Damned Interview: Courtney McInvale

September, 2014 by Ray Bendici

Courtney McInvale operates Seaside Shadows ghost tours in downtown Mystic and has written the new book Haunted Mystic. She recently was kind enough to talk about her book, local ghosts, growing up in a haunted house and the legend of the Pig Man.

Listen to the interview.

Damned CT: Okay, so we're talking with Courtney McInvale, whose new book coming out is called Haunted Mystic. So can you tell us a little about your new book?

Courtney McInvale: So Haunted Mystic relates really to a lot of what I do with haunted tours down in Mystic. I started a ghost walk business down there because they had so much history and so many spirit stories that I was able to guests on tours there but there's so much you can't tell. I mean, I would have people on tours for hours every day trying to get all the history and all the stories across, so I decided to do Haunted Mystic, which encompasses a full tale for all the history for each haunted location and some we can't even see from the tour because they're not walkable, and all the ghost stories we have that relate to it.

Damned CT: That's cool. They're called Seaside Tours, right?

Courtney McInvale: Seaside Shadows.

Damned CT: Seaside Shadows, sorry.

Courtney McInvale: No problem.

Damned CT: And those are year-round, right?

Courtney McInvale: They're May through November regularly scheduled and then we offer private tours the rest of the year. But since sometimes people don't want to stand outside in the snow, it's by request.

Damned CT: So you said you were inspired by Mystic. Do you live in Mystic, or live in the area? How did you zone in on Mystic as your area?

Courtney McInvale: Mystic, I zoned in on, because they had . . . when you look for ghost stories, you kind of look for anything, even if it's a little bit macabre, morbid or dark, and they had the first massacre that was ever recorded in North America, so I was kind of drawn to reading about that, and I noticed how walkable and beautiful the area was, so it seemed perfect for a historically set tour.

So that's why I picked Mystic. I guess being into paranormal in general, I just . . . I have a unique and bizarre story that brought me into doing ghost stuff. I'm from East Hampton, Connecticut, and I grew up in a haunted house there, which is about 35 minutes from Mystic.

DamnedCT: In the book, I noticed how you talked about in the beginning, how you grew up in that. Do you want to talk a little about the house you grew up in and the people who came to check it out?

Courtney McInvale: Sure. So my family had a property in East Hampton—they purchased it in the 80s when I was pretty young and my mom was pregnant with my sister, and my parents decided to get this house for their growing family. It was a colonial home, it dated to the late 1800s, and it was just beautiful. They loved it and they moved in, but when they started moving in, strange things were happening—electronic disturbances, strange sounds, footsteps, my mom kept hearing someone calling, "Mom …" and she would find us talking to people who weren't there, that kind of thing.

In regard to electrical disturbances, she started hiring a lot of contractors coming in and out of the house, trying to check our wiring and figure out what was going wrong. She would bring photos back from the developers and be like, "Why are these colors and things in all my photos?" And they said, "Well, that was taken in the photo." So my mom figured out pretty quickly what was going on, but she didn't want to scare us, her kids. So she just let us make the best of it.

But as me and my two sisters got into our teenaged years, a lot of the things that happened in our house were more negative. Furniture moving, blood spatters on the walls, rosary beads bursting—that kind of thing. And there were apparitions the entire time, but the apparitions got a lot darker in nature, so my mom called upon the Warren family. Ed and Lorraine Warren, and their son-in-law, and some of their team, came and did an investigation, and ended up doing an exorcism of the house.

Damned CT: After the exorcism, were things quieter in the house? Were there changes?

Courtney McInvale: They were better, but things were definitely still happening. It felt like some of that negative energy had moved on, but there was still a lot going on that we couldn't explain. There were a lot of effects on my mom. Actually, she got kind of weary of it, and she sold the house in 2006, and since then, there's been three to four families that have come in and out of that house and have moved out because of the paranormal activity in there.

Damned CT: So you kind of had the background, and that sort of fueled it for your whole life?

Courtney McInvale: Yeah. There was good in the house, and there was negative, and the negative energies really left an impact on my family. My parents ended up getting divorced. My dad saw a big decline in his mental health and later passed away, and so I shied away from the paranormal for a long time because it seemed like it was kind of taking from me, but then I decided it would be good to do something positive with the paranormal, and show people the good sides of it and that goodness watches over us, and that history leaves an imprint on us, and that if I turn it into something good, my experiences would be worth it.

