To paraphrase singer-songwriter John Haitt, I thought the Jeremiah Lee Mansion was haunted but no one ever said boo to me … but there were other signs when Boston Paranormal Investigators took participants through the 250-plus year-old building on a ghost hunt.
Some years ago, Margaret Warner worked as a secretary in the Jeremiah Lee Mansion for one summer. She said she never felt or saw anything ghostly there but docents, at the time, knew people who had seen things.
“And I always wondered,” she said.
It was that curiosity that brought her and her two daughters, Meghan Warner Denenberg and Ann Warner-Harvey, along with 27 others out Friday, May 19, to walk the shadowy halls and enter the darkened rooms of a mansion built before the lightbulb was invented.
The night started off with a few Ghost Hunting 101 rules, which included:
· Be respectful of the spirits, talk to them like you would a human because they actually have feelings, too.
· Provoking the ghosts is a no-no. “By that we mean don’t say ‘push me down the stairs if you’re here.’ Don’t say that kind of stuff because it could happen,” warned investigator Jacob Abbisso, one of four ghost hunters on hand that night.
· Respect the religious and spiritual beliefs of all participants and investigators, museum staff and spirits — everyone believes different stuff, just be mindful.
· If you see, hear, feel sense, smell or taste something, say something. Have fun!
Jarrett Zeman, the Marblehead Museum’s associate director of programs and operations, also asked people to be mindful that they were in fact in a museum and to stick with their parties.
“I really don’t want a Scooby Doo situation, where two people get separated and a ghost chases them and we have to set a trap to catch the ghost … so if you could,” Zeman said to boisterous laughter.
Before splitting up into three groups however, BPI investigator Jacob Abbisso said the group first visited the mansion in November where they caught “a weird misty shadow” going by one of the cameras set up on the first floor. In another room someone saw the shadowy figure of a child. Abbisso said they also heard from museum volunteers stories about spirit lights or orbs on the main staircase, reports of a male figure seen along the third floor hallway and a report that a young boy left the museum upset after seeing some kind of spirit.
“You get the point, we think this place is definitely haunted,” Abbisso said.
Abbisso said there was also one other important item to note, the mansion had been the site of a suicide on May 20, 1869, 154 years ago, almost to the day.
“One hundred percent we did not plan that this way — genuinely —it’s kind of a cool coincidence,” he added.
And some believe Benjamin Sparhawk, who shot himself through the heart in his room after the mansion became the Marblehead Bank Building, made an appearance on his almost- anniversary.
The adventure begins
The small crowd was split into three groups, spread out into three rooms where a paranormal investigator was waiting. Each investigator pretty much took the same approach, asking the spirits to come forward and engage and they encouraged participants to ask questions as well.
“Literally it’s an opportunity to talk to history,” Abbisso said.
In Martha Lee’s bedroom, Abbisso asked participants to take a half-a-minute to be quiet and feel the place out before pointing out his tools of the trade, which included “a combo box I actually made.” The combo box was rem-pod, which if you get close to will light up and emit a tone. On top of the box was a cat toy that also lit up if moved. There were also K-II meters, or electromagnetic field detectors, a voice recorder and dowsing rods. Abbisso said while dowsing rods are often used to find water, they are also used to communicate with spirits.
Denenberg said she saw an image of a woman cooking food in a fireplace. Museum volunteer Elizabeth said a small nook located at the back of the bedroom held another fireplace, and was a spot they suspected Martha Lee escaped to flee the hustle and bustle of the house. She may have had her tea and entertained friends there “so that image is pretty spot on,” Elizabeth said.
The questions Abbisso first asked went largely unanswered until he handed out the dowsing rods.
Abbisso advised people to try and hold the rods still without inhibiting their ability to swing; crossed rods meant yes, rods that swung wide of each other was a no.
Sometimes the answers were dubious — with one set of rods pointing to yes and another to no. Others were easy to understand.
Jessica Penn asked if the spirit in the room was a male and her rods crossed. Another person asked if he was happy to have company and it was a swift yes. But when another person asked Benjamin Sparhawk to come forward and interact with a device, it was a big wide no. The same when Martha Lee was asked if she minded fielding more personal questions.
Upstairs in the makeshift nursery, Michelle Ross had a device of her own, “we like to call the SP7 spirit box.” It was a machine about the size of a stereo that runs through radio stations at an incredibly rapid pace, she explained. The idea is that spirits are sometimes able to manipulate the frequencies and say things in real time that investigators can hear.
Most of what could be heard was steady raspy static, like someone sanding metal with an occasional twangy burst of voices or music slipping through.
“We’re listening for more than two words strung together, full sentences, very clear words that associate with our questions,” Ross said.
When Ross asked a spirit to knock near something in the room, a clear “maybe” rang out from the machine, but no knocking followed.
Later when she mentioned there’d be a party downstairs that the spirits could join, there came a very clear, “I’ll be down then.”
In the dining room back downstairs Bob Pasquale and Kim Bowman also had electromagnetic meters, a rem pod and light-up cat toys. A cat toy illuminated at one point, but Pasquale said it was probably nothing since there was no repeat and didn’t roll. When questions went unanswered by the spirits, Pasquale said it wasn’t unusual.
“This is actually how most ghost hunts go,” he admitted. “Not much happens.”
But sometimes …
The lack of action has not deterred the pair, because when it does happen “it makes it all worthwhile,” Pasquale said.
Pasquale and Bowman shared stories about investigating the Wayside Inn, The Colonial Inn and a theater where EVP meters went off and cat balls rolled without prompting.
The fact that there were no spectral voices or knocking sounds also did little to dampen the enthusiasm of the Friday night crowd.
“I had an awesome time,” said Jessica Penn, a paranormal fan who recorded much of the evening in hopes of hearing something later, on the playback.
Geneva Cann agreed the adventure was worth the price of the ticket. She said although her spidey sense was not triggered “it was really cool to see this in person.” Like Penn, she is a fan of the paranormal and loved the atmosphere of the museum at night.
Shannon Denis also gave the night a thumbs up. She said she was thrilled when the dowsing rods she held crossed and clicked in response to a question and that she heard laughter through the spirit box.
“This was really cool,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to do something like this.”