JOHNSTOWN - A team of paranormal investigators brought a group of radio station contest winners Thursday to see if they could debunk the reported paranormal happenings in one of this city's best-known historic houses.
The New York Paranormal Research Society, a group from Plattsburgh, had investigated the Knox Mansion in June. It returned Thursday night to probe further into some unexplained phenomena, many of which occurred in the basement of the stately, 42-room structure on West Second Avenue.
"We're able to find natural solutions for a good majority of our cases," said team leader and technician Brian Leighton.
The team investigates two or three sites a month, he said, and most of them are requested by people who fear something other than living occupants might reside in their homes.
October is, of course, the group's busy season, though he said spirits are not necessarily more active during Halloween.
One of the researchers' tapes from their June visit shows a mist rising from the dirt floor of the mansion's basement. The video can be viewed on YouTube or on www.leaderherald.com.
(The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan) Northern New York Paranormal Research Society President Merrill McKee, standing, and technician Brian Leighton view a computer monitor showing a live view of the basement at the Knox Mansion in Johnstown on Thursday night.
"Tonight, we're going to try and figure out what that was," Leighton said.
He said in the room-temperature basement, the mist couldn't have been somebody's breath, nor could it have been smoke, as no smoking is allowed during investigations.
On Friday morning, Leighton said the mist remained unexplained, as do some other strange events recorded Thursday night at Knox Mansion.
Ryan Moran, a 19-year-old FLY 92.3 contest winner whose prize was to spend the night in the mansion along with DJs Chrissy Cavotta and Brian Cody, said he felt a hand reach into his pocket and tug on his keys while in the basement. Brushing it off, he said nothing. Then, he said, when he felt something again, he jumped and ran into his mother's arms.
Suzi Moran, his mother, confirmed his genuine fear, saying he was shaking. A video of this incident also is available online.
The Morans, from Guilderland, say they are no strangers to paranormal activity. In fact, they said recently a playful spirit, who they suspect is named Frederic, resides in their home.
After Ryan felt the strange touch, Suzi and an investigator felt a tug on their pant legs.
"Can you tell us how old you are?" an investigator asked.
Listening to the scene over a voice recorder that captures electronic voice phenomenon, a little girl's voice seems to answer the question: "Thirteen."
Investigators maintain that the voice couldn't have been human because of its frequency.
In addition to recording audio and video footage, the investigators also measure humidity, temperature and barometric pressure to detect if a personal experience can be chalked up to natural causes, such as a strong magnetic field.
Leighton said the sounds captured on the electronic-voice phenomenon recordings can't all be explained.
In another EVP recorded at Knox Mansion, an investigator says, "we're going to take a surface temperature."
His voice is followed by what sounds like a whisper: "Do you want it cold?"
"Anyone that says they don't get scared is lying," said Leighton. "Your pulse picks up and you get adrenaline flowing; it depends on what happens."
Leighton said investigators differentiate between three classifications of hauntings: residual hauntings, when the event continues over and over like a record player on loop; intelligent hauntings, when a spirit is able to communicate; and demonic haunting, when the being in question is not and never has been human.
NNYPRS founder Merrill McKee brought Leighton and a half-dozen other team members to investigate the mansion on Thursday. The group has investigated other allegedly haunted places, such as the Cohoes Music Hall. Their reports can be seen on the group's website, www.nnyprs.com. The group is also on Facebook.
Owner Marty Quinn said the mansion is the type of place to "make a believer out of a non-believer."
Each year, he hosts an extravagantly decorated haunted house on Halloween. Tonight, the mansion will be open from 6 to 8 p.m. for tours. He said a $1 donation is suggested for those who attend.
Quinn said when he ran the mansion as a bed-and-breakfast, guests who slept in a certain bedrooms would wake up suddenly and see a man standing over them with a doctor's bag. Guests who slept in the same room reported difficulty breathing and a heavy feeling in their chests.
NNYPRS historical researcher Carmon D. Rust looked up the death certificate for a former owner of the mansion, a physician who died, in what was reported as an apparent suicide, after battling lung cancer.
The mansion was built by gelatine magnate Charles Briggs Knox, who lived from 1855 to 1908.
Knox married Rose Markward in 1883.
Rose Knox and the doctor are the only two people known to have died in the house, according to Rust's research.
"We deal in fact," Rust said. "Just the fact that there was a death in the house adds possibility [that it could be haunted.]"
In addition to guests' reports of hauntings, Quinn said, he has had his own experiences with lights being turned on and off. He said he has felt a presence walk through him.
The door to the attic is also thought to open and close by itself, he said.
Quinn said he believes the doctor and Mrs. Knox still roam the mansion's halls, but he was unsure about reports of the ghost of a child.
Someone else caught a voice recording of a child's laughter in the basement, Quinn said, so Thursday night's happenings confirmed his suspicions.
"I've always heard there was a little girl here," Quinn said. "Now I know."
Quinn said the mansion is operating as a not-for-profit now and that he would like to open it more to the public for events such as tours at Christmastime.
Quinn runs the mansion, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, as a non-profit entity. He said he hopes to secure funding for a grant writer, and he welcomes help from the community in trying to reach that goal.
Quinn said it's hard to tell if the investigators really caught evidence of ghosts.
"There is so much history in this whole area," Quinn said. "How do you really know?"
Amanda Whistle can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.