Investigating the South Fork’s Bumps in the Night

A museum and library’s unexplained phenomena
The Southampton History Museum’s Rogers Mansion has been the scene of mysterious goings-on for many years, which could be traced back to its use as a de facto hospital before the Southampton Hospital officially came into being. Southampton History Museum

Those who think the South Fork is already crowded enough may be chagrined to learn that its population could be larger than we think. But don’t worry, these denizens won’t be adding to the trade parade or making the checkout lines longer, in fact these beings seem to have already “checked out.”

This is a story about the spiritual inhabitants of places where you might expect them — the Rogers Mansion and the Thomas Halsey Homestead, which are part of the Southampton History Museum — and a place you would not: the East Hampton Library. These “ghosts” have made themselves known through footsteps, voices, and even clearing a whole bookshelf at the library. The experiences have prompted the museum and the library to bring in paranormal investigators to see what, or who, may be responsible for the disruptions.

“I’ve been here plenty of times in the middle of the night,” Connor Flanagan, the director of education at the museum, which has its offices in the Rogers Mansion, said recently of closing up after a party rental, “and in the middle of the day, and I’ve heard footsteps upstairs when nobody’s upstairs.” Other co-workers have heard it too. “It’s an old building. It does creak and make noises, but I know what are the creaks and cracks of the building and what are footsteps.”

Mainly, though, he and another co-worker have had the feeling of being watched. “It’s like someone is here with you at all times.” He said plumbers and electricians who have serviced the building have reported the same thing, hearing footsteps and feeling like someone was watching them.

Looking for something to do for last Halloween, Mr. Flanagan found the Long Island Paranormal Investigators and invited the group in to do an initial assessment and then come back for a talk and tours on Oct. 18. While they were giving the talk, the recording equipment LIPI had set up picked up several voices — they can be heard at southamptonhistory.org, the museum’s website.

After the tours were done, the investigators kept exploring the building while Mr. Flanagan finished some work upstairs. One of the investigators came up to his office. “Through the window, I could see he was ghostly white,” Mr. Flanagan said. “He said, ‘Something happened. You need to come downstairs.’ ” Thinking they had broken something valuable and that he was going to get fired, he hurried to the basement. 

It was not something valuable, but a lightbulb had broken. From LIPI’s recordings of the incident, Tom O’Connell, one of the investigators, can be heard saying, “If you want us to leave, make a loud noise and we’ll leave.” There is silence and then a crashing sound. Mr. O’Connell says an expletive and then asks Will Fox, another investigator, if he had made the noise. He had not. After checking where the bulb could have come from, they concluded that it could not have fallen from a shelf, nor did it fall from a fixture.

“There were a couple on a shelf a few feet away,” Mr. Flanagan said, “but there was no way it would have rolled off.” They created some motion around the shelf to see if another bulb would fall, but none did. “We have no idea what the source was.”

Mr. Flanagan said he understood the skeptics, including some friends of his who said of course the ghost hunters had made the bulb fall. He isn’t so sure. “They didn’t charge us any money to do this and offered us a percentage of sales from the event. The only reason to fake it would be to be mean to me,” he said. He has since joined the organization.

Michael Cardinuto, who founded the investigative group in 2003, said its members are all volunteers who work on investigations in their free time. A monthly membership fee of $15 pays for any number of expenses, from transportation to equipment. They charge only for their presentations, typically around $150 an hour, and accept donations. “Our results are not dependent on money,” he said.

Groups such as LIPI attract a lot of scrutiny around the country. “If a client pays, he may expect a certain result. If someone pays and we didn’t find anything, then they’ll say, ‘You’re a fraud.’ We do it because we’re trying to help people out, to get a better understanding of what’s going on in their home.”

The group meets regularly on Thursday nights for an hour, and its members go out for brief investigations of local urban legends when the weather allows. Based in Selden, they tend to stay closer to home on those nights, because everyone has a day job. Weekends allow them to travel farther east or west and do more specific investigations of buildings and sites at the request of the inhabitants.

Their first visit involves paperwork and the measuring of electromagnetic fields and carbon monoxide in a building, which can lead people to hallucinate or become depressed. If it is present, people inside “may think they’re having a paranormal experience, but they’re not.” The first night usually results in a two-hour investigation. They will write a report, and then it’s up to the client whether they want them to return for more thorough sleuthing. 

“The odds of capturing anything in such a small window are low,” Mr. Cardinuto said.

For that reason, the museum experience was unusual. In addition to the lightbulb, the investigators caught up to 18 different incidents on audio, and recorded a number of personal experiences, including body contact. A photo on the website shows a black mass in one of the photos. It is something they have seen before but never recorded on film — “shadow people,” they’re called. Such hauntings involve dark, opaque figures that are seen only briefly before they disappear. Mr. Cardinuto said the figures come from Indian lore and often take the form of a man in a brimmed hat and trenchcoat, something he said he saw during an investigation at Gettysburg.

The investigators have been back since, a much quieter visit to the Rogers Mansion, and they caught some sounds on audio and some experiences at the Thomas Halsey house, too. Mr. Cardinuto said they were still going over the material for a final report.

In East Hampton, a pile of books was found knocked to the floor in the library’s new children’s section. Since the library has security cameras recording movement, the video was checked. 

“The custodian at the time was the only person in the building and walked into the children’s room from the opposite entrance to where it happened,” Jill Sollazzo, an adult reference librarian, said. “There are no windows or vents around the shelving that could have caused them to fall.”

Mr. Cardinuto said although it makes sense that books set up just an hour so before might fall, “to have it set up for a couple of days and then for it to fall over is odd. You don’t see anyone there, there is one book pushed over, and then a domino effect for the rest.” Although anyone watching the video would tend to look at the cascade of books, “I could care less about that. The only reason they’re falling is the first book fell. We want to know why did the first one fall.”

The first time the investigators were there they recorded a sound similar to a flashlight clicking on and off. When they asked, “If you’re here, knock twice for us,” there was a response, and “that means it’s on the intelligent end,” Mr. Cardinuto said. That was all they found. 

They will be back, however, for a longer, more thorough search. “We do follow up because ghost-wise it helps for them to get used to you.” They are likely to have more success, given some of the other reported incidents over the years.

“I think the majority of the staff could say that they’ve heard footsteps, and some have heard voices, when no one else is in the section of the building they’re in,” Ms. Sollazzo said. “One of our part-time young-adult librarians, when she was working as a page, was shelving books in the fiction section and kept feeling someone touching her from behind, but no one else was in fiction at the time.” 

“In the reading room across from the circulation desk a light fixture fell off the wall a few years ago, and the fixture traveled a significant distance away from the wall when it fell,” she said. “It was secured to the wall, so it’s one of those instances where no one can explain it.” 

At the Rogers Mansion, Mr. Cardinuto thinks there are at least two spirits at work, as he has heard both male and female voice recordings there, he said. The museum now has monthly ghost investigations on Saturday nights. The next one, on April 13, is sold out, but there are dates in May, June, and July. The schedule is on the museum’s website under programs and events. 

More information on Long Island hauntings and more details LIPI’s other investigations are available at LIParanormalInvestigators.com.

The remnants of a lightbulb that shattered in response to an investigator’s instruction to make a loud noise if they should leave the Rogers Mansion basement. On the right, a dark cloud that enveloped the same area was recorded on film and might be what the investigators called a "shadow figure." Long Island Paranormal Investigators
A security camera in the East Hampton Library caught books falling down for no apparent reason in the new children's section.East Hampton Library