Audio: Ghosts speaking? Paranormal researchers probe haunted houses

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

The house is old, so the front door always sticks.

Twelve gravestones rest in the front yard. Thomas D’Agostino moves them only in summer when he has to cut the grass.

Inside, a clock ticks in every room. It smells of incense. The living room curtains are burgundy lace.

“We haven’t even decorated for Halloween yet,” said Arlene Nicholson, D’Agostino’s wife. She’s wearing a black skirt, black shirt, silver jewelry and black boots that lace up to the knee.

Her husband is dressed in black, his dark hair pulled into a ponytail. He has a slight widow’s peak, and a silver ring on nearly every finger; including a castle (he’s always wanted one), a cat’s eye, a bone skull and his Celtic wedding band.

The couple married on Halloween, six years ago. They spent their honeymoon in haunted hotels in Maine and New Hampshire.

D’Agostino and Nicholson founded the Paranormal United Research Society, a group that investigates paranormal accounts in New England. In the last 26 years, D’Agostino has looked into more than 1,000 reports of spirits, ghosts and haunted houses.

A team of about six work with him. He has the tools of his trade in silver cases in the dining room: a digital recorder to capture the voices of ghosts, a two-way radio and infrared cameras to see in the dark. He also brings an electromagnetic field detector — a device, he said, that helps him tell the difference between a spiritual presence and wiring inside the walls of a house.

At the John York house, a private home in North Stonington, D’Agostino investigated reports the house had been haunted since 1775, he said.

D’Agostino asked aloud, “Did you build this house?”

He said a voice answered: “Go away.”

He said he was scared once at a house in Smithfield, R.I., after walking into a room where someone had committed suicide.

D’Agostino sits in the study as he talks. Seven swords are mounted on the walls, along with a small ax, and framed grave rubbings, including a rubbing of Lizzie Borden’s headstone, hung over the doorway.

When he investigates a paranormal event, D’Agostino said he’ll walk into a house with his tape recorder on, and talk to no one in particular.

He’ll introduce himself, ask who’s there, say something polite like he’d say to a living person.

“We ask nice questions,” he said. “We don’t ask questions like ‘How did you die?’ “

Sometimes the place isn’t haunted. It’s something simple, like a cat running around at 2 a.m.

“I’m not a skeptic, but I don’t go into a place believing it’s haunted,” D’Agostino said. “I go into a place looking for every kind of answer I can find.”

Sometimes it’s something he can’t explain, like the sounds in their house.

The Victorian was built in 1910, on the foundation of a farmhouse. The brass light fixtures and woodwork is original; the door frame to the basement tilts just off center. The kitchen is more modern, but if you spill something, it’s easy to clean up; the floor dips so everything runs to the middle. The dark hardwood floors lean slightly to one side upstairs.

The house used to be a convalescent home; it’s known now as a haunted house. Neighbors say they’ve seen a figure in the upstairs balcony; perhaps a ghost of a previous owner who died of a heart attack.

D’Agostino said he’s seen lights switch on, heard footsteps on the stairs and running in the hallway.

He became interested in paranormal research after he stayed at a friend’s house, when he was in his 20s. He said he heard people downstairs who weren’t there, saw a figure, and watched a window come out of the jam and roll across the floor, he said. He passed the interest on to his wife, who was fascinated by it.

“We’re all energy,” she said. “Energy, of course, cannot be destroyed. So the question is, what happens to this energy?”

D’Agostino didn’t start in this field. He majored in political science at Rhode Island College. After school, he did everything from landscaping to repairing car engines. He thought about becoming a lawyer.

Nicholson went to San Jose State College in California and studied English. Now she commutes to Boston for her job in public relations.

He works as a freelance writer, teaches guitar and builds his own musical instruments. His books include “Haunted Rhode Island” and “Abandoned Villages and Ghost Towns of New England.” The two met when he was her son’s guitar teacher.

The couple are Wiccan and follow an earth-centered pagan religion.

Two years ago, they stayed in a lighthouse a mile into the ocean on Halloween. Last year, they went trick-or-treating. He dressed like the ghost from Charlie Brown with all the holes in the sheet. She went as a witch. Their neighbors know them; they don’t mind, she said.

This year, they’ll pass out candy.

Nicholson said she knows some people don’t believe in ghosts. But they’re fewer than they used to be.

“Now that it’s more out in the open, most people admit that they do believe,” she said. “If something has not happened to you yourself, you know somebody that you consider a reasonable person who has had something happen to them. It puts a little doubt in the minds of the skeptics, that maybe they don’t know everything that’s out there.”

Norwich (Conn.) Bulletin