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Paranormal investigators visit the Black River Valley Club


Is the Black River Valley Club haunted?

That’s the question nearly 20 paranormal investigators — with a little help from a Times reporter and photographer for part of the night — sought to answer as they combed the century-old building at 131 Washington St. late Saturday and throughout the wee hours of Sunday.

“We’re excited to come in here,” Lana M. Putnam, founder and lead investigative advisor of Paranormal Investigations of the St. Lawrence Seaway, said Saturday night before embarking on the night-long investigation. “We’ve heard a lot of good things.”

The Potsdam-based group conducted the probe in conjunction with Scotia-based Uini Research, but both groups will review evidence collected separately.

In an email Sunday, Ms. Putnam said the investigation resulted in “activity of interest on every level of the club,” including temperature changes, unexplained noises and shadows and even shadowy figures seen in the basement and elsewhere.

However, video and audio recordings have yet to be reviewed, and plans are to reveal full results of the investigation as a fundraiser for the American Red Cross on Sept. 28 at the downtown club.

“We’re out to give back to the community,” said Ms. Putnam, noting that her team is self-funded and frequently supports non-profit organizations through such presentations.

The Black River Valley Club is an outgrowth of the Union Club, which was organized in 1876. The present building was completed in 1907 at the site of the former home of then-club member Dr. G.S. Farmer.

Amanda Phillips, event coordinator at the Black River Valley Club, said the weekend investigation was suggested as a way to substantiate a litany of bizarre experiences of club members, staff and other visitors.

“The people that work here are used to it,” said Ms. Phillips, who served as host for the overnight visitors and assisted in the investigation.

Servers at the club often notice items that are inexplicably moved or misplaced, only to turn up again later, she said.

Club Manager David F. Boucher on one occasion misplaced his car keys and, despite unsuccessfully checking his pockets multiple times at the club, found them there later upon returning home, Ms. Phillips said.

“I have definitely smelled tobacco smoke, and so have other people, she added.

Ms. Phillips also noted a visit from a psychic medium a couple of years ago when the stereo turned on inexplicably, another time when the system appeared to play radio-based music, despite not being connected to a radio, and one night when workers were unable to turn off the lights in the club’s cabaret room.

A motion alarm also went off once when nobody was inside, and several people have experienced the feeling of being watched while alone in the building, she said.

Crews prepared for the investigation by setting up infrared cameras throughout the three-story building and its ill-kept basement, which bears some resemblance to “haunted” sites designed by Hollywood.

Investigators also spent a considerable amount of time using handheld devices to record temperature readings for both the rooms and surfaces, as well as any electromagnetic activity, then following up later with similar sweeps. Readings were collected both on notepads and voice recorders for redundancy.

“I want proof,” Ms. Putnam said. “I want facts.”

Team members are given few facts about a building’s history or unusual occurrences in advance and asked not to share their feelings or notions while the investigation is ongoing, she said.

“We come in cold to any location,” the group leader said. “We don’t want anything to taint our investigation.”

While the groups rely on mediums, Ms. Putnam said their efforts are heavily based on science and the scientific method, with much of their time spent trying to find natural explanations for odd occurrences. “It’s not paranormal, it’s wiring,” she said. “It’s a gas leak, not a ghost.”

While members of Ms. Putnam’s group spent a lot of time joking with each other and even considered using a white sheet found in the basement to scare other investigators, they said they are very serious about the work and hope their efforts bring comfort to those on both sides of the spectral plane.

“I’ll be 90 and still doing this,” Ms. Putnam said. “It always amazes me.”

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