"Do you feel kind of spooked out down here?" he asked.
I'd been in the basement of the Houghton Mansion, more commonly known as the Masonic Temple, on Church Street in North Adams, on several occasions. It's almost always been dark and cold on my visits. And even though the basement was full of other people, floating around in the dark with their cameras, digital recorders and video cameras in an attempt to catch images of a paranormal entity, I still found it a little creepy.
"See those pipes?" Wilson asked, pointing toward the ceiling. "They're all made out of copper. Copper gives off an electro-magnetic frequency that's known to make people feel nervous, nauseous or paranoid. The frequency of these pipes is low, but there's a lot down here."
Earlier, in the large banquet hall on the first floor, Wilson and his partners of the show, Jason Hawes and Steve Gonsalves, sat in front of a roomful of anxious weekend participants from all over the country who had paid $175 for the ghost-hunting experience. They were waiting to hear what the "experts" thought of the "evidence" they had
Josh Mantello, head of the Berkshire Paranormal Group, loaded digital photographs onto a screen at the front of the room. One photo showed a large grouping of orbs faint circles of white haze in a shot of some group members in the basement.
"The problem with orbs is that they are all circumstantial," Wilson said. "The thing is, when you catch dust on film, it also looks like this. What we consider an orb is something like this that is consistent throughout and has some sort of energy trail with it. It shows movement."
Mantello then loaded what looked like it would be the ultimate proof that the mansion was haunted: The picture featured a swath of white mist curling up from the bottom of the picture. What appeared to be a face black eye sockets and a misshapen mouth was illuminated by an orange glow in the background. The room grew quiet.
"Did you take a picture of a window?" Hawes asked.
"Yes," replied the photographer.
"Was there plastic on it?" Wilson asked.
Again the photographer answered yes. You could tell the pair was on to something.
"There's an old legend that mirrors and windows are gateways to seeing into other realms," Wilson said. "It's complicated stuff to take a picture of. There are six or seven layers of reflection that you have to account for. But in this case, the plastic is reflecting your camera's flash, which explains for this apparition of sorts. The orange light is a streetlight being distorted by the plastic and glass."
It was just like watching a "reveal" on their show: Grant and Jason shooting down photo after photo as natural phenomena rather than spooks.
Then came the EVPs electronic voice phenomenon recordings in which voices from the dead are supposedly caught in the white noise of recordings. On many of the recordings from the mansion, I just couldn't hear what the people who taped them believed was being said. Most seemed just to be static.
Then two of the lead members of New England Paranormal Investigations brought up a group of their tapes.
They played a recording in which one of them asked, "Are you angry that people are here?" Silence followed, with the hiss of the recorder. Then the hiss grew louder, and very clearly a faint hoarse whisper replied, "We're angry."
Chills ran down my spine. Another recording, then another was played, all with mysterious voices. Excitement grew, and many in the hall grew edgy.
Finally, the couple played one in which they were in the Mason's temple upstairs, joking about the chairs used by the lodge members.
"That's where the grand poohbah sits," one said.
"The grand poohbah, huh?" his partner replied.
Almost instantly a hoarse whisper hissed back, "No. Not the grand poohbah!"
Everyone laughed because it was funny. But it was a tense laugh.
Having finished my EMF reader lesson in the basement with Wilson, I headed up to the second floor with Transcript reporter and sometimes photographer Ryan Hutton to join Hawes' group, which was again seeking ghosts. A vast majority of the group had secluded themselves in the room believed to have belonged to Mary Houghton a place believed by some to be highly active.
We sat in the dark, as the others asked questions and then recorded the following silence. Hawes was taking time-elapse photographs of the room.
Suddenly a woman jumped out of her chair.
"I'm sorry, I just can't be in this room anymore," she said, running toward the door. "I feel like I'm going to throw up. I feel like someone was standing next to me."
As the door shut, Hawes looked up from his camera. "Was there a guy with sunglasses standing over there a few minutes ago?" he asked.
Everyone said no. Hutton checked with two women sitting in the hall by the room's back door. They said no one had come out from that door in the past 10 or 15 minutes. We were by the other door and knew that only the woman had left.
But Hawes had captured the image of a man wearing sunglasses and pants with a funny patch on them standing next to the chair the woman had been sitting in. His legs and head were transparent.
We finished up the night on the third floor, where a couple was claiming an entity might have passed through them. The air had grown cold, they said, and they had felt the cold pass through them before the temperature went back to normal.
In the few hours I spent with the "Ghost Hunters," I learned several things. First, Hawes, Wilson and Gonsalves are just normal guys who have had their own experiences with the paranormal and are looking for answers. Sometimes they find them; sometimes they don't.
Second, I got a firsthand look at the different levels of belief in ghosts. There were people there to find out if the mansion was haunted. There were people there to prove something to themselves. And then there were those who were going to find something no matter what. Several, even after having their photographs debunked, still fought vehemently that their pictures were true evidence of a haunting.
"There are two types of evidence possible and then the type that is presentable to the public eye," Wilson said. "There's a lot of stuff we know and believe is evidence, but we don't share it. Sometimes, you have to realize that a personal experience or a photograph will cause people to laugh. You need to know the difference and keep it separate."
There's still no official word on whether or not the building is haunted. We may never know, but the team will return in April for another sold-out weekend. Next time, the group will be almost all local nine tickets were sold to people on neighboring Pleasant Street.
We all have our own beliefs. One of my co-workers likes to remind us that, "Every building on that part of Church Street is over 100 years old. I've lived on that street. All the houses have cold spots and make strange noises at night. They're old. Old houses are supposed to do that. They're not haunted."
But sometimes, isn't just fun to believe?
Jennifer Huberdeau covers the city of North Adams and ghosts for the Transcript. She no longer writes under her maiden name, Jennifer Smith, and should not be confused with Berkshire Eagle reporter Jenn Smith.