Arlene’s Grocery has been a lower east side institution since 1995 when the former bodega, and butcher shop were turned in to a venue. Since then, thousands of bands have played in the building; including notable performances by Lady Gaga and The Strokes. Charged performances by electric artists often leave a lasting impression.
While multiple sightings of ghosts have been reported by concert goers, we will be attempting to make contact specifically with Joey Ramone. Joey lived a few blocks from the venue, and is said to wander to the premises when a spectacular show is playing.
When BKPS received a tip from a member that a church right here in our own backyard of Fort Greene was exhibiting signs of paranormal activity, I wasn’t sure what to expect.
Passing twice daily when commuting, I often note a large “refugees welcome” sign. It’s always stood out to me, particularly in comparison to the other churches on the same stroll, which are authoritative and more traditional in appearance.
Acting on a tip, I set out from Bed Stuy on a brisk night; the temperature ebbing around the freezing mark. Each step against the wind pained me, as my thoughts slowed to a crawl inline with my pace.
Inching toward the church, I pondered my chances of finding evidence: Not high. Considering never before had I any inkling of this holy site hosting paranormal peeps, tonight probably wouldn’t be the night.
My source duteously informed me of unusual activity that could be paranormal. The report included extreme temperature fluctuations in the general vicinity of the “church sign”, and a sorrowful presence that affected the self-professed empathic reporter greatly.
Being midway through December, this tip that the sidewalk near the church was “physically a bit warmer” than other areas seemed especially curious. When investigating other instances* similar in nature, I found reasonable sources for abnormal events.
* Some ghost hunters say a cold spot is an area of localized coldness, or a sudden drop in ambient temperature. On investigations, they’ll use digital thermometers or heat sensing devices to measure temperature changes to record data.
Finding a cold spot seemed unlikely in the frigid temperatures, with my face unable to register temperatures below 40. After researching, I found a source which indicated “hot hot-spots” were significantly rarer than their cooler counterparts.
Numb to the cold, I stood firm documenting the temperatures of the concrete and church signage, hoping to hit the jackpot; an unexplainable warm-to-the-touch spot.
As I investigated the church and its surroundings, I maintained a reasonable level of skepticism. I will say with confidence that I personally didn’t encounter any unusual patches of warmth on the sidewalk or anywhere near the church. However, the morbid sense of longing and sadness did make itself known to me.
I don’t consider myself an overly intuitive person and have never claimed to possess any particular psychic abilities, but my work with Brooklyn Paranormal Society has enabled me to make use of some exciting and innovative new technologies that lift the veil to the other side, in a sense, and expose some of the mysterious happenings we might otherwise fail to notice.
As I gazed upon the architecture, my attention was diverted to my iPhone. The ghost hunting app M2 Ghost Hunter, revealed in rather uncharacteristic rapid succession – three words; supposed communications from the spirits. At first glance, this appeared to be a bleak and somewhat disturbing message.
Reflecting on Fort Greene
Recall the significance of the location. Do your best to visualize Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian in the mid-1800s, its congregation joining together in worship, its abolitionist theology wildly subversive. It’s plausible that tremendous despair and sorrow followed many of the members of this congregation from their former homes.
Such a place could certainly be a conduit for mournful spirits, perhaps those left in a liminal state, unable to safely cross over after an unjust or violent death. Then again, this church was also a place of freedom. It served as a safe haven for human beings deemed by the law to be unworthy of basic rights. It opened its doors to the oppressed, offered them a second chance, allowed them to join in the spirit of redemption.
This 1853 painting, Winter Scene in Brooklyn, by Louisa Ann Coleman, depicts Brooklyn, just east of Fulton Ferry, as it was in the mid-1820s.
In 1860, Vandergaw was at the junction of Fulton Street and DeKalb Avenue, probably where the Dime Savings Bank stands today.
Talman St., Brooklyn NY
People of all races broke bread together right here in Fort Greene. Doesn’t it seem just as likely that immense peace and healing also took place on this very spot? Perhaps the spirits left lingering were not trying to communicate their anger or sorrow through the M2, but their joyful liberation.
As I contemplated the strange words revealed to me on my phone screen I suddenly recalled an ancient term well known amongst the paranormal community. The concept of “egregore” originated in the occult, but was repurposed by Gaetan Delaforge in Gnosis Magazine in 1987. He defines it as “a kind of group mind that is created when people come together for a common purpose.’”
