Take Five| Five questions with author Jeff Belanger

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Jeff Belanger: In the paranormal world, he is the ultimate insider and a jack-of-all-trades. The author of more than a dozen books on paranormal legends, covering bizarre phenomena including Big Foot and UFO sightings, ghosts, strange monsters and ancient mysteries, he's also the researcher for "Ghost Adventures" on the Travel Channel and host of the widely popular web and cable talk show "30 Odd Minutes." He's also the host, writer and executive producer of the Emmy-nominated PBS series, "New England Legends."

1. Q. You've written several books on haunted locations, as well as New England legends and lore. What made you start collecting these tales?

A. I grew up in an old New England town and had friends who said their old houses were haunted. I recall begging for sleepovers so I could check out the house and potentially see the ghost. Though I didn't see anything as a kid, I was hooked on the stories and the history. After I graduated college in the mid-1990s, I was a newspaper reporter. You might find this hard to believe, but around October the media seeks out spooky features for the Halloween season. I was hooked on researching the history of the locations and was surprised to find sometimes the backstory supported the legend. Plus, when you interview enough people, you start to get a sense for when someone is lying to you, confused, or has been truly rocked by some experience. In short, I believed some of the witnesses I interviewed. Those October articles that combined my love for history with ghosts would go on to become the first few pages of my website, Ghostvillage.com back in 1999.

2. Q. Some legends and ghost sightings, such as the hitchhiker or white lady tales, are found in numerous places around the country. In your opinion, why does this happen?

A. When we hear a great story, it's natural for us to want to become part of that story. If you hear about a great restaurant, you'll likely want to eat there. Then you can tell others if it lives up to the hype, or it doesn't. These legends are the same way. I believe there's always some paranormal catalyst at the root of any legend. You can't simply pick a spot on a map and make up a story and watch it grow. If I were to say I saw a sea monster slithering down Church Street in North Adams, that legend wouldn't grow, because it sounds ridiculous. There's no historical context for the story, but more importantly, other people haven't seen it and won't spread the story. But if I were to tell you there's an historic mansion on Church Street where the first mayor of North Adams once lived until a car accident claimed his daughter's life, his chauffeur took his own life the next morning, and he died 10 days later — and people have strange experiences all over the building — that story is bound to draw attention.

3. Q. It seems some areas have more legends or ghost sighting/ hauntings than others. Is there a reason why?

A. Some locations have more than their share of tragedy and history. Memorable human activity leads to legends. Sadly, memorable often means horrific. Battlegrounds, murder sites, and other locations where people left a scar will echo for generations. It's important that they do, because some events shouldn't be forgotten. Plus, once a few legends pop up in a region, we start looking for others while we're there. No community is without its ghosts and monsters. Some are just better hidden, or have yet to be revealed.

4. Q. A lot of so-called haunted locations will host events in October and throughout the year. Why are people attracted to haunted locations or locations where tragic events (such as the Lizzie Borden house) have taken place?

A. We live in a celebrity-driven culture. Some of these locations we see on TV or read about online or in books become celebrities. We're eager to meet them. Plus, we all want to become part of the story. We want to visit these haunts and decide if they live up to their reputations. Even skeptics who go to try and disprove a haunt are still trying to become part of the story. I think most people would like to have a ghost experience. So if we can visit a haunt, see a ghost there, and then go home and tell our friends, that would be amazing! What we don't want is to see a ghost in our own home and have to live with it. Better to have the experience in October somewhere else.

5. Q. You've been to the Berkshires quite a few times in recent years. What's your favorite spot or legend?

A.  I love October Mountain near Lee. There are Bigfoot legends up there, UFO sightings, and even ghosts roaming the ruins of the old logging community up there. One of the most profound stories I've ever chased anywhere involves the ghost of a little girl who was said to haunt the old abandoned cemetery near the top. Through chasing that legend, we were able to give the girl a name again: Anna Pease. She died as a child and is buried there under a broken headstone that bears her moss-filled name. And by telling that story on my "New England Legends" show on PBS, we were able to reunite young Anna with some of her family who still live in the region, and give them the opportunity to leave flowers at her grave. That was a special moment that I don't know if I'll ever equal again.

A SUPERNATURAL EVENING WITH JEFF BELANGER ...

Both the Berkshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield and the North Adams Public Library will host “A Supernatural Evening with Jeff Belanger,” a multimedia lecture, Q& A, and book-signing, which offers a world tour of haunts, ghostly evidence and discussion. Belanger will appear at the Berkshire Athenaeum on Oct. 21at 7 p.m. and at the North Adams Public Library on Nov. 3 at 6:30 p.m. Both events are free and open to the public.

For more information visit jeffbelanger.com.


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