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Photo by Lucy Webb
Huntress Hall is haunted. Right? I mean, we all know it. Harriet's rolling around up in the attic in her wheelchair. Spooky.

First, a little background on the legend:
Huntress Hall was built in 1926, designed to house 157 female students. It was named for Harriet Lane Huntress (1860-1922), who was a higher-up on the state board of education. She was an advocate for Keene Normal School but didn't live in Keene. She certainly never lived in the dorm that bears her name.

In World War II, the Navy started training pilots in Keene, and they were housed in Huntress Hall. There was room for them on campus because nearly all the male students of Keene Teachers College (as it was by then) had gone to war. However, even after shuffling students around and putting women into the formerly male residence halls, it was still necessary for some women to live in Huntress, even while there were men living there. The legend that Harriet Huntress was noisily rolling around in a wheelchair in the attic started around this time. Students asserted that her ghost was upset that men were living in "her" women's dormitory.

OK. It seems as plausible, more or less, as any ghost story. It wouldn't be the first or last time someone got all upset about co-ed housing. It doesn't really explain why, in the postwar years, when Huntress was single-sex again, she would have continued to stick around, but no one's insisting that spirits from the beyond are rational.

But how do you check a thing like that? It's not like you can just call up some ghost hunters.

Except you can.

Photo by Lucy Webb

Next, a little background on New Hampshire Paranormal:
NHP is a volunteer-staffed nonprofit. People who experience what they believe is some kind of paranormal phenomenon in New Hampshire call or e-mail NHP, and NHP investigates and documents the claim "in a no-nonsense, nonjudgmental fashion, helping and educating others in the process," according to their website. They look first for a non-paranormal explanation, and if they can't find one, they try to get evidence of paranormal activity. They don't charge, but they do take donations. A dozen members go out on investigations about twice a month.

And so, last spring, while students were on break, the good folks from New Hampshire Paranormal came to check out the Huntress Hall rumors for themselves, and they let me tag along. Campus Safety led us over to Huntress at about 9:30 p.m., unlocked doors for us, and showed us around a little. There is an actual antique wheelchair up in the attic, along with old Halloween decorations.

Photo by Lucy Webb

As we poked around in the attic of Huntress with the lights still on, Nickie LaMere, NHP's cofounder and one of its lead investigators, asked me, "Are you afraid of the dark?"

I said, "We'll see." Between you and me, what "We'll see" means is, "Yes, actually, and I probably should have thought of that before I went out looking for ghosts in the middle of the night, but I'm not going to admit that to people who do this all the time."

My pictures had red lines on them, which ghost hunters call plasmoids. It doesn't necessarily mean there's anything paranormal going on, but it is weird…
It took us a while to set up, because NHP has a lot of equipment: electromagnetic frequency readers, thermometers, infrared cameras, regular handheld video cameras, still cameras, voice recorders, and walkie-talkies. We had to go out and buy more extension cords because, as it turns out, there aren't many outlets in Huntress hallways.

At around 10 p.m., while we waited for those extension cords, we went to do "sweeps," getting baseline readings of electromagnetic frequencies and temperature so we'd know an aberration if we found one.

At 10:28 p.m., while we were setting up on the third floor, something spooky happened. The lights flickered, and we heard creepy, whiny, almost sireny noises. Nickie, Liz Howard (NHP's founder), and I ran up to the attic to see what was going on, and Nickie spoke aloud to any ghosts that might be up there. It turns out, actually, someone on the NHP team had found the fuse box and started flipping switches, which caused not only flickering lights, but also the siren, because you're just not supposed to cut the power in residence halls. "Debunked," someone said sadly. A justifiably irritated electrician came out to tell us to knock it off.

By the time we finished setup, it was around 11 p.m., and NHP broke up into pairs to monitor every floor. At "base" on the third floor, they monitored the cameras and walkie-talkies, surrounded by coffee and Red Bull and snacks. I went with Liz and Nickie to the attic, where we sat in the dark and asked the ghost yes or no questions (loudly and clearly, no whispering allowed, so we'd know what we were hearing on the voice recorders later). There were some old-building-type creaks, and a lot of wind, but nothing that seemed out of the ordinary. Even I wasn't particularly scared.

We wandered around and took some photos. My pictures had red lines on them, which ghost hunters call plasmoids. It doesn't necessarily mean there's anything paranormal going on, but it is weird; it appears on all of the pictures I took in the attic, but not on any of the other pictures I took, or on any of the pictures anyone else took in the attic or elsewhere.

After about half an hour, we rotated down to the basement. The basement is noisy and kind of creepy, but most of what we heard was pretty easily explained by the heating system. We rotated through all the stations like that. At one point, we tested rolling the wheelchair around in the attic to see if it was audible from the floor below. Barely. Not loud enough that with a dorm full of undergraduates, anyone would have noticed it. It went on like that until about 3 a.m., at which point people were tired, the Doritos and Red Bulls were mostly gone, and we still hadn't seen or heard anything definitive. We all went home and to bed.

And then the real work began for NHP, specifically Liz, who is a stay-at-home mom in addition to her essentially full-time work for NHP. She spent somewhere between 40 and 60 hours listening to all the voice recorders for unexplained voices, reviewing all the video footage, looking at still photos.

Her formal report went to Jim Draper, director of campus purchasing and contract services, who was NHP's primary contact on campus: he's the one who had to come up with a contract to protect the College from liability in case anything happened to the paranormal experts.

But when I called Liz again two weeks after our adventure, she gave me the short version.

"We got nothing."

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