Paranormal investigator Liette Casey speaks politely when she thinks she may be in the company of a spiritual presence, as she would if she were meeting a living person for the first time.
Standing in the attic of the historical Josiah Day House in West Springfield, Casey introduced herself by first name and told her unseen audience she was interested in learning its story. She gently warned that everyone in the room had a device capable of detecting spiritual energy. In her hand was a sensor, and she asked if whoever was listening could light it up.
“I try to put myself in their place, where if somebody was coming into my house, and I didn’t have a choice, I would want them to be calm,” the 44-year-old Springfield resident said.
Casey is a member of the Agawam Paranormal society, founded by husband and wife Rob and Hope Goff in 2007. The all-volunteer organization has probed for paranormal activity in more than 250 homes, businesses, and historical locations such as the Day house. Most investigations take place at the request of individuals who suspect a ghostly presence in their home or place of business, but Rob Goff said he suggested the investigation of the Day house after a friend tipped him off to a possible haunting.
By the end of the investigation last month, the group may have uncovered evidence backing up the claim.
Searching the house
On an unusually chilly night in September, Rob Goff and 10 of his fellow investigators set up cameras and motion sensors throughout the 1754 Josiah Day House at 70 Park St. It was the group’s fourth investigation of the old home, with the previous three taking place in 2013. While a group called the Ramapogue Historical Society has been taking care of the old property since 1903, generations of the Day family lived there in the centuries prior, and stories have been told that some of them still inhabit their former home.
In a first-floor kitchen, Goff and his team set up what they called a command center, with a large monitor divided into eight screens that showed the different rooms. This setup process took close to an hour.
Goff then urged all present to stand in a circle and hold hands for an opening prayer, which included the Lord’s Prayer. At the end of the night, there was a similar closing prayer.
The purpose of the prayers is to ward off what paranormal experts call an attachment, which is when a supernatural entity follows a living person from the investigation site. Goff said no one on his team has ever experienced this problem.
“Think of it this way: We’re Teflon coating ourselves so Casper can’t stick to us,” he said, using the nickname he’s chosen as shorthand for all paranormal entities.
Goff, 53, was raised Catholic, and said most of his team members also have Christian backgrounds. He said he would add a prayer from another faith if requested.
The investigators split into two groups of four, with Goff and two others manning the command center. Casey led a cohort focused on sensory experiences. The other group used more technology, such as a camera that showed stick figures where it sensed spirits. The two groups did their investigations separately, spending 45 minutes on each of the home’s two floors. No cell phones were allowed during that time, and Goff required everyone to carry a flashlight. Each group leader carried a walkie-talkie to communicate with command center.
The investigation, from a briefing beforehand at the Goffs’ home in Agawam to packing up all of the equipment and leaving the Day house, lasted around eight hours. It was 2 a.m. before members of the paranormal society headed home. Television shows depicting similar investigations run around 40 minutes.
“If we had an hour-long show, so much of what we do, even that night, would have ended up on the cutting room floor,” Goff said.
He said when he first started Agawam Paranormal, he was a huge fan of the television shows. But after founding his society, he found he could debunk most evidence as he watched — dampening the suspense. He is critical of added drama, such as cliffhangers before commercial breaks.
“I always warn people: If you really want to keep watching the shows and enjoying them, you don’t want to do this because you’ll know too much,” he said.
While exploring the Day house, most of the investigators held “ghost meters,” which beep when a needle measuring milliGauss, or electromagnetic energy, tips far enough right. The group leaders held similar devices that lit up green or red when stimulated. Sources of electromagnetic energy include electrical devices and the human heart, so equipment that senses this energy is commonly used in efforts to detect the paranormal.
In the attic of the Day house, Casey ran a highly sensitive audio recorder as she and her group members asked questions of an invisible host. These questions included, “did you live here,” “do you recognize people in this room,” and “what did you do for a career.” Casey asked the unseen individual to confirm its gender by lighting up her device a certain color.
Eventually, one of the ghost meters began to beep.
Christine Piquette, listed on the paranormal society’s website as a psychic medium, said she saw the spirit of a man she believes was a pastor leave the attic and enter the connecting bedroom around the time the ghost meter went off.
She said she has been able to see spirits her whole life.
“Most of the time I can see them in my mind,” she said. “My eyes will be looking at the bed, but in my mind I can also see a figure standing there. So it’s more than a shadow, but it’s less than an actual person in front of me.”
Piquette, 55, of South Hadley, is a program coordinator at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She said she joined Agawam Paranormal in 2011 at the suggestion of a friend who heard the group was in need of a psychic.
“I believe that everyone has some type of psychic ESP ability. I really believe that,” she said. “What I have, it really goes beyond that and I’m pretty much a logical person, but the only way logically I can describe it, I think, is in the brain chemistry, because you’re born with it.”
When the next group of investigators explored the attic, two ghost meters went off in the same area where one went off previously. A team member using a Structured Light Sensor camera, designed to detect human forms, said the camera’s viewfinder showed two unidentified figures in that space.
