For anyone who loves a good ghost story, it’s Halloween all year round.
Smith’s Castle, 55 Richard Smith Drive, North Kingstown, is happy to oblige those with an interest in the paranormal this summer and fall with its fourth annual series of Midnight Visits.
The ghost hunts, which run from 7 p.m. to midnight on select evenings, are led by the Rhode Island Society for the Examination of Unusual Phenomena, or RISEUP, a group that investigates paranormal incidents and places around New England. With 340 years of history soaked into its walls, Smith’s Castle is a prime location for a haunting or two.
Though several other paranormal groups have investigated the castle, only RISEUP allows members of the public to tag along. RISEUP founder and director Ken DeCosta said his team’s goal is to respect a location’s history while allowing guests to explore.
“Because we have such a profound respect for history, we want our guests to understand that these places have tremendous historical significance, as well as give them an opportunity to investigate the house,” he said. “We try to combine both to make sure [guests] know who lived there, who might be hanging around, and convey that sense of respect and curiosity that we have.”
RISEUP boasts a diverse team, with members in professions ranging from medicine to engineering to psychiatry. Together, they’ve investigated well-known historic Rhode Island locations such as Belcourt Castle during Harle Tinney’s ownership, Rose Island Lighthouse, the Chace-Cory House, the John Waterman Arnold House, the Assembly Theater, Harris Fire Station, the Nathanael Green Homestead, the Paine House Museum and Sprague Mansion, along with 500-600 private residences.
The Smith’s Castle Midnight Visits are interactive, allowing guests to participate in the search of paranormal phenomena.
“We put them in a position where they can do what we do and we guide them through the process,” DeCosta said. “They can experience the kind of things you see on TV, but we give them a more realistic look because a lot of things on TV are dramatized.”
On a RISEUP investigation, “there’s no smoke and mirrors, there’s no tricks involved,” he added. “Whatever experience guests have is going to be organic and honest. They’ll have an honest attempt to make up their own minds and draw their own conclusions.”
The chance of having such an experience is apparently high. DeCosta estimated that while there’s never a guarantee of a paranormal encounter, something is experienced or recorded at Smith’s Castle up to 60 percent of the time.
Along with phenomena such as hearing footsteps and doors opening on their own, DeCosta said voices have been captured on recordings. One said the name “Benjamin Congdon,” the 19th-century owner of the property who committed suicide in the house. But although the castle is associated with both Roger Williams and Benjamin Franklin, RISEUP has never recorded either of those names being spoken by spectral voices.
“Rarely do we get something back that says, ‘Hi, my name is William,’” DeCosta said. “The night we recorded ‘Congdon’ was really something special because we can corroborate the name. And we were in the room where he took his own life. He was absolutely one of the owners. So history corroborates, and that’s what we’re looking for.”
DeCosta said during the season’s first Midnight Visit at Smith’s Castle on May 12, five women were investigating one of the castle’s gathering rooms while he and others listened through microphones placed in the room. A man’s voice came through, though the words were indiscernible.
“Some amazing things have happened in that house,” he said. “We expected nothing, like we usually do, but the proof is in the pudding. The place has really responded to this kind of thing. We were walking upstairs and heard a man’s voice say ‘Good evening’ as clear as I just said it to you.”
Gail Shawn Burda, Smith’s Castle office manager, described RISEUP as “very professional.”
“They show serious respect for the age of the place, and for any spirits they may come in contact with,” she said.
Burda said she has not personally had any paranormal experiences in the castle, but she does not discount the experiences of guests and docents. Everything from lights to full-bodied apparitions have been reported.
As a result, Burda prefers to err on the side of caution. When she enters the castle alone in the mornings, she politely calls out, “Hi, it’s just me – don’t bother me!”
Remaining Midnight Visit tours run on June 16, July 28, Aug. 25, Sept. 2, Oct. 20 and Nov. 10. The maximum tour size is 12 people, and Burda said tours fill up quickly. Tickets are $35 per person, and all proceeds beyond RISEUP team travel expenses benefit Smith’s Castle. Guests must be at least 16 years old.