the word "servant" in response to Dan's question as to whether there was anybody in the kitchen, and what their function was. Even Dan, who rarely gets worked up about these sort of things, said it was an exceptional piece of EVP.

Slightly less dramatic, but no less significant, were the two other EVPs we got that night. One was a recording of footsteps we heard while in the hallway near the kitchen. Dan said it was possible our sensitive mics were picking up Anthony walking around the office; but that's highly unlikely, since he was three full floors above us.

The third piece of EVP - of a stunning clarity along the lines of "servant," was recorded at 9:12pm in the fourth floor servants quarters. It came in response to a question posed by Mike, which followed up on previous indications from our psychic that a former resident of the quarters had a secret she wanted to share. "Soul should be saved" is what we all agree we heard-although whose soul (Hers? Mine? Yours?) is an ongoing mystery.

With the thunder and lightning showing no sign of letting up, we now go back to the Two Little Indians. It's 11:15pm. Anthony is still hunkered down in the office, and Dan joins him to review the EVP tapes (where he'll soon discover the EVPs I've just described). It's just Mike and me, and we decide to make another pass at the servants quarters (back in April, the two of us had what seemed like a long give-and-take session with two former occupants of the room: Irish servant girls). This time, with no Cathy to serve as interpreter, we had only our EMF meter - which we placed near one of the beds. Now keep in mind that Dan had his EMF meter for almost two years and took it on numerous investigations without the slightest movement of the needle in response to endless questions. Until he took it to Merchant's House. Maybe it was a lucky meter now, I don't know - but from 11:15pm to 11:42, our attempt to establish contact with the chatty Irish girls of April (or anybody else) netted dozens of responses via the EMF meter; so many that I actually lost count. What they said, and who we believe said it...well, this blog entry has already gone long, so tune in again and all will be revealed.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Psychic Powers: Nature's Premium Cable?

People who regard psychic ability as nothing more than an impressive act of subconscious intuition won't find much to marvel at here. It's possible, I suppose, that all psychics are delusional or in on some big scam. But it's difficult to dismiss what happened tonight as nothing more than coincidence or skillful deception.

I'm no fan of metaphors. They promise insight and clarity, but more often than not they muddy the truth like clouds in your morning coffee. But I do like this one from Dan Sturges - who describes psychics as having premium cable, while the rest of us only get the basic channels.

Like everyone who's permitted to roam the Merchant House Museum after hours on a paranormal investigation, Cathy Towle was thoroughly vetted before she walked through the front door. She's one of a handful of psychics who work with the Forever Family Foundation - and they're as protective and stingy with their seal of approval as the folks at Merchant's House.

I don't think Cathy's taking anybody for a ride, including herself. She's a modestly confident, instantly calming, genuine presence. That was my first impression (aka poor man's psychic insight).

Cathy's first impressions of the house were dead on. In his exit interview the following day, Dan Sturges noted, "I think the biggest thing last night was finding Cathy, who was very, very good. She mentioned two servants by name: Marie and Jane, which is true. Anthony Bellov backs that up, observing, "A lot of her impressions were accurate. There used to be a big assumption, years ago, that Mr. Tredwell was very stern, even harsh. Cathy talked about he and Mrs. Tredwell as being deeply in love; and the girls, the way she described them, sounded quite content with their lives as well. That's much more in keeping with the current way of thinking."

According to Dan, Cathy didn't know where she was headed that night and had no prior knowledge of the house's haunted reputation. Since many of the "hits" she got (the presence of Irish servant girls, the name of the Tredwell matriarch) are available online, her effectiveness depends largely upon whether or not you're willing to accept that this was a cold reading. Skeptical Dan (who for all his experiences still refuses to say he believes in "ghosts") obviously thinks Cathy's got premium cable - noting that despite our use of EMF meters, "There is no equipment built for ghost hunting. So the best equipment you have is somebody like Cathy. I trusted her right off the bat."

Here's Cathy's take on what's going on at Merchant's House: "There were two kinds of things I picked up on: memories of the house and then the specific energies of entities that are still present in some way...I got the sense that a lot of the entities there were relating to their own time frame. The cook was busy cooking, Mr. Tredwell was reading his newspaper...A lot of times when I do readings, the beings that want to communicate are eagerly waiting to talk for us. In this case, they were just doing what they normally do...This might be why they choose to hang out there instead of moving on. I felt like they really loved their home.

Fourth Floor Servants Quarters
As for those EMF meters, my notebook's filled with dozens of checkmarks only made when the meter's needle moves in response to a question asked or an observation made. Mike, Cathy and I seemed to be having interactions with former tenants of the 4th floor servants quarters, and a lively conversation in Mrs. Tredwell's bedroom - during which she commented on everything from her bedtime routine (reading Hawthorne) to her approval of the museum's frequent music programs.