On the first floor of the house, Casey said she picked up on what may have been the spirit of a child. She said her group members’ meters appeared to guide them toward an old bicycle.
“We said, ‘Well, can you climb up on the bike?’ and then all the meters stopped registering until we put the meter over the seat of the bike,” she said. “That seems to be a very playful, very interactive energy.”
Casey said when she tells people she investigates the paranormal, their first reaction is often that they would be “terrified” to do the same. She said she would like to dispel the misconception that probing the supernatural has to be scary.
“There’s just this stigma that things we don’t understand equal terrifying, instead of things we don’t understand we just don’t understand,” she said. “If anybody took anything from talking to ghost hunters, it’s that it’s not all terror. There’s a lot of interest. There’s a lot of history.”
Piquette said she tells people to think of spirits as their loved ones who have passed on.
“If a person was a good person, they’re going to be a good spirit. If a person was a bad person, they’re going to be a bad spirit,” she said. “They’re the exact people that they were in life.”
She believes that when people die, a light appears, and the person dying has the choice of going into the light or not.
“Spirits who don’t cross over, as time goes on, it gets harder and harder for them to cross over,” she said. “Over time I believe that the light gets dimmer, so it’s harder for them to cross over into the light.”
Skepticism, and the unexplained
Stan Svec, former president of the Ramapogue Historical Society, said while he believes in ghosts, he does not suspect a paranormal presence at the Day house. He said he agreed to a paranormal probe for the sake of novelty.
“People have fun,” he said. “If they come to the old Day house in West Springfield because somebody thinks it’s haunted, they come to the Day house, and maybe they’ll learn some history.”
Svec is a history teacher at West Springfield High School and chairman of the history department. He said spiritualism, or belief in spirits, saw an “explosion” from the mid-19th century through the beginning of the 20th century and has been revived in recent decades with the popularity of paranormal investigators on television.
During one of the investigations of the Day house in 2013, Svec said he heard a “click-click-click” coming from an upstairs window, “like somebody’s trying to open a window that’s been painted shut.” Svec, who had been standing in a doorway, left his post to share what he heard with the investigators.
When Goff and his team reviewed their video footage, they saw what appeared to be an orb, or mysterious ball of light, go through the doorway where Svec had been standing.
“It was almost like it was saying, ‘get out of my way,’” Goff said.
Svec laughs when he recalls that night.
“You notice my skepticism as I laugh,” he said. “But it was cool to them and it was kind of cool to me, too. It was something out of the ordinary, but it wasn’t what you see in Hollywood. It wasn’t a ghostly form or anything like that.”
Goff said he does not believe everywhere he investigates has a paranormal presence. He spends hours trying to debunk his fellow investigators’ most convincing evidence: An orb might be a bug; bad wiring can cause hallucinations.
“I’m the biggest skeptic on my team,” he said.
Goff will never try to convince anyone of a supernatural presence. He will only point out where a natural explanation does not exist.
Goff said other memorable evidence collected by Agawam Paranormal includes a photograph, taken in the Day house in 2013, that appears to show a woman sitting at a spinning wheel. A team member took the photograph after Piquette reported an older, female spirit in that exact place. Goff said there were multiple photos taken seconds apart, and only one revealed the woman’s figure. He said he has not been able to recreate or debunk this finding.
At an investigation of a home in Agawam, he said a 40-pound piece of hardwood furniture moved 6 inches across the floor behind him. He said this occurrence startled him, but he has never, in all of his investigations, been afraid.
“Being startled is one thing. Being afraid is another,” he said.
Trust and camaraderie
Back at command center, members of the paranormal society clearly enjoy each other’s company. At one point, while Casey’s group was investigating the first floor, she entered the room and reminded her teammates to stay quiet during an audio recording session.
“I lost the little boy I was talking to,” she told her fellow investigators with a smile.
But the team members at command center didn’t stop socializing. From there on out, they communicated using hand signals and lip motions.
“We’re not friends. We’re a family,” Goff said later. “Any one of these girls or guys could call me at 2 a.m. and I would drop whatever I was doing and take care of them. That’s the way I like it.”
The society started with the Goffs and their adult children. As word spread, so did interest, and to provide prospective paranormal investigators with an introduction, the Goffs developed Ghostology 101 and 201, which they present for free in Western Mass libraries. The society now has around 30 members who range from trainees to lead investigators.
The team has recorded phenomena such as mysterious footsteps and voices, a photograph of a ghostly form and moving furniture.
Casey, a five-year member of Agawam Paranormal, noted there is popular intrigue with the question of what happens when people die.
“Does your life really truly just evaporate?” she pondered. “People, for millennia, have been chasing that answer, and doing what we do gives us an opportunity to maybe get an answer to that — and we haven’t gotten one yet.”
Casey is a relationship manager and account manager for an insurance company. She said she learned of the opportunity to join Agawam Paranormal from a friend who was a member at the time.
