Everyone in Connecticut has their favorite haunts, some just take them more seriously than others.
The feeling that someone is watching, unexplained noises or footfalls in the night, a whisper, a glow, a sudden chill, or an apparition. But these experiences that unsettle many also spell excitement and the thrill of the chase for others.
They are the paranormal investigators of Connecticut, the mediums, the psychics, the ghost hunters, who say they sense, hear, and communicate with the spirits that sometimes linger in our physical world.
Five of Connecticut’s prominent paranormal pros visited some of the state’s more haunted spots. Here are their impressions.
THE ELKS CLUB, HARTFORD
with Psychic and Medium Karen Hollis
The mahogany walls, heavy carpeting, and grand double staircase of the Elks Club make it feel like it is still 1903, the year the Elks moved into their Renaissance Revival style home on Prospect Street in Hartford.
It is dimly lit, and the first thing to greet you as you come through the door is the scent of a century’s-worth of cigar smoke hanging in the air.
Medium Karen Hollis has been here before, when in October of 2019 she was part of an investigation by the Ghosts of New England Research Society (G.O.N.E.R.S.)
She believes the club is haunted by past members, including past Exalted Ruler Samuel Chamberlain, whose portrait hangs prominently above the stairs. Annoyed that women were allowed to join the club in 1995, he and some other former members have taken to expressing their displeasure.
“It was at the top of those stairs that I clairaudiently heard someone say, ‘Hey, no women are allowed!’. That is also where my daughter, Erin, who was laying down electrical cords for our investigation, was pushed. That was a first for our team,” she remembered.
Hollis is a psychic/medium who describes herself as “the bridge between evidence and explanation.” She is known for her private readings and teaches seminars and has worked with law enforcement finding missing persons both in U.S. and Canada.
Though the Elk’s Club was practically empty the morning we visited, she could sense the presence of members whose dues may not be, shall we just say…current.
“The ballroom on the second floor has an uneasy feeling,” she said. “But the main lodge room is where we caught what sounded like voices on our digital recorders.”
Reportedly, some former lodge members are very possessive regarding their former regular seats at the bar, with glasses sometimes flying off the shelves in the direction of trespassers.
“There is an area of the bar that has nameplates for the regulars that used to sit in those barstools. When G.O.N.E.R.S. was investigating, being a medium, (one who can hear the dead), I heard someone say, “You can sit there, not here,” Hollis says. “I have no idea who that might have been. It was a male voice.”
Bartender Sherry Perleoni has worked at the Elk’s Lodge full-time for about 2 years and part-time before that. She has handled more spirits than just the ones behind her bar.
“I was coming out of the kitchen, and one of the patrons saw a figure going into the kitchen. I heard a loud crash and thought it was lightning and it wasn’t,” she says. “Apparently, I ran into the figure…we ran into each other…” She added matter-of-factly that she hears a loud crash she can’t explain about once a month.
Fortunately, she spends most of her time at the bar and not upstairs. “Actually, I don’t like going upstairs,’ the lights go on and off. I feel like when I’m up in the ballroom, I just do what I have to do fast because it sounds like someone is coming down the stairs, so I usually say, ‘I’m leaving now’…and leave.”
When she first began working full-time, she would come in by herself, and even say, “Good morning everybody.”
“My considered opinion,” Hollis says, “is that the founding members of the Hartford Elk’s Club are indeed somewhat ‘alive,’ and that the oldest Elk’s Club (in Connecticut) is indeed “SPIRITED.”
The current members of the club don’t seem to mind the occasional visits though, former members are always welcome.
GLEBE HOUSE, Woodbury
with Paranormal Investigator, Barry Pirro
Barry Pirro’s childhood was a spirited one thanks to the dogs, pianists, and whatever or whoever else haunted the Tarrytown, NY house where he and his family settled in 1973.
