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  • Nick Groff, left, and Zak Bagans discuss paranormal investigations they'll be doing in Salem, Mass. Groff, Bagans and Aaron Goodwin star in "Ghost Adventures" on the Travel Channel. Groff grew up in Nashua and Salem, N.H., and graduated from Pelham High School.

    Photo by Jill LeGrow.
  • Aaron Goodwin and Nick Groff film Zak Bagans as he describes weird happenings reported inside the Witch House in Salem, Mass. The trio are paranormal investigators who star in "Ghost Adventures" on the Travel Channel. Groff grew up in Nashua and Salem, N.H., and graduated from Pelham High School.

    Photo by Jill LeGrow.
Sunday, October 17, 2010

Former Nashuan has successful TV series hunting ghosts

SALEM, Mass. – Nick Groff’s career chose him when he was a young boy, although he didn’t know it at the time.

Groff got into his profession because of an experience he had growing up in the other Salem – the one in New Hampshire.

“On Lancaster Road on an old cul-de-sac,” said Groff, one of the three stars of “Ghost Adventures,” a TV series that airs each Friday night on the Travel Channel. The series is entering its third season.

“It was just creepy; it just stuck with me. It’s one of those things that happens as a kid and you just want to figure out more stuff about it as you grow older. When I was 8 years old, that’s what happened.”

What happened, he said, was that he saw a ghost.

“I saw the figure standing there in the plate glass window, and it freaked me out so bad I ran outside,” he said. “It’s something that stuck with me forever.”

Groff was born in California, but his family moved to Nashua when he was 1. He spent the early years of his childhood in Nashua before his family moved to Salem, N.H., and then later to Pelham.

After graduating from Pelham High School, Groff studied film at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Following college, Groff became a ghost hunter.

Three weeks before Halloween, Groff, 30, and “Ghost Adventures” pals Zak Bagans and Aaron Goodwin were on the East Coast to conduct a paranormal investigation.

“We’re investigating the Witch House, Salem, Massachusetts, the awesome house right behind me with the crazy history dating back to 1692, when the whole witch trials radically started just going out haywire,” Groff said, sitting outside the historic house and museum on a breezy, damp fall afternoon.

“All these people were convicted, (with the accusers) thinking the devil was inside all these people,” said Groff, pausing before beginning the work of lugging in the camera and digital recorder equipment.

As a member of the “Ghost Adventures” crew, Groff mans a camera, although he often is shown on camera. The show’s format is that the crew, with Bagans as chief investigator and host, lock themselves in a purportedly haunted house, hospital, prison, asylum or whatever for an entire night. There, they report what they experience and what their equipment captures, including ghostly images on camera and EVPs – electronic voice phenomena, or disembodied voices captured by digital recorders but sometimes not heard by the investigators at the scene.

The Witch House on Essex Street didn’t belong to an accused witch during the hysteria of 1692. Rather, it was the house of Jonathan Corwin, one of the judges who presided over the witch trials. It’s the only structure still standing in Salem with direct ties to the trials.

Some visitors have reported paranormal experiences there, such as unexplained sensations of nausea and the feeling of heaviness or pressure on one’s chest.

One man condemned as a witch was executed by “pressing” – having heavy stones placed on a board over his chest until he was crushed. Some have speculated that it’s his spirit who came to the site to haunt the judge.

“We’ve actually tried to get back here a couple of years now,” Groff said. “It feels awesome to come back to the East Coast. I grew up in Pelham, Salem and Nashua, so it’s really cool that we’re close to home right here.

“I’ve had tons of relatives and family, all my buddies from my old stomping ground days. I’ve just been hanging out with them all week and stuff, so it’s kind of cool.”

The “Ghost Adventures” crew was preparing to do two lockdowns, one in the Witch House and the other in the Lyceum Restaurant, the former site of an apple orchard where a woman convicted of witchcraft was hung.

“Typically, it’s just us three who get locked down, Zak, Aaron and myself, and we do our whole paranormal sweep,” Groff said.

The crew uses high-end equipment and works with several scientists who developed some of it, he said. After an investigation, they’ll return to their home base in Las Vegas and review the evidence they collected, he said.

“The cool thing about our stuff is we have digital recorders that play back instantly in real time to see if we get any voices right there on the spot,” Groff said. “So, we’re really trying to push the level to see if we can capture something right then and there to show the audience right there on camera, ‘This is what’s going on.’

“For example, if in one of the rooms upstairs, we capture a voice or something, then we can get deeper and start using some of our more professional equipment, and maybe we can tap into whatever spirit is there talking to us and maybe try to capture it on some of our cameras or other gear to validate some of the stuff that’s happening.”

