Schiffer Books, as well as Borders, Barnes & Noble and Amazon. In January 2009, Carter graciously took a few minutes to chat with us. Damned Connecticut: Can you talk a little about your background and how you got into writing Connecticut's Seaside Ghosts. Donald Carter: I was working campus law enforcement at the time; I was the midnight sargent at the University of Hartford and one of my co-workers, Matt Sinsgalli, was a public safety officer there, and knew that I had done a lot of research on a lot of different places. At the time, I had really no interest in the paranormal, per se, but he knew I was researching a lot of Connecticut and that I had read a lot about Dudleytown from different sources, and even at that stage, that I knew there was a big difference between the legend and the actual history of the place. The history is interesting enough as it is, so I couldn't understand why people had embellished so much. And I realized that a lot of it was just misinformation; newer sources had just recylced bad information from back in the '70s -- without naming names, some very famous people who have a huge following had been there and just passed on some misinformation and had been quoted and re-quoted. Matt and I got to talking about it and then he told me about the paranormal group he had. It sounded interesting -- it sounded like a good excuse to actually get out and go to these places and do more research on them. And when I started doing it, I had a lot of fun. I became their case researcher; they didn't have a historian. So I realized, in checking out some of the paranormal websites, that hardly anybody employed a historian as part of their paranormal group. I had just finished my degree in history at the University of Hartford, so I started going on field investigations and more interestingly, I did the research as well. I also started to enjoy the photography angle of it -- I was getting great pictures of these ruins. Because I was doing the background research, we started picking out possible sites for investigations, trying to get away from doing things like Carousel Gardens and Pasco's Restaurant -- places that have a lot of publicity and everyone has been there already. There are so many great historical places that have these great supernatural legends surrounding them. One of the first investigations we did was one that I found from reading David Phillips' Legendary Connecticut, and that was on Gay City, which is a ghost town in Hebron. In every way, it's just as good as Dudleytown. It's got some cool old ruins of the old mill site, some foundations that are still there, and it also has a 200-year-old ghost legend and another ghost legend from the mid-1800s. Two great ghost legends in that place. We went there, we had a great time, we photographed lots of things, some people had some interesting experiences while they were there and we have some good video. The more I kept going to these places, the more fun I had. The idea for the book was always in the back of my mind, to write about our experiences because we had been to a bunch of different places and I was chronicling it all to put it on the website. I've always had the writing bug, and I had just gotten my history degree, so I wanted to write something that had more of a historical foundation than any of the other paranormal books that had come out so far that I had read. Things that actually had a reference in old newspaper articles on historic hauntings and old histories. It's amazing what you find in these dusty old books. You can't find it online. You actually have to go to libraries and find these things and crack open these old books. I found some wonderful stories, going all the way back to the 1600s, like the ghost ship of New Haven. ancestry.com a lot to research family backgrounds. I also use sites like the Hartford Courant archives – the Courant being the longest-running newspaper in the country. It has a great online search engine. I use it quite a bit. When I find a place and I want to research it further, I find the town history and I talk to the historical societies. It means a lot of driving and going out there. For my current project, and even in the earlier stages of doing my first book, my criteria for deciding if a place is even worth writing about usually includes three things I’m looking for:
- First, what kind of history does the place have? Does it a have a rich history that I can footnote and document well and say, “I’m not just making this up." These are the stories that have occurred and these are the newspapers and books they’ve appeared in -- eyewitness accounts, sometimes you get those and they're great. And is the story interesting enough to really grab people and make for an interesting narrative.
- Secondly, does anything remain? Has it been built over? Is there a mall there now? It’s horrible when you have these great places, you know, it used to be an asylum and had this horrible and rich and morbid history, and now it’s gone, it’s been built over and now it’s a parking lot. Nothing to see any more so I can’t get any good photographs. If there is something remaining that will make for good photographs, that’s a good second criteria.
- And my third criteria is, how accessible is it to the public? Like even though it makes for a great narrative, the Norwich asylum I wrote about in Connecticut’s Seaside Ghosts, is completely closed to the public – not everybody is going to get in there, so it’s going to be very difficult for them. And I’ve looked at that for Ghost Towns of Connecticut. I have found that quite a few places, a lot them are on public land and in parks and such, and people just don’t know about them. They have this wonderful history behind them.