“As soon as we moved in, things started happening. Lights were going on and off, we would see this little white dog run by. Then my piano used to play at night… by itself and we all heard it,” he remembered, almost fondly.
“So that’s how I got started because I grew-up in that kind of atmosphere. As a kid, I put powder on the keys to see if I would see any fingerprints,” Pirro said.
Today, Pirro’s equipment is more sophisticated than a little powder (he never did see any fingerprints.), but his curiosity remains the same. He searches out spirits everywhere from mansions to two-bedroom apartments and from spas to offices. He works at the behest of the present tenants and helps the hangers-on to spiritually cross-over and stop with the footfalls and whispers already.
“Spirits stay behind for a bunch of reasons,” Pirro explained. “Sometimes they loved the place, and they just don’t want to leave…it’s their home…and then there are spirits who are afraid to move on.” There are also the possessive spirits, “who are often the ones who get upset when a family does renovations to a home because you’re changing what they consider to be their house.”
Regardless of the why, Pirro said he’s successful at helping the uninvited move on to where they belong. Not surprisingly, he is not discomforted by the historic Glebe House in Woodbury, which was built in the 1600s and has had ample time to accumulate a restless spirit or two.
Nonetheless, a new visitor might feel uncomfortable walking in through the small, low door, as not keeping your head down will result in a very real manifestation of pain.
Within view of the Old North Cemetery, the foundation and two of the original rooms of Glebe House date from the 1650s. In 1750, it was updated and expanded, and was reported to have been peacefully inhabited by the Rev. John Marshall, his wife Sarah, and their nine children. That would change with the Revolution in 1776. Marshall, Woodbury’s first permanent Church of England pastor, fell prey to the locals, who had an issue with the Tory reverend steadfastly supporting England and praying for the King during his sermons.
Marshall would often be dragged from his home and beaten, the home wrecked, his family terrified. This happened so often that he built a hiding place into the ground under the main staircase, where he could hide. The war ended, the persecution stopped, but Marshall never fully recovered from the torment and severity of the beatings, dying in his early 40s.
The hiding place is a must-see on a visit to Glebe House, which is now a museum and open to the public.
Pirro had several impressions as he moved through the house soon after arriving.
“Downstairs by the fireplace,” Pirro said. “A couple times, I kept feeling something behind me and I turned around… not expecting to see anything, but you turn around out of habit when you’re feeling something.”
On the second floor, as he entered the master bedroom, Pirro felt something, too.
“There was a presence in the corner by the bed,” Pirro explained later. “I was picking up on a female presence. Interestingly, when we left and came back, it had moved out the room, and then it came back in, and that give me an idea that’s it an intelligent spirit versus what’s called a residual haunting, which is just energy left over from the people that lived there.”
From there, we moved to the back of the house, where there would have been a ladder leading upstairs in the 1600s. Now, there is treacherous narrow stairway, added in 1750, that led to slave quarters on the third floor. This was the most uncomfortable part of the house, as it was terribly hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It was an unpleasant place to spend one’s years in servitude.
Previous investigations have reported a malevolent spirit in the attic, perhaps an entity from the nearby graveyard. There have also been reports of the spirit of a former slave whose presence has been felt within the house. She made two statements to investigators during an investigation, and once was photographed during a visit by the Girl Scouts. A smiling woman appears in the background of a photo from that day, perhaps charmed by the little girls.
Regarding Glebe House, Pirro said: “There is something going on. If you ask, ‘Is there a spirit here that resides in this house, that has stayed behind?’ I’d say, Yeah I think so.”
“Everybody likes a mystery,” Pirro said, about the fascination with ghost stories. “But it also suggests that there’s something more than this. When you hear that something survives after death… you get a sense that there’s more to this than just this life, and everybody wants that.”
Looking up at the house, Pirro said: “I definitely want to come back.”
To Glebe House…or in general?
