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Houghton Mansion

North Adams Transcript 10-12-04


Psychic seeks mayor's ghost inside Masonic Temple 
Ryan Quinn - North Adams Transcript

NORTH ADAMS -- From in front of the Houghton Mansion at 172 Church St. in North Adams, a peaceful and bulky Victorian facade disguises the massive structure swallowed by the darkness behind it. The building, now a Masonic temple, once belonged to Albert Houghton, mayor of North Adams in the late 1890s. On a Saturday night some 100 years later, the story of Houghton's final days was being revisited -- perhaps literally. Interest in the building's previous inhabitants was stirred a few months ago when Nick Mantello, a Mason at the lodge for 15 years, was contacted by Cheri Revai of Massena, N.Y. Revai wanted to include the story of Houghton Mansion in her latest book, "Haunted Massachusetts: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Bay State." Revai, who was not present Saturday night, has gained popularity in her home state with two previous books in a "Haunted New York" series.

Mantello said that based on what he had heard from Revai and others, the building was supposedly haunted. "Everything is 'supposedly,'" Mantello said, shrugging. "We've all heard noises. I'm open to it. I didn't believe in this stuff, but I thought, 'what the heck.'" Mantello discovered the New England Ghost Project online and contacted its founder, Ron Kolek. Kolek, a self-proclaimed skeptic, started the group of paranormal researchers and investigators six years ago along with his wife, Janet, and their son, Ron Kolek Jr. Also making the trip from Dracut for Saturday's investigation were Maureen Wood, a psychic, and Marc Lemay, a video cameraman. Wearing matching navy blue collared T-shirts with their compass star logo on the breast, The Project, as they often refer to themselves, set up their base camp in a room just inside the building's main entrance. Then they were briefed on the history of the building by local historian Paul Marino.

Lights blazed in several rooms while cameras, monitors, and other equipment were assembled on three tables. At first glance, the scene appeared more like a low-budget movie set than a ghost hunt. But as the equipment was checked and tested, word got around that the temperature in one of the rooms, which was being monitored by a remote thermometer, had suddenly dropped several degrees. Mantello and the three other Masons in attendance seemed thrilled as the investigation got under way. They traded stories of mysteriously slamming doors and lit lights that could not always be explained by the person who last left the room. Standing in front of a large portrait of Albert Houghton, Mantello tells a story of three deaths associated with the mansion. The Houghton's chauffeur, John Widder, was driving the family car when he hit a soft shoulder and the vehicle rolled. The accident killed Mary, one of the Houghton daughters. The following day, Widder brought a gun to one of the buildings behind Houghton Mansion and committed suicide. Albert Houghton himself died only seven days later, apparently succumbing to grief.

Mantello's version of the story is interrupted a few minutes before 9 p.m. because Wood, The Project's psychic, is making contact with the Houghton spirits in the other room. She stands in a circle of onlookers with her head bowed and a pendulum swinging from one hand. Ron Kolek Sr. stands beside her, monitoring a hand held electromagnetic field, or EMF, meter that blinks red and beeps incessantly throughout the ordeal. Kolek explains afterward that ghosts produce electromagnetic fields that can be detected by the meter. Soon, Wood is breathing heavily and appears shaken as she murmurs the names of Houghton family members and mutters a few short sentences, such as "Not my fault," "I'm sorry," "I can't feel my arms. My arms are numb." And then suddenly, "I gotta get out of here." Clutching her arms and almost keeling over, she breaks off contact and hurries outside. She returns 10 minutes later, mascara smeared from the sides of her eyes, looking relieved. Ron Kolek Sr. said that the exchange was a "severe" and "highly unusual confrontation." Wood, 41, who is an engineer by trade and says not many people at her day job know about her psychic powers, said she is also an empath, which means she can feel spirits, as well as hear and see them. She is asked what it's called when she channels the energy of spirits. "Pain," she chuckles, only half-joking.

She said the work takes a physical toll despite the frankincense and holy water she uses to protect her from the intense energy she encounters. Holy water, Kolek Sr. said, also protects camera batteries, which he says have a tendency to drain rapidly in the presence of ghosts. After an hour and a half, a photographer from the Transcript points out his camera battery, which typically lasts for three hours, is already getting low. And The Project's cameraman goes through three batteries as he films the group's tour of the mansion. A full tour reveals that the building is sufficiently spooky. The basement is the first stop. In the expansive labyrinth of tight concrete spaces, pipes traverse the ceiling and naked bulbs emit a harsh white light revealing cob webs, old paint cans, and more unused pipe. Janet Kolek leaves her post at the base camp to join the group after she complains over a walkie-talkie that her television monitors are producing only static. In the basement, Wood describes making contact with the spirit of Mary, the daughter killed in the car accident. This confrontation is less severe than the first, and Wood speaks without any sign of pain. "She didn't die here ... She doesn't want to leave ... No more pain," she said.

The rest of the house is toured via illogical hallways, some not wider than narrow corridors. Chips of plaster and drywall crackle underfoot and stacked old chairs and couches form dark shapes against the walls. Almost every room possesses a unique fireplace and several foggy, distorted mirrors. "Do you want me to turn on the light?" someone asked as the group reached an office on the second floor. "No, we don't need light. We don't like light," Kolek, Sr., said definitively. Meanwhile, Wood walks around the room quietly, pendulum swinging in one hand as her other hand massages her neck. Occasionally the EMF meter blinks to life, but none of the mansion's upper rooms seem to possess the energy that Wood and Kolek Sr. had detected downstairs and in the basement. Making sense of a paranormal investigation appears to depend somewhat on the beliefs of the beholder. But for whatever good the New England Ghost Project provided, they did not likely bring any peace of mind to the Masons who occupy Houghton Mansion.

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