investigators hunt for haunted homes
By LISA FRESOLONE (New York Daily News)
Friday, October 31st 2008, 1:22 PM
Some people might not mind a bump in the night or harmless haunting. But for a home seller or real-estate broker, a haunted home can be a nightmare.
"We were attempting to go into contract with three different buyers," recounts one of the highest-profile Manhattan brokers, who insists on anonymity for fear of bringing controversy to the professional environment. "Each time, they never went to contract. We had to keep putting the apartment back on the market." She had no reason to believe it was a ghost or spirit, but as she says, "The place isn't selling, and I don't know why."
At her wit's end, the broker hired a spiritual cleanser. A half hour later, the super called to tell her someone in the building was interested. The home sold right away.
In this broker's case, nothing was explained to her — what about the house was making it difficult to sell, how to fix the problem or how a new resident should react if the paranormal energy should return.
These questions could have been answered by Paranormal NYC, New York City's only group of paranormal investigators that strives to provide answers as well as solutions when dealing with a paranormal presence in local homes.
The group's founder, Brooklyn-born Dom Villella, who says the movie "Ghostbusters" isn't far off from how he operates, explains that our broker got only half the story when she had her townhouses cleansed.
"You're bringing people in, and they're just cleaning something out without even the slightest idea of what it is, no evidence of energy or activity," Villella says. "You're just assuming it's something paranormal."
Always free and 100% confidential, Paranormal NYC's team (usually three to eight people, depending on the size of the investigation) uses science as a means to explain what might be happening in a potentially haunted home.
"We're trying to help people," says Villella, a hypnotherapist and stay-at-home dad. "We don't do this for selfish reasons, and we're not trying to make any money. We don't charge, because you can't charge someone for something you can't prove."
On Oct. 18, Villella and his team investigated purported paranormal activity hot spots in Manhattan. They checked out Washington Square Park, which used to be a gallows and a burial ground, and frequent reports of laughter and talking from the cemetery at Trinity Church.
The Paranormal NYC team obtained real evidence only at the cemetery. It didn't notice it at the time, but its electronic voice phenomena recording picked up inexplicable sounds — specifically, a child crying, Villella says.
Last week, the Daily News met up with Paranormal NYC to watch an investigation of an apartment in a historic district of Greenwich Village, a historically haunted area. Villella came with team members Traci Borders and Tony Steele and a ton of equipment, ready to encounter whatever they might find.
One room was the focal point of the investigation. "When I used to sleep in there," the resident told them, "I'd feel a heavy pressure in my chest, and sometimes feel someone standing over me." Then, when he tried to make it a guest room, his guests consistently dreamed of dead relatives. One even began a descent into madness, attempting to channel author Joseph Conrad.
"No matter what, you're going to have a large amount of residual energy in an old building like this," Villella says of the apartment building, which was built in 1906.
"Spirits need energy to manifest," says Steele, a musician and Reiki energy-healing master. "They take that energy from anyone who's around. So if a person is already relatively stressed, the removal of that energy can make them even more stressed."
Next, Villella and his team whipped out electric measuring devices and started checking various factors in the apartment: the acoustics and the wiring of the apartment, temperature and humidity, barometric pressure and natural electromagnetic fields. This complements preliminary research, including Department of Buildings records and police criminal searches.
The team sets up a video camera, microphones to take an EVP recording and even a wind chime to sense any subtle motion. Then we left, to see if there would be any activity detected in the apartment while no one was home.
In the six years since Villella started Paranormal NYC, his team has investigated such famous "haunted" New York City sites as the Belasco Theater; the restaurant One if by Land, Two if by Sea, and the Ed Sullivan Theater. According to Villella, 95% of investigations occur in homes or apartments.
Successful investigations include the Eastern State Penitentiary in Pennsylvania, where the team obtained a spooky recording of a voice saying, "My house, my home." At one upstate home, Villella says, a ghost literally went through him. In a Bay Ridge apartment that used to be a military barracks, the team experienced an inexplicable camera malfunction and a door opening all on its own.
Evidence from each of these creepy places is available to the public on the team's Web site, www.paranormal-nyc.com. Villella reports that at the majority of places they've investigated, the paranormal activity never resumes after they've been there.
The group may investigate Staten Island's Kreischer Mansion in the near future. Numerous people claim to have seen see the ghosts of a young couple, heard children scratching at an old attic door with an exterior lock and witnessed a former cook roaming the halls. The Victorian mansion is recently experiencing renewed fame because of last year's discovery of the remains of alleged mafia associate Robert McKelvey on its premises.
Former owner Joseph McBratney, himself a distinguished psychic, recalls how he encountered the ghost of a woman believed to be the widow of Edward Kreischer, who committed suicide in 1894.
"When I woke up, I saw a woman in the doorway. I told her I was trying to restore it to its historically correct, original beauty with Victorian period furniture," McBratney says about a night he spent there in the 1990s while restoring the mansion to open a restaurant there. "I also asked her to show herself on a Friday night at the restaurant. I think she was getting ready to try to scare me away from her home."
He must have reassured her, because she never showed herself to McBratney again.
Ultimately, Paranormal NYC's report (which included nearly 30 observations and measurements) detected nothing out of the ordinary about the Greenwich Village apartment, except for very high electric absorption, observed in the abnormally high voltage reading in the room, which Villella says could explain the guests' dreams.
"Even an alarm clock next to the bed can disrupt someone's sleep," Villella says. "But that's what we're here for, to be absolutely, scientifically, sure."
So what should you do if you think you have a ghost in your home?
First, eliminate all other possibilities. "Ninety- nine percent of the time, it's something explainable," says Dom Villella, be it an old pipe, a crack in the wall, creaky flooring or a drafty vent. In one case, an elderly couple were "haunted" by a bizarre, animalistic sound in the attic. Paranormal NYC investigated and found that it wasn't a spirit at all but a loose shingle in the roofing.
Second, even if you can't explain your experiences, don't panic! Most paranormal presences aren't evil, and most simply don't know where else to go. According to Villella, spirits feed off your energy, so if your energy is positive, theirs could become, too — and vice versa.
Most important, read up and educate yourself! Fields to look into are metaphysics, parapsychology, astrology and even quantum physics. Villella suggests reading work by authors Dean Radin or Troy Taylor.
Who knows? You may decide living with a ghost isn't so bad.