On a bone-cold night, with Venus hanging in the sky and the moon not having yet made its appearance, a building high on a hill in Groveland sits completely dark.
Dark, but not empty.
Navigating its dusky passages, cavernous halls, and rooms cluttered with shadowy hulks of furniture, a team of investigators has come to seek out the unknown. Outfitted with cameras, voice recorders, and various types of meters, as well as metaphysical tools, they hope to connect with the dead that are believed to haunt this 100-year-old building that serves as the centerpiece of Veasey Memorial Park.
“You have no idea what to expect,’’ says Ron Kolek, executive director of the New England Ghost Project, before the crew heads out in pursuit of the paranormal. “You just go in being open, and whatever happens, you react to it.’’
Ghost hunting - regardless of whether you’re a believer, a skeptic, or indifferent - has its own unique methodology, requiring both sophisticated technology and otherworldly tools, along with analysis, deduction, calculations, and the ability to discern when something is merely a fluke, rather than a brush with the spirit world.
It’s a practice Kolek, of Dracut, has been honing for years, and now he’s sharing his tactics in “Paranormal CSI - Ghost Hunting 101.’’ Offered for the first time through Northern Essex Community College’s noncredit personal enrichment program, the six-week course begins Thursday at Veasey. Kolek’s recent investigation of its grounds was meant to acquaint himself with the former estate’s unseen inhabitants.
In particular, he’s curious about two women - one big, one little - who have reportedly been seen walking right through a wall or hovering in the kitchen.
Then there have been less tangible specters. When the park’s events manager, Dorna Caskie, stayed over one night, she and her two kids were startled awake at 3 a.m. by something “absolutely electric and very profound,’’ she says. “I felt like I was in a room full of very excited and very happy children.’’
The rich amount of activity seems to correspond with the rich amount of history: Built between 1909 and 1910, the building was at first a summer home for wealthy mill owner Arthur D. Veasey. His three-building operation, lost with time, was the once thriving Groveland Mills. Workers there produced fabric and wool, some for Henry Ford’s car seats, according to Caskie.
But the mills were dismantled around 1930, and the property changed hands a few times before it was bought by the Little Missionary Sisters of Charity in the late 1950s. The nuns cared for women with special needs, many of them former patients at Danvers State Hospital, setting them up in dorm rooms on the property. Over the years, they added a church and function hall.
Finally, in 1996, the town of Groveland bought the 47.5-acre property.
There have been more than a few unexplained encounters since, which is what drew Kolek and his team on a harshly cold Saturday night in mid-January.
They show up in a convoy of cars and SUVs a little after 7 p.m., the 9,000-square-foot building a dark silhouette against the snow and crooked trees.
Moving with a rhythm of routine, the crew of a half-dozen hauls in black cases full of equipment, runs long strings of electrical cords along linoleum and hardwood, positions cameras (four in all) in various rooms, and sets up a control station with several monitors, all the while communicating back and forth on walkie-talkies.
One team starts going room to room, scanning with a hand-held temperature gauge and an electromagnetic fields meter.
Elsewhere, others record different impressions.
Self-described medium Lesley Marden of Laconia, N.H., and Karin Ruck of Boxford (she claims to have “sensitivities,’’ but doesn’t call herself as a medium), feel out the different rooms.
“There are a lot of different energies here,’’ Marden says as she taps her impressions on an iPad, a walkie-talkie clipped into the back pocket of her jeans.
For instance, in the great room, Marden feels the 1940s; in the kitchen, they both pick up something having to do with head trauma; in other areas, they touch the walls and get a sense of sickness. And in the basement, they describe a male energy and a well-defined path from the entry door to the kitchen.
In a room used by the local Veterans of Foreign Wars, Marden stops, looking around, one hand on a hip.
“Nervous energy,’’ Ruck whispers.
“I feel like I have to pace,’’ Marden says, beginning to do so, then blurting out, “male.’’
“As a whole, this place has a nice energy; it’s kind of inviting,’’ she says a few minutes later.
Nearby, in the control room, Kolek makes sure everything is in place, readying meters, testing walkie-talkies, checking the four-way split screen monitor.
In the decade-plus he’s done investigations - of government buildings, private residences, lighthouses - he says he’s seen and heard a lot of things he can’t explain, from phantom dogs to books flying off shelves.
He expects to share some of these experiences in his upcoming class, and he’ll also teach participants how to use equipment and perform different methods. They’ll investigate Veasey, then write a paper on their own conclusions.
“It’s always different,’’ he said of ghost hunting, “and you can never, ever plan on anything.’’
Soon, all is prepped, and the lights go off, one by one.
It’s 9:05 p.m.
Holding cameras, digital recorders, and electromagnetic readers, the team starts in the living room off the entry porch. Lights from their equipment shine like tiny red eyes; the floorboards creak as they walk around like moving shadows; their voices are disembodied in the dark.
“Do you feel anything?’’ Kolek asks.
“As I’m sitting here, I feel dizzy,’’ Marden replies.
Kolek gets on his walkie-talkie and reports this bit of info to the control room; they copy back.
“Definitely people were ill,’’ Ruck agrees.
Kolek and Marden then note an energy in one of the corners; Marden says she senses a man with dark hair and a mustache, then announces “flash!’’ and the room lights up for an instant as she snaps a photo.
Investigator Jim Stonier begins to take voice recordings.
“Anyone in here who would like to communicate?’’ he asks. “We just want to make contact with you; we mean you no harm. We come with the utmost respect.’’
Pause. “What is your name?’’
Pause. Kolek, this time: “Are you a male?’’
A few minutes later, they play it back; the spaces between questions are filled in by a deep rhythmic sound, like grinding teeth or humming machinery.
They move on.
In the adjacent room, off the hall, with a ticking clock and rocking chairs, Ruck notes a headache on the left side of her head, and Marden reports a “female energy.’’
They continue like this for hours, pausing in each room from anywhere for a minute or two to several, taking pictures, recording video and sound, then moving along.
By 12:30 a.m., they pack up.
As they go, the house is dark again, holding its secrets.