Rockland Cemetery, Madison
With Medium & Healer, Chrystyne McGrath
“Since I was 5, I knew I could see energies that no one else could see,” Chrystyne McGrath remembered vividly,” and “at 5, you’re scared to death.” No one would believe her then, so she didn’t talk about it for a long time.
“I kept it quiet until I was 20,” McGrath said of her decision to work with her gift after her teens. “[Then] I was public with it. I began crossing over energies, working with my guides, and it was effective.”
For 25 years now, McGrath has used her talents with one foot in the business world and one in the spirit world. She is a medium and healer who communicates with departed loved ones and has special insights into present circumstances and the future. She also works with past life regression, Reiki, and energy healing, and she is also a dowser, removing entities from people, places, and things.
But tonight, in the middle of Rockland Cemetery in Madison, she is not alone.
“We have walk-throughs. We have residual energy still walking through. We have the old Rockland residents and the people who resided on the Genesee Trail still walking through here. There’s unfinished business,” McGrath said, sometimes motioning towards a particular energy.
“On the Rockland side,” she said, “there’s a lot of unresolved energy because of Mary Standard’s murder.”
In 1878, a young woman named Mary Stannard had been working as a nanny and housekeeper for the Reverend Herbert Hayden, his wife Rosa, and their two children. Mary had an affair with the Reverend, became pregnant, and when she went to him for help, it is widely believed that he killed her by slashing her throat and leaving her body in the woods. Despite overwhelming evidence, the case ended in a mistrial, and the Reverend was freed. It was a sensational case and trial for the time, and it’s no surprise that Mary Standard would have wanted to see more justice than that.
Mary was buried in an unmarked grave in Rockland, and McGrath worked to bring her peace. “Four years ago, I did an investigation, and I crossed her over into the light,” McGrath says, “So she’s not a ghost anymore, said a spirit.”
“She and her father thanked me. They thanked me because she wanted her story told,” and at lectures and appearance, McGrath tells it.
On the other side of the cemetery is Little Genesee Settlement, located on the border of Madison and Guilford, an abandoned Colonial-era settlement. In the late 1700s, a group of settlers heading for the Genesee Valley in New York had issues with their wagon. They decided to stay put, build a settlement, and farm the land. They had disappeared by 1850, leaving behind only stone walls and the foundations of their buildings. There are also stone piles of different sizes scattered throughout the area, thought to have been placed for calendar or ritual purposes by the Native Americans who once lived here.
So, the cemetery is surrounded by energy, McGrath said, explaining that everything is telepathic in the spirit world: “Whether you’re an earthbound energy called a ghost or you’re a spirit, it’s telepathic… that’s how we communicate.”
“I can always feel if there’s a presence coming forward. They’re just energy and so are we… to them. So, they feel the energy and they can see the white light around me,” she said, as darkness enveloped the cemetery.
McGrath has advice for anyone worried about just, say, walking their dog and whistling past a graveyard. Ghosts or spirits do not “see” those without the gift of clairvoyance or telepathy and won’t come forward. You won’t see them, and no offense, they won’t notice you either.
“This place is haunted,” MacGrath said, “Absolutely. A rookie paranormal investigator could get an EVP here.” (An EVP is an electronic voice phenomena, where a spirit voice is recorded and heard during playback.)
“The veil (between worlds) is thinner than it has ever been,” McGrath said. “That’s why people are going to psychics more. They’re into energy work, they’re more open to UFOs.”
McGrath also said that Earth is ascending, with more people moving from the third dimension into the fourth, and there’s more spiritual dimension.
“The people who are choosing to stay behind are choosing to not evolve.” Many of them have no or few incarnations so far, so, “We call them Newbies,” she said.
Newbies are characterized by being unwilling or unable to accept the more spiritual, loving, open aspects of the fourth dimension, McGrath said, adding that they still have a lot of learning to do and experiences to go through.
But helping people clear, refine, and heal their energy is what McGrath’s life is all about.
