Published: 2:45 PM - 06-20-11
A group of people were outside the Westerly Armory Saturday night, huddled around a computer monitor with an air of anticipation. On the screen were surveillance images of the armory's kitchen. In the greenish glow of the infrared night-vision camera, furniture and walls were visible, and not much else.
But then the camera went dark. Footsteps and banging noises were recorded, in a room that was supposedly empty.
"There's an intelligent, right there," murmured one member of the group.
The video was recorded by a paranormal research team called G.H.O.S.T. during an investigation of the armory. They were intrigued by the unexplained video - it seems the camera light had been physically snapped off - and they returned to investigate.
John Austin of Warwick, the lead investigator, brought a team of six people and several thousand dollars worth of equipment to Westerly for the group's third attempt to document paranormal activity at the armory. The video is but one piece of evidence they've collected that someone, or something, is haunting the armory.
"I know there's something here, but I can't explain it yet," said Austin. "I want to determine if it has any type of intelligence, any type of reaction."
Before sunset, the group placed night-vision cameras and audio recorders in strategic places around the armory. Two cameras, one at each end of the room, were placed in the kitchen, the site of the previous video.
The goal for this visit was to collect electronic voice phenomena, or EVP, Austin said. The investigators hoped to capture a voice on the audio recorders in response to questions they would ask.
In addition to the recording devices, investigators would also search for evidence. The plan was for one team of three to enter the armory at a time. As they entered each room, they would take still photos, shoot video from a hand-held camera, and take temperature and electromagnetic field readings. A sudden drop in temperature, or a sudden increase in the electromagnetic field, could mean there is a ghost present, said investigator Jamie Rogers of Warwick.
After the readings and pictures, they planned to spend about 10 minutes trying to get any spirits in each room to speak with them. The second team would later repeat the work of the first team.
"It's a very patient thing to do," Austin said. "It takes a lot of time."
Austin's group is the Rhode Island branch of Ghost Hunters of Spirit Transcommunications, a New England organization based in Kennebunk, Maine, that pursues "science- based" paranormal research.
The video wasn't the only evidence that the armory is haunted; there is also some first-hand experience. Bob Watz, a member of the armory's executive board, said he and his wife were putting a mailing together in the boardroom one day when they heard footsteps upstairs in the band room. He ignored it, but then it happened again. Knowing that they were alone in the building, he decided to investigate.
"I go upstairs, and there's nobody up there," he recalled.
He told his fellow board members about his experience, and another member approached him afterward with a similar experience. Hope Benn said she was alone in the band room when she heard the door to the outside open and close, and footsteps heading up the stairs. She also looked out and checked; there was no one there. She never mentioned it until Watz told his story, she said, because she thought it all sounded so crazy.
It's doubtful that those stories would sound crazy to Austin, who said his hobby of hunting the paranormal evolved from experiences in his own home, which he said is the most haunted building he's ever researched. Among the activities he's witnessed are his livingroom couch being flipped upside down and a 70- pound television set being rotated 180 degrees every time he left the room.
Rogers said he once tried to provoke the entity in Austin's house and got hit in the face by a washer. Austin recalled the time he and Rogers were barricaded in the basement, which he described as the only time he's been scared.
"It's been doing this for years and years and years now," he said.
Paranormal activity has also been witnessed by Austin's 8-year-old daughter, Cassidy, who is the youngest ghost hunter in the group. She has seen the image of a little girl and an old woman in her house, Cassidy said, and snapped a picture of the little girl with her iPod.
Cassidy was on her second ghost hunt with her father, and already has plans to become the group's leader. When Austin goes into a building, the fearless Cassidy tags along and lets her father know if any of the rooms make her feel uncomfortable. She doesn't enter those rooms, and her father investigates them more closely.
Children are more sensitive to the paranormal, Austin said, due to their open-mindedness.
Hauntings are actually pretty common, Austin said, and in his 11 years of investigating old buildings, mostly in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, he's struck out only once. Most people don't see ghosts, he explained, because they don't want to. Spirits are like people, he said. If you pay more attention to them, they will pay attention to you. If you ignore them, they will ignore you.
For those who would dismiss any notion of the paranormal, Austin said that just because they can't see it doesn't mean it's not there. He compared the paranormal to the laws of physics, which you can't actually see but no one doubts.
"You can't see gravity, but it's there," he said. "You really can't dismiss it. You don't know."
After spending the afternoon and evening at the armory, the group planned to be out of there by midnight. It will take weeks to go over all of the data and check all of their devices, Rogers said.
Ron Brunelle of the armory's executive board said he hopes the groups find something paranormal, because that could create more interest in the armory.