Monday, August 1, 2005
By LORI WILLIAMS | Lori.Williams@IndeOnline.com
Seeing, it’s been said, is believing.
Especially when it comes to “spirit energy.”
The soft summertime whirring of cicadias was the only sound as the sun sank over the horizon at the site of the former Massillon Pychiatric Hospital Saturday night. The sky glowed orange, shadows lengthened.
Mental illness was not well-understood when the 250-acre state facility first opened in 1896, Sherri Brake-Recco, director of Heartland Haunted Tours, told the 48 believers and skeptics who stepped off the luxury bus into the still evening air. On the same site that Indian cornfields sprouted and James Duncan’s sheep grazed, patients were “treated” by malaria injections, induced comas, ice water-soaked sheets.
One doctor in particular, she said, was known for his assembly line lobotomies. In through the eyeballs with an ice pick, done in 10 minutes. In the 1950s, there were more lobotomies than tonsellectomies. Despite the boarded up and broken out windows, the impressive architecture of the chapel and the McKinley Hall still demanded attention.
So apparently, did something – or someone.
Erin Lieser, of Bolivar, aimed her digital camera through the window of a classroom. On the photo, a white mist appeared where there was none. Zoom in, she said, and the figure of a child emerged. “Ecotomist” is said to be the sign of a spirit or spirit energy.
“When my mom was pregnant with me, she worked here,” said Lieser, who says she’s learning to develop her own psychic abilities. “I definitely sense an overwhelming depression, sadness and grief here now.
Skeptical, another rider peered into a basement window, saw nothing, snapped a photo anyway. The image of a boy in a ball cap, standing in a white mist, appeared. The photographer’s eyes widened. He looked at the photo again and again.
“There’s nothing fake,” Brake-Recco said. “We don’t pay anyone to hide in the woods. Whatever you sense or see is real stuff.”
Even spirit skeptics, however, can’t help but be intrigued by the stuff of real life past the Canal Fulton woman incorporates into her tours.
“It’s amazing how much folks will learn about history when you weave a good ghost tale into it,” Brake-Recco said.
Like the morbid facts about the Hercules Engine Co. in Canton, another tour stop. Seems during the deadly flu epidemic around 1918, for lack of coffins, hundreds of bodies were stored in the basement of what was then the York Ice Co.
“You could wake up feeling ill in the morning and be dead by nightfall,” the tour leader told the group who started snapping photos of the Civil War-era building. And with no cemetery space, those bodies were buried on the grounds. Their headstones were removed during later additions, she said, “but not most of the bodies.”
“In death, as in life,” she said, “everyone wants to be acknowledged.”
“There’s a whirring feeling,” said Laura Lyn, a pyschic who often travels with Brake-Recco. With solar flares occurring, it was bound to be an “active” night, she said.
Margaret Pirri, of Cuyahoga Falls, always considered herself a pretty tough nut to crack.
“I never thought I would feel anything like this,” she said after stepping through the doorway of Keillors Teddy Bear Shoppe in Canal Fulton. “It was like something shot through my head.” She was with a dozen other family members on the tour, including 12-year-old Sydney Pirri.
“When I came through the door the EMF meter shot right to 10,” she said. “I love ghosts. I even did a report on them.”
In Doc Dissinger’s 163-year-old house, now home to A Trip in Time, tour takers walked through the rooms where he pulled teeth, delivered babies, performed amputations and autopsies. Like Sydney, they held electromagnetic frequency meters in front of them. The green light means OK, Brake-Recco said, yellow means caution and red means grab your camera. Is the doctor in tonight?
Brake-Recco’s other ghost-busting equipment includes laser-operated, noncontact thermometers, a night-vision camcorder, digital and 35mm photos, and four kinds of EMF meters.
Jolene Anderson, of Cleveland, is studying psychology at Marietta College. She wants to open herself up to examining the study of the paranormal, too, she said, stepping off the coach, camcorder in hand. She brought with her a dose of cynicism in the form of friend Katie Lantz, of Mentor.
“I’m 50-50 on it,” said Lantz.
As the clock crept toward midnight, Rogue’s Hollow near Doylestown was the site of the tour’s eerie ending. An infant’s cries are said to be heard from the bridge over Silver Creek in the densely-wooded ravine. A boy killed repairing the paddle wheel at Chidester Mill apparently hasn’t been shy about showing himself after death.
Energy was very close to the campfire, Laura told the group. A photo taken at random showed a bright “orb” of light appearing in a grove of trees black as pitch.
One of the most chilling stories of the infamously rough Rogue’s Hollow, Brake-Recco said, is the tale one local told of seeing a headless horse, its rider perched on a tree branch nearby, red eyes glowing in the dark. Of course, she added, there were seven saloons in the area at the time of the report.
Believer or bah-humbug, each participant can decide for him- or herself, Brake-Recco said.
“Albert Einstein said energy can neither be created nor destroyed,” she pointed out. “What happens to our energy after we pass on?”