‘I became a believer,’ — Maine Afterlife Research Society seeks out proof of ‘spirits’

A SPIRITED TRIP TO THE ADMIRAL PEARY INN in Fryeburg by the Maine Afterlife Research Society members. Pictured left to right, inn owner Donna Pearce, MARS investigators Toby Hartford, Toni London, Kassie Scott, Dan Scott, Tim Michaud and Phil York. (Rivet Photo)

A SPIRITED TRIP TO THE ADMIRAL PEARY INN in Fryeburg by the Maine Afterlife Research Society members. Pictured left to right, inn owner Donna Pearce, MARS investigators Toby Hartford, Toni London, Kassie Scott, Dan Scott, Tim Michaud and Phil York. (Rivet Photo)

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

When Toby Hartford was a child, he always wanted to see a ghost.

But, he never did.

“I wanted ‘something’ or ‘stuff to happen.’ I read a lot about it, but never had anything happen to me until about eight years ago. I had some paranormal stuff happen and became very curious about it,” he said.

Toby and his brother started a group in Waterville investigating paranormal activity. He was later joined by Tim Michaud of Casco and Phil York. Dan Scott works with Toby, and when the two started talking about “spirits,” Dan joined the investigative team.

Toni London and Toby started Maine Afterlife Research Society last October with just three people, and are trying to grow its membership so they can take on bigger investigations.

“I’ve always watched the ghost hunting shows on TV, and was skeptical. I was curious, is it true? I became a believer after the first time going out with the group. It was a blast. It’s scary. If you give out a sense of fear, they seemed to come after you. It’s the real deal,” says MARS investigator Tim Michaud of Casco.

Phil York also watches ghost hunter TV shows and has done a lot of reading about paranormal activity for 10 to 15 years.

“Tim told me about Toby and his brother’s group, and I joined. I’ve always wanted to know more about after life. I definitely believe now that there is ‘something’ in the after life. It’s been a lot of fun,” he said.

Dan Scott of Farmington has been interested in a lot of things in the unknown — unknown creatures like Big Foot, UFOs.

“I’ve always been intrigued, and being an adrenaline junky, this has been a fun ride,” he said.

Kassie Scott has had “things happen, seeing and hearing things, for a long time, ever since I can remember.” Since she was a child, she has experienced “shadow people, and some very strange occurrences.” She described one experience on the MARS website:

“I was outside playing in the snow with my younger sister at our apartment in Auburn. There was an abandoned apartment building right beside ours. It had been empty the whole time we lived in that building. I’m not sure what or why, but for some reason that day, I couldn’t take my attention off of the building. I walked up to the side of the building and just stood there staring at it. As I was staring at it, it seemed to change colors right in front of me, but it was more like watching a dream than it was seeing it in front of me, it went through a series of colors then stopped at either pale yellow or light grey (I’m having a hard time recalling the color). The apartment had occupants in it and on the second floor you could see a family. They seemed to be preparing and setting the table for a dinner. I saw the woman with a tray that had a turkey on it. She sat it on the table. I could see everything in my sight range, like the white curtains in the window, the white tablecloth on the table, there were two candlesticks that were lit in the center of the table. I watched the family (from what I could see there was a mom a dad and a little girl), move around the apartment getting things ready for their meal. I had a strange intense feeling of danger come over me. The mom and dad started arguing. I watched them yell at each other, and the dad got really upset and started yelling, then he grabbed the table a flipped it. The candles that were on the table caught the curtains on fire. I watched the fire spread throughout the apartment. Then, out of nowhere it seemed the little girl was standing in front of the window, but it appeared there was no glass in the window because she reached her hand out the window at me and screamed ‘help me.’ I still remember what she looked like, she had light brown hair that was up in pigtails, she was wearing a white and blue dress and I will never forget the look of fright on her face. Then, as if it never happened, all of it was gone. My sister was standing beside me screaming at me because apparently I was just standing there staring off into space and not responding to her. I went inside and told my mom about it and she didn’t believe me. A little while later, the apartment building was being torn down and the construction workers found a large portrait of a little girl with light brown hair who looked just as I described her. Oddly enough, they found it in the fireplace. My stepfather had known one of the men working there and showed him the picture. I heard him tell my mom that they found a picture of a little girl who looked exactly like the little girl I had seen. This was by far the strangest experience I have had to this day and one I will never forget.”