Damned CT: I assume as you've done these tours, you've learned more and more about Mystic itself and some of the haunted spots and other buildings, and the history of the town. You talk about the first event that kind of happened there, before Mystic was a town, when it was still a Native American settlement, right?

Courtney McInvale: Right. In the 1600s, Mystic was primarily populated by Pequot Native Americans, and there were over 5,000 of them there. And there were local tribes of different—the Mohegans were local, the Naragansetts, but the Pequots primarily dominated in Mystic. The British came over in the 1630s and began to settle there, and in their encounters with the Pequots, they were none too impressed—they thought them to be Satan worshippers because they were out in nature, wore minimal clothing . . . . We had Puritans coming over, so they didn't look too kindly on that.

The Pequots wouldn't give up their land, so a man named Capt. John Mason planned what was actually deemed "The Mystic Massacre." He set the last Pequot fort that was left in Mystic on fire, and everybody inside perished within one hour in 1637.

Damned CT: It's interesting. I did some research for a book that I wrote, and I did some research about Uncas, the leader of the Mohegans who was kind of an ally of Mason in the raid. And one of the things that was interesting was that up until that point—and you can correct me if I'm wrong—Native Americans, when they fought, it was just men on men, and women and children were left out of the fighting.

Courtney McInvale: Yeah, you're exactly right. So that's one of the really unique points that brought this into it. The British allied with Mohegan and Naragansett tribes to conduct this massacre. The Pequots, at the time, were incredibly feared warriors, to the point where they didn't have a lot of allies. They mostly scared other tribes of Native Americans, so it was easy for the British to convince people to help them get rid of the Pequots to make it safer. They promised them safety. So when they did this, the Mohegans and the Naragansett both asked to make sure that women and children, like you said, wouldn't be killed in any type of war. And to just keep things good and make sure that they had help, they had the input they needed from the Mohegan and Naragansett to make this a success, they said, "Of course, we won't kill women and children."

They later found out in the Mystic Massacre that a lot of the Pequot men were out hunting, so two-thirds of those who perished in the fire that night were women and children. It was said that when the Mohegan and Naragansett arrived to the massacre and realized what was going on and that the British believed that all was fair in war and that women and children could be killed too, some of them tried to run away and were heard to be saying in their native tongues, "It's too much, it's too much," while others were incredibly scarred.

Then of course, they found out later that the Naragansett and Mohegan weren't spared their own atrocities, but at the time they were promised that definitely women and children wouldn't be included, and they were.

Damned CT: So the town of Mystic, you could argue, already has a haunted, troubled base to start with?

Courtney McInvale: Yeah, that's their founding event. [laughs] When that happened, they deemed Mystic safe to be founded, and that's when they really started building their settlement there, it was upon completion of this horrible massacre.

Damned CT: So Mystic itself, there are a number of historic houses downtown—and other houses, too—that you write about and are part of the tour. What are some of the highlights?

Courtney McInvale: I have to say, I have a couple of my own . . .  I love all my haunts, but I love a couple of houses that date back to the 1700s that I think have, in my own personal opinion, some of the most unique histories in the area.

One of them is called the Old Mystic Inn, and even though we can't go to it on our tour because Old Mystic is a little bit separate from downtown Mystic, they have a beautiful home that dates to the 1700s that served as a homestead during the Colonial era. It housed a schoolhouse on the property that has its own mystery shrouded in a huge school bell that went missing and then went on later to be a bookstore and is now an inn. They have numerous guests who have seen apparitions and things that happen there, so that's a very, very neat place and a lot of psychic mediums have been able to come in there and pick up on a lot of the energy.

Another place is the Daniel Packer Inne, which is a restaurant that anybody can dine at. It dates to 1754, and they have probably the monopoly on really 1700s ghostly activity in the downtown area. A lot of places have the 1800s, but they have a little girl who passed away from scarlet fever who is seen by a lot of the patrons to be running around, giggling and playing with children. They have a whole plethora stories there.

The final place I would say is really, really unique but is really active in regard to spirit energy, and it's a place called the Emporium. It used to be the Civil War office in Mystic and it also used to be a brothel. A lot of people have capture anomalies on film at that location when we go there.

Damned CT: You talk about your tours—was there anything when you were doing research for the book, was there anything that surprised you or you didn't really know about until you started digging in a little deeper?

