Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Ghost hunting

I love my job. Today I got to go on a field trip to a local “haunted mansion”. Our students have been studying the paranormal with a group of investigators who actually bring their equipment, video and audio, to various locations to try to capture some of the ghostly phenomena that have been reported.

Ghostbusters, New England style.

This particular house has a sad, tragic history. It seems that a wealthy politician and his family resided there in the early 1900s. The man had bought an automobile just as they were becoming popular. The family chauffeur took the gentleman, his youngest daughter and her girlfriend for a country drive, lost control of the car and there was a terrible accident. The friend died instantly; the daughter succumbed on the way to the hospital. The father survived and returned home to grieve. His wife and older children were not a part of the accident. Within weeks, the father died of unnamed causes even though his injuries did not appear life threatening. Some say he died of grief. He died in his bedroom. The young chauffeur, who was in love with either the daughter or her friend, was so distraught and guilt ridden that he went into the cellar of the carriage house and shot himself.

Almost 100 years later, this house still seems to have manifestations of its former residents. The ghost hunters have set up shop, so to speak, and continue to do research here. Today, they pass out cameras and tape recorders to our students and then we all get to wander through the many rooms, upstairs, downstairs, servants’ quarters, daughter’s bedroom, cellar. The kids love it. And so do I.

Now here’s the strange part. I walk into the house and have my own digital camera with me. As we gather in what must have been a formal living room, I start to feel breathless. It’s an odd feeling, a bit suffocating. I almost walk outside again but decide, instead, to wait it out and hope it will pass. The discomfort lifts as we all walk up the winding staircase to the third floor. I stop on the second floor landing and start shooting more pictures. My camera starts acting funny. I had charged the batteries overnight and here I am, getting a red blinking light (and other kinds of odd signals in my viewfinder). The batteries are now showing as almost depleted, very low power. What the heck? Luckily, I had brought other batteries and make the necessary switch. Boy next to me starts having problems with his camcorder. He reads that he has 89 minutes left to shoot but the camera keeps going off and on, erratic behavior. We look at each other and think “haunted mansion”. Hey, this is why we came. Bring it on!

By the time we get to the chauffeur’s alleged bedroom on the third floor (servants’ quarters), our ghostbuster-guide is telling the kids how the overhead electric light bulb went on one night as he and his paranormal buddies were leaving the house. They all looked up into the third-floor window and saw the light. One slight problem: there was no electricity in that room; the power was dead. The kids are eating it all up.

I’m a bit skeptical but he then starts talking about how some folks feel physically uncomfortable in the house, especially if they are more “susceptible” to psychic or paranormal experience. Cripes. I tell him about my breathlessness on the first floor. He smiles and seems impressed. Then I mention the batteries losing their energy even though I charged them all night and he simply nods. “Spirits sometimes draw energy or cross energy fields with whatever or whoever comes their way.” I smile back and so wish my daughter were here, she of Mr. Pipe and Mrs. Kitchen fame. Something tells me that Jenn would have been right in her element.

I take lots of pictures. I love old houses and staircases and, yes, there seems to be a lot of psychic activity on the grand staircase according to the ghostbuster. I’m now conjuring up visions of Loretta Young in a white flowing gown. I keep snapping away. Mirrors. Lots of mirrors. Maybe I’ll capture an aura or two.

The tour ends much too quickly. The kids are very well behaved throughout, totally caught up in a not-so-normal teaching experience outside their ordinary classroom. We all pile back on the bus, wondering just whose camera holds an ethereal surprise.

I take one last look at the white clapboard house and bless the spirits who may still dwell within. It’s almost 100 years since the accident and, according to our tour guides, they seem reluctant to leave.

There’s no place like home.