Are there spirits amongst us? Plenty of skeptics exist.

Toby Hartford is a believer.

“When I first started doing this, I kept it to myself. I might start to talk a little about it, just to feel them out. You don’t know how people are going to react,” he said. “If they haven’t seen it, they often times don’t believe it. You have to be open-minded about the whole thing. Anything is possible.”

PRESENCE IN THE ROOM? This image was photographed facing a doorway inside the Admiral Peary Inn. The blue and black of the object means that it is colder than the area around. It's approximate height is 5'6'' to 5'10."

PRESENCE IN THE ROOM? This image was photographed facing a doorway inside the Admiral Peary Inn. The blue and black of the object means that it is colder than the area around. It's approximate height is 5'6'' to 5'10."

Tim added, “They think you are crazy. I was a skeptic. Several of my friends were, too, until they’ve experienced it and now they are believers. It’s real.”

Tim recalled a moment during a recent investigation at the Admiral Peary Inn in Fryeburg.

“It was pitch black, and I got pushed. I got a little freaked out in the Serengeti Room when I heard a whisper in my ear while I was laying on the bed with the EVP (electronic voice phenomena) next to me. All I had on the machine was the sound of paper crumpling. The door was shut. I can’t explain it,” he said. “We don’t hear anything with the naked ear, but these devices are very sensitive and pick up things.”

His first paranormal experience left Toby both a little startled but more intrigued.

“I was curious about it. I went to school for law enforcement, so I have an investigation background. I want to see what is going on and try to figure it out. I am not scared. I want to get evidence,” he said.

Tim remembers clearly the moment when he saw a full body aberration in Portland.

“It started running at me. I was paralyzed. I didn’t know whether to run or just freak out,” he said. “In most cases, spirits simply want to let me know they are there. You see something in the corner of your eye, and you start to wonder if there was something, like a shadow person, there or not.”

Like a hobby, they study and they buy the latest technology to help in their searches. Toby estimates the group has over $2,000 tied up in equipment.

Most investigation requests seem to come around Halloween time. This time of year, Toby contacts people, like Donna Pearce of the Admiral Peary Inn, through Facebook.

“We do this all for free,” Toby said. “It’s a passion. I look online, Haunted Places.org, which lists various places.”

Admiral Peary Inn investigation

The Admiral Peary Inn Bed & Breakfast is located on quiet Elm Street in Fryeburg. Built in 1865, the home is the original residence of Admiral Robert E. Peary, Arctic explorer and discoverer of the North Pole in 1909.

When Donna Pearce purchased the inn four years ago, she had no idea the historic home was occupied by eight to 10 “spirits.”

“I didn’t know anything until I started to meet some of the neighbors who told me about Abigail (a spirit) in the front window. I said, ‘Oh, that’s interesting.’ I had a medium come in and read the house. That’s happened a couple of times. They’ll say, ‘Do you know…’ Yeah, I know. She’s fine. I’m comfortable with it.”

The first week Donna was at the inn, the movers arrived and one worker posed an interesting question. He asked, “Are you the only one here? There is a woman at the front door watching every room we make.” Donna thinks it was Abigail, checking to see if she had nice things for the inn.

“She likes it nice and neat. If there are people in a room and they are sloppy, that’s when she makes herself known. She will move a chair. She hums to people, apparently.”

IN THE ADMIRAL'S QUARTERS, Toby Hartford and Donna Pearce, the inn's owner.

IN THE ADMIRAL'S QUARTERS, Toby Hartford and Donna Pearce, the inn's owner.

Donna has never seen any of the spirits, but she has smelled a sweet pipe odor. She tells the spirit he needs to go outdoors on the back deck to smoke just like the guests.

“They leave shortly thereafter. They know I don’t mind having them there, but if I have guests coming, I don’t want the place smelling like tobacco smoke,” she said. “I smell brownies in the kitchen, and I don’t make them a whole heck of a lot.”

When Donna first moved in, her mother stayed with her for a few years before her passing.

“I smell Bengay in the library. My mom was an avid reader and apparently found a chair she liked. When she was alive, she always had Bengay on her knee. She’s been gone from here a couple years now,” Donna said.

