Phantoms of the Homestake Opera House?

Mark Shadley, lead investigator with Black Hills Paranormal Investigations, presents the team’s findings to guests attending the Scariest Sleepover Ever, held last weekend at the Historic Homestake Opera House in Lead. Pioneer photo by Jaci Conrad Pearson

LEAD — Apparently, musical scores and singing voices aren’t the only things sailing through the air at the Historic Homestake Opera House in Lead. Rocks, white figures and far off images resembling the human form may suggest that the venue, renowned for its acoustics and entertainment draw back in the day, may, in fact, harbor a bona fide phantom of the opera ... or two.

As part of the Scariest Sleepover Ever event held last weekend at the Historic Homestake Opera House, Black Hills Paranormal Investigators shared the results of its recent “lights out” investigation conducted last year in the venue.

“We started our investigation in the pool,” said lead investigator Mark Shadley. “We would soon be confronted with undeniable evidence of paranormal activity.”

Breathing and the voice of someone other than investigators was picked up on equipment first.

“We began to see and hear movement,” Shadley said. “Take a closer look as it appears to walk towards the back of the pool and disappears,” he said, showing an image that did resemble human form which presented itself on the forward looking infrared thermal imagery, or FLIR camera used during the investigation, walked into the distance and disappeared into thin air.

Although that evidence was compelling and reviewed several hundred times by the group without explanation, the group, highly skeptical of all their findings, continued to search for more.

“We would soon document some of the most compelling evidence we have ever captured,” Shadley said.

As investigators made their way through the pool area, rocks were thrown at them. The first time they heard the sound of a rock hitting something, they questioned the validity of what had just happened. Soon, a cry from one of the investigators validated their theory.

“Josh (Wennes) was actually hit by a rock,” Shadley said. “So it wasn’t like there was just one rock thrown and we couldn’t explain what we heard. Josh was actually hit by a rock and none of us threw it.”

The pool wasn’t the only area in the opera house that produced paranormal activity.

“While investigators were in the stage area, they heard a noise on the stage,” Shadley said. “Later evaluation showed that the recorder captured a voice.”

“I’m right here,” were the words emitted by the so-called on-stage spirit.

In the dressing room area, two similar electronic voice phenomena (EVP) captures produced themselves. This time with more insistence. “Here I am, right here,” and “Get out,” were the two phrases determined to be heard by investigators after several hundred listens to their tape.

“A digital recorder in the dressing room captured movement that sounded like a table and chairs being moved,” Shadley said.

An EVP in the meeting room was determined to exclaim, “Judgement, Buddy!”

“I’m a little on the fence on that one,” Shadley said. “But the rock throwing was pretty incredible. Sitting down there and having rocks being thrown ... that was the most compelling evidence of paranormal activity we’ve ever seen.”

Executive Director of the Historic Homestake Opera House, Sarah Carlson, who explained to the group that she is a skeptic when it comes to ghosts and things that go bump in the night, said she continues to feel safe in the building and doesn’t feel threatened by the findings, although she did point out a possible paranormal source when a sleepover attendee asked if there were any reported deaths in the building.

“In 1919 a Spanish flu epidemic swept through Lead,” Carlson explained. “The Homestake hospital was overflowing, so this building was also used to house the sick so doctors could attend to them all. More than 100 people were housed here and not all of them lived. So people died in this building.”

Of late, Carlson has had a couple of unexplained phenomenon take place in her office, located at the front of the opera house building.

She came in to discover heat vent covers, that were installed 10 feet up, on the floor with no screws in the vicinity and no evidence of the damage they surely would have caused to underlying furniture.

Her file on Black Hills Paranormal research, placed on her desk prior to the blizzard, vanished without a trace following the storm.

Investigators also reported seeing figures walk across the stage when Carlson sang to help conjure up activity.

Shadley, who doesn’t necessarily believe in evil paranormal beings or activity, said the duration of their investigation was six to eight hours and emphasized that the group is highly skeptical of all of their findings, no matter where they are.

“I think we’re dealing with is energies that have been placed on an environment,” Shadley said. “Some of the responses we did get were very indicative of an intelligent response and I didn’t look at the rock throwing as a bad thing. I have never found any instance where anyone has been injured by this type of activity.”

Shadley added that in a big, beautiful theater such as the opera house, it is imperative to take into account the acoustics in order not to capture false positives.

“If there are any doubts, we throw it out,” Shadley said. “The only information we provide to clients is what we absolutely can’t explain. “This is definitely an interesting location and we were surprised at the activity we captured. We’re all pretty big skeptics, but when you’re there and it happens to you in real life ...Three times we got rocks thrown at us. How do you explain that?”

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