Shaking Hands with a Ghost at the Houghton Mansion
To those unfamiliar, Legend Trips is a paranormal events company put together by myself and Jeff Belanger, noted author, host and creator of the TV show 30 Odd Minutes and the researcher for Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures. We hold events at historic haunted locations, allowing people to investigate these spots for paranormal activity at a fraction of the price they would pay to rent it out themselves (or in some cases, in places where paranormal investigators normally would not be permitted). We have a simple, no-frills formula: since we can’t guarantee ghosts–nobody can–we can only guarantee a good time. We provide our guests with dinner, snacks and beverages throughout the event included with their tickets, and they get lectures and a chance to investigate alongside some of the heavy-hitters in the paranormal field. But the star of the show is the location itself, and we give the attendees hours of ghost hunting as part of the event.
This was my first trip to the Houghton Mansion, which was built in the late 1800s by A.C. Houghton, the first mayor of North Adams. In 1914, Houghton was riding in a Pierce-Arrow along with his daughter Mary and some friends when the driver, John Widders, had to swerve to avoid a road crew on the dirt road. The car rolled down the side of a steep embankment, and Mary Houghton and the other female passenger was killed. Widders, although cleared of any wrongdoing in the accident, killed himself out of guilt the next day. A.C. Houghton passed away 11 days after the crash, not from injuries sustained but presumably from a broken heart.
The Mansion now serves as a Masonic Lodge (an immense hall was built as an add-on to the Mansion in the 1920s) and is one of New England’s most famous haunts. It was a natural fit for a Legend Trips event, even if it did require a four-hour drive from the SouthCoast to the Berkshires. But man, was it worth it.
I’ve had lots of experiences with ghosts over the years, including being thrown up against the wall, pushed, choked, scratched and more by unseen hands. I’ve been growled at, sworn at and chastised by disembodied voices. I don’t know if it’s my approach to investigating the paranormal or just my own personality that has caused a number of my experiences to be overtly physical and somewhat abusive. Maybe I’m just getting what I ask for.
But at the Houghton, I had a completely different experience, one that will surely change me as an investigator.
I knew this was going to be an extra special investigation right from the start. We arrived in North Adams on Friday night, and had a “paranormal party” at the haunted Freight Yard Pub with some of our attendees and special guests, including Ron Kolek of the New England Ghost Project, Darkness Radio host Dave Schrader, and Josh Mantello of Berkshire Paranormal Group, which is headquartered in the Houghton.
After our party, Josh took everyone over the Houghton for a special “sneak preview” of our Saturday investigation. Nearly right away, the house started coming alive with activity. When we were on the third floor in what was John Widders’ room, Spooky Southcoast co-host Matt Moniz and myself were with three or four other people as Josh told us about some of his experiences in that room. Suddenly, we all heard a muffled voice coming from the closet right behind Moniz; there were only three other people in the building, way down in the basement, and there would be no way for any sound to travel up to that height.
Later in the evening, we all gathered in the first floor library, and I could hear voices coming from upstairs. Nobody else was in the building at that time except for those of us in the library. I called upstairs, “Is there anyone up there?” and a female-sounding voice called back, “No!”
Needless to say, I was pretty amped up before the official investigation began on Saturday. During an afternoon of lectures, discussion and some delicious pizza, our guests took turns in the Houghton’s psychomanteum chamber on the third floor; nearly everyone came back with some kind of experience, from the extremely profound visions of a deceased loved one to an entire recreation of the Houghton accident. It was amazing to see how these people were affected by spending 15 minutes in a dark room, staring into a mirror. It was just too powerful to not be real.
Once night fell, the investigation began. I was manning the second floor along with Ron, while Jeff and Dave handled the basement and Moniz and our friend, author and researcher Andrew Lake, were positioned on the third floor. As part of our investigation on the second floor, Ron and I led investigations in Mary Houghton’s room (no one is positive that it was her room specifically, but they believe it was) and the actual Masonic Lodge itself. People were definitely having anomalous experiences throughout the entire Mansion, and especially on the second floor, but things were about to really ramp up once we decided to bring some people up to a “secret” storage area behind the Lodge.
Although it’s technically on the third floor, this area is accessed through a staircase in the back of the Lodge; it’s reported that in this area, people have had numerous encounters with shadow people. Having encountered one myself in the past at a different spot, I hoped I could see one at the Houghton. I would not be disappointed. Throughout the evening, we had repeated encounters with shadow figures walking in front of a stained-glass window and coming toward us down a long, narrow hallway. We felt cold spots and sensed their presence, detected them with our ghost-hunting gear, and heard inexplicable noises for hours on end.
But it was the last group I brought up there–my friends from the Spectral Forces Paranormal Research Team–that led to one of the most profound experiences I’ve ever had. Frank, Cindy and Christy came together as a team after meeting at our Legend Trips events, and I’ve never failed to have cool things happen when they’re around. The most amazing had always been our encounter with a phantom cannon blast at Fort Taber in New Bedford, but this night at the Houghton may have trumped that.
While in that area with what I call “The Trinity,” we at first had trouble getting the spirit to interact with us. It was certainly messing around with us, causing noises that, when asked to repeat, it happily obliged. Without getting too technical, we also caught a voice that finished one of my stories before I did. Through our investigative techniques, we determined that we were dealing with the spirit of a boy who wanted to interact with us but was hesitant to come closer. Through coaxing, he finally stepped right in front of us; we could tell because of the chilling cold that developed right where we stood, despite our temperature gauges showing no change in the atmospheric temperature.
I held out my fist and explained the concept of a “fist bump,” hoping the spirit would rap my knuckles–what I thought would be the simplest form of contact. Frank and I then felt the spirit standing right next to us, and could see the shadowy figure, blacker than the blackness behind it, develop right before our eyes. We each held up our palms and asked for a “high five,” but only felt a rush of coldness on our palms. Finally, I said, “Why don’t we just stick to what you’re probably used to,” and I held out my hand in an offer for a handshake.
I couldn’t believe what happened next.
I felt an invisible hand wrap itself around mine and begin to slowly pump my hand up and down. The grip was firm but friendly; it suggested, in my mind, that the spirit had finally accepted that we were friends. Frank too had his hand out and felt something similar, confirming what was happening to me, despite how unbelievable it seemed. Cindy and Christy just stood there, afraid that any movement toward documenting this encounter might end it prematurely.
I’m not afraid to admit that tears welled up in the corners of my eyes as I felt this bond develop between myself and my invisible friend. Finally, I just needed the experience, as amazing as it was, to end. I asked for him to release my hand, thanked him when he did so, and took a few steps back. I discussed with The Trinity if I should even share this with the other people in the building–I was worried nobody would believe me–and they said they’d support whatever decision I made. In the end, I decided it was too profound of an experience not to tell, and that I would be doing my spectral buddy a disservice by not telling others.
So there you have it, my profound experience from the Houghton Mansion. It’s not important if you believe that it happened to me or not.
Because I do.