Based on the prevalence of ghost hunters within city limits, Providence is not out of the reach of the paranormal world’s eerie undercurrents. Perhaps unexpectedly for a state its size, Rhode Island is home to a thriving community of paranormal investigators who work to scope out what strange incidents and spooky beings lurk in the state’s capital city and beyond.
From ghost academies that teach aspiring investigators the trade of ghost hunting, to ghost tours that share the lore of the city’s supposed hidden inhabitants, Rhode Islanders have no shortage of opportunities to explore the supernatural.
Warwick is home to Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson, founders of the reality TV show “Ghost Hunters,” now in its eighth season on the Syfy Channel. The show grew out of the Atlantic Paranormal Society, a paranormal investigative group founded by Hawes and Wilson, who now host the show.
While the society may be the most prominent among Rhode Island paranormal societies, there are more than 20 societies dedicated to the same cause, in addition to a number of independent investigators. Among them, they have covered cases across the state, including some too close to campus for comfort.
An investigation close to home
Though City Hall, just a short walk from College Hill, seems to be more a bustling center for history and taxes than a brimming ghost hub, chilling anecdotes have been reported about the building. The scent of an old cigar, a chair moving of its own accord and sightings of former Providence Mayor Thomas Doyle’s ghost in a top hat have reportedly tormented City Hall’s employees.
Past midnight sometime in early January, Hawes and Wilson, roaming one of the building’s dark rooms, heard an abrupt exclamation in the still silence. After the incident, the two investigators inspected a recording of their experience, and determined that the outburst consisted of a woman shouting “What!” and a man frantically responding, “The balcony!” Despite unexplained occurrences like these, the investigators decided that any being haunting Providence City Hall was benign and wanted only to coexist with the building’s present employees. This experience was captured for public viewing in an episode of “Ghost Hunters” earlier this season.
But no amount of television can adequately capture the experience of being a paranormal investigator.
Imagine a young girl driving through Connecticut in the 1970s, leaping from her car and asserting, “That’s my house!” The stunned inhabitants of the house recognize the girl, realizing that it was her translucent image that had been haunting their home.
This early case was one of the most chilling experiences Paul Eno, a paranormal investigator based in Woonsocket, said he has had in his career.
“I detest the term, ‘ghost hunter,'” Eno said, who is also a journalist, author of several books and host of his own radio show, “Behind the Paranormal with Paul and Ben Eno,” which he runs with his son Ben. Eno said he prefers the term “paranormal investigator.”
Eno said he uses his religious education, personal memories and 46 years of first-hand experience with paranormal fieldwork to host a show that goes beyond the typical Hollywood scare.
Another dimension the radio show boasts is its father-son dynamic. With his father’s lectures ringing in his head, Ben decided to enter the family business at age 13.
A new vision of reality
Understanding the paranormal consists not only of the creepy, otherworldly creatures that haunt the insides of closets, decrepit attics and corn fields that spaceships mistake as landing pads – it’s a new vision of reality.
Eno emphasized the danger and mystery that surround paranormal investigating. Behind the temporary, hour-long scare a trendy TV program seeks to create lies something much deeper. Philosophy, the nature of consciousness and religion all contribute to understanding the paranormal and therefore how one perceives the world, he said.
Eno said his father’s suicide during Eno’s childhood made him ponder the concept of death. He realized he was especially interested in the nebulous middle ground of purgatory between heaven and hell, which he decided to explore in his religious studies.
After graduating from two seminaries, Eno was expelled from the third. This “lucky escape” was a result of his interest in the paranormal, Eno said.
There is a huge audience interested in the paranormal, and Eno has a multitude of media to reach them. Aside from publishing several books, Eno began a radio show at the suggestion of his publicist six years ago. The Enos were offered a Monday drivetime spot on CBS Radio, where it is currently on its sixth season.
Providence is home to more than 20 other paranormal societies, usually nonprofit organizations that strive to help tackle problems concerning the paranormal, and researching on this relatively obscure frontier.
RISEUP Paranormal, for example, is an organization of paranormal investigators in Rhode Island and Connecticut. RISEUP usually investigates private homes and businesses, as well as historical societies such as the Rhode Island Historical Society, said Dave de Costa, son of the organization’s co-founder. RISEUP also puts up public events for civilians to understand the methods and significance of paranormal investigation.
Though Brown is “tight-lipped” about any paranormal activity, there have been some reports of such occurrences on the Rhode Island School of Design campus, de Costa said. It is important to keep in mind that paranormal sightings include an interpretive element, and depends on what the viewer perceives as real, he said. Religious and cultural interpretations, which give rise to what people may perceive as paranormal, must be balanced with today’s science and technology in a very logical manner, he added.
Much of RISEUP’s job is to distinguish which cases are merely caused by a person’s environment, whether it be a psychological issue triggering distress or hallucination, an eerie location or people involved or spiritual beliefs that lead them to think that there is paranormal activity around them. RISEUP strives to help people differentiate what they see and what they think they see, in order to understand which claims are real and which are imagined, before the paranormal investigations begin in earnest.
But paranormal investigations have some universal applicability to everyone, whether they are historians, priests, academics or investigators, de Costa said.
“Whichever way you look at it, it’s the same story at the root, and we as human beings are trying to learn about our relationship with the world,” de Costa said.