Fort Nathan Hale, New Haven
There has been a fort of one sort or another standing on this harbor-facing parcel of New Haven since the 1650s. That’s nearly 400 years of men standing on ramparts, looking into the night, wondering what may be out there.
Paranormal researcher, Rose Porto, is more interested in what’s still in there.
“We’ve been here multiple times, and we’ve always had some kind of unnatural occurrence that we couldn’t explain,” Porto said, mentioning glowing orbs and recordings of spirit voices via a device aptly named a “ghost box” that recorded the whispered names of soldiers. Searching later, she says she found those same names among old records of soldiers stationed at the fort.
On a late summer day, when the air was thick with humidity and mosquitoes, there was an unnatural quiet as Porto walked through the grass past the officer quarters, then the gunpowder storage bunker. Few birds flew or sang, and the sod-covered bunkers seemed to almost rise out of the earth like burial mounds.
“There’s a lot of sad energy here,” Porto said, as she looked around inside Bunker #2. The heavy metal gate had been opened, and she turned slowly around inside, taking in the dirt floor, wooden bunks, and dusty light filtering through a window in the barrack’s stone wall. “I definitely feel like somebody is watching us here… there are eyes on us.”
The fort, in all its incarnations, was made for watching.
The early fort on the 20-acre parcel gave way to Black Rock Fort, which was commissioned in 1776 to protect the New Haven port and its citizens during the Revolution against the British. In 1779, British General William Tryon, during his raid of the Connecticut coastal communities, captured Black Rock Fort along with its 19 defenders after they ran out of ammunition. The British burned the barracks as they left.
The remains of the fort were rebuilt starting in 1807, and it was named Forth Nathan Hale, and it served again as protection from the British during the War of 1812. And then, decades forward, at the start of the Civil War, the second Fort Nathan Hale was built alongside the original to serve as a deterrent to potential danger from Southern raiders.
Porto thought perhaps the spirits she sensed were “The Patriots who were here defending this place — 19 of them were taken prisoner by the British… they didn’t know if they were going to live or die.”
Of her closeness to the spirit-world, Porto said, “I really fell into it… it started as a hobby after years of interest in the paranormal. I joined a local group that went out on ghost hunts and investigated local haunted locations. Then I was introduced to another team who primarily worked with [renowned exorcist] Robert McKenna, who worked alongside the Warrens.”
The Warrens founded the New England Society for Psychic Research, the oldest ghost hunting group in New England. They conducted thousands of investigations, including the famous Amityville Horror.
“That’s where the hobby turned serious and into helping families afflicted with paranormal activity,” said Porto, who founded CT Spirit Investigators and Researchers, which focuses on helping people who are plagued by the dark side of the paranormal or possession.
“I was trained in demonic cases, and assisted on exorcisms and deliverances,” Porto said.
Walking through the fort, Porto was not surprised to learn that park employees have had close encounters themselves, seeing a figure pass by then disappear, or hearing whispers behind them while they work. There have been reports going back 100 years from the public about seeing soldier ghosts.
“Usually, spirits are territorial. A spirit will choose a location because they are drawn to it,” Porto said, as the light began to fade in the bunker where, she said, the spirits were “aware of us.”
She explained that some spirits exist in the time that they lived. “They know we’re dressed different… we’re talking different.” But their main concern is that someone is in their space.
Perhaps that is why they remain, watchful and protective of Fort Nathan Hale and New Haven Harbor.
During its life, Fairfield Hills Psychiatric Hospital in Newtown was known by many as a “hospital for the criminally insane.” But it also had patients who were handicapped, physically and mentally, and others who had mental illness. By today’s standards, the treatments those patients received are thought of as criminal as well.
The hospital officially opened on June 1, 1933. At a town hearing on the facility some years earlier, one prominent resident predicted that “Newtown would become a ghost town, and across the valley would come the moans and screams of patients in padded cells!”
