THE PETER OLIVER HOUSE
The Oliver House is ripe with spiritual activity, according to several ghost hunters. It would make sense, given the house’s history. In a piece from South Coast Today, Mike Markowitz from East Bridgewater’s “Most Haunted” said that the house has spirits that communicate in “real time” and with more clarity than he’s experienced in previous investigations.
The original owners of the home were run out because of their Loyalist views during the American Revolution and their nearby town hall burned down by an angry mob.
Even after the Olivers fled their home, those who inhabited it afterwards brought strange circumstances to it. A family where three of their children died in the home and a smuggler involved in the slave trade were among the few to add tainted stories to its walls.
An old tree outside of the house was allegedly a place of multiple hangings – two Native Americans and a young boy – according to the house’s investigation coordinator and caretaker Christy Parrish. Parrish has been giving tours of Oliver House and setting up investigations with ghost hunters from all over the country. She’s done this for the past few years.
But these investigations don’t come for free. Tickets have to be purchased up to months in advance in order to secure a spot. The Oliver House has undergone private and public investigations – the latter being more popular. You can see how investigators use their tools and you can even investigate the paranormal yourself. No experience necessary.
Parrish recalled the strangest moment she had in her two years of working at the Oliver House. As she was locking up the house, she turned off all of the battery-operated candles in each room. Parrish was about to pull out of the dirt driveway when she looked up and saw a lone candle flickering in a second-story window between the children’s’ rooms.
“I entered the house again to turn the candle off,” said Parrish, “when a man’s voice next me said ‘you came back’.” She heard the voice at the top of the stairs but said there was no one else in the house.
This was the story Parrish told me and a few others before the investigation started. It was her way of preparing the group for what they might experience throughout the night. The investigation was set up by S.P.I.R.I.T.S of New England - Supernatural Paranormal Investigations Research Initiative Truth Society - and was spearheaded by Ellen MacNeil and Jack Kenna – founders of S.P.I.R.I.T.S with almost 10 years of ghost hunting experience under their belt. It seemed they knew the house was already teeming with spiritual activity. They just wanted to collect the data to prove it.
In addition to sharing her experiences, Parrish showed a few videos of ghost sightings in the Oliver House. She wanted the investigators to explain these occurrences while gathering their own data. In one of the videos, there’s a shadow of a woman on the bottom two steps of the first floor of the home.
The silhouette has a bun on top of her head and an outline of a skirt. She is seen going up the first two steps before disappearing to the very top step. You can hear a distinct thud, thud…thud in the video mimicking her movements. Parrish tells us this is the ghost of Sally Hutchinson – wife of Peter Oliver Jr. and matriarch to the Peter Oliver House.
Parrish only shows this video to investigators and will not release it to the general public. “I’ve even refused to send it to media outlets”, said Parrish. It’s a secret that is carried with each investigator and spectator as they leave the house. Only taking it with them in their memories and haunting their dreams.
Food was brought to the house and the investigators, along with spectators, broke bread with one another before getting into the meat and potatoes of communicating with the spirits of the home. It looked like a Thanksgiving feast of various pastas and meat dishes. A communion with the dead in the form of Coca Cola and garlic bread.
Sam Baltrusis, author and TV personality, revealed that he had already communicated with two female spirits of the house and a monk. Baltrusis has written about Boston and its hauntings for years and was looking for inspiration on a new book idea at the Oliver House. It would seem the house was teeming with spiritual activity.
The investigation started with a “grounding ceremony” in which the group gathered in a circle beside the massive “hanging” tree. Baltrusis lead the ceremony by passing around holy water and calling upon the Archangel Michael, an angel and protector against the forces of evil in many religious circles, to protect the group from harmful spirits. Each member in the circle would place drops of holy water on their forehead and bless themselves with the sign of the cross gesture.
“There are only good spirits here,” reassured Baltrusis. After the ceremony, the group split up into smaller teams to investigate the house.
Jack Kenna and Sam Baltrusis led separate teams for the investigations while encouraging others to go off on their own. While they are both experienced ghost hunters, Kenna and Baltrusis have different techniques on communicating with spirits.
