Montville - The testimonials are hard to fathom, but for many of the people who frequent the VFW Post here they are difficult to ignore.
One bartender will tell you about the time a garbage can lid flew across the women's restroom without any explanation.
Talk to others and the inexplicable encounters start to mount. Doors slam unexpectedly without anyone around. Flashes of bright, white light appear in photographs. The stereo goes into fits where its volume fluctuates intermittently.
Some patrons of the Raymond Hill VFW don't need Halloween to come around once a year to remind them of their working theory. They believe their favorite watering hole is haunted by ghosts.
"At first I said, 'OK, sure.' Then one day when I was opening I heard someone running upstairs and there was no one up there," said Sammi Richards, a 21-year-old bartender at the VFW. "It's little things that let you know they are here."
The encounters with the VFW's "inhabitants," as post commander Jesse LaTorre calls them, became so commonplace that a few years ago VFW members started to wonder if there was a way to vet their speculations.
They learned of a local paranormal investigation team, led by Ed Bird, a 54-year-old Waterford man who has led such investigations in his spare time since 2006. The team has a TV show called "Paranormal Encounters" that airs on Metrocast and Comcast in some local towns.
Bird and four members of his team spent a few hours on a Thursday night earlier this month investigating the post's attic and basement.
They started in darkness in an upstairs office and turned on two electromagnetic field meters to search for paranormal energy in the room. Bird asked questions to several spirits and the gauges on each meter would periodically flash, giving the team the belief that spirits were present.
Later the team moved down to the basement and set up an infrared camera and transmitter radio, which scanned through FM channels. The radio is paired with a recording device that is intended to isolate spirit voices, which Bird then posts on the team's Facebook page (visit: Paranormal Encounters CT).
Bird posted a sound clip from the investigation that revealed a man's voice saying, "You gotta help me." Other members of the paranormal team said they felt chills in a few instances and Fawn Zargo, the team's medium, who attempts to communicate with spirits, said at one point she felt a heavy breathing. Later she said felt spirits in the basement circling around her.
The belief among the group is that some spirits, called "nesters," are holdovers from when the VFW post was the Captain William Fitch House. The Greek Revival-style house was built in 1848 on what is now Route 32 and was owned by William Fitch, a farmer and whaling captain. The house was later moved and a basement addition was added.
The group of nesters includes Captain Fitch himself and the ghost of Eddy Clesowich, a former VFW maintenance man who died in 2009.
Other spirits, who fall under the "travelers" classification," include a man named Jeffrey, believed to be a Vietnam veteran, and Sarah, a 5-year-old girl. Marisa Capestany, a paranormal team member, has left several children's toys on the upper floors of the VFW for Sarah.
The idea is to make the investigation a friendly dialogue and interactive process. Bird believes this to be the best approach for conjuring up evidence that ghosts are present.
"My belief is these spirits are people who pass over but decided not to cross to the other side. It's because they're trying to cling to their humanity," Bird said. "They're not ready to be dead. So they embrace human beings who treat them with respect."
Bird acknowledges there are plenty of skeptics who doubt the validity of his team's investigations. He responds with a standing offer to take any doubter along on an investigation.
The team has also spent years compiling what they deem to be evidence - objects flying across the room and unexplained images captured by the infrared camera among the proof. They've traveled throughout the state, with members recently holding an investigation in New London at Stash's Café. Another investigation was set for Saturday night at the Bank Street Café.
The former Seaside Sanitarium in Waterford is a favorite destination for Bird. The team also once traveled to the Old Trinity Church in Brooklyn where Bird did a "cleansing" for a spirit who in her mortal life was murdered by convicted serial killer Michael Ross.
The evidence certainly has been responsible for a growing faction of believers at the VFW post in Montville.
"We have taken pictures and later realized that's not really cigarette smoke," LaTorre, the post commander, said of the bright white light in a few of his photographs. "When it's the unknown, your skin goes straight up."
This feeling and the human element of the paranormal team's investigations are a big part of what keeps Bird and his team searching for spirits.
"Once you get to know spirits and you're not afraid of them, you start feeling that they're human," Bird said. "They love the interaction."