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Ghost-seeking TV crews descend on local sites

Historic and rumored as haunted, several sites in southeastern Connecticut have been getting a lot of attention lately from the paranormal-seeking community.

Within the past year, television crews from two major cable networks have spent time in some of the region's most prominent steeped-in-history locations thought to be inhabited by spirits. A third could be setting up shop here for a few days in the near future.

The result of the "Psychic Kids: Children of the Paranormal" crew's April 2009 three-day stint at the Captain Grant's 1754 Inn in Preston and at the Mystic Seaport will be aired Tuesday night on the A&E channel.

The History Channel's "Life After People" episode featuring the former Norwich State Hospital for the Insane, also in Preston, is still in production. The crew left the property in October.

Negotiations are ongoing between the Preston Redevelopment Agency and producers of the Syfy channel's "Ghost Hunters" series to allow its team of investigators to explore the vacant tunnels and buildings on the vast former state hospital property.

While the lure of documenting a ghost or unexplained activity is strong, it's the stories that the properties have to tell that first get a producer's attention.

When identifying filming locations, Christine Mahin, an associate producer for "Psychic Kids," said she looks for places of historical interest. She had read about the Morgan and then did a Google search for where the cast and crew could stay and found Capt. Grant's.

"What drove our decision to choose these two places wasn't the spooky factor, that they are scary or riddled with ghosts, it's the unbelievable amount of history that leaves its own impression on the locations themselves," Mahin said.

The children who are part of the A&E show, and their parents, go through an extensive screening process prior to being chosen to appear on the show. Once chosen, the families are not told where they are going, or even what state they will visit. Mahin said this is a way of keeping them from researching the locations on the Internet prior to filming.

Mahin said the cast had "unbelievable luck" at the inn.

Producers for the hit Syfy show "Ghost Hunters" are usually surprised by what they find when they visit an allegedly haunted site.

For the four years that Matthew Meltzer has been working on the Ghost Hunters production - the show is currently in its sixth season - he has been pursuing the chance to film at the former state hospital.

As with Mahin, Meltzer said the "local chatter" about the property - most of the cast is from Warwick, R.I., and has heard stories about the site - and its rich history are attractive, but one of the primary lures of the former mental institution campus is that it has been a "forbidden fruit."

"It was something very early on that we wanted to investigate but were always denied. The state was good about restricting access to it, and that adds an element. People don't usually get to go on the site and we honestly cannot wait to see what's in there," Meltzer said.

For Mystic Seaport officials and Capt. Grant's Inn keepers Carol and Tadeshi Matsumoto, having people interested in potential paranormal activity aboard the Charles W. Morgan and at the inn is nothing new.

In 2006, the Matsumotos entertained members of the Connecticut Paranormal Research and Investigations team, allowing them to set up various equipment throughout the house and use cameras with flash in hopes of capturing some evidence.

That same month, a team from the Rhode Island Paranormal Research Group did a preliminary investigation of the Morgan after hearing from three groups of visitors about seeing a tall man standing at the front of the historic whaling vessel.

They deduced that the world's only surviving wooden whaling ship did indeed have spirits aboard. After that, the now 169-year-old Morgan caught the attention of crews from CNN to Good Morning America to CBS radio, in addition to newspapers from across the country.

Michael O'Farrell, spokesman for the Seaport, said the publicity was good for the Seaport, but that the museum is careful about how it portrays the ship, which is a national historic landmark and is currently going through an extensive restoration. He said the story may bring people to the museum, but the staff is quick to tell them about the history of the ship once they're there.

"I believe that the Morgan has a lot of stories to tell. What those stories are and what they believe is up to them," O'Farrell said Friday.

When asked if there was any consistency between what the Rhode Island-based group found and what was "felt" by the "Psychic Kids," children, O'Farrell said, "yes."

"But it's not our place to determine for them what is true and what isn't," he added.

When asked about the expectations, Meltzer and Mahin said they never know what, if anything will be discovered.

"They go to places that have these stories … that have the history, and look around. They'll go down in the tunnels and try to get to the bottom of the story. They'll see if there is anything to back up the claims. If any place is haunted it would be this place, but sometimes places surprise you," Meltzer said.

"The places we go are rich in history, as far as if there are ghosts, well, if there are then that is gravy," Mahin said.

If you watch:

What: "The Haunted Attic": Paranormal exploration of the whaling ship Charles W. Morgan in Mystic and Capt. Grant's 1754 Inn in Preston

Where: "Psychic Kids: Children of the Paranormal" show on the A&E channel

When: Tuesday at 9 p.m.

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