BENNINGTON -- Speaking before a packed house of spooked Southern Vermont College students, members of the Vermont Spirits Detective Agency presented their findings Saturday from an overnight investigation of the college grounds the night prior. Reluctant to say definitively whether or not they encountered the paranormal at Everett Mansion, the investigators nonetheless experienced cold sensations, disconnected voices, and strange smells during their stay. The latter of which, SVC students were able to account for on Saturday.
Friday’s investigation was conducted by agency members Matt Borden, Bryan Hallett, and Gloria DeSousa, joined by recent newcomer Hannah Hawley, and the Peacock family of North Hero: Bill, Joanne, Sophie, and Willie. Of approximately 30 investigations the group has done to date, the Peacocks’ abandoned building in North Hero was one of two, Borden says, that was, without a doubt, haunted.
Friday night at Everett Mansion
"As a group, we had a very interesting night," Hallett said. The college’s Everett Mansion, circa 1910, and surrounding grounds have built a reputation over the years worthy of paranormal investigation, with purported sightings of the spirits of a black-hooded monk, Edward Everett himself, and multiple wives. SVC students relayed encounter after personal encounter to the paranormal investigators Saturday, some eerily similar to what the group experienced themselves Friday night. But haunted?
"Unfortunately we can’t say," said Hallett. "There was stuff we question, but nothing we’re willing to say," definitively. The group spent an hour wandering the campus grounds, four and a half hours at Everett Mansion, and had not yet had time to review all of their digital audio and video recordings.
Static infrared video shot overnight played during Saturday’s presentation, facing the audience and giving them a taste of the more tedious side of the profession. "A lot of paranormal investigation is fairly boring," said Borden, who began the group several years ago after professing a wish to start an agency while on-air as a contestant on the TV show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" with Meredith Vieira.
Soliciting for personal experiences from students in the audience, Hallett said that the difficulty of paranormal investigations was separating the rumors from the truth. "If you go in with the preconception that [the building] is haunted, then you’re going to see it everywhere," he said. "Matt and I take all of these stories, and keep them in mind, but we don’t expect anything to happen."
Hallett said that they typically ignored floating orbs recorded on video, and used electromagnetic force (EMF) detectors for the most part to discount hauntings. The rears of refrigerators, alarm clocks, and old houses with wiring grounded to water pipes are all potential sources of high EMF fields, Hallett explained, which, with prolonged exposure, can cause paranoia, hallucinations, and strange sensations.
Friday’s investigation saw the team split into two groups, employing digital infrared video and audio recorders, "looking for things we really can’t explain," said Hallett. At Everett Mansion there were unattributable mumbling sounds, phantom sights, and odors -- none of which seemed to be digitally recorded. Paradoxically, "when we do hear something\, it won’t be recorded," said Hallet. "And when we don’t hear anything, it is."
At least one inexplicable phenomenon from the SVC investigation was laid to rest on Saturday, when the group alluded to a smell in a specific area of one room in Everett Mansion. A student asked if it smelled anything like cat urine, which, in hindsight, it did. That would be the cat, the student said, that steals into the building at night.
"That might explain some of the noises," said Bill Peacock, the designated sceptic of the group.
The most disquieting experience of the night went to Hallett, who felt a deathly chill on his back in room 203 of Everett Mansion -- the same room and experience recounted by the SVC security guard who let the group in earlier that night. "It was the coldest feeling ever on my back," Hallett said. "I felt wired, very uncomfortable, nervous. I had to get up and move around." His skin was cold to the touch, the window exhibited no draft, and it was, Hallett professed, "one of the coolest things to happen to me" during an investigation.
Unable and unwilling to rule one way or the other in regards to SVC’s hauntings, the group spoke of more evocative past experiences. These included electronic voice phenomena (EVP) of a distinctly Scottish accent, recorded from the Peacocks’ abandoned house, before anyone knew of a previous Scottish owner. Borden played the best audio EVP the group has yet to record, a voice command to "get out," and another, unmistakably the sound of a child humming the song "Happy Birthday" -- sounds not to be mistaken with your average earthly house cat.