On a dark, cold October night, four Evening Sun reporters went out in search of Chenangoís most haunted places. In the spirit of Halloween, they investigated local history and folklore and went out in search of otherworldly spirits.
Armed with an electromagnetic frequency meter, a camera and a guide with a talent for speaking with spirits from the other side, the four visited two locations that are rumored to be haunted Ė the old West Main Street High School in Norwich and Baronís Inn in Greene. Both locations have several ghost stories associated with them.
Half of the old High School is now home to the Chenango Council of the Arts, among other non-profit agencies and offices. Those who work in the building have reported several strange occurrences, including things being moved from where the had been placed and lighting and sound equipment in the theater area that seemed to have a mind of its own. Employees at the Arts Council have said they frequently saw things out of the corner of their eyes, but when they looked, nothing would be there.
One story from the building focused on an oven timer in the kitchen area (which used to be the schoolís cafeteria) that would go off every day at the same time. Despite their efforts, no one could stop the device from going off. Finally, someone called Audrey Aitken, a Norwich resident and self-described medium. Aitken reported seeing the spirits of many children in the building and in the kitchen, she said she saw a woman who used to be a cook at the school. Because she had no family of her own, the womanís spirit stayed at the school to take care of the children, Aitken explained. The medium said she convinced the woman that she could go to the other side. She said the cookís spirit removed her apron, shut off the oven and left. Employees at the Council of the Arts say they have not heard the oven timer go off since.
Baronís Inn has an array of ghost stories associated with the old building. Ghosts of the woman who started the inn and her family members are said to haunt the restaurant. One, it has been said, does not like the idea of female bartenders. Several people have died on the property over the years, including a young girl who lived in the building before it was an inn. According to William Lenga, a paranormal investigator who guides ghost walks at Baronís, the young girl was deaf and mute, and her family thought she was mentally handicapped and kept her locked in the basement. One night, Lenga explained, the girl pulled stones from the basementís foundation and managed to escape. She snuck up the back stairs and her father saw her and tried to grab her, but the little girl pulled away and fell down the stairs to her death. Her spirit is said to remain in the building.
So were there ghosts to be found? Each staff member at The Evening Sun experienced something different, and whether or not they encountered a spirit is a matter of opinion. The following are their personal accounts of the evening.
When the time came for another round of The Evening Sunís version of Ghost Hunters, I was excited to say the least. After last yearís experience at The Eaton Center and at an old Victorian-era house, my belief that something otherworldly does in fact exist, was stronger than ever. I spent weeks preparing for the event by watching science fiction shows and walking around the house with my new EMF detector to see what would and would not set it off. With a solid understanding of the electronic device and a lot of excitement, I set off to meet with the staff of The Evening Sun and our favorite medium, Audrey Aitken.
Our first destination was at the Chenango County Council of the Arts, located on West Main Street in Norwich. After talking with several staff members and hearing their accounts of almost daily encounters with spirits, we were eager to begin.
Our guide and some of the Arts Council employees joined hands with us and called on the spirits in the building to make themselves known to us. It was quiet, and although some said they saw the spirit of a woman in the doorway, I didnít encounter anything in the office that convinced me that a spirit was present.
My EMF detector remained quiet throughout our tour of the building, even in the kitchen and the gallery area. Whether or not the Arts Council building is truly haunted is debatable, but I did feel a heaviness in the air when I walked through the hallway, an area of the building that some say was damaged by a fire when it was used as a school.
Although our guide and an Arts Council staffer said they saw spirits in two areas of the building that night, I felt little that would provide concrete proof of a haunting.
After an hour in the building, we made our way to Baronís Inn. At Baronís Inn, the strange events started almost as soon as we entered the door. With Aitken and investigator Bill Lenga at our side, we went up the stairs at the inn and listened to the many ghost stories associated with the historic building. We stood in a large room, that the current owners use as a living room. Standing in front of a chair, I listened to the past accounts of possible ghosts. Lenga asked me to turn my EMF detector on, as we were in a room that often had high activity.
Almost immediately, the detector started beeping and flashing, indicating a source of electromagnetic frequency, that seemed to be emanating from the chair. While we looked for a possible source, one of the musical toys in the room started going off by itself.
