Saturday, March 27, 2010

Calling the Dead at the Borden House


southcoasttoday - It's midnight, and Christopher Moon is hunched over his laptop computer in the cold, dark basement of the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast.

He says he is listening to the voices of the dead.

Initially, there are no surprises. Moon first heard the voices earlier that night, two floors up, in the bedroom where Abigail Durfee Gray Borden was hacked to death with a hatchet in August of 1892. Now, he is playing back the audio of that session so he and a room of paranormal investigators can hone in on not only what was said, but who said it.

The words are choppy and abrasive to the ear as they are blasted from a set of speakers, but everyone is in rapt attention. The group hears static, white noise and occasional fragments from local radio stations, all picked up by a wooden, cigar box-like machine adorned with knobs and packed with wires — a device Moon calls the Telephone to the Dead.

But every few seconds, between and over all the noise, throaty voices, almost urgent in their clarity and speed, spout specific answers to direct questions. The voices are distinct, consistent and almost jolting in the way they stand out from the clatter.

A few minutes into the playback, Moon picks up on something no one heard during the real-time recording: a woman's voice, seemingly soaked in fear and desperation, making a plea.

Moon widens his eyes and scratches his red beard, realizing what he has captured. Then he rewinds the tape a few seconds back and plays the voice again. A couple of people gasp and nod their heads; one woman covers her mouth. By the time Moon plays the clip for the fifth time, the message is clear to all in the room.

"Help me," the voice implores. "Help me."

'DON'T TURN YOUR BACK'

Moon — editor of "Haunted Times," a widely read paranormal magazine — and his Colorado-based team have amassed a rich collection of photos, videos and audio recordings during dozens of investigations that they say prove the historic Borden home is filled with spirits.

Ranked by the Travel Channel as the world's creepiest destination, the Borden home continues to attract ghost seekers and history buffs more than a century after the gruesome ax-murders of Andrew Borden, a wealthy city businessman, and his wife, Abigail. Lizzie Borden, Andrew's daughter and Abigail's step-daughter, was brought to trial for the killings. She was promptly acquitted and the case was never solved.

Out of all the supposedly haunted locations Moon says he has investigated in recent years, 92 Second St. ranks "easily in the top three." The 36-year-old former heavy metal musician uses technology to prove, as he puts it, the existence of ghosts, including electromagnetic field detectors, white noise machines, digital cameras and voice recorders.

Like many people who work or have stayed overnight at the house, Moon also claims he has experienced other unexplainable things without the aid of electronic equipment.

His first night as a guest, Moon was resting in a second-floor bedroom when he says he heard a voice warn, "Don't turn your back." Several hours later, he was jarred awake by a choking feeling, as if someone was trying to strangle him. In the morning, he discovered what appeared to be a rope burn around his neck. Moon attributes the attack unequivocally to Andrew Borden. And although he still investigates regularly at the house, he goes elsewhere when it's time to sleep.

"I believe he died not only angry, bitter and evil, but so brutally, that when he was released from his body, he attracted more negativity," Moon says of Andrew Borden, who sustained 11 blows to the head.

Andrew Borden, the miserly, affluent patriarch of the Borden family, is the dominant spirit in the house, Moon says. His energy turns up in photos of the sitting room sofa, an exact replica of the one on which his body was found. And his deep, stern voice, tinged with a slight Fall River accent, frequently interrupts Telephone to the Dead sessions, often with swears and warnings to "get out."

Moon says his evidence suggests that Andrew Borden was not only tightfisted, but cold and abusive to his daughters.

"Andrew Borden was one of the most sick, disgusting men who ever lived," Moon tells a group gathered in the home's basement for Ghost Hunter's University, a two-day crash course into the world of paranormal investigations.

Moon and his crew — including his parents, Dennis and Paulette Huff — return to the Borden home several times a year. The seasoned investigators claim the strength of Andrew Borden's spirit is unmatched by any other they know. They are drawn to the home.

"It's rare that a spirit has that much energy and ability," Moon tells The Fall River Spirit. "Aside from the obvious question, which is why, the bigger question is how does Andrew have the power when 99 percent of the spirits we encounter don't?"

CRACKING THE CASE


Lizzie Borden didn't do it. At least, she wasn't directly responsible for the deaths of her father and step-mother, according to the "Haunted Times" group. Moon claims he learned that with help from his telephone to the spirit world, which souls on the "other side" speak through by manipulating radio waves. Thomas Edison started work on such a device before his death, Moon says.

Investigations at the house have led Moon's team to conclude that William Borden, believed by some to be Andrew Borden's illegitimate son, committed the crime. Fall River native Lewis Peterson, who knew Lizzie Borden in his childhood, professed the spinster's innocence to Hathaway Publishing in 1997, suggesting that William Borden was not only related to Andrew Borden, but guilty of his murder. The story was later reprinted in "The Hatchet: Journal of Lizzie Borden Studies."