‘Permanently marked’

Bagans, Groff’s “Ghost Adventures” pal and the lead investigator of the crew, said he also was drawn to paranormal research because of a personal experience.

His most jaw-dropping experience to date was the one that got him “into all of this,” said Bagans, 33, a native of Washington, D.C.

“That was an experience I had back in the year 2002 when I lived in an old apartment,” Bagans said. “The spirit of this woman would call me by my full name.

“For a week straight every single night she’d wake me up, get on top of me, pin me down, scream my name. And then one night I woke up and she was just standing right in front of me, just staring at me. And from that experience I was just permanently marked, from then my whole life changed. That opened up a doorway.”

Bagans understands his ghostly encounter was more extreme than most.

“It doesn’t happen to everybody,” he said. “Just because I had a huge experience doesn’t mean that John living in Louisiana is going to have the same experience.

“I think only a handful of people have really extreme experiences, but I think 90 percent, 95 percent of the population has some kind of unexplained paranormal experience in their lifetime. It’s just not all on the same level.”

‘1,000 percent believer’

Goodwin, on the other hand, didn’t believe in ghosts until he was asked to participate on a ghost hunt because of his skills and experience working video cameras.

“I never really thought twice about ghosts,” said Goodwin, 34, an Oregon native.

When he was asked to join a paranormal investigation, “I said, ‘Yeah, no problem.’ I’ve been a cameraman for a long time. It seemed no big deal.”

It turned out his experiences on “Ghost Adventures” have “scared the crap out of me,” said Goodwin, who looks perpetually terrified on the show.

Now, Goodwin considers himself “a 100 percent – no, a 1,000 percent – believer,” he said.

“When it happens to you, and you get hurt, scared, see things in front of your face and you hear the voices come up (on a recording) and when you asked the question there was dead silence, it blows your mind.”

‘Trying to dig deep’

Groff has conducted dozens of investigations. One in particular really knocked him for a loop, he said.

“We’ve traveled all over the world,” Groff said. “I mean, we’ve been to Venice, Italy, and England, just a lot of places in the United States, Canada recently, and it’s really cool going to all these locations.

“They all have their own little niche, you know. I take away something from every location, but I think personally, for me it had to be Linda Vista Hospital in East L.A. That’s when I turned around and I saw that lady standing there staring at me, and our eyes connected for a split second. It’s such an imprint on my head and I’ll never forget that.”

Groff said he considers himself a logical thinker and guy who’s balanced, but the experience “kind of stuck with me and made me a true believer that there’s something else out there.”

It also validated his childhood encounter with a spirit in the house on Lancaster Road.

Groff said his experiences with “Ghost Adventures” have raised more questions than they’ve answered.

“I think that’s why we’re still doing what we do,” he said. “We’re trying to dig deep.

“My theory that I’ve been researching for the last couple of years is everybody’s made up of energy. That’s a proven fact by actual scientists that people are made up of energy. Energy does not die. So, what happens to that energy when your body dies? And everybody dies, that’s fact no matter what your beliefs, your religious background. So, when your body dies, where does that energy go?

“I’ve been really studying that and trying to figure that one out.”

Consider the example of an “evil person, a murderer” who dies violently in a prison cell, Groff said.

“What happens to that angry energy?” he said. “Does it linger in that prison? That’s some of the stuff we’ve actually encountered.”

‘Something else out there’

Bagans said he doesn’t believe that some people have an ability to perceive ghosts or the spirit world while others don’t.

“Nope,” he said. “I don’t think it has anything to do with that. In the late ’90s, early ’90s, I didn’t believe in ghosts. I didn’t believe in them at all. I’d laugh at the idea of it.

“Yeah, I had some little weird experiences as a kid, but nothing to persuade me. But it can happen to you at the strike of a lightning bolt. You can become a believer in two seconds.

“It’s just something that shocks the body, and then after it happens, it’s just turned into a huge question. And that just draws you more into the never-ending questions, because as a human being, you want to find answers to questions, especially when it has to do with our own lives.”

Groff believes skeptics would be convinced that ghosts exist if they experienced what he, Bagans and Goodwin have.

“We’ve had a couple skeptics on our lockdowns,” Groff said.

They’ve been blown away by the experience, he said.

What he’s learned from his experiences, Groff said, is “that there is something else out there that I’m trying to wrap my head around. I think that’s what’s interesting.”

Patrick Meighan can be reached at 594-6518 or pmeighan@nashuatelegraph.com.