Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Ghost Hunt Field Trip - St. Mary's Art Center

Our third and final field trip with the TMCC Paranormal Series was held on October 30, the night before Halloween. We were scheduled to investigate the St. Mary's Art Center (SMAC).

The Daughters of Charity, also known as the Sisters of Charity, served the mining town of Virginia City from 1864 to 1897. Led by Sister Frederica, Sisters Xavier and Mary Elizabeth traveled to the Comstock in 1864 with the directive to open a school and hospital in Virginia City. Other sisters soon followed.

The Sisters of Charity established a small boarding school and orphanage that constantly struggled to keep up with the demand of the community. Within the first year, occupancy of the institution rose to 25 residents and 112 students, all the while maintaining a small number of sisters, only sixteen in 1880. The orphanage largely subsisted on contributions from local citizens who donated money, food, and clothing to the convent.

In 1876, along with the support of Father Patrick Manogue, the Sisters of Charity opened the area's first medical facility: Saint Mary Louise Hospital. The new hospital accommodated up to 60 or 70 patients, and was financed by contributions from some of the area's Bonanza kings, such as John and Mary Louise Bryant Mackay and Mr. and Mrs. James Fair. It was a subscription hospital whereby the miners paid monthly dues for care at the facility.

The Saint Mary Louise Hospital was considered a state-of-the-art facility which contained 36 rooms including five wards and 12 private rooms. The hospital had hot and cold running water and gas lighting. Steam heat was piped to each room. The operating room was located on the ground floor as well as a large kitchen with a range presented by Mrs. James Fair. There was a chapel on the second floor next to the large public ward where patients could hear Mass. The attic floor contained two public wards and two private rooms for servants.

Courtesy of the Nevada Historic Preservation Office

In addition to running the school, orphanage, and hospital, the Daughters of Charity provided a range of social services to a community that was accustomed to mining accidents, shootings, and social disorder. They cared for the sick, the needy, and those requiring spiritual comfort, regardless of religious denomination or cultural background. These practices set them apart from other Catholic religious orders, who practiced social separation. The Sisters of Charity regularly left the facility to care for individuals in their home, workplace or jail.

In the 1890s, the mining industry in Virginia City began to fail, prompting many residents to move from the town. Consequently, the Daughters of Charity closed the convent, hospital, and school in 1897.

The building then became the Storey County Hospital shortly thereafter, when the only other hospital in the area burned down. It operated until approximately 1940 when a fire on the fourth floor forced it to close.

During World War II, all the metal in the building was stripped for salvage for the war effort.The building was abandoned until 1964 when Father Meinecke, pastor of St. Mary’s in the Mountains Church, lobbied the County Commissioners to have the building transformed into an art center. His proposal was approved, and renovation began.

At present, the SMAC is open year round and offers a variety of art classes, tours and overnight stays.

Paranormal reports include an apparition of a woman seen on the upper floors, a child also seen on the upper floors, footsteps, voices, and crying can be heard throughout the building.

Mona and I rode up to Virginia City together. Paula, the other active member of our group was off visiting her daughter in Austin Texas, where they had plans to do a little ghost hunting of their own.

Mona and I were armed with digital voice recorders. I had my Sony Night Shot 35mm camera and Mona had her Sony camcorder. The plan was for the entire group to meet up in the large hall on the first floor where we would be divided into groups, each group investigating a floor for one hour, at which time we would rotate to another floor, giving everyone a chance to investigate the entire building during the night.

Our group consisted of Maureen Hepner, our designated psychic and our technical guides, Nancy and Jim Helsel, Karen, Mona, Jill, Kathy, Julie, a husband and wife whose names I don't remember and myself. Karen, who carries dowsing rods whenever she goes on investigations, lent me a pair to use. Our group began investigating on the first floor, we would work our way up to the second and third floor and end up in the basement.

There was no real game plan to our investigating that night, we just sort of broke off into smaller groups of 2 or 3 people, each group taking a room on the floor we were investigating. Mona and I would go into a room, shut the door, sit down and ask questions, take a few pictures, I would ask questions with the dowsing rods and then we would move to another location. Besides the main hall, the first floor had the chapel as well as about 6 guest rooms; alot to cover in one hour. We repeated this method on each floor.

I have to say that, while I had some personal feelings, sensations, and dowsing hits, my photos and  digital recordings turned up nothing. I believe it was the same for the rest of our group. Maureen, our psychic, did  detect a lot of spirit activity(?) (Sorry, I profess my ignorance here in regards to psychics and what they perceive).

While on the first floor, Kathy and I got some very strong hits with the dowsing rods, while Mona picked up a light anomaly with her camcorder during the same time. Mona had a very strong sensation of a "presense" of some sort in another room on the first floor, and when I used the dowsing rods in the same area, the rods reacted with strong pulling sensations. I had strong hits with the dowsing rods in the attic as well.

What does this mean? Nothing, in and of itself. I don't have enough knowledge or experience with dowsing rods to definitely state what sort of energy they were receiving. This was my first time investigating SMAC, so I was not familiar with the personality that is individual to all old buildings. Do I think it is haunted? I think there is something paranormal about the place, that's for sure. Do I want to return and investigate further? Absolutely. I don't believe an opinion can be formed by one visit, especially with time limits of one hour per floor. One thing I am sure of is, I am committed to learning more about dowsing.

I want to thank TMCC, all the wonderful speakers and presenters and especially Kathy Berry for organizing the Nevada Ghost and Paranormal Series, you all did a great job at providing a wide and varied look at paranormal investigation and all its aspects. I met some great people: Kathy, Janice, Jill, Karen, Maureen, Pride and of course, our newest W.I.G.S. member, Mona. There are more but space is limited. You know who you are. I look forward to next year.


TMCC Kathy said...

Thanks, Rebecca. Good report! I had an interesting occurrence once everyone left St. Mary's that night. I systematically went through the building turning off all lights and Halloween decorations. Once I locked the front door and got out to the car, two lights on the second floor came on. The following week I contacted the caretaker and asked if they had snuck in the back to check on things...she said "No. We were sound asleep." But she said the lights routinely turn on at weird times.

The Haunted West: said...

The SMAC is definitely worth revisiting, Kathy. Our dowsing sessions were amazing, especially on the first floor when the rods responded with an affirmative when we asked if the spirit was a nun. I didn't go into detail in my blog since I am so inexperienced with dowsing, I don't feel like I can speak with any authority on the subject.