Ghost World

Paul Eno doesn’t believe in ghosts per se; he ascribes to a multiverse theory where the deceased thrive in parallel universes.

Paul Eno is getting that tingle.  After thirty-five years as one of New England’s most active ghost hunters, he’s come to recognize the sensation. He feels prickliness on his skin, and hairs are standing up on the back of his head. “I’m open to it because of my past experience,” he says. “There are times I walk into a house and I just feel dizzy, or like I have bugs crawling up my arms.”

It could be a real Rod Serling moment, if only this guy looked a tiny bit fretful. Relaxing in the parlor of Hearthside, the stately stone mansion on Lincoln’s Great Road, the fifty-four-year-old Woonsocket resident sounds as though he’s hobnobbing with friends at a cocktail party. And he avoids saying the word “ghost,” as if he might offend someone with an ethnic slur. When he talks about the entities he senses, he uses the word “people.”

“You can go all through this house and feel other people,” he says. “And not because of anything bad that might have happened here. These are people going about their lives. What I do is try to enjoy it. I want to know who they are, and what they’re doing. That to me is what it’s all about.”

That’s when it becomes clear what this guy is up to. He wants to chuck one of Rhode Island’s great institutions—its ghost lore.

Ask people in the Ocean State if they know any spooky stories, and you’ll hear so many you’ll wonder how anybody sleeps at night. Mysterious laughter and disembodied voices reportedly echo through an old Coventry firehouse where town residents gathered for weddings and dances a century ago. School kids studying at Cumberland Public Library—once part of a monastery—say they’ve seen a figure in a monk’s cloak browsing amongst the stacks. In Foster, some claim they’ve been roused from their slumber by clanging noises in the night. They blame the ghost of a mill watchman who summoned employees to work by ringing a bell—until the morning he hanged himself from the rope.

To Eno, it’s all so much twaddle. Never mind that he claims to bump into apparitions and transparent figures at almost every turn. To him, they’re something entirely different. “I do believe in ghosts,” he says. “But not as spirits of the dead or leftover pieces of people. And I don’t believe these people would be hanging around their graves—they’d have better things to do.”

Eno has poked though hundreds of haunted homes in his career as a paranormal investigator. He never charged until recently, when a flood of calls from outside New England prompted him to ask for travel expenses. What money he makes as a ghost hunter comes from speaking fees and his writing. Eno has devised his own theory about the phantom figures he’s met: they live and breathe, but somewhere else. He believes in a “multiverse,” a vast collection of parallel worlds that exist alongside our own. People we know to be dead in our world may live on in others, and those of us alive and kicking here may be deceased elsewhere. Sometimes, according to his theory, those other worlds and our own intersect, and when they do, things can go bump in the night.

“If you hear Aunt Jane skipping down the stairs two weeks after her funeral, it’s not necessarily the spirit of Aunt Jane,” Eno says. “It could be Aunt Jane alive, two years earlier.”

Eno is quick to admit he didn’t invent the idea of parallel worlds. A Princeton physicist first suggested the multiverse concept some fifty years ago to plug a hole in quantum theory. Back then most scientists tried to ignore the proposal, but over the past few decades it has gained wider acceptance. Eno picked it up in a college philosophy course.

Eno believes in a “multiverse,” a vast collection of parallel worlds that exist alongside our own. People we know to be dead in our world may live on in others, and those of us alive and kicking here may be deceased elsewhere.

It’s not an easy notion to grasp, but over the past few years Eno has found his audience steadily growing. He’s written several books expounding his theory, all published by his family’s company, New River Press. The latest, Turning Home: God, Ghosts & Human Destiny, has hit the Amazon bestseller list twice. He’s signed on with a California publicist, who has him traveling the country for speaking engagements and investigations. In July, he addressed the national conference of Mensa. And he’s become an occasional guest on Art Bell’s syndicated late night talk fest “Coast to Coast,” which—with up to 30 million listeners—boasts the largest audience of any radio show in the United States.

 

Though he’s scored a hit with the New Age crowd, Eno hardly looks the part. With his spectacles and neatly trimmed beard, and his penchant for blazers and Oxford shirts, he could be a genial English professor. He spent twenty years in the newspaper business, starting at the Pawtuxet Valley Times and ending up as a news editor at The Providence Journal. Later he launched New River Press, originally putting out newsletters and then switching to book publishing. He lives in a middle-class city neighborhood with his wife, Jackie, a paralegal, and his sons, Jonathan, twenty-four, and Benjamin, fifteen, who sometimes joins his dad on ghost-hunting expeditions. The house is crammed with books and religious icons from a dozen faiths, which is hardly surprising, as Eno once thought he would become a priest. He studied at both Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox seminaries before his superiors caught wind of his interest in the paranormal and suggested he find a different profession. “A lucky escape,” he says, “for both the church and myself.”

The whole time, he kept seeking out haunted places, and eventually people began calling him for help. Spend a little time with Eno, and you’ll hear how he watched a ghost rearrange classroom furniture in a Massachusetts school; how he photographed an apparition in a Woonsocket attic; how he comforted a depressed spirit who hung out in a Cumberland home. On one of his first jaunts, he and friends spent the night at a long-abandoned colonial village in the woods of Pomfret, Connecticut. By Eno’s account, they watched bluish streaks and blobs move through the trees and eavesdropped on nineteenth-century residents.

 “Up to that point, I thought ghosts might be spirits in Purgatory,” he recalls. “That episode changed my mind. These people did not sound like they were dead. I knew I had to go looking for something else.”

