This was a May 2009 charity ghost hunting event. Turnout was large, especially thanks to community support for haunted (and neglected) Hilldale Cemetery.
Though this article is a summary of the event, I hope it will give you insights about Hilldale’s potential for serious paranormal research.
Thomas Spitalere and the Essex County Ghost Project opened the evening with a short discussion about Hilldale Cemetery.
After that, I presented a brief workshop about ghost hunting. (Gavin Cromwell had to cancel at the last minute.)
Then, we dashed to Hilldale Cemetery and split into groups for our investigations.
What made this event especially memorable were the many gifted psychics and sensitives among the guests.
Just a few feet from our cars, many people were already sensing energy in what looked like a field.
Then, Thomas Spitalere explained that our insights were correct; we were standing in the middle of the paupers’ graves, generally unmarked.
Throughout the night, the exchange of information was fascinating. We shared our thoughts about the energy we detected, and the result was a very cohesive picture of each “hot spot” in the Haverhill’s Hilldale Cemetery.
Light rain finally interrupted our explorations, but the evening had nearly concluded anyway.
As we walked back towards our cars, we were rewarded with a unique sight: An ice cream truck had arrived. That was one of the best moments, ever, in my many years of ghost hunting. (More large summer events should schedule an ice cream truck. It was very welcomed.)
We returned to our meeting place, the Sons of Italy Hall in Haverhill, and swapped questions, answers and stories.
It was one of the best investigations I’ve ever been on, and the participants made all the difference.
As of 2009, Haverhill’s Hilldale Cemetery had not been “over-investigated,” the ghostly energy was still fresh, and it was a superb (and large) location for investigations.
(It’s still a worthwhile research site. See a 2017 newspaper article about this cemetery and other haunts around Haverhill: Haunted in Haverhill.)
In 2009, I was one of the featured speakers at GhoStock hosted Patrick Burns.
Here’s my preliminary report:
What a great event! All of the panels, workshops and lectures were fascinating. I especially enjoyed the talks by two demonologists: the late Father Andrew Calder, and John Zaffis (from the “Haunted Collector” TV series), since they delve into realms that I generally avoid.
I presented information about my research into paranormal patterns, including my discovery of the Salem “Judges’ Line.”
U.K. psychic/entertainer Gavin Cromwell and I talked about fact and fiction in ghost hunting. We offered opinions on how legends and preconceived ideas affects our results — and our reputations — as paranormal investigators. Then, we took questions from the audience.
Since Gavin is involved in entertainment and I’m from the research side of paranormal studies, we were able to share different (but sometimes complementary) views on ghosts and haunted places.
THE SALEM INN
On Friday night, Gavin and I led a team of investigators as we explored the magnificent Salem Inn. Not only is it a great place to stay, it has some colorful ghost stories… and it’s very active. It’s also on the “Judges’ Line” that I’m researching.
(Note: We checked with the staff and the Inn’s ghosts do not disturb the guests. We feel that, since we were eager to contact the ghosts, they responded to us as researchers.)
In Room 17, we encountered measurable activity with the K-II meter as well as the Ovilus.
This was my first chance to use the Ovilus, and I was very impressed when it said my full name, plus the full name of another researcher as well as the full name of someone who — according to my later research — had lived in the house in the 19th century. (That early Ovilus was not programmed with names, just random words.)
Note: We were confused — and amused — by how frequently the Ovilus seemed to shout, “Dick!” Following just a few outbursts, this became embarrassing. After the investigation, we learned that the Salem Inn’s owners are Diane and Dick (Richard) Pabich.
While the Ovilus’ performance somewhat overshadowed the use of the K-II meter, both tools work well together to comfirm results.
When we were joined by members of Mass. Paranormal, we saw that the K-II meter readings spiked each time, just a split-second before the Ovilus “talked” to us. (Yes, they checked the K-II with the Ovilus next to it. The EMF surges were not from the Ovilus’ activity.)
It was a great investigation during a fun event weekend.
But really… can science prove anything about ghosts and haunted places? For many people, it’s laughable to use the words ‘science’ and ‘ghosts’ in the same sentence.
Let’s be honest about our studies.
Something odd is going on at many locations. We find unexplained EMF surges and drops, odd voices in our recordings, strange temperature variations, and photos with baffling images. (You can learn more about these phenomena at this website.)
PROOF? NOT YET… and, really, not ever.
Something strange is occurring. That’s usually labeled ‘paranormal’ , especially when supporting evidence, history or folklore suggest ghosts.
However, while we may have evidence that something odd is going on, we can’t prove to anyone that it’s a ghost. (If we could, the controversy would cease.)
And — for the record — when we use the word “proof,” we’re not talking in scientific terms, anyway. In science, there is no “proof.” We can only talk in terms of credibility and evidence.
That’s why science is such an important element in our studies.
The real explanations could be anything from pranks to an overactive imagination, from underground streams to quantum realities, and from environmentally-induce hallucinations to actual ghosts.