"One of the advantages of our technology is that we can hear out of their own mouths what took place," Moon says. "Some of that information is cryptic in ways, but we have found out that Lizzie never swung the ax."

Lizzie Borden wasn't entirely innocent, Moon says. She planned the killings, securing her freedom by having someone else do the dirty work. She was determined to seek an end to the "hateful things that had happened to her."

Other conclusions the "Haunted Times" crew has drawn raise more questions than answers. Evidence collected from the spirits suggests that Andrew Borden might have been killed outside the home and that his body was later moved to the sofa, says Dina Everling, director of marketing for "Haunted Times."

Andrew Borden still forcefully stands watch over his home, but Moon claims to have found evidence of other spirits in the dwelling, including Abby Borden, Bridget Sullivan — the Bordens' maid — and a few children who are believed to have died in a well down the street.

Lizzie Borden has "moved on," Moon says.

"She comes back from time to time, though."

SKEPTICS WELCOME


While on a break from the most recent investigation at the Borden house, someone shows Lee-Ann Wilber a photo he took in the room where Abby Borden was slain. The photo is filled with orbs — little white circles that some believe are the energy of spirits.

"OK, I know that's not dust because I just Dysoned in there," says Wilber, owner of the bed and breakfast.

Sometimes, orbs simply are dust or moisture and nothing more. Moon says he encourages people to think sensibly when they delve into the paranormal and rule out all possible explanations before assuming something is of another world.

"The only thing worse than a hard-headed skeptic is the true believer," he tells the Ghost Hunter's University class crowded in the basement one recent March evening. "Be rational."

Moon knows that paranormal investigations can be hard for some people to grasp. Skeptics regularly attend his seminars and investigations, and he's fine with that, so long as they are open-minded.

Wilber, who believes there has been legitimate spirit activity at the house, enjoys hosting the "Haunted Times" crew every few months. "I wouldn't invite them back if I didn't," she says as Max, her black cat, darts under the dining room table.

As for the team's conclusions about what really happened 118 years ago?

"Everyone who comes in seems to find something different," Wilber says, acknowledging with a smile that she has heard some "out there" theories. "I always stick with the facts. If people do ask for experiences, I can only offer my personal ones."

NATIONAL ATTENTION

Lizzie Dickson wasn't named after Lizzie Borden, but she is reminded of Fall River's most infamous woman quite often.

"There's a guy at work who sings the song to me every week," Dickson says with a groan.

By song, Dickson means the well-known rhyme that pins Lizzie Borden down as the killer.

After arriving at the Borden home for the first time on a Friday afternoon, Dickson and her boyfriend, Joe Samalis, both of Shrewsbury, wait in the sitting room, not knowing what to expect from Ghost Hunter's University, which they have heard so much about. Their spur-of-the-moment trip has landed them in the John Morse bedroom, where Abby Borden was killed. Visitors usually book rooms well in advance, but there happened to be an unexpected vacancy when the couple called earlier in the week.

"It was something we always wanted to do," Samalis says.

Dickson's thoughts turn to spending the night in a purportedly haunted bedroom and she says she is nervous.

"She's going to stick to me like white on rice," Samalis says of his girlfriend.

"No, like super glue," Dickson clarifies. She breathes in, smiles and shakes her head, motioning to Samalis. "I hope nobody tries to poke me tonight — except him."

Later that night, Dickson volunteers to stand in the spot where Abby Borden was killed. Moon stands in front of her, asking her to breathe deep, close her eyes and tell him how she feels.

"Anxious," Dickson says, before becoming light-headed and stumbling backward. Huff, Moon's mother and a psychic, comforts Dickson and tells her to "let go" of the energy.

Samalis, an electrical engineer, says he is skeptical, but after receiving what he calls a sign from his late father several years ago, he believes in something more. He contends that the afterlife probably isn't as spooky or outrageous as Hollywood portrays it, though.

Other investigation attendees come from farther afield. Two men and two women from Saratoga, N.Y., on a return trip, say they have no doubts that the house is haunted. And Kris Bronson of Chicago brought along a pink suitcase full of her own investigative equipment, having experienced activity in the house before.

"The whole place makes me feel kind of nervous," she says.

The Borden home certainly isn't the only place to find spirits, says Moon, who spends most of the year on the road, conducting similar investigations at homes and historic sites.

"Everyone has a ghost story," Moon says. "There's paranormal activity throughout the country and the world. As long as people have been alive, there have been ghosts."

Calling the Dead at the Borden House

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