Next we traveled to the attic. Lenga said for some reason, the ghost of the little girl is often found in the attic. After walking around the room with the detector, we found another source of electromagnetic frequency. The needle of the meter went up as high as it could go. Lenga said the spirit generally reacts well to females and instructed Melissa Stagnaro and I to kneel down and reach out our hands to see what we felt.
At first, I felt nothing. I began to wonder how long I should remain kneeling on the floor, then suddenly I felt a jolt Ė similar to an electric shock, but without the pain. It was just a touch, and then another, and then it remained. A male member of the group came over and reached out his hand, and the vibration was gone.
Whether we experienced a ghost or not, is a matter of opinion. But I felt convinced that there was something with us in that attic.
When Jessica first mentioned that we would be doing a little ghost hunting around Halloween, I was thrilled. On one of the rare occasions I watch TV, Iíd caught an episode of that ĎParanormal Stateí show. Iíve always liked entertaining the notion that spirits coexist in our world, but Iíve never had any personal experiences to back that up. Iíve never disbelieved any stories I heard from friends and family, but Iím the kind of person that wants to see for herself.
As the night itself approached, I was scared out of my wits. I knew Iíd be disappointed if I didnít see or feel anything. But on the other hand, I was petrified that I actually would.
Our tour of the Arts Council building was pretty spooky, Iíll admit that. But overall, Iíd have to say it was pretty inconclusive for me.
Did I really see that painting differently when I touched it, or feel that static-like force repelling my hand from the surface of another? Was that a heaviness I felt in the hallway? I just donít know. The only thing I left convinced of was that I never wanted to wander around that building after dark ever again.
Maybe it was a matter of expectations. Weíd heard so many great tales of the ghostly apparitions that call the building home, that I figured weíd definitely see something, anything. So I wasnít satisfied when I didnít.
Baronís Inn, however, made me a believer. I almost had a heart attack when those toys started playing, but I wasnít truly sold until we ventured into the attic.
On first glance, that attic wasnít nearly as scary as I imagined it would be. Unless you count the fear associated with wondering if you were going to fall through the clearly unsound floor if you took a misstep.
When Bill suggested that Jessica and I hold out our hands in one dark corner of the low-ceilinged space, I was still skeptical. We crouched in silence for a few minutes before Jessica told me to move my hand closer to hers. Feeling that energy, similar to an electrical charge, was all the proof I needed.
I was shaky as we descended the stairs back down. I just couldnít process what Iíd experienced.
We made our way down into the basement after that, which the restaurant uses as storage. In room after room, our guides identified feelings and told stories about things they had witnessed there in the past.
Bill threw around words like ďorb,Ē ďvortexĒ and yes, even ďectoplasm.Ē It was like Ghostbusters, only without the proton packs.
It was during that time, when I was once again doubting my own capacity to sense anything other than the damp rising from the cellar floor, that I had my second experience. The lights were on in the small room and no one was standing near me, but I know that something touched my face. I felt that same static electric-like numbness Iíd felt upstairs, this time localized just below my bottom lip. And then it went away, leaving me standing there with my hand on my chin wide-eyed with shock.
I was happy to go home after that. Even happier still that Iíd swept my house with our trusty EMF meter earlier that day, and hadnít gotten a peep. But even with that re-assurance, Iím still sleeping with the light on.
A skeptic by nature (and occupation), Iím always a little reticent when it comes to following my own personal Scooby Gang along on these Halloween expeditions at The Evening Sun, but it usually proves to be a fruitful evening, ghosts or otherwise.
When Jessica first threw out the Arts Council as a potential ghost-busting spot, I was intrigued. While Iíd never heard of the staffís purported encounters with the supernatural (which is surprising in itself, given their penchant for telling me just about every other juicy tale), I have always, in my 17 or so years of traipsing through the building, hated that hallway. Itís the long, sloping hallway pictured on todayís front page, running alongside the theater. Nothingís ever happened to me in that hallway Ė no silky apparitions or malevolent whispers Ė I just never liked walking through it by myself. Something about long empty hallways, I suppose Ė the feeling of claustrophobia coupled with the possibility of someone creeping up behind you. When I learned about all the tales of paranormal activity there, I wasnít surprised.
