SKOWHEGAN — Students at Portland Arts and Technology High School ain’t afraid of no ghosts.
Students in the school’s new media program plan to conduct a paranormal investigation next month at the historic 1929 Strand Cinema on Court Street, a place reputed to be one of the most haunted places in Maine.
The group of about 17 high school students will use an eight-camera, infrared security system that professional ghost hunters use in hopes of capturing images of elusive spirits, according to class teacher David Beane. They will have night vision cameras for still photos and video, electronic voice phenomenon equipment and other devices to produce a film titled “Ghost Hunt.”
“After looking at a bunch of locations, one of our students who spends her summers in Skowhegan — her grandparents live up there — mentioned the Strand Cinema,” Beane said. “The more we looked into it, the more interesting it became. Strand Cinema patrons have reported everything from sightings to physical contact at the theater.”
Beane said the group will videotape locations around Skowhegan, as well as inside and outside the theater, before setting up their equipment for the night. They plan to be inside the theater from 10:30 p.m. until 3:30 a.m.
“We’ll be trying to elicit a response from the spirits,” Beane said.
The Strand Theater is a classic movie palace with marble walls and terrazzo floor in the lobby and 25-foot ceilings. There is a red brick facade and the original 1920s marquee and narrow box office. The theater is listed in ghost books and on several websites, including hauntedplaces.org, for being home to a very angry apparition.
“The phenomena surrounding the place are said to have begun in 1978 when an apartment was added to the building,” according to the hauntedplaces website. “Workers took the brunt of the ghost’s anger.”
The website states that workers were shocked by electric tools that were not plugged in. Tools were thrown about and stains were splattered all over newly painted walls. A shadowed apparition is reported to have thrown a piece of balcony ceiling tile into the sets. Hand prints also have been found on the movie screen, according to the website.
Beane said the class will make the two-hour trip to Skowhegan and arrange for transportation, accommodations and food March 18-19. The school, which is part of Portland Public Schools, is a vocational school that takes students from 23 different high schools in southern Maine.
Taylor Almeida, 17, a senior at Bonny Eagle High School, in Standish, said she is excited about coming to Skowhegan to look for ghosts.
“I’ve always been interested in the paranormal, and having the chance to actually investigate a place like this is phenomenal,” Almeida said. “I’m a little nervous about it, but I’m not really afraid. I’m hoping that we get what we’ve heard is there. I’ve heard that there are shadows in the balcony, people have been touched, things have been thrown. I just hope we experience some of that — it would be amazing. Even if we don’t catch it on film, it would be an amazing experience.”
Her classmate, Will Beland, 18, of Gorham High School, agreed. “I’m anticipating some great events going on,” he said.
The ghost hunt idea first came up about five years ago when students visited the Lyric Theater in South Portland looking for spirits. Two more ghost hunts were conducted at Portland High School, Beane said. He said students reported being touched by an apparition and saw floating orbs.
“At Portland High School we heard some stuff the first time, but the second time was phenomenal — we had all kinds of stuff happening,” Beane said. “We had two groups in two different parts of the building at Portland High, and they never crossed paths the entire evening and both groups described the same types of things happening — people brushing the back of their neck.”
Beane said the group at Portland High School contacted what they think was the spirit of a librarian who worked at the school in the 1940s or 1950s.
“As near as we could tell, she was either killed or committed suicide and she was where she wanted to be. She loved being a librarian,” Beane said.
The group that year conducted a flashlight experiment in which questions were posed to ghosts and the apparition’s response makes the flashlights come on.
“We had an amazing response to that — it really had, if you pardon the pun, spooked us,” he said. “At least three different times, both flashlights came on at the same time and went off at exactly the same time. The belief is that spirits carry a certain amount of electromagnetic energy, and they can manipulate the electrical field. They can give enough energy to turn the lights on.”
Matt Dexter, 36, and his wife Misty, 40, of Strong, purchased the three-theater Skowhegan complex in September from the previous owner, John Moore, owner of Narrow Gauge Cinemas in Farmington. In an interview with the couple in November, they said they had never seen a ghost at the theater.
Theater manager Cheyenne Hertlein said she has been in contact with Beane and is excited about the upcoming visit.
“In terms of paranormal activity, I do believe that there is some sort of ghost inhabiting the theater — more of a Casper the friendly ghost type thing though,” Hertlein said. “If you happen to be at the theater by yourself, or only a few people, I’ve definitely heard some weird noises before and had seats unexpectedly move right next to me with no one in sight.”
Hertlein said she remembers closing the movie house one night with a co-worker when they heard a mop bucket roll across the floor in the lobby.
“No one was in the building and the lights were off,” she said. “You can bet we ran out of there pretty quick.”