by Steve Desroches
It was New Year’s Eve, not Halloween, when Sam Baltrusis says he saw a ghost at the Provincetown Inn. On a particularly dreary All Hallow’s Eve, the Boston-based paranormal writer and historian followed a ghost tour down Commercial Street, amongst the many costumed revelers causing a ruckus certainly loud enough to raise the dead. As he slid away for a Halloween night walk through the quiet cemetery, he was spooked by nothing else but a fox, as he details in his book Paranormal Provincetown. Even staying in the allegedly haunted Provincetown Inn that night, no apparitions appeared, that is until he stayed in the same hotel on New Year’s Eve and witnessed a shadowy figure slip down the long hallway.
It’s experiences like this that have turned Baltrusis’ work from the perennial October ghost stories for interested magazine and newspapers to focusing mainly on the paranormal, with numerous titles to his credit, including Ghosts of Salem, Haunted Boston Harbor, and 13 Most Haunted in Massachusetts. And now he’s delving into another side of “the other side” with Provincetown ParaCon, a three-day event for enthusiasts of the supernatural.
“Sometimes I have experiences I can’t explain,” says Baltrusis. “I’ve had a lot of them in Provincetown and Truro…Provincetown ghosts are friendly and creative. It’s a more creative paranormal enclave.”
He’s not alone. According to the Pew Research Center, 18 percent of Americans say they’ve seen a ghost, 29 percent say they’ve somehow communicated with the dead, and one-third say they believe that otherworldly spirits are real. As for here on the Outer Cape, while statistics don’t exist on the beliefs of residents in regards to the paranormal, the sheer number of stories that persist would indicate the number is fairly high. Mix in the town’s culture of welcoming the outsider, and the super popularity of “con culture” conventions big and small for fans of any genre or subgroup, and Provincetown is the perfect locale for the event, says Baltrusis.
But it was fellow ghost-hunter Adam Berry that convinced Baltrusis to bring this ParaCon to Provincetown. Star of such shows as Ghost Hunters Academy, Ghost Hunters, and currently TLC’s Kindred Spirits, the founder of the Provincetown Paranormal Society knew the Cape tip would help the event be a success its first year. Berry and his co-star Amy Bruni will be some of the paranormal celebrities presenting talks and other events, which also include Lucky Belcamino, the official psychic medium for the Lizzie Borden B & B in Fall River, Mass.; Planet Weird’s Greg Newkirk and Dana Matthews with their Traveling Museum of the Paranormal and the Occult; Michael D’Angelo and Ginny Nightshade with their stage show Phone Line from the Otherside, and much more. But perhaps the biggest event of Provincetown ParaCon is Saturday night’s paranormal investigation of the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House. Built in 1847, the historic building was used as an infirmary during the devastating 1918 flu epidemic and stories of supernatural occurrences there abound.
“Most specifically it’s about connecting with what you can’t see,” says Berry about conducting a paranormal investigation. “That’s the hardest part.”
All are welcome at Provincetown ParaCon, even skeptics, though everyone is asked to keep an open-mind and to be respectful. Both Berry and Baltrusis say that while they are believers, they do so thoughtfully and look for evidence using the tools and practices of paranormal researchers. They are not evangelical about their paranormal experiences. And for those firm in their beliefs that ghosts do not exist, there is always the historical aspect of supernatural stories, as well as some fun to be had.
So far a little over 100 people from all over the United States, as well as Canada and the United Kingdom, have registered for the convention, with many saying it’s their first time to Provincetown. These types of conventions are incredibly popular, if only for the sense of community many feel when they are around like-minded folks. Provincetown, with its unique magic, is an added bonus, says Baltrusis.
True to their cautious approach, both Baltrusis and Berry do not promise they can conjure any spirits. That’s not how it works. But based on the town’s paranormal history it’s a possibility, and that just might turn a skeptic into a believer.
“If you experience something paranormal you just know it,” says Berry. “It just takes one time.”
Provincetown ParaCon is at the Provincetown Inn, 1 Commercial St., Friday, May 12 through Sunday, May 14. For ticket prices and packages as well as a full schedule of events, visit provincetownparacon.com.