Not all ghosts are ghouls: ‘Ghost Hunters’ to feature Perry-Mansfield in upcoming season
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A promotional video for the upcoming season of “Ghost Hunters” features footage that may look familiar to Steamboat Springs residents.
That is because an episode of the show’s latest season, “New Dangers and Evidence,” which airs in April, centers on decades-old accounts of paranormal activity at the Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp.
Though the one-minute video quickly transitions from one shot to another, some local scenes can be distinguished, such as the snow-covered ski runs on Mount Werner.
Local historian Marianne Capra aided the “Ghost Hunters” team in its attempts to prove the legends true. Her own children have attended the camp and have come home telling of encounters with strange, inexplicable noises.
Capra does not have any particular expertise on paranormal activity but has gained local notoriety for her Sinister Steamboat walking tours, which educate guests on some of Steamboat’s most famous tales of ghosts and beasts. Many of the haunted legends from Perry-Mansfield center around séances that reportedly occurred at the camp in the early 20th century, referring to rituals in which people attempt to communicate with spirits.
“It’s hard to say what the intentions (of the séances) were,” Capra said.
Apart from her knowledge of Perry-Mansfield’s haunted history, Capra provided recommendations to the film crew on places around the camp and Steamboat to video for the show. The “Ghost Hunters” team traveled to town in October 2019 to record the episode, just in time for the early winter storm that dumped almost 8 inches of snow at Steamboat Resort and led to multiple crashes.
“The crew said they have rarely shot in the snow,” Capra said, which led to some unique challenges.
Much of the equipment the “Ghost Hunters” team uses is sensitive to cold temperatures, she explained. The crew also was not prepared to be working in a winter landscape in mid-October, so they had to stock up on warm clothes in Steamboat. When filming was over, the producers liked the eerie effect the snow-coated cabins and trees gave to the scenes.
“It makes it look sort of like ‘Blair Witch Project,’” Capra said.
The paranormal show originally aired on the SyFy network, where it spanned 11 seasons with more than 230 episodes. In early 2019, A&E revived the series with 11 new episodes.
In season two, the team heads into uncharted territory for the show, claiming to be the first to investigate reports of paranormal phenomena in some of the nation’s most remote locations.
While ghost stories tend to focus on gruesome elements of souls lingering past death — think horror movies with titles like “Insidious” and “The Devil’s Backbone” — the paranormal activity reported at Perry-Mansfield is less sinister.
“They’re not bloody axe murders,” Capra said. “They (the ghosts) are very supportive of the creative process.”
She recounted one moment in the filming process when the “Ghost Hunters” team let her listen to some audio they collected from the camp. In the recording, a Perry-Mansfield instructor plays a piano, practicing a particularly difficult piece she has not yet mastered.
When Capra listened back to the recording and the sound had been augmented, she thought she could make out a woman’s voice.
“This is fine but keep working,” the voice seemed to say.
Capra attributed the voice to that of Charlotte Perry, who founded the camp with Portia Mansfield in 1913.
While Capra was fascinated by the technology the “Ghost Hunters” team utilized in its work and the footage that was captured, she maintains a level of skepticism when asked if she believes that dead souls, like Perry, truly haunt the living.
“I cannot claim to have viscerally had a paranormal experience that I’m aware of on the Perry-Mansfield campus,” she said.
Toni Quick, executive director of the camp, had a similar view.
“I’m not a ghost believer myself, not to discount what people say may have transpired here before,” Quick said.
What fascinates Capra about ghost stories is their historical and social significance. Whether or not ghosts are real, stories about them hold a universal appeal that has captured the human imagination since before people could write them down.
At one point in the promotional video, the ghost hunting team’s leader, Grant Wilson, stands in front of a seated audience in rural New Mexico.
He asks them, “How many believe they’ve had a paranormal experience.”
Almost everyone in the crowd raises a hand.
That does not surprise Capra, who sees society’s fascination with ghost stories as evidence of a deeper curiosity about the nature of evil. From Native American folklore to contemporary blockbuster movies, tales of the paranormal interweave with real, tangible elements of the human experience.
“These stories land somewhere inside of us,” Capra said during an interview in October, the day before Halloween. “They tell us something we believe to be true about the darkness.”
When it comes to any art-loving ghosts at Perry-Mansfield, she thinks their manifestation is much more benevolent than their ghoulish counterparts.
“I see it as an extra pair of hands in the audience,” she said. “They just might not be attached to a corporeal body.”
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