As with most claims about the paranormal, of course, there’s no shortage of doubters. At the Southern California-based Skeptics Society, an organization that seeks to debunk superstition and irrational belief, folks are, well, skeptical. “The multiverse is just a mathematical construct. No one knows if it really exists,” says Pat Linse, society co-founder. “A person like [Eno] wants the authority of science without having to follow the rules of science. He’s made such a whopper of a claim that it’s difficult to say anything about it.”

D’Agostino has a thermal scanner, a thermometer that measures temperatures from a distance. When spirits are nearby, the thermometer reading can drop twenty degrees or more.

And few of Eno’s fellow ghost hunters are jumping on the bandwagon. Most of them still hang on to old legends about spooky graveyards and creaky homes with mansard roofs. Take that mill in Foster, known locally as the Ram Tail Factory. Though only the foundation stands today, it remains a favorite spot for those hoping to see or somehow document an apparition. Tom D’Agostino, a paranormal investigator from Burrillville, has visited the mill ruins more than forty times, and he swears he’s come across entities on two occasions.

“During our first visit, we were outside the main building when I saw a white, oblong figure pass by. It came out of nowhere, floated around for awhile, and then returned to the woods,” he says. “On another visit, at night, we heard a swinging lantern pass by. A minute or two later it passed by again, in the other direction. The two people I was with became believers—and they never went back there.”

He also unearthed some historic records. He has a photocopy of a page from the 1885 state census that lists properties in Foster; next to “Ram Tail Factory” is the word “haunted.”

Over the past twenty-five years, D’Ago-stino has explored scores of sites and produced several books on his adventures, including Haunted Rhode Island. When snooping for spooks, he and his wife, Arlene, carry a briefcase of high-tech gadgetry to document his findings. He packs a hand-held gauss meter, a device used in geophysical surverys to locate iron deposits, to measure electro-magnetic fields. Ghosts, according to many paranormal investigators, give off electrical energy. He’s got a thermal scanner, a thermometer that measures temperatures from a distance. When spirits are nearby, D’Agostino says, the thermometer reading can drop twenty degrees or more. Their favorite gizmo is an electronic sound recorder. Like many ghost hunters, they believe spectral voices are made up of electrical waves, not acou-stic waves, and a digital recorder may pick up quieter sounds that a traditional one wouldn’t catch.

 

The D’Agostinos will tell you their equip-ment has provided a trove of evidence of their encounters with those who have passed on. At an old Victorian house in Gardner, Massachusetts, the homeowner photographed a blurry image in a mirror, which they believe may be the ghost of a nanny once employed there. During another visit, Tom’s recorder picked up a verbal exclamation not made by anyone in his group. He says it may be a toast, “Porteo,” (Portugese for “for you” or “for your”), shouted by a hard-drinking boarder who died in one of the rooms forty years ago. At the Fall River home where Lizzie Borden is believed to have killed her parents with an axe, they picked up another eerie re-cording, a voice that sounds like an Irish maid shrieking “Come quick, ma’am!” During a visit to Chepachet’s Stagecoach Inn, the D’Agostinos watched a light bulb blink on and off, and wrote down the flickers as if they were Morse code. The message: “I am here.”

Asked about the parallel worlds theory, Tom D’Agostino simply shrugs: “What makes a ghost? You might just as well ask how many ways can you catch a cold. We’re still finding out.”

Eno has nothing to say about the D’Ago-stinos’ experiences. He avoids criticizing anyone else in the field. But he does offer some general comments about old-school ghost hunters. “It’s two-dimensional thinking,” he says. “When people see ghosts—they see a transparent figure or get a funny feeling or hear a noise or smell a smell—they often think, ‘Aha! What else could it be but the spirit of someone who has died?’ It’s just like a thirteenth-century peasant looking out on the ocean and thinking the world is flat, because he can’t see anything to indicate that it’s not.”

Eno also scoffs at the notion that ghost hunting is about the thrill of a good fright. He sees most of the shadows he meets as harmless, and tells the homeowners who seek his advice to accept them “with caution; initially approach them with compassion.” The exceptions are the rambunctious spirits usually referred to as poltergeists, which he regards as truly scary. Eno says he has seen such spirits knock items from shelves, scrawl obscenities on walls and cause heavy appliances to float in the air. He calls them “parasites” because he suspects they feed on negative energy that people give off when upset. Fill a house with positive feelings, he says, and they’ll go away. He boasts he once drove one from a house by reading from a joke book.

No such complaints have brought Eno to Hearthside. The organization Friends of Hearthside has asked him to speak at an event next month to raise funds for the upkeep of the two-centuries-old mansion, which is owned by the town of Lincoln. Kathy Hartley, the group’s president, tells him some people have felt and heard things in the house—including whistling—but as yet, no one has been frightened.

Eno is packing some of the same equipment used by the D’Agostinos, but lets everyone know he questions its usefulness. Many things might cause the gauss meter’s needle to jump, including appliances. The sounds picked up by the recorder could be anything. For that reason, he says, he relies on his intuition above anything else.

Before long, he’s picking up signals all over the near-empty house. Visitors are passing in a hallway; women are busy in the kitchen. The strongest sensations hit him in the library.  “Why are there children here?” he asks. “I feel something, maybe little girls.” He opens an album packed with pictures of past residents, and picks out a turn-of-the-century photograph that shows a large family gathering in front of the house. “That’s them,” he says, pointing to several kids.

What he’s tuning in, he explains, are layers of the multiverse. “If we have a multiverse like this, then people don’t die,” he says. “Nobody comes back, because they never left. That frame of the film in which this moment’s taking place, it’s always there. In the multiverse, somewhere, some when, you are each other.”

He leaves Hearthside with a smile on his face, as if he’s been assured that the world is indeed becoming a better place, noting, “It’s one big happy house.”