“Everyone has something they like to do for a hobby,” she said. “I’ve always been really interested in puzzles so this is like one of those puzzles that just doesn’t have a solution.”
Casey said camaraderie develops among team members with exploring the unknown together.
“You couldn’t possibly be on a team, doing this, and not trust each other,” she said.
And, of course, bonds form over a shared fascination with the paranormal.
“The people really love what they do,” she said. “They’re all very compassionate people. They’re very sympathetic people. They’re just good people. It’s hard not to be friends with these people that are on your team.”
A voice from beyond
The paranormal society members parted ways late in the night, but their work wasn’t done yet, and one of their most interesting discoveries happened after they left the property.
Reviewing video and audio collected during an investigation takes several hours, Goff said. When he reviewed the audio recordings from the Day house, he discovered an unidentified voice saying “choose to be here” in a second-floor bedroom. None of the investigators heard it at the time of recording. Paranormal experts call these unexplained sounds or voices “electronic voice phenomena.”
The sentiment “choose to be here” fits the story of a preacher who lived in the 18th and 19th centuries and frequented the Day home. According to a written history of the home, the Rev. Joseph Lathrop visited so often that the family reserved a chair for him. When Lathrop was not visiting, the chair held the family Bible, according to the history.
The audio was captured in the same room where Piquette thought she saw the pastor’s spirit.
“This is stuff that in my 32 years in the field has made me scratch my head,” Goff said.
He suspects the Day house to host at least four spirits: the woman he believes a member of his team photographed at the spinning wheel, the pastor, and two children.
Goff’s interest in the paranormal began at age 21. He was playing cards at a friend’s apartment, and from where he was sitting at the table, he could see into a bathroom, where the light was kept on. All of a sudden, he said, he saw the toilet handle flush. He expected everyone to be looking toward the strange occurrence, but instead, his hosts were looking at him, waiting for his reaction.
They told him a spirit of an old man was responsible, and that this entity traveled from family to family.
“It just totally fascinated me and piqued my interest,” Goff said. “I just became a sponge.”
Goff, who works for the postal service, learned to investigate the paranormal through his own research and practice. Before he started Agawam Paranormal, he read up on the equipment used by investigators on television and invested in his own.
He emphasizes that he and his team do not charge for what they do, and while probing for the paranormal is the subject of many popular television shows, investigations by Agawam Paranormal are not filmed. In fact, most of the possibly haunted locations are kept confidential. The team’s website contains a log of past investigations, each identified with a case number, the city or town and whether the site was a residence or a business.
Goff said he is often skeptical that owners of homes or businesses featured on TV are seeking their “15 minutes of fame.” He believes the confidentiality adds authenticity.
“When I’m dealing with a client, they’re — nine times out of 10 — directly impacted and affected by what is going on in their own home,” Goff said. “They don’t want their neighbors to know what is going on.”
At the same time, he believes the nonmonetary aspect adds legitimacy to his findings. He has had investigations that yielded no evidence suggestive of paranormal activity.
“For somebody to try to make a living out of this, it makes me wonder if they’re authentic or if they’re just telling people what they want to hear,” Goff said.
Once a year, Goff allows news media to attend the investigation of a site open to the public. Past investigations of this kind include the Storrowton Tavern in West Springfield, the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum in Springfield, the now-closed Cove Banquet Facility in Southwick, and the Old Firehouse Museum in South Hadley.
According to the case log entry on the Agawam Paranormal website, the firehouse museum is a favorite. While there, the team looked into reports of unexplained footsteps, muffled voices and a glove that repeatedly falls off a mannequin after being secured. The investigators captured evidence of all of these reports, according to the log.
Desiree Smelcer, of South Hadley, was president of the town’s historical society when Agawam Paranormal agreed to investigate the firehouse museum and a nearby cemetery.
When asked if she believes the museum is haunted, she said she believes the building contains what she describes as residual energy.
“A building, for example, I think will hold either happiness or sadness or negativity over time and build up,” she said. “You know when you walk into someone’s home if it feels like a happy home or if it feels slightly off. Humans pick up on energies because we’re made up of energy.”
She said for some people, this energy triggers fear.
“Anything that is quote-unquote paranormal, meaning, outside the norm — what we experience on a day-to-day basis — can excite someone, scare someone, or confuse someone,” she said.
Svec, the former Ramapogue Historical Society president, said he prefers to seek spirits without the use of sensors or other technology. He lives in a 19th-century farmhouse in Southwick and said he considers his walks in the woods and through old cemeteries to be forms of paranormal investigation.
“I don’t think ghosts are available to science. I think they’re beyond science,” he said. “I think you’re more likely to find them with an open mind than you are with a battery or modern technology.”
But he credits the Agawam Paranormal society for seeking answers.
“People can call them geeks or whatever they want to call them, but you know what they’re doing? They have a hobby,” Svec said. “They’re going out in the world and they’re doing something that they can talk about.”