Baltrusis has a more traditional approach of using mediums and the energy around him to communicate. Based on the feeling of the environment or the room, Baltrusis can pick up potential spirits.
Kenna has a more technological and scientific approach and relies on various tools to gather data. With the use of EVPs, Spirit Boxes and other gear, Kenna can record the data and communications to be analyzed later. I decided to follow Kenna with his investigation.
(Holy Water used during the Grounding Ceremony / Kristen Bates)
Shadows in the Basement
The basement was the first stop because of the negative history associated with it. According to Parrish, a smuggler from South Carolina, Nathaniel Russell, would allegedly hide slaves in the basement before selling them to the highest bidder in the Northeast. Many were sick and left a bad energy that has made previous investigators uncomfortable.
A few people involved in the investigation recalled an angry voice telling them to “get out”. Parrish told the group that shadows of spirits were often seen on the walls of the basement. Since the basement holds the original foundation of the house, it would make sense that a lot of potential activity would be reported down below.
A green laser grid was shown on one of the basement walls in hopes of catching one of these shadows moving across the wall. Green light is the brightest to the human eye and scatters throughout the air and on surfaces the best. According to seasoned investigators, this grid is great for catching moving anomalies. However, the laser producing this grid can overheat easily and cause temporary fluctuations in its output. This can give “false positives” on ghost movements.
(Green laser grid being used in the basement / Kristen Bates)
Set up in the furthest corner of the basement was the “REM-Pod” – or the radiating electromagnetism pod. This tool is unique in investigations because it radiates its own electromagnetic field rather than seeking them out. The goal of this tool is to detect objects moving in and out of this electromagnetic field which investigators hope are spirits interacting with the device.
If the device is triggered, one of five LED lights will go off. Each of the lights emanate a different color based on how strong the interaction is and the device releases an audible tone to get your attention on the strength of the interaction. None of the lights went off on the “REM-Pod” and no shadows danced across the green laser grid. But you could feel that something was off in the basement and the alleged history of slave-trading in its depth was enough to send chills down your spine.
(REM-POD used in basement / Kristen Bates)
Sometimes the simplest of tools are the most effective during an investigation. This was the case when Kenna brought out a flashlight. The basement of the Oliver House had a small tunnel that would lead to an area outside of the home. Most of it is been filled in but the entrance to the tunnel is still accessible.
Kenna loosened the flashlight’s battery from the base before setting it on the edge of the tunnel. The goal was to get a spirit to interact with Kenna by turning on the flashlight. In theory, if the spirit has enough energy, it can move the flashlight – causing it to flicker on.
Although it’s a way to communicate with the paranormal, it’s not ideal for gathering data during investigations. According to Fiona Broome, a paranormal researcher of over 30 years, anything can set off the flashlight during an investigation. “Heavy footsteps, a passing truck, a nearby train, or music with a heavy base can be enough to make the flashlight flicker,” says Broome. The flashlight’s only use is to get communications going with a potential spirit before other tools are used to record its data.
Kenna sat the flashlight down and tapped it to make sure it was working. After backing away a few feet, Kenna began to ask questions in the hopes of getting a spirit to interact with the flashlight.
“You saw me turn the flashlight on,” said Kenna, “if there’s someone here, can you turn the flashlight on please?”
The flashlight flickered on. But maybe it was a coincidence. Kenna asked again.
“Would you please do that again?”
The flashlight flickered on.
Two hours since the investigation began, something was finally starting to happen. Others saw the interaction and ran over to catch the action. Who was trying to reach out to us? What were they trying to say?
The flashlight stopped flickering. Even as Kenna asked more questions, the flashlight would not turn on. Others in the group tried to interact with the potential spirit by asking questions and hoping to capture the flashlight flickering on camera. But the light remained off.
Perhaps the spirits grew tired of us haunting them.
The investigation of the basement ended, and Kenna’s group moved to the tree outside of the Oliver House where there were allegedly multiple hangings - leaving the ghosts of the basement behind.
