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Amy Bruni believes she was eight years old the first time she saw a ghost. She was in her childhood home in California, and she saw what appeared to be a man outside a second-floor window, which made no sense to her because, you know, people can’t fly.
But rather than dismissing Bruni’s creative imagination, her mom calmly explained that it was probably a spirit. There was no spooky story to go with it, but from then on, she accepted the idea that ghosts might just be part of life.
“I was not afraid; I was intensely curious,” Bruni, who now lives in Portsmouth, recalled in an interview this week.
And so began her lifelong fascination with paranormal activity that has taken her from enthusiastic ghost hunting hobbyist to reality television celebrity (she stars on “Kindred Spirits” on the Travel Channel), and now, published author. Her first book, “Life with the Afterlife: 13 Truths I Learned about Ghosts,” was released Tuesday and has already shot to the top of Amazon’s bestsellers in the very Halloween-friendly “unexplained mysteries” category.
Bruni’s book doesn’t require you to believe in ghosts in order to enjoy it, and her conversational approach to writing seems to suggest to readers she’s in on the joke, too. One chapter is titled, “There is no such thing as a ghost detector,” and the next is, “It’s not always a ghost.”
“I could be the crazy lady talking to nothing,” Bruni said. “But what if I’m right?”
To be sure, Bruni is adamant that she’s right.
She’s quick to explain that she used to have a normal day job, as a project manager for a health insurance company. She would spend her free time doing what ghost hunters do – researching potentially haunted houses or burial grounds. But when she met the creators of “Ghost Hunters,” a show that ran for 11 seasons on the Syfy network (and was recently revived), she quit her job to do the work full-time.
There has always been a subculture of people who seek out paranormal experiences, but the internet has helped the community grow, and shows like “Ghost Hunters” and “Kindred Spirits” has essentially made the afterlife mainstream.
“It’s almost a religion,” Bruni joked.
And she is front and center. She landed in Rhode Island because she met a guy while she was investigating ghosts in Warwick for the Syfy show. The couple had a kid together, and she’s been here for 12 years.
Which raises the question: What is the most haunted place in Rhode Island?
Bruni laughed sheepishly as though she doesn’t get asked that question about every state in the country on a regular basis. In the book, she explains that she never found evidence of the spirits described by the Perron family in the Burrillville farmhouse made famous in “The Conjuring,” but she isn’t convinced that it’s completely safe either.
“There’s something in the farmhouse that has an affinity toward children, and it’s not necessarily a nice affinity,” she wrote.
Bruni explained that in the upcoming season of “Kindred Spirits,” she explored The Valley Inn in Portsmouth. Legend has it, and some historical records back this up, that Thomas Cornell Jr. killed his mother in the area in the 1600s. He was allegedly tried and convicted – and sentenced to death – after his uncle testified that his mom’s ghost visited him and fingered Thomas for the crime.
“He’s the only person in history to be tried and found guilty because of the testimony of a ghost,” Bruni said.
Bruni said one of her favorite parts of the job is researching the history of an old home or landmark where people have claimed to see ghosts – and places like Rhode Island are perfect for finding those stories.
She maintains that most spirits that she has interacted with aren’t seeking to scare people – there’s a chapter in the book on this – but they are typically looking for something. On one occasion, in Barnstable on Cape Cod, she learned that a young girl had been hit by a train, dying instantly. People claimed they saw her over the years, and Bruni claims she was able to interact with her and let her know that she was dead.
“We showed her her death certificate,” Bruni said.
Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. Bruni said ghosts are like humans – there are some who seem to enjoy getting a rise out of people.
“It’s always the loudest ones that get the most attention,” Bruni said.
Now it’s Bruni who is welcoming the attention. The book got a glowing review from The New York Times, and “Kindred Spirits” remains a popular show.
As for that man she saw as an eight-year-old that kicked off her interest in the afterlife, Bruni said she has never seen him since. Her family moved soon after, and another family member who moved in never reported any strange sightings.
Sounds like an investigation is in order.
“I’ve always wanted to go back,” Bruni said.