Courtney McInvale: I would say that the massacre was the first and most shocking thing that drew my attention because your really don't think that when Connecticut or Mystic or touristy places are advertised, you really don't think about that part in our history or those kinds of things happening all at once. I guess there was one story that I heard that really surprised me. A lot of really was like a travel back in time—I expected to be reading about colonial people and sea captains and people who used to frequent places that were old inns, and those kinds of stories that really fit with the time period. Everything when you look at the history makes sense.

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But I do have this one weird legend of this mythical pig man that supposedly caused this local woman to disappear. I would say that definitely surprised me. I didn't expect to have any kind of strange creature-type stories associated with the area.

Damned CT: The pig man? I'm not really familiar with that legend.

Courtney McInvale: Yeah, it was originally based in the 1970s. A couple of boys stated that they were walking around downtown and essentially they heard a woman screaming by the river. They ran to her aid and they saw a man with a pig-like face seemingly drowning her, and then they both disappeared under the water and never re-surfaced. They were able to link it to a real missing woman's case who matched the appearance of the woman they actually saw that evening being drowned in the water by this man who only had a pig head and made pig-like vocal sounds.

Damned CT: There's an episode of "Seinfeld" with the Pig Man.

Courtney McInvale: I'm sure there is! I saw "American Horror Story" had a pig man and stuff, but there's definitely a group of people in Mystic who are very scared of it. A lot of local people will tell younger people that when you walk around at night, "Make sure that the Pig Man doesn't get you!"

I did some research into pig men in general, and there have been what are called "Pig Man sightings." Vermont was the first one, but that was also a group of teenagers who left the prom early and were having a campfire and they swore that they saw one walking through the woods by them. That was also in the 1960-70s era, so I don't know if that was some kind of strange thing that was going through the local lore in New England at the time, but it definitely got picked up in Mystic. This time it got associated with a crime, where as the pig man was sighted in Vermont, he was just walking through the woods.

So it was a little big surprising, and for someone who's really into ghostly stuff, I'm really a little skeptical about any other legends, but I would have to say it was interesting at least to hear about and look into.

Damned CT: It reminds me a little of the Melon Heads, which is one of my favorite Connecticut mysteries. I don't know if you're familiar with the legend or not, but there are a bunch of different towns around the state where there are people who are called Melon Heads, who have giant heads, live on the edge of town and no one is really sure who they are—are they escaped mental patients, are they some mountain people who were lost . . . . a lot of towns have legends of the Melon Heads. Pig Man almost sounds like the same thing.

Courtney McInvale: I don't even know that, but it sounds so funny, though. I mean, I shouldn't probably say funny, but it sounds crazy.

Damned CT: But it does! I mean, pig head, melon head, some bizarre head . . . .

Courtney McInvale: I look back in time and now we have TV and everything, but storytelling was really a high form of entertainment, and a lot of that really carried on until technology picked up. It doesn't surprise me too much that we have some crazy stories, but it's unique to look back and see what happens, like the stories that people had before all this technology desensitizing us to crazy things.

Damned CT: Speaking of stories, you do your tours pretty regularly—do you have any weird stories or weird experiences that happened on the tours?

Courtney McInvale: I do! I always remember this one so vividly. Whenever I'm at the place, which is the former Emporium, the one that I mentioned was the Civil War office and a brothel. A lot of people get anomalies on film, and since growing up in a haunted house, I'm pretty sensitive to seeing and feeling spirits, and I always feel a lot of active energy when I'm presenting at this particular building. I always just try to go through the stories and let my guests find what they can, and I'll tell them after if I felt anything.

So one time before I was in the middle of telling my story, this young woman, she looked at me and said, "Oh excuse me, you mentioned in your story that a manager at the store used to live in the building and I think she's up there, looking down at you talking. I saw her—she's got a bun in her hair . . ." and she described her in detail, pointy nose, etc. And her boyfriend said, "Where? I don't see her!" and she was pointing at her and the rest of the guests were saying "I don't see her, either." And I had to break the news to her that the building had undergone renovations and there was no floor on the second floor, it was completely gutted, there was no place that anybody could have stood and the manager had long since moved out.

The poor girl was terrified, but I thought it was a really cool experience to have because we always talk about at this location a lady upstairs, and I think that she probably caught a glimpse of her that evening without intending to.

Damned CT: Yeah, that's kind of a good story!

Courtney McInvale: [laughs]

Damned CT: I wonder if sometimes if it isn't the power of suggestion—you know, you're on a ghost tour, you're sort of hoping to see a ghost?

