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."

Friday, February 4, 2011

True Tales of the Unexplained - and Uneventful!

Be careful what you wish for - or you might find yourself face to face with the ghost of Gertrude Tredwell as she floats down the stairs and into the front parlor to receive a caller.

Photo by Bob Estremera
Or maybe not. At least not this time around.

A few unexplained things happened as we went through the house room-by room (a few unexplained bumps and some EMF activity in the servants quarter) But we emerged from the night's work with nothing as spectacular as what's been gathered on previous investigations - 10 of them so far, with 7 yielding "convincing evidence" (a term that isn't employed often or lightly around here).

That's a pretty spectacular hit ratio as these things go. Investigation team leader Dan Sturges owned his EMF meter for two years and took it on numerous investigations of other "haunted" places - and in all that time, the needle never had the courtesy to move even a fraction of an inch. He was about to have it checked for defects when it went off in what we all refer to as Eliza Tredwell's bedroom (on the second floor of the Merchant's House).

Since 2007, other Sturges-led investigations have yielded crystal clear audio of voices giving what certainly seem like intelligent, interactive responses to questions and comments.

Not tonight, though. There was no "gotcha" moment where I could say for myself that those who once called this place home were still doing so. It's just as well. After I lobbied hard to get access to the house over the course of the next year, I told anyone who'd listen (and those who'd long ago stopped) how badly I wanted a real experience and how ready I was for disembodied footsteps and playful taps on the shoulder.

But the truth is, the thought of why I'm here and what I'm doing still scares me. Most unexplained things do. You too, I'll bet. So don't be so quick to label it a cowardly act when I tell you I didn't spend a single second of this night alone. I didn't even use the bathroom (having discontinued liquid intake several hour before start time). You know why.

We've all seen that movie, right? The guy's washing his face and he looks up at the mirror above the sink, and somebody's behind him when he knows full well that nobody's there? No thanks. I was not going to be that guy. At least not this time out.

Paranormal investigations, like the lost 19th century practice of "ceremonial calling," produce positive results when certain displays of etiquette are observed. But just because you've asked all the right questions and done so politely doesn't mean your calling card will gain you an audience with Mrs. Tredwell or Seabury or Gertrude or the servants or the caretakers or anybody else said to still inhabit this house.

Sometimes, the people you desperately want to visit with just don't feel like having company. The lights are on. Somebody's home. But nobody's answering the call.

At least not tonight. Now what happened in April, that's another matter entirely.