December 16, 2009 > Voices from the Past
Voices from the Past
By Simon Wong
Photos reproduced with kind permission of Brigitte Odien, American Paranormal Research Association
Members of the Bakersfield-based American Paranormal Research Association (APRA) returned to the Heart of the Bay on December 4 and 5 to assist the Hayward Area Historical Society (HAHS) with a fundraising event.
Following initial investigations at the Meek Estate in June and McConaghy House in August, APRA re-visited Hayward on several occasions to spend more time at the Victorian properties.
"We agreed to investigations at the Meek Estate and McConaghy House for three reasons," said HAHS Collections Manager Heather Farquhar in the summer. "First, visitors constantly ask 'Is it haunted?' or 'Are there ghosts?' Second, APRA is willing to present its findings at an event following the investigation to raise funds for the properties they investigate. Third, interest in paranormal investigation with shows like Ghost Hunters, Ghost Hunters International, etc. This is an opportunity to spread the word about the work we do at the house and tap into new audiences."
The two-night fundraiser was attended by 26 people on the first night and 24, on the second. Two did not return because of work commitments. Everyone who stayed the course was richly rewarded.
Both nights began at the Meek Mansion with lectures and evidence collected from other sites, such as the chilling footage of a young girl, whose eyes belong to the dead, peeking out of the gloom in the first-class bathing stalls aboard the Queen Mary and the soul-destroying cries of two girls who, with the other occupants, were killed in 1910 by an axe murderer at the J.B. Moore home, Iowa.
APRA's panel of third-party, scientific experts reviews the phenomena detected by infrared cameras, audio devices, motion detectors, electro-magnetic field detectors, temperature gauges and other equipment and debunks what it can. APRA presents the inexplicable to its audience which decides for itself if it is paranormal activity.
Playback of electronic voice phenomena (EVP) with spectrum analysis clearly showed spikes whenever an investigator spoke. The flat portions corresponded to white noise and voices that did not belong to APRA members. Why these voices are only detected by audio devices and not by the human ear, when they speak, and why they do not register under spectrum analysis are mysteries.
APRA revealed its findings for Meek Mansion and McConaghy House. The experiences at each house are very different.
At the Meek Mansion, a child's voice saying "You act like Mommy" was recorded by the entrance to the disused well in the basement. On the third floor, a woman's voice replied "Elgin" when the investigator asked for a name. A sharp exchange was also captured on the third floor; in response to a woman's scald "I already told you!" a man says "Yes, I know."
McConaghy House has yielded much evidence for APRA. In August, they entered the spacious attic which HAHS uses for storage and the McConaghys used for dances. When investigators asked whoever, or whatever, might have been present to speak loudly and closely to the recording device, a man stated clearly "I can't." Further questioning captured a terse "Please leave!" from an older man. On leaving, the attic door suddenly required less force to close while still ajar despite a still night and no breeze in the house. Was it an imagined gentle tug from the other side? Subsequent examination of infrared video footage reveals what might be a man standing next to an attic wall.
On the second night of the fundraiser, APRA investigator Brigitte Odien conducted EVP recordings in Mary McConaghy's bedroom with a small group of guests. She passed her infrared camera to guest Eric Borghesani who pointed the camera towards the doorway and landing, pressed the shutter release and the camera shot continuously. There appears to be a dress in the first frame, an intense light in the second and the location of the wall in the third. Do dresses pass through walls?
According to Odien, her copyrighted images were scrutinized by experts before giving TCV permission to publish them.
Guests' reactions ranged from excited acceptance to quiet stoicism in the face of terror. One or two were reluctant to re-enter McConaghy House.
"Further investigations at Meek Mansion and McConaghy House have yielded better quality data," explained Brandon Alvis, APRA's founder.
"Fundraisers are our way of giving back to the historical societies that allow us to investigate and to the communities in which the historical properties are located.
"They're an opportunity for people to discuss their personal experiences and to participate in what APRA does. We provided short-burst EVP sessions during which many people obtained responses. They attended this event for a reason and have the results they wanted. It's been a great success. Some guests arrived as skeptics and are now believers with many questions whose answers we don't have," added Alvis.
"I'm a skeptic myself and always searching for answers. Always keep an open mind. People should try not to judge others who look for the paranormal; they should investigate for themselves at places such as the Meek Estate and McConaghy House. Similarly, if people have questions about their beliefs, they should investigate for themselves and see what happens," concluded Alvis.
For more information about the American Paranormal Research Association, visit www.apraparanormal.com. Email membership enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about the Hayward Area Historical Society, visit www.HaywardAreaHistory.org.
William Meek left Oregon for Alameda County in 1859 having sold his interests in a horticultural nursery which shipped trees and fruit to the Bay Area to his business partner Henderson Lewelling. The Meek Mansion was built in 1869 by which time Meek had acquired 3,000 acres bounded by what are now Mission Boulevard, Hesperian Boulevard and Winton Avenue. Sons Horry and William E. managed the property after their father's death in 1880. Most of the estate had been sold as small parcels by 1940 when Dr. Milton P. Ream acquired the house and remaining 10 acres.
In 1964, Hayward Area Recreation and Park District (HARD) and citizens saved the 26-room mansion, carriage house and 9.75-acre park from residential development. The property was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. HAHS needs $1.5M to complete the property's restoration.
McConaghy House and the McConaghy family were more modest. Neal McConaghy emigrated from Scotland to America in 1848, settled in San Lorenzo a decade later and worked successfully as a ranch hand, tenant farmer and grist-miller. He bought 197 acres of land in San Lorenzo and, in 1865, built a house on Grant Avenue and married Sara McCaw, originally from County Antrim. Their children Archie (d. 1892 from his injuries in a farming accident), Mary (spinster), John (died in infancy), Neal Jr., John (married Florence) were born in the Grant Avenue home. John was 15 years old when his father built what is now known as McConaghy House on Hesperian Boulevard, in 1886. Each family member, except Neil Jr. who occupied the Grant Avenue home on marrying, lived in the property until they passed. John remained in the house until his death, aged 101.
Acquired by HARD in 1973 and restored by HAHS, McConaghy House opened as a working museum in 1976.