But, honestly, I didnít get any of that on the Friday night we visited. Like any old, largely empty building after dark, the West Main Street building is undeniably creepy. Coupled with the fact that itís a former high school, youíd think that all those decades worth of residual teen angst would be eager to manifest themselves somehow. Didnít happen for me. Iím fascinated by Audreyís keen insight into the otherworldly goings on, but I donít always buy it completely. Seems pretty cookie-cutter to me to expect spirits of students and teachers and cafeteria ladies to be haunting an old school. Heck, if they hadnít bulldozed my Oxford high school, Iíd probably be inclined to haunt its halls and work out some of that Carrie-esque trauma myself (pigís blood not required).
The story got a little better down at Baronís Inn. Like Fox Mulder, I do so want to believe. Maybe thatís why after being disappointed at the Arts Council, I was more eager to have something, anything, happen at the Greene restaurant. It does strike me as presumptuous on our part, however, that we Evening Sun reporters expect the spirit world to comply with our desire to be entertained on the single night we designate each year. That said, there were a couple creepy spots at Baronís. The musical toy playing by itself? Impeccably timed. The Ghost Girl in the attic who didnít like men? Drat. The basement storage room supposedly so rife with ethereal antics that theyíve hung a portrait of Jesus on its door? Yeah, Iím not going down there by myself.
Itís important to know that I have an utterly skeptic view of the paranormal and I actually enjoy a good scare. To put it bluntly, it seems a little ridiculous and I often feel like Iím humoring the experience to keep the atmosphere alive for my more attuned co-workers, who are often the most entertaining part of the night.
On a number of occasions, I had to fight the urge to roll my eyes. No offense intended of course, itís just my warped mind is so deeply entangled in the webs of logic and reason that I canít escape their compulsion to be practical.
On the other hand, Iím not a complete disbeliever Ė because if science has taught us anything, itís that we never know as much as we think we do. Human spirituality and consciousness Ė grievously understated Ė is complicated and unknown.
Lingering apparitions, echoing consciousness, emotional residue, whatever it might be, I donít think itís a stretch to think that maybe these things do have some kind of an effect on the physical world.
Where my devilís advocate comes into play is when you consider that there is no real scientific fact or concrete evidence establishing anything out of all the people in the world who have actively pursued it for thousands of years. My doubt arises to an obnoxious level when I calculate the odds of The Evening Sun staff bumping into an actual event on a random Friday night thatíd convince me, but thatís no reason not to try.
That being said, both years weíve done this there are always things that happen I canít explain. Last year, the most compelling was the roof of the Eaton Center suddenly banging as Jessica and I walked beneath it, scaring us half to death. The ceiling knocked very loudly; it was six feet above us on the top floor of the building, so unless someone was on the 45 degree slated roof 100 feet in the air while it was raining outside, I have no explanation. The sound repeated several times and we stared at each other completely clueless and concerned. Just like that guy in those cheap horror flicks who says ďMaybe it was the wind,Ē right before heís slashed to death.
This year there were two things that had me reconsidering my position for a moment or two.
My co-workers tend to become more enveloped with the ongoings of the afterlife and it was apparent in the attic at Baronís Inn. The little ghost girl who seems to have been the highlight of the experience apparently touched both of the women. Sounds crazy, but honestly they looked a little shaken up by the experience. Unfortunately the ghost didnít like men, so Jeff and I were ineligible.
The second thing happened while I was taking photographs of the locations we visited, often several steps behind the group and alone in the rooms (again, Iím an ideal horror movie victim).
I actually enjoy the isolation because it really gave me a chance to test my nerves after hearing the disturbing stories from people absolutely convinced the places were haunted.
In the basement of Baronís Inn, while snapping pictures of the room where a disabled girl was allegedly held captive, I turned off the lights to see if anything stood out. My intention was to get a picture of the door cracked slightly open with light coming into the room. I donít know what it was, but a tingling crept down my spine that I couldnít shake, like cold air being blown over a wet body. I felt my heart lunge forward and the moment passed. As I left the room behind, I caught the portrait of Jesus on the door staring at me (figuratively) and I paused for a second to stare back before hurrying to catch the group.