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Haunted Inn Draws Horde of Believers

Brian Jones and Donna Kent, who call themselves paranormal investigators, at the Lighthouse Inn in New London, Conn.

Published: November 1, 2007
NEW LONDON, Conn.
 
 
Christopher Capozziello for The New York Times

Stacey Noyce decorates the Lighthouse Inn for Halloween.
 A tale of a dead bride drew many self-styled ghost hunters there.

Marci Chevian-Hooper, famous among blues cognoscenti in Connecticut for her long career and current status as Ms. Marci in the band Ms. Marci and the Lovesick Hounds, isn’t quite sure what to make of the gig they played at the Lighthouse Inn here in June 2005.

There she was in midsong, she said, when to her left she noticed the oddest thing — the fleeting image of a woman in a long white gown, who seemed to be floating, like an ectoplasmic vision, just outside a large window. She looked to her right to see if it was a reflection of someone in the room, but, no, it wasn’t that either. And it couldn’t have been someone outside, she learned later, because the window is 20 feet above the ground.

It wasn’t until after the show, when she shared her story with someone from the hotel, that she was told who it was.

The bride. The one who fell down the grand winding staircase on her wedding day, broke her neck and died at her groom’s feet. The one who has haunted the place ever since, popping up in fleeting orbs and weird flashes of light, including the intriguing picture of what seems to be a figure in a white gown taken just last Sunday by Lana Bushnell of Windsor Locks, on the Haunted Connecticut Tour, led by the paranormal investigator Donna Kent.

“Part of me is still a little skeptical, but I know what I saw,” said Ms. Chevian-Hooper, who added that she hadn’t even heard of the legend before she performed that night. “I try to explain it away, but it still comes down to the bride floating outside that dang window.”

In these dark, confused times, we don’t believe in much, but on some level, it seems almost everyone wants to believe in something; hence the evolution of Halloween as everyone’s favorite holiday. And it’s why a healthy crowd of the curious, the fun-loving and the four trained paranormal investigators from the Smoking Gun Research Agency spent their Halloween at this lovely atmospheric inn, built in 1902 as a private home overlooking the Long Island Sound.

Connecticut is full of famous and beloved haunted spaces: the “White Lady” of the Union Cemetery in Easton, the grave site of the Revolutionary War hero Israel Putnam in Brooklyn, the house haunted by the murdered tobacco farmer in Simsbury.

And these days, like every place else, the state seems to be full of paranormal investigators. Lorraine Warren, head of the New England Society for Psychic Research, has been at it since 1952. But the rest are newer in the business. Jon Nowinski, a 2005 government and politics graduate of the University of Maryland, came up from Westport with his Smoking Gun team. Ms. Kent is founder of the Cosmic Society of Paranormal Investigation. John Zaffis runs the Paranormal Research Society of New England. There’s the Connecticut Paranormal Research Society, the Northwest Connecticut Paranormal Society and various others.

Ms. Kent, author of the recently published “Ghost Stories and Legends of Eastern Connecticut,” has been at it for 12 years, since she was prompted to pull off the road and take photographs in a cemetery that revealed the spectral image of a Mr. Peete, who visits her still. Each year, she does about 25 serious investigations of people who say they were visited by ghosts, some benign, some not.

“It’s a new century,” she said. “At the beginning of centuries people have often been more open. And it’s mostly a good thing that there’s less of a stigma to believing in ghosts. But it also means you have to be careful. You can do a lot of harm by bringing in someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing.”

STILL, who can resist the alluring tales of an old haunted hotel, this one including accounts not just of the bride, but of the ghosts of two children who died in the hurricane of 1938 and can be heard running around the halls? Even the deceased golfer Payne Stewart has been spotted there. It seems half the employees have spooky tales to tell, and an investigation by the Smoking Gun team last November reported evidence of unexplained voices and anomalous temperature and electromagnetic field readings.

It’s all pretty compelling but for one small thing. Sally Ryan, 77, New London’s municipal historian, who grew up two blocks from the inn, said, alas, there was no tragic bride. No children died in the 1938 hurricane. If there are ghosts — or mice or rattling pipes — at the Lighthouse Inn, it ain’t them.

“It’s getting to the point that on Halloween, everyone needs a ghost,” she said. “But there’s no truth to any of it. The closest thing to it I know is that my cousins had their wedding receptions at the Lighthouse Inn, but they all made it down the stairs without tripping and all came out alive.”

E-mail: peappl@nytimes.com