Courtney McInvale: Yeah, it's funny. I do graveyard tours as well, that are haunted—well, I think all graveyards have the potential to be haunted—but there's a graveyard in Mystic called the Whitehall Burying Ground. We do tours there every Sunday evening and I always present at this one gravestone for a young child who died in Mystic who would've inherited this really grand property called the Whitehall Mansion. He was the only male heir.

I will tell people not everyone will capture something on camera, it's really about if a connection is made. But there's always kind of proof when younger people come on the tour, and especially around the age that this child passed away, which was 12. People around that age of 11 to 14, always seem to capture some sort of face or orb or something by this particular gravestone. The adults who are going out there looking for ghosts in their pictures, they really want to see it—sometimes I get emails saying, "Don't you see my ghost?!" And I'm like, "No, there's nothing in your picture. You want to see it."

But with the children, they capture some really cool things, and I think it's very validating that there can be that connection, even on a ghost tour, if you come in with that innocence and that open-mindedness, you know?

Damned CT: Yeah, with lower expectations, it almost seems more genuine, in a way.

Courtney McInvale: Exactly. And this girl, who saw the woman in the window, she was with her boyfriend and her dad . . . you know how with some people, you could tell they would be excited? That not it's terrible to be an excited ghost seeker—I think that's awesome—but you can tell when some people come on the tour, they're ready and looking for something everywhere to actually be there and they almost manifest it in their own minds.

The difference with this girl was that she was kind of brought by her parents, she was just hanging out with her boyfriend, but she was kind of interested as we were going along and then just had this genuine question. And when I saw how terrified she was when we told her that there was nobody up there, it was a very memorable and real moment for me, as a guide to have that happen.

Damned CT: Before we go too much further, I should give you an opportunity to plug your tours and your book. Your book is available through Amazon, correct?

Courtney McInvale: The book is available on all sorts of online retailers—Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Books A Million. If you're in Connecticut or Rhode Island, it's available in a lot of local bookstores, like Bank Square Books in downtown Mystic carries it, Books A Million in Waterford and lots of Barnes & Nobles throughout Rhode Island and Connecticut have it on the shelf, too. So you have a chance to get it online and in stores, and of course, I always take copies with me on my tours so if anybody takes the tour, the book is a commemoration of some of the stories and some of the stuff we can't get to on the tours, they can pick it up there as well.

Damned CT:  And the tours themselves, you say run from May to November.

Courtney McInvale: Yes, and we do them every Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening, and then Halloween, we offer them every night that week because we know people are looking for those kinds of event to do during the Halloween season. We also do special events from time to time. This October, on the 14th, we're doing what I call "Mystical Mediums," is the name of the event, and the Old Mystic Inn, which is one of our haunted locations, is opening its door to our guests that purchase tickets. A medium is going to come in and do a house reading and a walk-through with our guests, and then do a gallery reading for them.

We try always to keep different stuff to keep Mystic history and Mystic haunts alive so people can come whenever, if they want a tour or if they want an experience. We try to keep different things going for them.

Damned CT: And the website, it's ….

Courtney McInvale: My website is seasideshadows.com. The book is on there as well, and we also have a Facebook for Seaside Shadows and a Facebook for Haunted Mystic. So either of those, we always welcome new followers.

Damned CT: And we will link to all those things whenever we post this because we're all about sharing and promoting. We love this stuff as much as you do.

Courtney McInvale: Yeah, it's a lot of fun to be able to share stories and talk to people. During the book, I got to meet so many fantastic people in Mystic—proprietors, historical societies—and it's really, really nice to become more well informed about your local areas, and I get to meet some really great people on our tours with their own paranormal stories, so it's a really fun thing to be doing.

Damned CT: It sounds exciting. I've been reading through the book, and I've enjoyed going through it. Some of the places I knew about, some of the other places, I've never heard about, so that was kind of cool for me to read about those, and I'm it'll be the same for other people. Even if you think you know Connecticut history, there's always a new spot or something else out there to find.

Courtney McInvale: There is, and we're lucky to be in New England in a country that doesn't really have too many years of history in comparison to some of our older neighbors across the pond. At least in New England, we have the oldest that there is. I think we have a world of history and paranormal sites at our fingertips here.

Damned CT: Yeah, that's why our site is popular. People love this stuff. We're in a good spot for it. Thanks again for taking the time to chat with us!

 

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