Until we have more documented facts, we can only guess from the preponderance of reasonably credible evidence. (‘Credible’ being in the eye of the beholder.)
THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD AND THE ‘SCIENCE’ OF GHOSTS
To support (or refute) the reality of ghosts — as it says on the Wikipedia scientific method page — ‘experimental and theoretical results must be reproduced by others within the science community.’
For this reason, we must find ways to reproduce our results, at least within the paranormal research community.
improving our work
expanding the scope of it
tracking relevant scientific discoveries, and
sharing our findings.
It’s fine to talk about the ‘science’ of ghosts, but it’s more important to actually approach our research scientifically. Let’s not reduce our investigations to ‘entertainment’ or some variation of scary stories around the campfire.
Sure, we all love to share ‘ghost stories’. Almost everyone loves to talk about his or her field of study.
That’s different from conducting research just to have a story to tell.
Paranormal research is a developing science. No matter which scientific tools we’re using, we must first achieve professional-level skills.
For example, my EMF findings at a paranormal site aren’t ‘scientific’ unless I’m also a competent EMF researcher in normal locations. (This goes far beyond casual baseline studies.)
Whether I’m using a hiking compass, a Cell Sensor, or a KII meter, I need to know why my tools work, what’s normal for them, and how to recognize a genuine anomaly.
To talk about a science of ghosts, we need to be as educated about science as we are about ghosts.
The best approach may combine personal and academic studies, field research, and tips shared with other researchers at meetings and conferences, and at online forums.
Last night, we had a wonderful time exploring three Haverhill (MA) cemeteries. Thanks so much to the Essex County Ghost Project for organizing this event and inviting me to it!
Here are a few of my notes:
Walnut Cemetery, Kenoza Street, Haverhill, MA
A large cemetery with some very harsh energy, especially around the Victorian-era graves. I was immediately drawn to the large, crypt-style embankment, where bodies were once stored during the winter, until the ground was soft enough in the spring to dig their graves.
From there, psychic Gavin Cromwell was drawn to an area with a large tree… and an odd marker of cement and stone, left resting against the tree. In that area, the psychic perceived the spirit of a woman in black, pointing towards the area where the flagpole is; she’s connected with something maritime, perhaps a sea captain.
Then, I was drawn to a hilly area with some of the oldest graves in the cemetery. One investigator’s photo of a nearby tree was dramatic, and certainly one of the best of the evening.
A local historian and paranormal researcher accompanied us in this cemetery. He directed us to another set of graves, bearing the surname Ela.
We attempted to record EVP, but felt that male energy (either living or ghostly) was suppressing efforts by some spirits to communicate. Two of us came up with the word “sin” in connection with this.
Several investigators — including me — saw the little angel figure move, and both Gavin Cromwell and I felt that at least one child (perhaps disabled, who died young) is not with his or her mother, Effie Ela.
In general, that cemetery is too large to visit after dark without a preliminary visit to see where the “hot spots” are. Also, the energy is generally muted. You’ll need patience — and at least an hour — to get the most from your investigation.
Pentucket Burial Ground, off Groveland St., Haverhill
A memorial to victims of a Native raid, and the grave of a Salem “Witch Trials” judge are among the high points of this chilling cemetery.
When we stood in a circle, holding hands, and asked Judge Saltonstall to make his presence known, the blast of icy air was astonishing.
One psychic felt certain that the judge won’t “cross over” because he’s sure that his destination will be Hell. However, the judge was asking us to save Mary or help Mary… perhaps his wife or daughter. (We didn’t think that Mary was still there.)
Nearby, a few graves set apart from the others — often indicating that they died “in sin” — are worth further research.
Before leaving, we searched for the grave of Polly Winters.
Psychic investigator Gavin Cromwell had felt the presence of Polly Winters during a Haverhill investigation in 2008, and — even before we saw the grave — he was certain that she was in this cemetery.
When Gavin said it, his voice was different. He didn’t have his usual introspective manner; it was like he was reporting the name on cue, not sensing it.
It’s still something that troubles me. In general, I’ve never questioned Gavin’s psychic abilities. I’ve worked with him in settings where he had no reason to try to impress me or anyone else. His accuracy was very good.
But, in retrospect, the Polly Winters “psychic connection” didn’t seem authentic.
Hilldale Cemetery, Hilldale Ave., Haverhill
This cemetery is a gem for research, with apparitions and very clear spectral energy. (That may sound dramatic, but the site is definitely unusual.)
However, until the cemetery is cleaned up and some holes filled in, it’s not wise to go there… especially after dark when it is closed and patrolled. (You will be arrested if you go there at night. We were there with permission.)
In a circle there, I felt the presence of a spirit saying, “Sheridan, James.” I wasn’t sure if it was actually James Sheridan, saying his name as if reporting for duty. Later, an Essex County Ghost Project historian told me that someone named James Sheridan is buried in that cemetery.
(Note: I rarely perceive names, and certainly not given and surnames in combination. So, this had to be very intense energy for me to discern the full name with such certainty.)