The initial group of patients, about 300, steadily grew to 4,000 by the 1960s, and during those three decades, experimental treatments included lobotomies, shock therapy, insulin injections to induce comas, and injections of Metrazol to bring on convulsions. Histories report it as being always underfunded and understaffed.
Following deinstitutionalization, during which patients were moved to smaller, community-based care, Fairfield Hills closed 1995. But not everyone moved on.
The “moans and screams” predicted a century earlier apparently continue, according to countless reports of unexplained cries, voices, the squeaking of gurney wheels, as well as the occasional appearance of a young woman dressed in white, who, surrounded by a glow, is sometimes seen framed in the window of one of the hospital’s derelict buildings.
Nick Grossman, a clairvoyant and paranormal investigator, is more than a little familiar with Fairfield Hills, and he’s investigated there more than most. The founder of Ghost Storm, a team of paranormal investigators based in Norwalk, he has investigated many of New England’s more well-known haunts. He is also in the process of finding a location for a museum of the occult, The Inter-Dimensional Paranormal Museum and Study.
Of all the haunted places he’s visited, Fairfield Hills attracts him the most.
“When I walked into this place, especially at nighttime, I got a slap of supernatural energy,” Grossman remembered during a late summer visit when he stood in the shadow of abandoned Shelton House, its boarded-up doors and broken windows behind him.
“One Sunday, I went by myself… I went downstairs into the tunnels. As a clairvoyant, I started seeing spirits standing all around me in hospital gowns. And I’m thinking to myself, maybe this isn’t a wise idea to be going by myself. So, I went back up the stairs, and all of a sudden, all the windows and doors in the building were violently slamming by themselves,” Grossman said.
Despite his experience with the paranormal, Grossman remembers he left in a hurry.
“These people had no voice when they were here,” said Grossman, who says he helps give them a voice now, as he can communicate with the spirits.
Many of the patients were admitted temporarily, but some were there involuntarily, and some for decades.
“This place is loaded with spirits, there’s a lot of history here,” Grossman said.
He explains there is a lot of emotion still lingering…a lot of torment, tragedy, and sadness.
“A lot of times, when people die tragically, they miss the light to go forward, and many times, it takes a psychic to open a portal and let them go through,” he explained.
Fortunately, that is also one of Grossman’s talents. When he encounters an earthbound spirit that needs to cross over, he visualizes the portal, and the spirit has the opportunity to travel through. After that, “I seal it shut, he said.”
If a spirit isn’t ready to cross over, “Sometimes [just] acknowledging the spirit will ease their pain,” he said.
Grossman knows the campus well. The 16 hospital buildings were connected by a series of concrete underground tunnels, so patients and supplies could be moved year-round between confinement rooms, treatment rooms, laboratories, operating rooms, and the morgue, which, unsurprisingly, is rumored to be the most haunted area.
After it closed some 25 years ago, the campus buildings deteriorated further, and those conditions coupled with decades of stories about abuse, suicides, murders, and ghosts created a powerful magnet for bored kids and the curious. The campus was further popularized when it was one of the locations for the 1996 film “Sleepers,” starring Kevin Bacon, Brad Pitt, and Robert DeNiro.
In 2009, Newtown bought the property from the state, filled in the tunnels, and renovated some of the buildings for town office use, and there are walking paths and gardens. But many of the stately buildings remain vacant and aging. Recently, a town-wide referendum yielded approval for further, if limited, development of a pair of the century-old brick buildings. As the town works to redevelop the property, it frowns on the inquisitive getting too close. The grounds are patrolled, and visitors are asked to stay a minimum of 15 feet from any of the buildings.
For now, people walk their dogs, little leaguers play their games nearby, and the curious come to look at the broken windows and peeling paint and wonder if the spirits of those committed to this place so many years ago remain.
Grossman doesn’t need to wonder. He is sure Fairfield Hills is still inhabited by some of the souls of troubled patients. What if the old building were demolished? Grossman looked around and said, “There would a lot of spirits set free.”