October 31st happens smack in between the Autumnal Equinox and the Winter Solstice, so ancient peoples thought it was the perfect time for making magical contact with the dead. If you’ve heard people say “the veil is thin on Halloween,” it means that this is when the worlds of the living and the dead are as close as they ever will be all year long. There’s less of a separation between the two, which makes it prime time to try to make connections with those who’ve passed.
The crowd of about 20 attendees at this Sunday’s Halloween séance at The Diamond (43 Franklin Street) were instructed to grab a drink and shut off our phones before descending the stairs into the bar’s basement, all of us seemingly unsure of what (or who) might lay beneath.
There was a live organist playing a somber melody as the crowd filed into the small room, which had chairs, tables and candles set up facing a makeshift fabric-backed “stage”. Jamie from the Center For Investigative Research, and whom you also may recognize as Iron Man, was the evening’s emcee, and he introduced Paula Roberts, who would be leading the group’s séance.
Roberts has been practicing psychic and spiritual work for more than 30 years, has tracked ghosts for the show Unsolved Mysteries and was featured on the Discovery Channel for summoning the spirit of Harry Houdini. She reminded me of Angela Lansbury: cute, with an English accent, but also quite witchy, donning a sparkling astrology-patterned shawl. Roberts explained that communicating with spirits via mediumship doesn’t work like a telephone conversation. You can’t just call up Grandpa Joe and expect him to pick up and answer. A medium makes their mind and emotional body open to receiving signals, and then the deceased can tap into the medium’s visions by cloaking themselves into a format that the medium is able to see with their third eye. And how do psychics “see” spirits? She explained it like this: think of your bedroom, you can imagine clearly what it looks like. You can plainly see it, in your mind. And that’s how her psychic visions manifest; she doesn’t see them literally with her eyeballs, but she can see spirits in her mind’s eye.
The room got silent as Roberts put herself into a relaxed trance-like state. She advised us to be aware that strange things might occur—like we might suddenly feel cold, or hear odd noises, or candles could unexpectedly blow out. The first spirit to contact her was a tall, thin man who had a motorcycle. “He loved that motorbike,” she emphasized. Then she asked if anyone in the room knew who that might be. My heart jumped into my throat and tears began to well up in my eyes. One of my old bosses died last year in a motorcycle accident. But just as my heart started to race and I almost opened my mouth to speak, several people in the room said, “That’s Ray,” who apparently was a fixture in the neighborhood and well-known for his motorcycle. So, motorcycle man’s spirit probably wasn’t my former boss.
I calmed down a bit after that, but occasionally felt strange cold drafts and what felt like a tingling in my hands, and a presence at my back. Was there a spirit trying to contact me?
Over the next hour and a half, Roberts continued to receive visions of people who had passed: a baby, a sick and very thin boy about 8 years old, a woman from the late 1800s wearing velvet clothing, a German Nazi from WWII, a woman who had been some sort of cabaret singer (“she wasn’t singing in church”), an older man who had up and left his family with no warning, a woman who dressed up in doll outfits, a woman who wore a yellow dress, and a man with a big red beard. The woman wearing frilly Shirley Temple-esque doll clothes may have been an attendee’s acquaintance, who used to dress up like that and sell dolls. The man who’d deserted his family sounded like he might be known to two different people in the audience. The yellow-dressed lady may have been Jamie’s aunt. And the man with the big red beard had a connection to the bar; he was an acquaintance of the owner’s, and before the bar opened he had suggested they install the game of quoits (similar to horseshoes). The Diamond’s backyard has had quoits in the back since they opened; and apparently one of the game pieces broke for the first time just a few days before our séance. It sounded like maybe redbeard was trying to say hello to the bar.
None of the people that Roberts described sounded like anyone I knew—except the motorcycle guy—which was more likely the local guy Ray than my old boss. The séance wasn’t scary; more than anything, it was intense and certainly the energy of the room was charged in some way. After it ended and the organist played us out, I think many breathed a collective sigh of relief and hightailed it right out of that basement, and some of us straight out of the bar altogether.
Afterward, I looked up historical newspaper articles about 43 Franklin Street and discovered there’d been a shooting and a stabbing in the early 1900s and late 1800s. Reading more about the area during that time, there was no shortage of this kind of activity for decades, in addition to all sorts of warehouse accidents like workers getting crushed to death or deadly explosions. Greenpoint doesn’t seem like it was the safest place to have been alive at the turn of the century. I would guess that our neighborhood is probably crawling with ghosts—if you believe in them.
So what does Roberts say to skeptics and those who question her abilities? “I don’t give a—well… I don’t care.” Personally, I think she’s legit.
The Diamond | 43 Franklin Street