THINGS THAT GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT: Ken DeCosta investigates the basement of the haunted Sprague Mansion
There’s Something Strange in the Neighborhood Adventures in the supernatural with Rhode Island’s other ghost hunters By Julie Tremaine | Photography by Jonathan Beller
It’s 9pm on a Friday night,
and I’m sitting in complete darkness in the basement of a haunted mansion, waiting to see a ghost. With me in the empty wine cellar, surrounded only by some scattered, moldering bottles of longgone wine (and, we hope, some spirits of another kind), are Tom Stewart and Chris Blanchette. They’re members of the Rhode Island Society for the Examination of Unusual Phenomena (RISEUP), a group of local hobbyists who have a serious fascination with the paranormal. Under other circumstances, having ghost experts around might be comforting when creepy, unexplained noises emanate from the oppressive blackness of the expansive basement (or from whatever’s lurking in it). But these two are trying to get the ghosts to come out. After all, this is a ghost hunt. What’s the fun unless someone has a brush with the unexplained? The wine cellar in question belongs to the Sprague Mansion in Cranston, which is widely acknowledged as one of the most haunted places in the state. The home was built over 200 years ago by the Sprague family, owners of the Sprague Print Works and all-around rich and powerful people. In 1848, Amasa Sprague, the master of the house, was murdered and is rumored to haunt the
property still. There is also rumor of a female ghost who could be the estranged wife of Governor William Sprague, Amasa’s brother. But the mansion’s supernatural mascot is Charlie the Butler, who served the Sprague family and had unfulfilled dreams of capturing part of their fortune. The ghostly legends have brought RISEUP here in the past for lectures and investigations, but they never pass up a chance to search for signs of the paranormal. The group, which was founded five years ago by Ken DeCosta and his son Dave in Tiverton, regularly investigates private homes at the owners’ request and public spaces that are rumored to be haunted. I arrive at our agreed start time of 7pm to a flurry of action as ten or so RISEUP members are setting up. The first floor pantry is their de facto control room. A monitor simultaneously displays the feeds from the six infrared cameras that have been placed all over the house in areas where there has been reported activity in the past. Camera equipment, flashlights, digital voice recorders and other gadgets I can’t identify litter the table, while miles of coaxial cable snake out in all directions from the DVR console. It creates a professional scene, one that surprises me with how much it resembles an FBI stakeout. I don’t know
what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this. While people are setting up, Shayna Drinkuth, a RISEUP investigator, tells me about the group’s last experience at the mansion. “I got one of the clearest EVPs any of us have ever gotten here. It’s a nice place, but there’s definitely something weird going on,” Shayna says. EVP stands for Electronic Voice Phenomena, which is when a voice appears on a digital recording that the people present for that recording didn’t actually hear. It’s one of the most common pieces of evidence RISEUP captures… not to say that it happens very frequently at all. The EVP she’s talking about is what sounds like a little girl’s voice calling out for her mother. “We’re really excited because the last time we were here we didn’t have this much equipment,” she says. They’re also excited because the last time they investigated the Sprague Mansion, which was about a year ago, they found some promising leads for what might have been ghost sightings. “One of our members saw a shadow go through a doorway, and we saw movement in empty rooms,” Tom says. It might not sound like enough to compel another investigation, but trust me – when you’re sitting in a completely silent building in the middle of the night staring at the darkness around you, any movements
are easy to perceive, even the ones that are hard to explain. After an hour or so of setting up, the team is ready to investigate. Ken and Marlaina Gaboriault head into the basement; Shayna and Julie DeMay go back to the third floor bedroom where Shayna captured the famous EVP, hoping to get something similar. I follow Tom and Chris to a second floor bedroom where others have reported seeing and feeling strange things. “We’ve got to get our ecto-packs out,” Chris jokes. I imagine the Ghostbusters comparisons happen constantly, but I am a little disappointed that there’s no hearse-cum-ghost-hunting-mobile outside and no friendly green ghoul along for the hunt. Chris, who studied Archaeology and Historical Preservation at Salve Regina, is the resident historian in the group, and is responsible for all the preliminary research, which includes uncovering the history of the property by going through newspaper archives and searching deeds and census records for any pertinent information on past owners. Understanding a place’s past is crucial to a successful investigation – and even if the team doesn’t find anything during an investigation, homeowners still get the satisfaction of having an in-depth history of their home.
October 2010 | Providence Monthly