Regarding that meter activity, Cathy says, "There was a willingness to interact, as opposed to 'I want to scare you so you'll leave.' I felt that was very significant. So it was nice to get that confirmation on the meters."

Dan's take on the wealth of EMF readings typifies his cautious nature: "Cathy was speaking directly to Mr. Tredwell, and she felt he used to read the newspaper in the corner of the room where the meter was. She said, 'If you'd like us to leave you have to set the meter off, you have to approach the meter.' And the meter went off, so we left immediately. Whether she was speaking to a spirit, and whether that spirit was Mr. Tredwell, we can't know. It could have been her subconscious, her energy activating the meter, or one of us in the room."

It's worth noting that about half way through the investigation, normally nonplussed Dan bolted downstairs to check out a strange noise. The day after, he recalled, "I've been in the house plenty of times, and hearing what sounded like the piano...I don't get up and look at stuff because I know the creaks of the house. Your brain filters out the normal background noise; and when something abnormal is heard, it's loud. I heard that noise when we were in Seabury's room. It was a few high notes, like if somebody plinked the keys that were next to each other with two fingers. I'll be interested to see the video."

Nothing was captured on video - and despite several EVP recorders being well within "earshot," no sound was picked up. So either Dan was mistaken or...maybe he managed to tap into his premium cable long enough to hear the dead play the piano. For decades now, plenty of passersby have reported the same sort of thing.

Friday, February 25, 2011

It Takes Three: The Search for Elusive Evidence

I like Dan Sturges. He's thoroughly grounded and admirably obsessed and built like a mighty brick pizza oven - and he's pretty easygoing for a guy who could neutralize you with a slightly aggressive flick of his pinky finger. I've never seen that happen, but one can imagine.

What I like best about Dan, though, is his almost casual dismissal of things that hurl me into a tizzy (unexplained creaks, bumps and cold spots).

Maybe I cling to the smallest shred of evidence because this is only my third time tagging along. But Dan and his cousin Mike and Board of Directors member Anthony Bellov have been doing this for four years now. So their standard for what qualifies as "credible evidence" seems sky high to a newcomer like me.

Dan's investigations at the Merchant's House Museum - like so many things in life - are noble, often futile quests for an elusive gold standard.

In baseball, it's the triple play. In horse racing, the Triple Crown. In religion, the father, son and Holy Ghost.

So what Dan is really looking for on these investigations is an event that's been vetted through three sources: psychic, electronic and historic.

Say, for example, we're in the downstairs kitchen area - and our psychic claims to be in touch with a long-dead cook. Then, say, we get an EVP of the cook's voice and some concurrent activity on the EMF meter. Then, say, Anthony confirms that there was indeed a cook who matches the psychic's description.

That's the kind of thing we're looking for (and almost had in March). Taking this scenario as a whole, Dan still wouldn't say it's incontrovertible proof of an eternal soul. But three's a magic number, folks; and when psychic/electronic/historic accounts complement one another, it becomes increasingly difficult to dismiss the event as insignificant.

But it's incredibly difficult to achieve. At least not tonight. But a psychic in attendance, Diana Navarro (, did have a late-in-the-game shared experience with Anthony.

As our group stood scattered between the front and rear parlors, the final room-by-room pass of the night was nearly complete. We had all the usual equipment (EMF meter, digital audio recorders, video) and were asking all the usual questions ("Is anybody here with us tonight?").

For all that effort, we got nothing - not in the moment or later when Dan did the tedious work of reviewing hours and hours of audio and video.

It seemed like the right time to call it quits - when, at 11:28pm, Dan and Anthony were asking a series of questions about Gertrude's suitor (whom she was forbidden to marry because of religious differences).

Anthony and Diana were standing in the doorway between the two parlors, when Anthony said, "I heard something clinking; something coming from upstairs."

In her exit interview the following day, Diana described that same moment: "I started to hear flatware clinking. Anthony and I looked at each other and we sort of nodded like, yes, I heard that too - and we both decided to move into the hallway. I looked up towards the stairwell and I could have sworn I saw some kind of shadowy, smoky cloud movement."

Photo by Bob Estremera

Anthony recalls: "I didn't see a human form - but I kept seeing motion, as if it had been a foggy night and somebody walks by and the fog would have swirled. I saw movement of air that seemed to be flowing down the stairs. Now this is counterintuitive, because I had the door to the basement open to let heat in the house. So if anything, hot air would have been rising up the stairs instead of flowing down them."

That cloud or mist or swirl snaked its way from the first floor stairwell and into the basement. We followed with all our equipment and all our questions and nothing else happened.

But the experience made a dent in the usual calm demeanor of Anthony - who noted, "From that point on until the end of the evening, I continued to feel this change in the energy of the house. It sounds like cheap science fiction - but it seemed at that point as if the house were listening to us or watching us."