Ghost-busting at the Kelley House

Spirit medium Tiffany Rice with audience member Nikki Lattime at last Saturday's paranormal event. — Photo by Angelina Godbout

The Kelley House in Edgartown has been asking for it. Since 1732 when it opened its doors to thirsty sailors, the brick dug-out now known as The Newes From America and the sprawling hotel that grew up alongside it has been known to host a roster of non-paying guests — dead guests.

It was just a question of time before a paranormal research team was called in to run its gadgets over the ectoplasmically-charged property. And while they were at it, entertainment value was added: At one o’clock in the afternoon this past Saturday, seated in what once served as the restaurant for the Kelley House, 30 paying customers eagerly attended lectures delivered by specialists in this unusual field.

The first third of the program was given over to 35-year-old psychic Tiffany Rice of Bridgewater. She wore jeans, black boots, and a trim sweater. Her long brown hair spilled over her shoulders as she worked the room to determine which spirits surrounded members of the audience. You could almost hear each participant silently pleading, “Pick me! Pick me!”

Ms. Rice paused before a woman in the front row. “I’m getting the number 44. Bluejay! Anyone? Does bluejay mean anything to anyone? You’re awaiting an anniversary. I’m hearing ‘Dad! Dad! Dad!'”

When the woman nodded that a couple of the images touched a nerve, she told Ms. Rice that it was her mother, not her father who had “passed,” as they prefer to describe dying in mediumistic circles. Ms. Rice informed her, “She’s saying, ‘Don’t forget to water your plants!'”

Gallery sessions, as they’re known in the business, are generally conducted in this scattershot style. Cynics might describe the process as the old adage about throwing spaghetti at a wall to see what sticks. But clearly Ms. Rice has a genuine gift as she stooped with kind solicitation over a young woman: “You have a heart tattoo on your wrist.” The subject was wearing a long-sleeved sweater. She answered, “I often draw hearts on my wrist.”

Whenever the psychic’s message from a departed loved one led a subject to tears, one of the team members dashed over to supply a green tissue. At the end of Ms. Rice’s hour, a goodly number of green tissues were clutched in palms.

Next up was Brian Cano of the SyFy channel’s “Haunted Collector” series. Tall, irreverent, with brown hair pulled back in a chunky ponytail, Mr. Cano engages the paranormal with all the electronic gear available to the task: EMF detectors to gauge increased electrical activity, EVP meters to record spectral voices and, for the television series itself, but not deployed that day, video cameras.

Mr. Cano’s hour-and-a-half flew by as he regaled us with stories of what he calls “Oh s—t!” moments when unexplainable phenomena occur. He said, “I used to be a skeptic, but now I’m a skeptical believer.”

For the final third of the program, brother and sister team Joe Chin of “Ghost Hunters” and Christine Downes of The Atlantic Paranormal Society explained how their interest in ghosts began in their early teens when their parents left them alone at night on the second floor of their three-story tenement building. The vacant third floor often erupted in noises that suggested Tenants From The Other Side.

Now, deep into psychical research, they offered tips.

“The more you look into the spirit world, the more happens to you,”

Joe said.

“I want people to know that [death] is not the end,” Christine said. “Always investigate in twos, never alone. Not just for safety, but for validation of what you’ve witnessed.”

And from Joe: “Whenever you leave a haunted site, make sure to say out loud, ‘You may not follow me.'”

Later in the evening, the speakers and other members of the assembled crew escorted a group of 25 guests into an annex of the Kelley House known as the Courthouse. In two groups, they entered the famously haunted adjoining rooms 305 and 307. (Just ask staff members who’ve been lodged there to divulge their spooky stories.)

I myself wasn’t able to attend, but I tracked down eyewitness reports of the investigation. Mary Elizabeth Suprenant of West Tisbury said, “Someone in the group sensed a little girl splashing in the bathtub. I smelled a strong cloud of perfume, but I couldn’t track it to anyone around me. At one point an EMF meter went off, and another woman in our group said, ‘I’m getting the name Bella.'”

Ms. Suprenant left at 10:15 pm. When she arrived home, she reported that her dog, normally her best buddy who attaches to her like a limpet, took one look and charged out of the room.

Donna Atwood Michaelski of Oak Bluffs remarked on how the evening turned into the classic dark and stormy night as wind gusted under the eaves of the Courthouse. This was fine for creating horror-style atmospherics, but it played havoc with the team’s attempt to pick up unusual transmissions on the EVP recordings. Ms. Michaelski said, “I kept hearing them muttering, ‘That damn wind!'”

Ms. Rice made a later appearance in Rooms 305 and 307. She confirmed that any number of spirits were present and accounted for. Interestingly, she too received the impression of a little girl bathing.

In a phone interview the following day, Ms. Rice said she planned to return to the Vineyard for gallery readings, and to honor the list of people who’d called requesting private sessions. Clearly a good time was had by all, and a visit to the Kelley House for food and spirits — both alcoholic and occult — are continually on tap.

Vineyarder Alison Wilson, M.V. Regional High School class of 2002, organized the event. For more information about last Saturday’s crew, visit