Brooklyn's Tipsy Millennial Ghost Hunters
The idea of organizing a "chill club to commune with the dead" came to Anthony Long in 2014, while he was day drinking and watching a show about ghost hunters. "I realized all those shows f-cking suck," he says. "They lie to you and treat you like an idiot. So I thought, why not get some people together, knock down a few beers, and do some real ghost investigations."
Three years later, Long is the CEO (Chief Ectoplasm Officer) of the Brooklyn Paranormal Society, a social club of believers and skeptics who meet up for horror movie screenings, road trips, and the occasional real life ghost hunt. On Wednesday, about 40 members of the group convened at Greenpoint's West Wine Bar, after someone working in the attached building called in a tip on the society's hotline complaining of creaks and groans beneath the floorboards.
"These old factory buildings are plentiful in the Greenpoint area, and typically have haunted histories due to poor workplace conditions a century ago," according to the MeetUp.com invitation. "We have engaged the owner, and he will be providing a happy hour special during our investigation."
Outside the bar, Mitch Waxman, the official historian of the Newtown Creek Alliance, is offering a group of strangers some historical context about what sorts of spirits we might encounter. The sprawling Greenpoint Terminal Market—stretching along West Street from Greenpoint Avenue to Calyer Avenue—was once home to the American Manufacturing Company, whose striking workers led one of the most famous labor riots of the early 20th century. (The female strikers were "like demons, hurling rocks and sticks" the Times reported in 1910). In 2006, the decaying complex was destroyed in a mysterious ten alarm fire, the city's single largest disaster since 9/11.
"So if we're going to see something, this is probably a good place to actually see it," says Waxman.
Sadly, we are soon forced to leave the well-located wine bar and its mood-appropriate soundtrack rotating between John Carpenter's "Lost Themes" and the Twin Peaks intro. It turns out, Long explains, that a TV show is being filmed in the empty and allegedly haunted space adjacent to the bar. "Supernatural?" someone asks, excitedly. (It was Marvel's Luke Cage, working under the production name Tiara, we later learn).
But the Brooklyn Paranormal Society is nothing if not flexible, and Long decides to move the hunt to the street corner outside the bar. In groups of 10, we form a circle around a pentagram-embroidered sheet, with candles and electromagnetic field detectors in each of the five points. Devon, the self-professed "metaphysics guy" of the group, performs a ritual with a cleansing smudge stick, as we go introduce ourselves and our past experiences with the paranormal.
Simone saw orange orbs floating over Seattle; Devon has a ghost spider that shows up certain nights and climbs into his keyboard; Diane was visited by something in a hotel room in Atlanta, only to learn later that a man had been murdered in the same room years earlier. More than one person speaks of precognitive dreams, and about half the members of the circle, including Long, add a disclaimer to their stories, along the lines of, "I'm not even sure I buy into all this."
When we finish our introductions, Long breaks out the spirit box. The device is supposed to scan radio frequencies for the electronic voice phenomena (EVP), or sounds interpreted as spirit voices. But it's hard to hear the spirit box iPhone app out on the street, and wind keeps blowing out our consecrated candles.
But just when it seems like the hunt has lost all hope, first-time ghost hunter Michael Shannon (not the actor) announces that his upscale tea shop, Bellocq, is just up the block. He will bring us to the extremely spooky warehouse of this tea room, he says, on the condition that we help him summon his late friend Mary. The leaders of the hunt agree to this, though it's clear that we are now involved with something a bit more real than their typical demon chase. Earlier we were role-playing a very stoned version of Ghostbusters, now, we are messing with Poltergeist.
We're not going to say no to this, of course, and so the remaining thirty of us file into the warehouse to once again perform the ritual, this time hooking the phone with the spirit box app into a speaker. We attempt to contact Mary through electronic medium, and when the device's disembodied voice says the word "rat," Shannon let's out a little cry. Mary, a bartender in Rockaway, was always dealing with rats, he says. A few people say they feel a presence among us, and the polaroid photos do show some visual discrepancies, according to onlookers. And yeah, maybe some of us did get goosebumps, though that might have had less to do with ghosts than the experience of sitting in a dark warehouse with dozens of internet strangers talking earnestly about death and spirits and loss.
When we file out around 11 p.m., I ask Shannon if he felt the impromptu seance was a success. "I mean, I don't really believe in all this stuff," he says. "Well, maybe I believe in it a little."
(This article originally appeared on gothamist.com and was written by Jake Offenhartz)