Are You Coming to the Tree?
Sarah Campbell, tech assistant and investigator with S.P.I.R.I.T.S. of New England, and Carly Hall, investigator in training, went ahead of the group and tried communicating with potential spirits around the “hanging tree” using dowsing rods.
Dowsing rods have a history of picking up vibrations in the air to locate water in dry environments like a desert. If there is water flowing underneath land, dowsing rods can locate it by crossing into an “x” - marking the spot on where to dig for water. Theoretically, it’s the electromagnetism in the air that allows these rods move.
Investigators believe that dowsing rods can also be used to talk to spirits. The energy emanating from paranormal entities can cause the rods to move on their own. They ask questions to the spirits and have them use their energy to cross the rods for “yes” or push the rods to the side for “no”.
Campbell says spirits can communicate easier with dowsing rods than other tools in the investigation.
In talking with spirits, Campbell says that opening yourself up to these interactions will cause the paranormal to interact with you.
“Once you start asking questions to things that you’re hoping are there,” says Campbell, “sometimes they reply.”
However, dowsing rods are only used to get the conversation going and cannot collect usable data.
In a piece from NewScientist, Michael Brooks explains that dowsing rods have the potential to move without being touched because of “ideomotor movements”. Subconscious activity can cause muscle movements small enough to move the rods even though you may not feel yourself moving them. It’s a scientific way of identifying why these rods move on their own but, perhaps, there could be something paranormal about it.
Campbell, who joked earlier that creepy basements got her into investigating the paranormal, began using these rods to try and communicate with the spirit of someone who was hung at the tree. In an attempt to get the spirits angry enough to lash out, one of the participants brought out a rope in the shape of a hangman’s noose.
Others in the group began fiddling with a few ghost hunting apps that can be downloaded to your smartphone. Just a few searches in the app store and you have access to some of the same tools used by investigators.
The “Ghost Radar” app was popular amongst the group. This app shows potential spirits that are close to you and has words on the screen that they are trying to communicate with you. While at the tree, many in the group kept getting the name Robert on their app. Who was Robert? Was he one of the few who was hanged at this tree?
Not one to rely on smartphone apps, Kenna brought out a Spirit Box. This device uses white noise transmitted by scanning radio frequencies at a high rate. The idea is to allow the spirits to communicate through this white noise. It’s a part of the theory for paranormal research called Electronic Voice Phenomenon - or EVP - where spirits can interact with the living via electronics.
The Spirit Box was turned on and we waited to hear if someone on the other side was willing to talk to us. Only white noise filled the air around the “hanging” tree. Kenna called out to this Robert that had communicated with the team through dowsing rods but the sizzle of the radio frequencies only met our ears.
It would seem the hangman’s noose cinched Robert’s vocal cords all those years ago. The spirits that hung around that tree didn’t want to communicate with the investigators that cold night.
We left the tree to the final leg of the investigation: the upstairs rooms of the Oliver House where spirits of children were known to make an appearance.
"You Have to Ask James to Come Inside"
According to Parrish, three children died in the Oliver House. Bethania and Earl Sproat had six children in the home doing the 1840’s. Only three of them survived. Abigail Sproat, an infant baby girl and a son named James passed away from unknown causes.
The S.P.I.R.I.T.S. team wanted to communicate with these children - especially with James. Earlier in the evening, one of the spectators claimed she was a medium. As she was sitting upstairs in James’ room, she looked at me before I entered to take a few photographs.
“You have to ask James if you can come into his room,” she said.
It was an awkward encounter. But I obliged the medium and the potential spirit of James so I could cross the threshold of his room and document the evening without angering the ghosts of this house.
I asked and waited. Would I hear an audible response? How would I know if I was allowed inside of James’ room? Apparently, he let me enter. I didn’t feel resistance as I walked into the room and the medium smiled at me. It had been a long night.