Also, researcher Chris G. and I both saw an odd, squat figure — too large to be an animal — that vanished, as well as an apparition of a man, crawling along the far edge of the hill.
It was a great evening out, with plenty to double-check and debunk before we return for a more focused investigation.
I’m sure some — perhaps most — of what we encountered will remain a paranormal mystery. These sites are definitely eerie, and likely to be haunted.
Related news stories
Big-name ghost hunters descend on Merrimack Valley (Eagle Tribune, 26 Mar 2009)
“Well-known paranormal investigator Fiona Broome will join the tour of Haverhill graveyards that date back centuries, as well as the walk of the Tenney property in Methuen…”
Haunted in Haverhill (Haverhill Life, October 2017) – Includes details of a Hilldale Cemetery investigation, and a list of other, nearby haunts.
The Betsy Ross episode of “Ghost Hunters” had barely aired when I started receiving emails.
People are asking me if Betsy Ross was a hoax, but I suspect that many are actually asking me about the TAPS team.
I’ll repeat my previous statement: I’ve known Jason and Grant for years. I trust them 100% and have no doubts about their integrity. They didn’t get into ghost hunting for fame or fortune, and they’re not going to knowingly risk their reputations for something as silly as show ratings.
Have the show’s production staff ever faked evidence, edited the show so the televised version was different from what occurred, or outright conned the stars…? Those are fair questions that I can’t answer.
LET’S USE LOGIC
It’s important to separate the issues. First, there’s the TAPS investigation of the Betsy Ross house. The Ghost Hunters’ reveal segment summarizes what they experienced.
Then there are the historical questions, which are academic more than experiential.
So, criticism of the house’s history does not reflect one way or the other on the integrity of the Ghost Hunters’ episode and especially not the stars’ investigations.
Regarding Betsy Ross, her famous Philadelphia house and her involvement with one of the earliest American flags… no one can absolutely, positively prove anything one way or the other. They can only talk about evidence that’s lacking.
In court, both sides would rely mostly on hearsay and circumstantial evidence. It’s true that no one can prove that she sewed anything in that house… but they can’t prove that she didn’t.
I’m posting part of an email that I sent to one reader this morning. The Hollow Hill reader who’d written to me referred to a link supposedly “busting” the Betsy Ross legends.
Here’s part of my reply:
I wouldn’t take that article too seriously. Few events in history were lived as if they’d need to be documented for skeptics.
Really, could you absolutely, positively prove what you had for lunch a week ago, and provide enough overwhelming evidence to convince a rabid skeptic? Probably not. A receipt or your memories probably wouldn’t be enough.
There are groups that insist there was no Holocaust. You’ll also find hundreds of articles that claim that the Oklahoma City bombing was a government conspiracy, and the Pentagon was never hit by a plane on 9/11.
Likewise, many people have written carefully footnoted articles insisting that no astronaut has ever walked on the Moon.
Note: Please don’t comment here about those controversies. I’m not taking sides in those arguments, just showing that many (or most) historical accounts have two or more sides with enough evidence to raise questions.
In my opinion, historical arguments can actually increase activity in a haunted site. The spirits know the truth and they may try to convey it to us, by whatever means they have.
BETSY ROSS – DOES IT MATTER?
For people who will only believe in Betsy Ross if they see her, in person, and actually witness her stitching the flag…. well, there is no proof that will satisfy them.
To them, it’s all “myth and folklore” and there’s nothing anyone can do to convince them otherwise. I am sorry for their cynicism. Their lives must be very bitter.
Is the Betsy Ross story entirely true? People will decide for themselves how much makes sense, given the existing evidence and the strength of historical traditions.
Here’s something to consider: If you don’ t believe that Betsy Ross sewed the famous flag, it might be smart to look for hauntings at the home of the person who actually sewed it. He or she may have a story to tell.
HISTORY AND HAUNTINGS
When considering the haunting of any location, documented history can affect how we tell the story, but little else.
For example, we’ve seen sites that increase in activity because visitors believe that the location is haunted. Those visitors’ beliefs and emotional reactions may contribute to the residual energy. Gilson Road Cemetery (Nashua, NH) may be an example of that, as may Louisiana’s Myrtles Plantation.
We’ve also heard reports of ghosts who should logically haunt where they lived and/or died… but they haunt a site more popularly associated with them. (Portsmouth, NH’s Sise Inn comes to mind, since the ghosts probably lived in a nearby house. By the time people researched the facts, the ghost stories were already associated with the Sise Inn.)
In my opinion, history can anecdotally support evidence of paranormal activity, and vice versa.
Did Betsy Ross actually sew the famous flag in that house? Maybe she did. Maybe she didn’t. History is not especially relevant to the credibility of any ghostly encounter at the famous Betsy Ross house.
History can be an issue when psychics make claims that contradict well-documented facts.
However, the TAPS team were there for physical evidence. History is not a factor, one way or the other, and it makes critics look silly when they raise irrelevant arguments.