WINCHENDON — Leominster native Shannon Sylvia has had paranormal experiences for as long as she can remember.
Her childhood, she recalls from her Winchendon home, was plagued from the start with inexplicable whispering that emanated from the basement of her family’s Leominster house, as well as phantom footsteps and disappearing objects.
She was not the only one to notice. Sylvia’s family, including her mother and two siblings, also heard many of these upsetting sounds, she says, but her parents were devoutly religious and opted to pray about the issue instead of talk about it.
These formative experiences with the inexplicable are the fodder for her upcoming appearance on “My Horror Story,” a new Travel Channel show launching this month. Her episode is available on-demand and is set to air for the first time on Wednesday.
“The stuff that I experienced growing up in that house until I was 21 was very bad, scary stuff,” Sylvia says of her childhood home.
She described being forced to move her bedroom to the basement as her family expanded, and hearing disembodied voices whisper rapidly, occasionally even saying her name.
“Sometimes I would go to the basement door and look outside like — really — is there somebody out there because it’s that loud,” she says.
Similarly, she would frequently hear heavy footsteps from above. But when she would run upstairs to see if anybody was in the kitchen over her bedroom, no one would be there, she says.
Another recurring problem, Sylvia recalls, was that objects in the home would frequently go missing.
“I had fish in my aquarium this big,” she says, holding up her hands. “They would go missing. It’s not like another fish ate it.”
But no matter how frequently these odd things happened, Sylvia says, her family simply wouldn’t discuss it. She recalled one time when she and her younger siblings were in the house alone with their mother. Phantom footsteps began stomping up the basement stairs, she says. Her mother quickly locked the door and urged the children to read out loud from their Bibles, Sylvia says.
The instruction, she says, was to “just read from the Bible and read out loud until the footsteps stopped.”
And so, that’s what they did — and Sylvia never got concrete answers about what was happening in that home. One working theory, she says, is that the odd noises and disappearing objects may have been related to the house reportedly having been built on fill dirt taken from an old, demolished church.
“I don’t know the name of the church but that is documented somewhere… It was an old church, ripped down and then used as fill for my home on Belair Heights,” Sylvia says.
When she left her childhood home at 21 and moved into a condo in the old Pierce Street School building in North Leominster, Sylvia believed she would be done with strange noises and the ilk. But as early as her first night in her new home, it was clear that was not the case. She was on the phone with her boyfriend when she heard the door to her apartment fly open.
“It’s about 11:30 at night and pitch black in the bedroom. I’m just lying there talking because everybody was talking on the phone back then… And I heard a bang,” Sylvia says. “My door just blew open so hard that the lock on the other side punched a hole in the sheetrock.”
From there, things only got weirder. She described floating orbs, inexplicable voices, knocking and, once again, the occasional disappearing object. This time, she brought in outside witnesses — including her now-husband, Jeff Sylvia — and even corroborated some stories with neighbors, who also reported seeing ghosts in the building.
After they married, the Sylvias lived together in that Leominster condo for years. There were so many strange happenings there that they attracted filming crews from an A&E show, sparking a brief career in paranormal investigations for Sylvia.
“Stuff happened in the home that I still today can’t explain some of the stuff that happened there,” Jeff says, remembering the condo.
Sylvia doesn’t know why she had such vivid, unusual experiences in either home, but reports that since she and her husband resettled in Winchendon, things have quieted down. She no longer ghost hunts — she does marketing — and nothing weird has happened in their new house.
“It’s a much different energy here,” she says of her home, a renovated farmhouse.
While she is excited for the Travel Channel episode to air, Sylvia’s casting on “My Horror Story” is far from the first time she’s talked about the paranormal on television. She appeared first on an episode of A&E’s “Paranormal State” in 2006 — the product of the investigation into her condo, and then as an investigator during the debut season of ScyFy’s “Ghost Hunters International.”
But although the creepy things that happened in her house growing up did prompt a serious interest in the paranormal, ghost hunting was not exactly a job Sylvia actively sought out. In fact, it wasn’t until A&E filmed in the Leominster condo she bought as an adult that she formally took that leap.
The team that investigated her home — which was inside in the old Pierce Street School in North Leominster — was a group of well-known paranormal investigators called The Atlantic Paranormal Society, also known as TAPS.
“I joined TAPS after the second time they investigated,” Sylvia says. “They invited me to join the team.”
By that point, Sylvia had a seemingly infinite number of unsettling and apparently paranormal interactions under her belt. She spent five years ghost hunting after she joined the investigative group, she says.
She’s since retired from that life, but she still gets recognized from time to time, she says. Similarly, while she no longer participates in investigations, she continues to field regular messages and inquiries from fans.
When she gets those messages, she says, she always writes back. It’s her way, she says, of helping those who might be in strange situations with no one to turn to.
“I’ve always done that because I wish somebody was there for me back then,” Sylvia adds.