A haunting in Newport? Paranormal investigators explore ghost stories at a New Hampshire opera house
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The Newport Opera House could be considered a focal point of the town’s main street. Its clock tower rises above all the buildings, chiming every hour, until 10 p.m.
And according to local lore, it might be haunted.
The Upper Valley Paranormal Society recently set out to investigate — and their quest is at the heart of a new documentary showing at the opera house this weekend.
The Upper Valley Paranormal Society began in an unlikely place: the basement of Neal Cronce’s house in Rochester, Vermont. Dubbed the “Man Cave,” it was where he hosted “Weird Movie Nights” with his friends. That got Cronce thinking: What if they formed a group of their own to look for weird phenomena? Everyone, he recalled, enthusiastically said yes.
In 2018, they led their first expedition to an old cemetery near Granville, Vermont.
“It was spooky, but there was zero activity that we experienced or could catch on tape or camera,” Cronce said. “The very best thing we captured that night was a barn owl that hooted periodically and a crinkly static that appeared on the mic feeds. We left the cemetery the next morning and laughed about the experience.”
Cronce's search for ghosts at the Newport Opera House began when he was performing in a production of Frankenstein there. He asked fellow thespians if they felt the venue was haunted.
“It was like a psychic time bomb went off,” Cronce said. “Everyone had a story they wanted to tell about this place.”
Cronce heard many stories that night. One came from the show’s director, Kegan Osgood.
“One night, he was on the stage after a show, you know, sort of tidying things up, getting ready to go home. And he heard a woman's voice right here in the house,” Cronce recalled. “It was loud enough that he came out from what he was doing and looked around to see who might be here and there was no one.”
Intrigued, Cronce and his fellow paranormal society members set out to see if they could confirm the stories and experiences people had in the theater.
Their new documentary features footage of what they say are roughly four intelligent hauntings – that is, ghosts that can communicate with the living.
That includes one moment between Bill Sawyer, a member of the Upper Valley Paranormal Society, and what looks like a shadowy figure on the theater balcony.
“I have an anomaly," Sawyer calls out. "It seems as if we see you right below the exit sign on the right."
On screen, in green night camera light, a humanesque figure faintly appears.
“I see you," Sawyer continues. "I see you moving towards the camera, and now I see you moving closer to the center of the room. Thank you very much for showing us.”
They weren’t the first paranormal team to make a movie about the alleged hauntings at the theater. Cronce said another investigator, Nathan Gardner, toured the opera house in October 2020 and produced a film about it. Gardner’s investigation led Cronce and his team to believe there are four ghosts, and two of them in the basement are “not so nice.”
Long before it was an opera house, this was the site of Newport’s town hall, a courthouse and a jail. The original building burnt down in 1885, but it was soon rebuilt.
Laura McCrillis Kessler, who leads Newport Opera House Association, says the history of the building doesn’t mean the ghosts inside are necessarily violent. The jail likely held people who needed to spend the night sleeping off a little extra fun in the evening, not murderers.
“From my perspective, if there is a presence here, it's a friendly presence,” McCrillis Kessler said. “It’s a presence that’s very pleased with the things that are going on in the building, that it's being cared for. I've never felt uncomfortable here.”
Thankfully, we did not run into malevolent spirits on our recent tour. But we might have run into a ghost.
As he led our group around the inside of the opera house, Cronce carried a device to measure electromagnetic activity, specifically a K-2 meter, which he said can signal if a spirit is nearby. At one point, as we were heading from one of the dressing rooms to the entrance to the bell tower, it started lighting up.
McCrillis Kessler, who was along for part of the tour, pointed out that the meter started lighting up as soon as Cronce opened a door. Cronce, while excited, cautioned that the activity could be caused by nearby electrical wiring. Upon further inspection, it turned out he was right.
So, perhaps not a ghost — this time.
But there was another moment that was a little harder to explain. As we stood in the foyer, off the balcony, Cronce’s meter went off mid-conversation.
“Wait, did you see that? It went all the way up to red right now, and in fact I don't see any wiring,” Cronce said.
The meter was flashing wildly, even though it wasn’t pointed at anything. Given the layout of where we were standing, there couldn’t have been a person nearby.
Confused, I questioned whether my audio recording gear was to blame, perhaps the meter got too close to my equipment. But when Cronce held the meter up to my microphone, my audio recorder, my person and a nearby light hanging above, it stayed dormant.
It was weird.
But as a fan of the X-Files, I couldn’t rule out that it was another false positive, like a rogue wave or some static, even though I wanted to believe.
To skeptics, Cronce says there are lots of reasons to believe there are ghosts inside the opera house. For one, theaters are a popular haunting spot.
“Maybe it's not that the theaters are haunted,” he added. “There is a theory in parapsychology called the haunted world theory. And that theory says, no matter where you are, somebody has passed away somewhere near you.”