In 1988, most students at Springfield College in Massachusetts packed up their belongings to return home for the summer. Required to stay for freshman camp, Karen Keene and her close-knit friends roamed the school. Campus was quiet, residence halls deserted, and the remaining students grew restless for summer just days away.
One night, to pass time, Keene and her friends sat around a Ouija board. They took turns asking questions, giggling in the pauses when they received no answers. It was all fun and games until the triangular planchette lifted off the board. The laughter quickly died out as the friends pulled their hands back in fear, watching the piece of plastic shoot across the room.
The next morning each woke to find a small, hand-carved knife near their beds, but Keene didn’t wait to sit around and play ghostbusters. She marched the board and wooden knives straight to the water’s edge, where the items still rest at the bottom of Lake Massasoit.
“I’ve never touched one since,” Keene confessed.
With Halloween in our midst, teens will inevitably turn to Ouija boards, seances and other forms of contacting the dead, looking to get a kick out of the spooky season. But at what cost? For those uninformed, untrained and ill-equipped, just “messing around” could have dangerous and lasting consequences.
Keene, who lives in Stowe and works for New England Paranormal Investigators, has learned after 11 years in the industry that it all comes down to intention. “If you put your energy into it, and are searching for something, you’re gonna get what you're asking for.”
Those poking fun at spirits and local folklore have no idea what they’re messing with, she said.
The media helps create misleading stereotypes that glorify provoking the spiritual realm, but paranormal investigation is far different from what people are used to seeing on the big screen, Keene said.
It’s hard work with grueling hours. On popular reality TV shows like “Ghost Hunters, viewers see the result of a week’s worth of filming, condensed into an action-packed 30 minutes. But Keene, a current member of The Atlantic Paranormal Society, knows how much commitment and patience a legitimate investigation takes.
“It’s 95 percent of nothing, but 5 percent something. That 5 percent is what keeps us going,” she said.
Keene and her team work under the cover of night when the hustle and bustle of daily life presents less risk to their findings. Armed with an array of gadgets and tools ranging from the humble flashlight to electromagnetic frequency meters, the group works to investigate homes to validate claims of paranormal activity.
As a safety precaution, the team performs extensive background checks on clients and holds two interviews before beginning work.
“Most people are more dangerous than ghosts,” Keene joked.
However, protection from the paranormal is harder to secure. The Paranormal Investigators of New England have seen it all, fresh scratch marks on a team member’s arm, doors slamming shut, sick feelings, upside-down crosses, and knives plunged deep into drywall.
Scary movies like the “Conjuring” series have gained a cult following. With perfectly timed jump scares and suspenseful music that builds at all the right moments, it’s no surprise that people now turn to this genre for an addictive adrenaline rush.
However exciting it may seem, Ed and Lorraine Warren, paranormal investigators who inspired the “Conjuring” series, were real people. Underneath the layers of Hollywood exaggeration, embellishment and special effects, lies an element of buried truth.
This Halloween season may not feel complete without a seance or a Ouija board session, but do so at your own risk. It’s all fun and games until someone needs to throw the haunted objects into the lake.
Isabella Mitchell is a senior at Stowe High School who wants to pursue journalism when she starts college next year.