Guests have returned to the main part of the inn and asked if the home is haunted. Donna simply replies, “You tell me?”

“I don’t tell them anything. When they come down for breakfast, we’ll have a spirited conversation. I don’t want people to have preconceived notions,” Donna said.

Not to her knowledge, Donna hasn’t heard guests say they were attracted to stay at the inn because of its “haunted” reputation.

“Just people like them (Toby’s group),” she joked.

When one woman checked in, she asked if the inn was indeed haunted. Donna clarified that the inn had “spirits,” but wasn’t haunted. About 10 minutes later, the woman claimed an emergency had come up and had to leave.

“I think she let her imagination run away with her,” Donna said. “I’ve had a couple of people come down to breakfast white as a sheet. I’ll ask what is wrong, and they reply, ‘Oh, nothing.’ Sure. One gentleman — a burly guy — was up in the Admiral’s Quarters. There is a rooster across the street. He leaned on a chair in the corner to turn an air conditioner on for the white noise. In the morning, the chair was in front of the closet door. He knew he leaned on the chair to turn on the air conditioner.”

Another known “spirit” is a little boy, who likes to open and shut doors and sit on the beds. It is thought that the child, who is black, is from Civil War times and possibly connected to the Underground Railroad.

“I’ve made the beds and when I go back I can see little butt cheek impressions. I know I didn’t do it. And it wasn’t my dog or cat,” Donna said.

While Donna has not seen any historical information that explains why Abigail and others might be at the inn, she does know that Abigail did not die there or live there.

“The gentlemen have never given us the who, what, where and why,” Donna said. “Abigail was from the 1930s. The one that kept the housekeeper out, we don’t know anything about him. He was here a couple of weeks ago. I had someone ask me about my husband. I don’t have aa husband. I’m happily divorced — me, the dog and the cat. When he walked in, there was a gentleman sitting here with me. Okay, well…not. He saw him a couple of times. I don’t know how many entities are here. I’ve been told up to 10. Ok, whatever, have a party.”

Donna has had three paranormal investigative teams, including MARS a couple of weeks ago, spend time at the inn.

One day when she was returning to the inn, Donna found a housekeeper working in a garden. When asked why she wasn’t inside, the housekeeper responded that she had been locked out by “the spirits,” who refused to let her back indoors.

“They don’t bother me. They seem to be very happy. Often times, questions are posed (by ghost hunters, or whatever you guys call yourself) about whether they are happy I am here, what I have done to the house, or if they like the dog. There is one room they won’t talk to you if the dog is in the room. They seem fine with everything,” Donna said. “I’ve always wanted to believe there is a higher power after death. I guess I was a believer, not to the extent I am now. You talk to my brothers about this and they say, ‘Yeah, right.’ However, my sister-in-law won’t go upstairs. They are comfortable here. I guess this was a happy place for them once in their lifetimes. I don’t know why they are here or how long they plan to stay.”

Toby and his team were very appreciative that Donna gave the group full access to the inn, which they produced 18 hours of footage that ultimately became a 30-minute segment available for viewing on the MARS website.

Always learning, always intrigued

Curiosity has led Toby and Toni to network with six to seven paranormal study groups on a weekly or even daily basis. In Maine, there are 20-plus such groups.

“We talk about different things we might want to try,” he said. “There are some groups that are trying to find evidence of paranormal activity and put it out there for people to consider. But, there are also groups that just want to put on a show.”

MARS was possibly one of the first groups in Maine to “stream” over the Internet via Facebook a “live” investigation. Forty-two viewers tuned in. There were 2,000 “Likes” on the MARS Facebook page.

“I had three to four other groups ask how did we do it,” Toby said. “The Admiral Peary Inn was the perfect place to do it because of its size. It’s beautiful. The video feed was great.”

MARS members like the “live” feed to viewers.

“With technology today, people may wonder what they may be watching on YouTube is real or not. When you go ‘live,’ there is no faking it,” Dan said.

Viewers can also text questions to the team to be asked during their investigation. Toby was pleasantly surprised by the number of people following the MARS team’s work. People interested in this work are invited to tag along with the MARS team. Just contact Toby.

“There are a lot of people out there that are intrigued by the paranormal, but are afraid what others might think,” Toby said. “Is it real? We keep trying to find out.”

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