PORTLAND – Four students waited quietly in the dark, lounging in a cluster of comfy leather sofas and chairs. On the table was a digital audio recorder that they hoped would pick up the sounds of any restless spirits in the library at Portland High School.

Custodians had told them that the library was a prime location to experience paranormal activity. Outside on the roof, dozens of seagulls suddenly raised a racket with their groaning and squawking and screeching.

“Do you think the voices that the janitors hear are the seagulls?” asked Duke Newcomb, drawing a burst of laughter from the other students.

The students are members of a new-media class at Portland Arts and Technology High School. They spent the wee hours of Thursday morning — part of their spring vacation — hunting ghosts at Portland High, with some apparent success.

Portland High, the nation’s second-oldest continuously operating public high school, has long been rumored to be haunted by restless spirits. PATHS is a vocational school that serves students from more than 20 high schools in the area.

When David Beane asked his students for class project ideas, Portland High seniors Jon Mikkelsen and Rocco Didonato suggested creating a video program modeled after the television series “Ghost Hunters,” on the Syfy Channel. Their half-hour program will air on local cable channels in the coming weeks.

Thirteen students were at the high school from 11 p.m. Wednesday to 3:30 a.m. Thursday. They used audio recorders, low-light cameras, hands-off laser temperature gauges and electromagnetic frequency readers to monitor paranormal activity in the auditorium, a basement music room, an art room, the science wing and the library.

In the music room, an audio recorder picked up several minutes of rustling and what sounded like music stands being moved.

“There also was something that sounded like chimes, but that could have been (the bells of City Hall),” said Mike Cardinal, a Scarborough High senior who attends music classes at PATHS. Beane invited Cardinal to the ghost hunt because he is familiar with modern sound equipment.

In the library, three people reported feeling the sensation of being touched.

“It felt like someone touched my hand,” said Andrea Brown, a junior at Bonny Eagle High School in Standish. “I got up and walked around a little and it happened again.”

In the art room, two students felt similar sensations.

“I get the heebie jeebies when I come in here,” said Mikkelsen, who plans to attend the New England School of Communications in Bangor.

Didonato captured a glowing orb — which ghost hunters say may indicate the presence of a spirit — in a digital photograph taken in the auditorium.

Beane, a former TV news director and producer, said he does believe in the spirit world. He grew up in the house where his great-grandmother died. In the decades that followed, family members credited her with making rocking chairs move and walking the stairs at night.

“I believe there’s something out there,” Beane said. “Maybe I’m crazy, but it makes for a good class project.”

Beane’s students have differing opinions. Newcomb, a South Portland High senior, said his family has experienced several paranormal events, so he jumped at the chance to participate in the ghost hunt.

Matt Peaslee, a junior at Greely High in Cumberland, said, “I don’t necessarily believe in this kind of stuff. I just thought I’d come and be a part of it.”

When Beane’s students return to school Monday, they will review the information they gathered, determine whether their findings are relevant and use video and audio recordings to produce a half-hour show.

Whether or not his students actually encountered any ghosts is really beside the point, Beane said. They’re learning to use various new-media technologies and practicing other skills such as math, literacy and teamwork.

Most of all, he said, they’re working on a project with passion and creativity that could lead to a profession.

“Most of these kids chose to take this class,” Beane said. “More than half of them are serious about following new media as a career path.”

 

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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