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Saturday, November 12, 2011

Para-Tourism in the Berkshires

These Mysterious Hills: A New Kind of Tourism is Coming on

And in the North Adams Transcript:

Lecture: Berkshires could capitalize on ‘paratourism’
By Jennifer Huberdeau
Posted: 10/31/2011 08:47:45 AM EDT

Monday October 31, 2011

North Adams Transcript

NORTH ADAMS -- Apparitions in windows, phantom footsteps on the stairs and a host of mysterious happenings could translate into bigger tourism dollars for local cultural venues with a haunted history, according to Joe Durwin, local folklorist and columnist.

"We’ve reached a new era with the haunted history of the Berkshires -- I call it the ‘paratourism’ chapter," he said Saturday during a talk at the Houghton Mansion on Church Street. "I feel like we have all these new haunted places popping up. Ventfort Hall in Lenox was just featured on ‘Ghost Hunters,’ making it now the fifth or sixth place in the Berkshires to make it onto national television."

He added, "Paratourism seems to be a growing demographic in travel, with people staying in haunted inns and visiting haunted mansions and things. It seems to be a non-seasonal type of tourism, which something we could use more of around here Š It’s big tourism in places like Salem and Savannah, Ga."

But while paratourism could bring ghost seekers to the Berkshires, it could "muddy the waters" for folklorists like Durwin, the author of the local column, "These Mysterious Hills."

"There are many pros and cons," he said to a group of about 60 ‘paratourists’ who flocked to the Houghton Mansion from as far away as Boston, with the hopes of capturing one of its famous specters on their digital cameras
and voice recorders.

The Houghton Mansion, home to the city’s first mayor, A.C. Houghton, is home to the Lafyette-Greylock Masonic Temple. The spirits of Houghton, his daughter, Mary, and the family’s chauffeur, John Widders, are supposed to roam the house -- the result of a tragic car accident that killed Mary and a family friend. Widders, who was driving the car, shot himself. Houghton died 11 days later from internal injuries.

The house has been featured on numerous national television shows, including "Ghost Adventures," and has hosted numerous ghost-hunt events with members of The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS), who make up the cast of the SyFy Network’s popular "Ghost Hunters" television series.

However, Durwin wasn’t on site to relate the tragic Houghton tale, instead he wove tales about other haunts in the Berkshires and related how several legends are suspect.

"In the 1800s, the Shakers in Stockbridge reported a lot of paranormal activity," he said. "Interestingly enough, the accounts are well documented in letters of visitors and travelogues, but not their own historical records."

One famous account coming from Stockbridge has a female member falling into a melancholy. The pastor of the group then convinces the membership that the devil is among them. The story continues that the men meet in the iconic round stone barn, where they are armed with the "Sword of Righteousness" and go out to do battle with the devil. The group surrounds the devil, trapping it on their holy mount, where it disappears with a horrible shriek and the stench of sulfur.

"Interestingly enough, I’ve found identical versions of this tale associated with the Shaker Villages in Tyringham and New Lebanon, N.Y.," Durwin said. "I’ve talked to Shaker researchers about this and they can’t locate it in the history of any of the communities. I have a feeling it was a story they told at their revivals, when they were recruiting new members."

He also told stories about the Pittsfield ghost train and floating ghostly silhouettes at Clapp Park in Pittsfield, and about the Passetto House in Lee, which made headlines around the county in 1981, when its owners called in Ed and Lorraine Warren, famous ghost-hunter demonologists from Connecticut, who investigated the Amityville Horror house in Long Island.

"There were reports of steel bookcases that were bent in half and the wife said she had scratches on her body from an imp," Durwin said. "The Warrens declared the house to have a demon and called in a renegade Catholic priest to do an exorcism. The family eventually moved back in and even appeared on the ‘Geraldo’ show."

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