GROTON -- Are there such things as ghosts? Can restless spirits of the departed remain behind to torment the living?
Or can such inexplicable happenings such as lights that go on and off by themselves or faucets that run on their own be explained away as power fluctuations or simple forgetfulness?
Those are the questions that Groton resident Carl Flowers was forced to confront after he invited ghost hunters to his old Kemp Street home to investigate the possibility that a disruption in the spirit world could be taking place there.
While not ready to blame anything supernatural as the cause for some off-center experiences he has had in his 300-year-old farmhouse, Flowers said he was prepared to heed the word of others who told him that they definitely sensed something out of place when they visited.
Flowers was somewhat primed for the news following long research into the history of his home. His findings included unexplained deaths such as that of John Woods Jr., son of former owners Lt. John Woods and his wife, Sarah Longley, both of whom also died in the house.
"I wanted to do a little more work on them and looked in the Groton town records and the records of abutting towns and found nothing," said Flowers. "I thought that was very interesting. Their son, young John Jr., went to Brooklyn, New York, to escape debtors prison, which raised my suspicions. Did he kill his parents?
"Although I'd heard people talk about there being ghosts in my house before," he said, "I didn't really believe them.
"It just seemed one of the last things that could be done," said Flowers, after all other avenues of his research on the Woods family were exhausted. "I'm not really a believer in ghosts but I had a couple of experiences that were kind of different. I'd read a book on life after death written by an emergency room physician about the experiences of people who were pronounced dead but who later came back to life. Those interviewed told him about some things they saw while dead that there was no way they could have known about. So that was just one more thing that motivated me."
"New England Ghost (NEG) is a private research group doing investigations of paranormal activity," said Joni Mayhan, director of NEG's Massachusetts chapter. "It was founded by Amy Rodriguez in 2009 and at one point, had chapters in about 16 states."
"The paranormal is one of those things that if someone has an experience they can become a believer pretty quickly," Mayhan said. "Neither of my own parents were believers until they sat down and listened to an EVP (electronic voice phenomena) and heard full sentences that were not spoken aloud at the time. Even though they may not admit it, when you talk to them about it, most people are pretty accepting of the paranormal and will even say that they've experienced something themselves.
"Typically, paranormal phenomena are caused by earthbound spirits that haven't crossed over," explained Mayhan. "Because they were confused when they died, their spirits didn't go where they were supposed to go and they ended up just staying. Sometimes fear of retribution for something they've done makes them afraid to move on."
Late in July, Mayhan and a team of investigators from NEG arrived at Flowers' home to conduct a preliminary review of the property.
"We wanted to get an idea of the layout of the house and how many people we would need to bring for the formal investigation," said Mayhan. "We also needed to figure out what equipment we'd need and how it should be laid out around the house.
"Over a period of time various people who were sensitive to paranormal phenomena had had experiences at the house and we thought that something might be going on," explained Mayhan. "Those people reached out to me and asked if we could come out and do an investigation. Mr. Flowers invited us to come but didn't want to tell us much about what might be going on. He wanted us to go in completely blind. All he told us was that occasionally, the television or a light might come on by itself but that he didn't know if was due to his own forgetfulness.
"The level of paranormal activity we find at different sites depends on the location," continued Mayhan. "Some places are really over-hyped. Typically, we're called in because residents are scared by strange noises in the middle of the night, objects disappearing and reappearing, or even apparitions. But we didn't get anything like that from Mr. Flowers' home. For myself, I like to do a bit of research on a case before going in so I know which questions to ask. In the end, good preparation allows us to place cameras where they'll do the most good such as rooms in which the most activity has been reported."
After the preliminary review, the NEG team returned on Aug. 11 to conduct its formal investigation.
"We sent in two teams with various pieces of equipment," said Mayhan. "We set up infra-red cameras throughout the house and then went through different rooms selecting places for our digital recorders.
"We also used a spirit box at the Flowers home," said Mayhan. "A spirit box scans radio frequencies landing on them for a quarter of a second at a time. Spirits are able to manipulate frequencies to produce the sound of voices that we call electronic voice phenomena (EVP). On this occasion, we managed to get some very clear responses. At that point, Mr. Flowers told us about the history of the house where someone at some time had been shot."
"The thing that blows me away is that in one of the rooms, there were five or six of us there, a couple of people asked some questions but there was no response," said Flowers of the incident. "Then someone asked if there was anyone in particular that the spirits I guess, wanted to talk to. Then a voice said my name: Carl! 'He wants to talk to you,' said one of people with me.
"So I started asking questions," said Flowers, "and this person was answering. I asked who he was and he said his name was John. 'Did you live here in the house?' I asked, and the answer was 'yes.' But the voice wasn't very clear, it was disguised. Then I asked if he had died in the house? The answer sounded like a yes but it wasn't clear. So I asked him 'How did you die?' And his response was again garbled but everyone in the room was of the same opinion: the voice had said the word 'bullet.' I thought that could be the reason why there was no death record for John Wood Sr. Then I asked if he was buried in the cellar, or the walls, or in the pasture but there was no answer. So, I just found all that very curious."
"We hoped to catch something obvious," said Mayhan. "Catching something on camera is good but obviously capturing evidence of a full body apparition would be the best of all. But even a simple EVP would be great because that can provide us with valuable information."
Mayhan said that NEG's plan is to meet again with Flowers to report what it had discovered.
"We still have to review all of our audio and video evidence but based on what we heard at the time we were recording, we're very confident that we'll find some interesting information," concluded Mayhan. "Depending on our findings, we might conduct a subsequent visit. The object is not necessarily to prove or disprove a haunting but to learn more about the paranormal and also help our clients if we can."
Flowers said he intends to keep an open mind about whatever the investigation finds.
"I just found the whole thing to be very interesting," he said. "And maybe there is something for all I know. I just know that there hadn't been enough time for them to do any research about my house (to pull any tricks). They didn't charge me anything so there was no money to be made. So, we'll just wait and see what the full report will say."
For more information about New England Ghost, visit the group's website at www.newenglandghosts.org.