The contemporary meaning is less sinister than the original, which refers specifically to a collective psychic entity with the power to influence thoughts. Mind control conspiracies aside, I believe that both definitions could apply in this case.
Possibly, the souls of these parishioners are still crying out for change, attempting to reach the hearts of people still living in Fort Greene. The simple three words conveyed to me through the M2 could be viewed in either a negative or positive light. It all depends on how one chooses to interpret the message.
“It was two years ago, right around this time, close to Halloween, when Sonja and I found ourselves walking down Atlantic Avenue and, a mimeographed advertisement hanging on a street lamp caught our attention. It was a flyer for a drunken ghost hunting event with the Brooklyn Paranormal Society. Both drinking and ghost hunting are remarkable pastimes, each in their own right, but the combination seemed irresistible.” – Andrew Arnett
Anthony Long, Chief Ectoplasm Officer (CEO) of the Brooklyn Paranormal Society, offered a remarkable proposition – he would, through the means of alcoholic inebriation, open himself up to demonic possession, all for the sake of paranormal science. It seemed like a brave, if foolhardy undertaking, but there is in fact method behind this madness.
Looking at the word “alcohol,” we find that the term originated in the Middle East (interestingly enough, a place that prohibits the use of alcohol) and comes from the Arabic “al-kuhl,” or “al-kuhul,” which originally meant a fine black powder. This powder was used as mascara and was obtained by sublimation, which refers to a process of heating a solid to a vapor and then condensing it down again to a very fine powder. The Arabic term “ghūl,” and the English “ghoul,” referring to a flesh consuming evil spirit, are also derived from the original “al-kuhl.”
By the 16th century, the English co-opted the term, compressing it into one word – alcohol – referring to anything formed through sublimation, and in terms of a liquid – distillation and fermentation. “Spirits” then, were created through distillation and fermentation. By modern times, the term was parred down to refer only to distilled spirits, or liquor.
Health writer and enthusiast Jason Christoff has an interesting take on alcohol and its effects on the human body. He states:
“In alchemy, alcohol is used to extract the soul essence of an entity. Hence, its use in extracting essences for essential oils, and the sterilization of medical instruments. By consuming alcohol into the body, it in effect extracts the very essence of the soul, allowing the body to be more susceptible to neighboring entities most of which are of low frequencies. That is why people who consume excessive amounts of alcohol often black out, not remembering what happened.”
Alcohol, in effect, kicks the spirit out of its physical vehicle, making it vulnerable to be taken for a joy ride by other, malevolent spirits. This may be effective but, as a method for hunting ghosts, has its obvious drawbacks. The idea of using oneself as bait for evil spirits is not a very good one. It’s dangerous. Things can get messy and who knows what disembodied parasitic entity you’ll drag back to the house.
“We’ve had some negative results from alcohol,” Long stated. “Things have, on occasion, gotten out of hand. We’ve been kicked out of a few bars. We have basically moved on from using alcohol as a method for ghost hunting but, we still like to have a few drinks beforehand.”
Fortunately, in our modern day and age, there are a plethora of means by which one can get out there and track down the elusive spirit. Hunting ghosts, ultimately, is really just like hunting anything else – it is a matter of time, place and energy. Time and place are self explanatory – you find a paranormal hot spot and you go there after midnight.
Energy refers to a number of things. It can refer to the “Chi,” or magnetism, of the ghost hunter, medium, psychic, shaman or brujo wishing to make contact with the spirit world.
Energy also refers to the spirit itself. Ghosts are nothing if not energy itself, having shuffled of the mortal coil, and exiting this three dimensional, physical universe, all together.
Finally, there is the energy which surrounds us, such as electricity and radio waves, which spirits can manipulate. Energy is a type of interface, if you will, with the other side. With today’s advanced technology, we have at our disposal, many new devices which can measure these disparate energies and, help us “talk to the dead.”
One such device is Franks “ghost box,” also known as the “telephone to the dead.” The device is used extensively in Brooklyn Paranormal Society Ghost Hunts, it scans AM or FM radio frequencies, allowing you to hear a brief glimpse of the output as they are being scanned. Through this EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon), you can ask the spirit questions and they can “answer” back.
Could such a device actually put us in contact with the other side? Perhaps. In subsequent installments, we shall take a closer look at these devices, and test, to the best of our abilities, their relative efficacy.