(Potential room of James Sproat / Kristen Bates)
We sat in one of the children’s room as Parrish told us about an encounter she had with one of the kids. She was sitting on the floor and speaking with a fellow coworker when she saw movement out of the corner of her eye. In the hallway, she an apparition of a young girl.
“I looked at her and she didn’t disappear,” says Parrish, “she was wearing a white gown.”
It was only until she nudged her coworker that the child vanished. Parrish believes that the child was Abigail Sproat, who died when she was only around two years old.
Kenna and Campbell made their way to Abigail’s old room while the rest of the group broke off to do their own investigations. A Spirit Box, EMF Meter and the REM-Pod was setup in the room. All the tools were pulled out in an attempt to get Abigail to communicate with us.
On some wooden building blocks, a device was placed on top that would light up if something touched it. Kenna went to work and began asking Abigail questions.
“Abigail, if you’re with us, would you say your name?”
“My name is Jack Kenna, I’m not here to hurt you,” says Kenna.
The Spirit Box sputtered but no audible noise came out.
“What was that? Would you mind saying that again?” Kenna asks.
Finally, a word came out of the Spirit Box: “Jack”. Kenna asked if whoever was communicating with him would say his name again.
“Jack”, the Spirit Box sputters.
It would seem Kenna had established communication with someone. Was it Abigail? As the investigation was drawing to a close, Kenna was able to talk to one last spirit of the Oliver House. The Spirit Box would utter French words and Kenna deduced that we may be communicating with the nanny of the Sproat children.
But, if there was a nanny, there seemed to be no records of a nanny working at the Oliver House. Why would the nanny be communicating with us? Was there something that happened to these children that she knows about and is trying to tell us?
A mystery for another time. The Spirit Box had stopped communicating with us and our investigation was coming to an end. It was time for the Closing Ceremony.
"The paranormal field is a spiritual realm and it deals not only in evidence and data but in faith and belief. Regardless of what ones faith or belief may be in, it is necessary for being able to understand the paranormal and the existence of spirits and even non-human spirits and entities." - Jack Kenna
The Closing Ceremony
At the end of the investigation, Baltrusis led us in a closing ceremony in the kitchen of the house. Baltrusis called upon the Archangel Michael once more and thanked the spirits for letting us communicate with them.
“We heard every word you said to us,” Baltrusis said. He asked that the spirits remain in the house and do not follow us to our homes. Just like the Grounding Ceremony, the Closing Ceremony ended with the Lord’s Prayer.
After the investigation, Nathan Thompson and Sue Jacobucci talked about their experience. Thompson was skeptical at first but, by the end of the night, he had downloaded a few of the apps used and was trying to communicate with spirits himself.
“I buckled and I ended up paying for the two dollar version of the ‘Ghost Radar’”, laughed Thompson. He came along to support Jacobucci, who was being trained as a medium.
Jacobucci said that she and Thompson decided to follow Baltrusis with his investigation. She liked the idea of communicating with the spirits without technology getting in the way.
Kenna says that these public investigations are vastly different than the private ones they offer. Public investigations such as this one are meant to teach people how to use the proper equipment necessary to investigate a residence. It's a fun way of exploring places with high paranormal activity and providing feedback on how to communicate with spirits.
(Spectator and Investigator going over tool used in investigation / Kristen Bates)
With a private investigation, it's all about helping the client. "Investigating a private residence, business, or historical site to help those who contacted us is all about trying to determine what exactly is going on at the location," says Kenna.
Ghost investigators like the S.P.I.R.I.T.S. of New England team have forms that clients fill out so they can get an understanding of what may be going on. Private investigations are a very intimate job because it requires the trust of the client and the investigative team. These investigations often last more than one night.
"Sometimes, we end up working with clients for years due to the nature of their hauntings and in private residential cases," says Kenna, "there are also other non-paranormal factors involved that require professional help to resolve, but these issues are often the reason the haunting is occurring as negative energy/spirits are attracted to negative/chaotic human energy."
We left the Oliver House and the potential spirits to rest in peace once more. Whether or not spirits reside in that home, it’s clear that there is something strange about the place. And I am glad to be as far away from it as possible.