Paranormal investigators sweep through the storied Village Smokehouse
The Village Smokehouse is a downtown watering hole and restaurant that’s housed in a historic building rumored to be haunted.
Lights flicked on by unseen hands, the feeling of a person breezing by waitstaff when no one else is around and odd noises along the vacant upstairs floors are among the eerie occurrences reported at the Village Smokehouse.
The 100-plus-year-old landmark building at 98 Middle Street has been a storied haunted hot spot for years.
Through the decades as the building morphed into different night spots — from Pollard’s lounge to Smithwicks’ tavern to the Evos bar and now the Village Smokehouse — workers and waitstaff from each place have reported spooky and unexplained happenings.
“It’s an old building,” said Village Smokehouse owner Tim Kelleher, who spent a solid year remodeling the historic structure before opening it as a restaurant and bar four years ago.
“I never believed in ghosts before,” he said. “But a lot of weird stuff happens around here that’s not easy to explain.”
Enter the New England Ghost Project. Led by founder Ron Kolek, this Dracut-based team of paranormal investigators has been chasing “things that go bump in the night” around the East Coast for nearly 15 years.
By dialing up “the ghost line” the ghost hunters — think of a cross between Scooby Doo and the X-files — will check out your claim and if they feel there’s enough evidence, they’ll show up at your door to investigate free of charge.
“It’s like being an explorer,” explained Kolek, who also teaches Paranormal CSI, a course on “Ghost Hunting 101” at Northern Essex Community College. “You just want to see what’s over the next hill.”
Kolek, a Dracut resident with a background in environmental science, began pursuing the paranormal after he had his own near-death experience.
Armed with infrared cameras, thermal imaging and electromagnetic field meters, Kolek attempts to track the scientific data of alleged paranormal activity.
And then there’s the less-scientific approach. The team also brings along a psychic medium.
Of course there are skeptics who say Kolek is, well, a “mystery monger.”
Joe Nickell, a “skeptic” paranormal investigator and published author has said spooky voices recorded on digital sound devices and heightened electromagnetic readings don’t prove anything a all.
“How likely is it that amateurs are out there finding ghosts when brilliant scientists cannot,” Nickell said. “What they’re doing is pseudo science pure and simple.”
But Kolek said he’s learned you “can’t always convince die-hard skeptics” and he’s OK with that.
“I share our data with people and let them make up their own minds,” Kolek said.
Rumors surrounding the strange happenings at Village Smokehouse vary.
According to one legend, a worker at the old dry-goods emporium fell to his death down an elevator shaft in the four-story building. Another undocumented story tells of a long-ago love triangle that resulted in a murder-suicide on the premises.
The New England Ghost Project looks for paranormal activity at the Village Smokehouse.
Standing in the dim glow of a flashlight, the Ghost Project’s psychic investigator, Lesley Marden, attempts to make contact with ghosts on the fourth floor. Above the restaurant, three floors remain vacant, scattered with scraps of lumber.
During the Smokehouse renovations, Tim Kelleher believed he was alone in the building when he heard the distinct sound of lumber being dragged across the upper floors.
He grabbed a two-by-four and proceeded up the stairs, prepared to kick out some vagrant or kids that might have wandered into the building.
But he found no one.
“I know what I heard,” he said. “It was more than an old building settling. That’s the kind of thing that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end.”
Using a pendulum, Marden begins a technique called dowsing that she says can help locate any source emitting a natural magnetic or electromagnetic energy.
“Is there someone with us tonight?” she asks
The pendulum swings to indicate a “yes.”
A few more minutes of grilling “ghosts” and Marden said she’s convinced “something walks here.”
The ancient workings of the fateful elevator still linger in the building’s basement, along with a locked entrance leading to a subterranean network of old steam tunnels that once powered downtown’s mills and offices with electricity.
Accounts of odd-goings-on in the building began long before Kelleher opened the Smokehouse.
Staff at the former A.G. Pollard & Sons Restaurant, which occupied the building in the 80s, reported radios and TVs blaring after they were turned off and disembodied voices calling out the names of workers.
When the restaurant later became Smithwicks, former owner Tim Stone often told patrons of a very peculiar personal experience.
Opening the bar one morning, Stone found an open bottle of Courvoisier, two snifters filled to the top with the imported cognac and an ashtray with two unsmoked cigarettes, burned down to the filters.
After questioning the staff that worked the night before, Stone reported that no one had stayed after closing and all confirmed the bar was cleaned spotless — no glasses, ashtrays or expensive bottles of opened cognac left behind.
These days at the Smokehouse, beer taps that lock in place are sometimes found turned in opposite directions and waitstaff swap stories of random cold spots and unexplained breeze-bys. Creepy noises heard upstairs after the building has been closed for the night have actually sent employees running out of the building.
After a couple hours of walking through the dark, taking pictures and recording the investigation, members of the Ghost Project reported picking up some strange shadows on their cameras and hearing an unidentified male voice on the digital recorder, which they plan to further investigate.
Rosemary Kelleher, wife of Smokehouse owner Tim, is not sure what to make of the strange experiences she encountered with the team of local ghost hunters.
But she is sure of one thing.
“I’ve always felt that this is a very happy and positive place,” she said. “But I don’t think I’ll be staying in the building at night by myself. Ever.”
To learn more about the New England Ghost Project, visit their website here.