The Damned Story: The Atlantic Paranormal Society — better known as TAPS, best known as SyFy’s “Ghost Hunters” — came to Derby in the winter of 2011 to investigate alleged hauntings at the Sterling Opera House. The episode premiered on April 20, 2011, with repeat broadcasts since then.
The episode opens like many “Ghost Hunters” shows, with Jason, Grant and the crew getting the lowdown on the opera house, its storied history and the current reports of ghostly and paranormal activity (more details here). As they head into Derby (via the Shelton-Derby bridge — fun to recognize local landmarks in the background!), they discuss the various apparitions claimed to have been seen here, including a woman in white, shadows in the balcony and a gentleman in a brown suit, believed to be Charles Sterling, who died before the completion of his eponymous opera house.
The famous TAPS black vans pull up in front of the opera house and the team meets with Rich DiCarlo, Derby’s cultural commissioner who has done a nice job of bringing attention to the city’s revitalization efforts. DiCarlo provides a tour, sharing some of the experiences he and others have had at various places in the opera house. He talks about the specter of a little boy and a moving ball being seen in the balcony, and a the full-body apparition of a woman in a teal dress being witnessed in a dressing room. He also mentions how the voices of children have been heard in various locations throughout the opera house, and how feelings of general creepiness commonly permeate visitors.
While in the sub-basement, DiCarlo tells of an “attack” he personally experienced, where he discovered three slashes on his leg while down there; it was summer and he was wearing shorts, but he says he doesn’t remember encountering anything unusual. He also recounts how others have told of being touched there as well as having heard a child’s voice say, “Help me.”
Following the tour, the team gathers outside and starts setting up, noting that there is a lot of dust in the building and no power. They place cameras in various hot spots throughout the opera house, as well as microphones. They then turn off the external lights and the investigation begins.
Grant and Jason start in the dressing room, admiring a wall with the signatures of all the legendary entertainers who have tread the boards of the Sterling’s storied stage. They are looking for EVPs but quickly discover that the building has very high EMF readings, even though there is no power! It’s an unusual finding and would explain a lot of the creepy feelings, sightings and other experiences.
They go up to the balcony and while there, they both claim to hear voices and whispers, possibly female, but are not exactly sure from where they are emanating — from outside possibly? They think they can make out a few words, but nothing definitive.
Meanwhile, Steve and Tango are exploring the sub-basement and they realize that there’s a significant amount of debris and other decaying building material, which might explain the scratches DiCarlo received while down there. They set up a laser grid, but rather than detecting any entities, they hear a few crackling-like noises. (Rats or other vermin?) With the general condition of the rotting debris, it could just be things settling.
Upstairs in the main theater, Amy and Adam are checking for EVPs. They go up to the second floor and set a kids’s ball on the floor and encourage any entities present to move it if they can. It remains still.
Grant and Jason have moved on to the former city hall meeting room, and although there are no significant EMF readings here, they do see how the design of the room, with its high “hospital-like” observation windows, might make people feel like they are being watched. They don’t have any particular experiences here.
Steve and Tango are now on the main stage, and in an effort to appeal to the ghosts of shows past and spirits of former entertainers who have performed here — including Harry Houdini — Tango puts on a little magic show, doing some nifty sleight-of-hand tricks involving a poker chip. Coincidentally (?) they hear some noise in the seats in front of the stage.
The crew wraps up the investigation and heads back to the TAPS headquarters in Rhode Island to go through the recordings and other evidence gathered. Adam thinks he hears an EVP, but other than that, it’s a quiet analysis portion of the show.
Jason and Grant return to Derby for “The Reveal” with Rich DiCarlo. They show him the bang in the theater that Dave and Tango heard after Tango’s magic tricks as well as multiple EVPs: one that sounds like a kid’s voice that Jason and Grant record in the balcony (while the K2 is lit up); a “moan” that Grant and Jason captured in the dressing room; and another “groan” that Amy and Adam record during an EVP session.
The conclusion: They acknowledge that there were a lot of unusual sounds and think that there definitely might be some sort of paranormal activity occurring. The TAPS team wants to return for a follow-up investigation after the renovations are done. Rich DiCarlo seems pleased with the results.
Back in the van, Grant and Jason discuss the case, say that DiCarlo seems “well-balanced” (a compliment, I think) and reiterate their desire for a follow-up investigation. Then, with a fist bump, it’s “on to the next.”
Our Damned Experience: We enjoyed it like most episodes of “Ghost Hunters,” although the show seemed like it was a bit rushed (more commercials?). The analysis portion also seems very short, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Also, maybe we haven’t watched the show as much lately, but it seems like there was less of an emphasis on debunking than in the past.
Still, it was fun to watch the crew investigating a local landmark, and we’ll be looking forward to seeing if they do indeed return for a follow-up once renovations are complete.
On a side note: We were sad that during the episode we didn’t see Ray’s sister Joni, a “Ghost Hunters” groupie who went down to the opera house taping in hopes of a “spiritual encounter” with Jason — no luck, although she did meet the team’s dogs, which she says they said may be used in future investigations.
If You Go: The Sterling Opera House continues to undergo renovations, but still is not open to the public. It is located at 116 Elizabeth Street in Derby.
Save Our Sterling is dedicated to preserving the opera house’s history and legacy, and spearheads the renovation efforts.