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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Are You Ready to Believe Us? Investigating the Haunted Sterling Opera House with Above the Realm Paranormal! (Part 1)

Just to be perfectly clear, I've never been much of a disciple of the supernatural. Fascinating topic, to be sure, and one that I've done a lot of voracious reading about--but always as a full-on skeptic, first and foremost. I was interested in it as subject matter, but never put much stock in it as based in reality. To put it bluntly, I have not believed in ghosts since I was a small child, and have always explained away supposedly supernatural phenomena as, at best, owing to some form of extra-sensory perception of past events, or at worst, simple charlatanry.

And so it was with great interest, and yet a safe and secure sense of disbelief, that I entered the infamous Sterling Opera House in Derby, Connecticut on Monday night. The opportunity had come our way thanks to an encounter with the boys of Above the Realm Paranormal--a local ghost investigation group--over the weekend at the "Derby Day" annual street festival. Proving that it always pays to print up shiny business cards, Captain Cruella and I were invited to take a private tour--an opportunity we leapt at faster than Ray Stantz going down a firehouse pole.

What transpired was an evening which, quite frankly and not to sound too melodramatic, has given me a lot to think about. Because, dear Vault dwellers, I cannot help but believe that there is indeed something going on in that place which I cannot fully explain. You may sneer, and you may deride, but we saw what we saw, and we heard what we heard. There is a presence or presences within the Sterling Opera House. I can't really tell you what they are with certainty, but there is something there. And this is coming from someone who has never "sensed" anything like this anywhere else before.

One bunch of folks who would certainly have no problem telling you what's going on in the Opera House, from their point of view, would be the crew from ATR. Based out of Derby, with an office that is indeed an old defunct firehouse (no joke), these ghost hunters have made the Opera House one of their pet projects, charting its interior meticulously, and claiming to have made contact with the spirits that allegedly reside within. We were met Monday night by ATR investigators Rich DeCarlo and Dan Rivera, and the team's Winston Zeddemore, case manager Troy Leong, who were gracious enough to show us around and share their findings with us.

Functioning as one of the Naugatuck Valley's premiere entertainment venues from 1889 through 1945, the Sterling Opera House has seen quite a bit of history, and as a fan of the "golden age" of American entertainment, I was just as much interested in it for this reason as for the paranormal stuff. It was designed by one of the designers of Carnegie Hall, constructed at roughly the same time, and featured everything from concerts and plays to vaudeville and early motion pictures. Here I was, on a stage upon which once had trod the likes of Enrico Caruso, Bing Crosby, John L. Sullivan, Red Skelton, John Philip Sousa, Amelia Earhart and Harry Houdini (at one point looking up from under the stage at a trap door custom made for the master illusionist himself). For me, the memories of those legendary performers haunted the place just as much as any suspected apparition.

Needless to say, the Captain and I soon began snapping away with our trusty Blackberries. While under the stage in the dressing area, I took the shot above of a room that was in total darkness, illuminated only by the light of the flash. This was when things started to get a bit eerie. If you look close, you'll see a small white orb, in addition to other floating white particles--which, I can assure you, were not visible to my naked eye. You may chalk it up to the light playing photographic tricks, but not only did this keep happening with many of the photos we took, but our guides were quick to show us how many times others had picked up possible spirit presences in the form of small white orbs.

Suddenly taking things a bit more seriously than I had, I started to really pay close attention to everything being said and shown. As we stood on the stage, Dan, Rich and Troy called out to the spirit of a small boy named Andy whom they claim to have contacted and interacted with on several occasions (in fact, they've even strewn toys all over the place for him to play with). And as we waited in total silence, I'll be damned if we didn't all hear the very faint voice of a little boy. The same voice ATR has recorded on the site in the past, such as this time:

Andy asks for his ball...

Letting her spirit of adventure get the better of her, the Captain wandered off on her own to the upper balconies, exploring some areas where spirits had been photographed in the past. She soon returned, white even by her standards, and looking, if you'll forgive the expression, as if she'd seen a ghost. Dan played several EVRs (electronic voice recordings) for us, taken during previous visits to the opera house, and discussed the ongoing plans to conduct an extensive restoration of the building to a functioning entertainment venue once again. This struck me as a bit of sad prospect, as it would entail pretty much gutting the place.

As we proceeded throughout the main room of the Opera House, it was undeniable that there was some kind of presence with us. We all felt it at different times. A general sense of dread. It felt very unusual to me, a feeling I've never quite felt before. I even started to feel a bit disoriented from it. And every now and then, I'd feel a chill run down my back or arm, which I was politely informed was one of the spirits making contact with me.

As we sat in the upper balcony, the Captain reached up to snap some blind shots of the interior of the projection booth. Here's what she captured. Check out the two pictures below: They are of the same exact doorway, taken mere seconds apart. In the first one, nothing. And yet in the second, there it is--another one of those pesky orbs bobbing around. As I said, photographic anomalies are always possible, but this just kept happening. If not a ghost, then what the hell can it be? Some kind of electromagnetic phenomenon, perhaps? Who knows?

By this point, we were thoroughly spooked. And yet, the fun was only beginning. All we had seen was the main performance space. We hadn't even ventured underground yet, to the prison below the theater. That would come next. And that's where I would have my most disturbing experience of the night by far...

To Be Continued...

For more information about Above the Realm Paranormal, check out their website, or follow them on Facebook and Twitter!

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