On Saturday night, a team of paranormal investigators from Southern New England drove up to Lynnfield to check out the 1714 Old Meeting House for signs of ghostly activity. They were at the historic structure from about 9 p.m. to 2 a.m., and their work also included a check of the 1728 Old Burying Ground, across the street from the town common. The crew routinely checks with historical societies around New England to inquire about doing their work at local well-known buildings.
So - are there ghosts at the Old Meeting House? Some locals are definitely convinced. Last week in advance of this visit, I checked in with Nan Hockenbury, director of the Lynnfield Historical Society, who reported that over the years, some people have claimed that they heard footsteps upstairs when the place was supposed to be empty.
Hockenbury also did some research in advance of the investigators' visit and came up with a potentially interesting detail from Thomas Wellman's definitive "History of the Town of Lynnfield," published in 1895. In the book, Wellman writes that the Reverend Benjamin Adams, a Harvard graduate who was born in Newbury in 1719 and ordained in 1755 and fathered seven children while living in Lynnfield, apparently actually died on Sunday, May 4, 1777, mid-sermon in his pulpit at the Old Meeting House.
The Wellman book reports that the parish helped defray the cost of the funeral and allowed the family to live in the nearby parsonage for a year. “He was buried near the first minister of Lynnfield, but the headstone has lain for many years in a shattered condition and could hardly be deciphered many years ago. The footstone is very large, stands erect, and is still very easy to read,” said the Wellman book.
On top of this, this website has run various Lynnfield historical articles in the past, one of which noted that early in the American Revolution, local Minutemen apparently hid weapons in the building. Lynnfield Minutemen who fought and in some cases, died, at the outset of the war in April, 1775 also congregated yards away from the Meeting House, at the former Gowing Tavern (present site of the Centre Court shops) before starting their march that concluded at the Battle of Menotomy. Also, the town's Old Burying Ground, across the street from the Town Common, apparently sprawled a bit beyond its current boundaries closer toward the Old Meeting House back before there was a South Common Street to separate the two places. So if somebody is looking for a ghost at the Old Meeting House, there are at least several sources to look at.
Infrared Cameras, Full Spectrum Camera, And Recording Devices
The paranormal investigators arrived close to sundown on Saturday and proceeded to set up a range of electronic equipment that included a full-spectrum camera, a couple of infrared cameras, Sony night vision camcorders, and tri-field meters, which are hand-held devices that measure electromagnetic energy, including from nearby electrical outlets. Another device scatters green laser light around a room to pick up any unexplained motion that breaks the beams. All readings were stored on a hard drive and over the next couple of weeks, the investigators will analyze the material for signs of video anomalies and for electronic voice phenomena (EVP).
SVP founder Jay Palazzo, who works full-time as a correctional officer in Rhode Island, reported that signs of ghostly activity are far more likely to manifest in the form of EVP readings than in photos and other phenomena - because other things like making objects move simply take up too much energy. Also, camera equipment picks up plenty of interesting-looking orbs and whatnot - some of which can be spotted in the photos attached to this story (Check them out) - but Palazzo explains that a fair number of them can be explained as dust or bugs near the camera lens. He also said that SVP has probably discarded a fair share of authentic paranormal evidence as part of its overall philosophy of approaching this topic with a skeptical mind.
Along with trying to record EVPs and catch anomalies on their instruments, the group is also very interested in abrupt temperature changes that are often associated with ghostly activity. There were no points in the evening where a cold chill suddenly filled the room or anything like that, although the equipment was apparently able to pick up much more subtle temperature changes at several points.
These paranormal investigators bring a healthy dose of skepticism to their work, and they are quick to draw a distance between themselves and the various ghost-hunting TV shows to appear in recent years. "The difference between a TV show and us, a TV show has to show you something," said Palazzo. "A lot of people want to have a ghost. You've got to be very level-headed."
Group co-founder Bob Wlodyka uses his knowledge from the construction industry to spot potential sources of non-ghostly noises in the building structure itself. Palazzo was the son of a master electrician and worked enough years in that business to spot further sources of non-ghostly noises and the like.
Investigators Pam Wlodyka and Siobhan Doherty rounded out the SVP delegation in Lynnfield on Saturday night. The group has worked with a medium/psychic in the past as well and is currently working on adding a new one to help complement the technical readings they gather.
SVP also recently went to the Blanchard House in Andover, has been as far north as Warner, NH, and particularly seems to get strong results from the Wachuset Village Inn in Westminster, Mass., which is said to be the home of a young girl's spirit and possibly others. The group does not charge for an investigation but at times will hold a "Ghostly Get-Together" at various historic buildings and other gathering places that help defray their costs by giving people a chance to try out the equipment and learn more about their methods. The group rarely works outside and Palazzo is skeptical of the idea that ghosts would be inclined to congregate in cemeteries, finding it far more likely they are to be found in places of actual significance to their lives.
"Hours And Hours Of Listening To Dead Silence"
Palazzo added that the SVP team even debunked part of a past ghost finding by one of the most famous teams of television paranormal investigators, demonstrating that the ghost they detected on their show was actually a draft that was moving some window shutters around. Of course, during that exact same visit, the SVP team reportedly ended up seeing a corner of a chair lift up on its own and then tap back down.
Anyone who has ever watched these paranormal shows on cable knows that at some point in almost any given episode, somebody ends up running down a hallway screaming over something that never quite finds its way onto the screen. A TV crew can even manipulate the hyper-sensitive electronic equipment simply by waving a cell phone a couple of feet off camera, reported Palazzo. A real-life paranormal investigation seems to be a far quieter and more measured affair. While the recording equipment stays running at all times, the investigators will go to various parts of a structure, different floors and rooms, and ask questions in a normal speaking voice (see the attached video) with the intention of getting a spirit to actually say something on tape or otherwise react. This reporter participated as well, asking various questions to the ether, largely name-dropping long-ago town figures from the various Lynnfield history articles that appear on this website.
This isn't to say that paranormal investigations are free of alarm at all times. Palazzo reported that at one visit, he ended up having marks on his neck from something, and that a separate occasion in Pittsfield, Mass. saw him pushed into a wooden railing, resulting in a broken tri-meter device.
A Google search of Electronic Voice Phenomenon brings up countless examples of what such things sound like - and they usually only last one or two words at a time. A Wikipedia page on the topic provides additional background information. The team also shared clips of EVP recordings, from previous outings, with Lynnfield Patch and a representative of the historical society. One clip was a man answering to his name despite no longer being on this earth, while the other was a voice that appeared to be the previously mentioned young girl spirit.
As they were breaking down their equipment at the end of the night, Palazzo acknowledged that the hunt for EVP recordings also includes the monotony of "hours and hours of listening to dead silence."
In the case of the Old Meeting House, the crew had four cameras running (their equipment allows up to 16) and had between four and five hours of recorded material from various devices. Along with the silence, the investigators must also sort through all of the conversation by the living and sounds of walking picked up all night by the various devices. Based on all of these factors, they estimated that they should be able to provide a report on what, if anything, they found at the Old Meeting House in the space of a couple of weeks. When that time comes, presumably in early to mid July, Lynnfield Patch hopes to run a follow-up article featuring the group's findings.
To learn more about Silent Voices Paranormal and their work, check out their website here.
Also - There's no way that this story wasn't going to be tied in to the week's poll question. Do you think there is a ghost in the Old Meeting House? Click here and vote!