Documentary filmmaker Steve Shippy heads to old farming village Merrill — population 735 — to explore the sinister spirits that have reportedly been torturing residents since the 1970s.
During the premiere episode of the new series, “Haunting in the Heartland,” airing Friday, Feb. 21, on the Travel Channel at 10 p.m., one family reveals to Shippy that they were forced to leave their house in the summer of 1974. They had suffered through six months of unexplained banging — even the FBI and a seismologist couldn’t determine its cause — and several spontaneous fires.
Meanwhile, a mile away, another family reports to Shippy, billed as a paranormal investigator, that they are currently being tormented by an apparition targeting a young girl in their home. And for years, they’ve been dealing with inexplicable occurrences: cold spots, loud banging, cut electricity, shadowy figures, scratch marks and rooms suddenly filling with smoke.
“Living in Merrill seemed like a dream at first,” one resident says in the episode. “Eventually, the dream turned into a nightmare.” Another local remarks, “It was like living in hell.”
Shippy says he was shocked at the number of eerie events chronicled in such a small area.
“The number of hauntings per capita along the stretch of one road was fascinating to me,” he told The Post. “It blew my mind that there were similar hallmarks in all the cases all in one location. It’s the first time I’ve ever experienced something like that.”
With the help of local authorities and historians, Shippy learned that a smallpox epidemic had ravaged the town; there were forced quarantines and tragic fires. “Just imagine the angst and turmoil the spirits left behind,” says Shippy. “That emotional residue stayed on the land.”
On the one-hour show, Shippy enlists the help of a clairvoyant to dispel an evil entity in the home of the family that had been forced out.
It’s uncovering possible causes for such mysterious happenings — and helping Midwest residents finding peace — that will serve as the central theme throughout the season.
In the rest of the “Haunting in the Heartland” season, Shippy will visit five other Midwestern towns: Malvern, Iowa; Atchison, Kansas; Hebron, Kentucky; Holly Springs, Mississippi; and Greeneville, Tennessee. Each place has reported paranormal presences that he strives to understand — so that he can then provide closure to those who feel haunted.
“The stories of the heartland show how powerful these cases can be and how town folks stick together,” says Shippy, who also is also a rapper under the stage name Prozak. “Watching them fight for their peace is one of the most powerful things.”
The reason for his interest in such small towns? Shippy is a kid who grew up in the “creepy house on the corner” in a small town near Saginaw, Michigan — and says he was a victim of a severe haunting.
“Growing up in a haunted house in a small Midwestern town, I understand the isolation of the experience, and it was only when others in town started to have similar experiences that I realized I wasn’t alone,” Shippy said in an earlier Travel Channel statement. “These small towns have a bigger story to tell, and in order to find the resolution these families need now, we need to piece together their past.”