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The talking dead: Ghost investigations come to New Harmony

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By Rachel Christian

There is something haunting about New Harmony. Its small town charm and historic architecture have attracted visitors for decades, but paranormal investigator Joni Mayhan thinks there’s something more than that. She believes the community’s rich history has contributed to an active afterlife for ghosts and spirits.

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“I felt the energy present in the town almost right away,” said Mayhan, a Posey County native who returned to the area last year. “I feel like everything happens for a reason, and that I was meant to live in New Harmony.”

Last week, Mayhan launched the first ghost investigation tour in a series called Haunted New Harmony. The paranormal investigator, along with the help of State Historic Sites Collections Manager Amanda Bryden, has organized five six-hour investigations centered on Community House #2 and the Fauntleroy Home.

The first event took place Saturday, with 14 registered participants in attendance. Nearly all of the visitors said they believed in some form of otherworldly beings, and only a couple individuals were brave enough to raise their hands when Mayhan asked if there were any skeptics in the room.

“But that’s good,” the ghost hunter said during the presentation held before the group split up to begin investigating. “Skeptics keep us on our toes. If everyone was a believer, we would jump at everything and call it paranormal.”

Mayhan is no skeptic, though. She is a firm believer that some individuals, for whatever reason, are unable to “cross over” after they die. She describes herself as a “sensitive,” or someone who can feel and hear ghosts when they are nearby.She first developed this belief after her grandmother passed away when Mayhan was six years old.

“When my mother and I went to clean out her house, I saw her sitting on the coach as clearly as you can see me,” Mayhan told her audience.

As she grew older, Mayhan said she began hearing auditory tones and experiencing unusual events that made her curious about the paranormal. In her 40s, Mayhan delved heavily into the world of ghosts, spirits and other ethereal beings.

The ghost hunting business

After she graduated high school, Mayhan married and moved to Massachusetts, where she lived for 30 years.

Mayhan took advantage of the plentiful number of ghost tours and paranormal investigations conducted in the New England state, and became part of its community. It was around this time that she self-published her first book, Lightening Strikes.

It is the first of 15 books Mayhan has penned since 2012.

Books like Lightening Strikes are fictional novels, while others – like her current work-in-progress, Haunted New Harmony – are collections of ghost stories and experiences she has encountered as a paranormal investigator.

Mayhan is putting the finishing touches on Haunted New Harmony, which is set for release Sept. 1, halfway through the five investigative sessions.

Mayhan said she has been conversing with New Harmony residents and compiling their ghostly experiences into the novel. Mayhan noted that the residents of the former utopian community were more than willing to add their tales to the ghost tome.

“I think this town is so overwhelmingly haunted, everyone has either had a personal experience, or they know someone who has,” she said.

The ghost tours are drawing more than just spirits, though. Mayhan hopes that between now and late October, the events will also attract curious tourists looking to have a brush with the supernatural.

“I think overall, people are supportive of it because they realize it’s going to help bring people to New Harmony,” Mayhan said. “It’s another avenue that’s not been tapped into yet, and it helps with tourism.”

The findings

Mayhan posted results from the first investigation on her website the following day, complete with audio sound clips and notes on specific findings.

“We had several unexplained experiences,” Mayhan wrote about the Fauntleroy Home. “The alarm turned itself on, even though it was turned off…they have tours in this building frequently and this isn’t something that normally happens.”

Bells suspended from doorways reportedly spun without an air draft nearby, and some of the electronic recording equipment picked up sound interference after Mayhan asked certain questions.

In the end, the paranormal investigator said the night went how she had expected. Unlike dramatic movie and TV depictions, Mayhan said investigations such as these don’t always produce jarring, shocking results. Mayhan hopes that as the ghosts and spirits in Community House #2 and the Fauntleroy Home grow more comfortable with visitors over the next few months, they will also become more talkative.

“A big purpose of these investigations is to make sure that people have a safe and fun experience,” she said. “Sometimes things will be boring, and sometimes, amazing things can happen.”

Those who are interested in getting a taste of the paranormal can register for the next Haunted New Harmony event, scheduled for 6 p.m. Aug. 12.  Participants can register for $50 through Mayhan’s website, jonimayhan.com.