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On a recent warm and blustery night, a small group of travelers followed a woman clad in a cloak, lantern in hand.
As they made their way toward the Daniel Packer Inne in Mystic, two patrons at a nearby eatery hailed them from the deck.
"Are you on a spooky tour?" one called.
The travelers indicated they were.
"You're in for a loooooong tour," said the other with a chuckle.
Indeed, the downtown Mystic area boasts a storied history of hauntings, especially when you take a walk with Courtney McInvale Reardon, the woman in the cloak and proprietor of one of the area's newest businesses, Seaside Shadows Haunted History Tours.
McInvale Reardon brings a longtime love of history and some personal experience to her new endeavor. In perhaps the ultimate piece of ghost-tour-leader cred, McInvale Reardon grew up in a haunted house in East Hampton.
"I was sensitive to everything that happened there, so it just kind of inspired me to be interested in it," she says.
The house was haunted enough to draw famed Connecticut ghost hunter Lorraine Warren to the residence to investigate. Warren concurred that the house is a hotbed of paranormal activity and despite attempts to cleanse it - with an assist from a priest - the house remains rather haunted, according to reports from the four families that have lived there since McInvale Reardon's family left it in 2006.
Years later, as a resident of Burlington, Vt., McInvale Reardon found herself working with a woman who conducted local ghost tours. McInvale Reardon, who was working as an analyst for two federal law enforcement agencies, was intrigued. She also was fixing to move back to Connecticut and commenced months of research about Connecticut's ghost-tour-ability. She found the market wide open and a perfect, walkable, history-rich location in Mystic, with ready sources of local lore.
"I went around to all the local businesses and historical societies and we worked together, and I interviewed everybody so I'm going to tell you the story straight from the people that it happened to," she notes.
A resident of Hampton, McInvale Reardon hopes to move to the Mystic area as soon as possible.
Seaside Shadows opened officially on Thursday and McInvale Reardon aims to keep tours running year-round with some variety mixed in. She's planning weekly ghost tours of Old Mystic, and on Oct. 28, she'll lead a tour of Whitehall Mansion and its cemetery.
Tours in downtown Mystic cover less than a mile of ground and begin at Mystic River Park. Look for a Seaside Shadows sandwich board and the lady with the lantern to join the group. Tickets are available through Seaside Shadows' website or at the park before the tour.
On a recent tour, the upbeat McInvale Reardon assures a nervous participant that the tours aren't too scary and meant to be fun.
"There's no bad ghosts we're going to visit; these ghosts don't mind visitors," she explained.
And some of them don't mind being photographed. McInvale Reardon started her tour with lessons in how to take a "psychic photo," a method taught to her by Lorraine Warren. The trick is to take several photos of any given spot that strikes the photographer as active (see sidebar).
From there, tourists are off to Spookytown, starting right at the river, close to the site where what McInvale Reardon calls the "darkest piece of Mystic history" took place. In the Pequot War (1634-38), about 700 Pequots were killed or taken into captivity. Tensions between Colonists and the Pequots had escalated after failed land deals, and with allies in the Narragansett and Mohegan tribes, the Colonists attacked the Pequot fort and village and burned it to the ground, as ordered by Capt. John Mason, who reportedly shouted "Let them burn!" Anyone who tried to escape the surrounded encampment was shot.
The tragedy might have left an energetic imprint, which can result in ghostly activity.
According to some, McInvale Reardon noted, "There is this blood that haunts the land" - most frequently in the form of fire, which might account for Mystic's odd frequency of major fires over the last 300-plus years.
"Sometimes it's not necessarily an active ghost that's haunting a place because they died there; it could just be a residual energy of things that happened. It may not be a spirit visiting, but it could just be that a place retained the energy," McInvale Reardon later explained.
The Mystic massacre story sets an ominous tone for the rest of the tour, but a Seaside Shadows tour is not without levity. Tourists will learn about one ghost who once played a holiday-themed prank on the owners of his favorite watering hole. Another deceased bar patron continues to pop in at his favorite haunt; he is most welcome, according to McInvale Reardon, because its owners knew him well before he died.
Still, a goodly amount of tragedy infuses other locations on the tour; others are rich with good old-fashioned U.S. history. A few are likely well known to residents of the region (hint: remember to say hello to little Ada next time you're at the Daniel Packer Inne). As for the Whitehall Mansion, take a spin through the several volumes of paranormal reports from guests and you'll get a sense of any imprints left there.
But other stories and surprises await, and lest others miss out on the mystery, we'll let McInvale Reardon regale prospective tourists with the tales. You'll never look at the Factory Square building on Water Street in the same way again.
For more information and to purchase Seaside Shadows Haunted History Tours tickets, go to www.seasideshadows.com. Tickets are $15 apiece and also available before every tour. Tours meet at Mystic River Park.
1. For utmost accuracy, use fresh film if using a film camera or a new memory card on a digital camera to ensure no old photos bleed onto your ghost photos.
2. Be aware of your surroundings and keep your senses sharp. A spirit will show up in a photo if it is attracted to the photographer's aura, according to McInvale Reardon.
3. If you catch a ghostly vibe, point the camera in its direction, hold it very still and take a picture; hold the camera in the same spot, wait 10 seconds and take another photo; check to see if a mist or other anomalies appear in the photo.
If so, McInvale Reardon says that's something otherworldly trying to manifest. Take a few more photos in the same camera position at 10-second intervals and you might see a full manifestation.
Conditions are best on clear nights. Sometimes a mist is just a weather-related mist.