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Spooky trip to Occult Museum
Publication Date : 07-08-2013
No one would suspect that this ordinary-looking house contains a vast assortment of "horror artifacts"
From the outside, there is nothing to suggest that this two-storey suburban home contains an assortment of demonic and possessed objects. With its narrow driveway and porch flanked by an American flag, it looks like every other house in the cul-de-sac.
But its basement houses a collection of artefacts taken from about 3,000 cases famed paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren claim to have investigated over the years, including the haunting of the Perron family depicted in The Conjuring.
As part of the promotion for the horror film, about 20 international journalists have been shuttled two hours from New York City to the town of Monroe, Connecticut, to visit the Occult Museum in the house's basement and chat with Lorraine, now 86.
Her husband Ed died in 2006, aged 79, and is buried at a cemetery down the road from the home they shared during their six-decade marriage.
When the journalists are disembarking the tour bus, the feeling of foreboding is palpable. The Conjuring star Patrick Wilson described the museum's creep factor during interviews earlier in the day, and we have had plenty of time to swop ghost stories.
Inside, we are greeted by Lorraine and her son-in-law Tony Spera, who now heads the New England Society of Psychic Research, a ghost-hunting group founded by Ed in 1952.
We are seated on benches in the cosy living room, which has pictures of the couple, watercolours and oil paintings of houses they had visited, and crosses and crucifixes (the Warrens are staunch Catholics).
The most unusual thing about the living room are the pets - several cats and two roosters, Jackie and Einstein.
Introductions are made, and Spera, 40, recounts how he met his wife Judy and became involved in the paranormal after watching her parents speak at a university.
"Lorraine and Ed are the pioneers of the supernatural realm. You watch TV today and see kids who've read Ed's book and claim to be demonologists. That's not how it works," he says.
"In the early 1990s, there were only seven demonologists in the US who were recognised by the Vatican. Six were clergy, and one was Ed Warren. He was the only lay demonologist."
He pops a tape into the video player and we watch a recording of what he claims is the exorcism of a demon- possessed farmer named Maurice Theriault by Ed and a clergy member.
It opens with a shot of Theriault on a chair, his eyes staring dully into the camera and who is unresponsive to questions. As the priest starts to recite Latin incantations, Theriault writhes in agony, sputtering blood onto his white T-shirt. In the muffled audio, he mumbles: "Maurice isn't here."
Spera claims that the exorcism was successful, though a decade later, Theriault shot his wife and then himself in the same manner that his father had done to his mother when he was a boy.
Sufficiently creeped out, the journalists are ushered down the stairs, with the warning: "Don't touch anything."
Through the "Haunted Hallway", a short passage with paintings and Halloween-like props, is the museum.
It is smaller than the room featured in the film. There are voodoo dolls, African fertility dolls, satanic books, a spirit-conjuring mirror and, in the centre, a 2.1m-tall demonic idol purportedly found in the woods of nearby Newtown, where last year's horrific elementary school shooting occurred.
The most nefarious item is housed in a glass case - a demon-possessed Raggedy Ann doll named "Annabelle" that allegedly slashed and tried to strangle one of its owner's friends. The last person to mishandle it in the museum, says Spera, died in a motorcycle accident on the way home.
While the room is eerie, its credibility is cheapened by the creepy music and what appears to be Halloween props interspersed with the trinkets.
Regardless of the museum's authenticity, Lorraine comes off as sincere, particularly when talking about Ed.
Back upstairs, she shows off a photograph of the two of them when they were younger and talks about how he was the only boy she dated. They met in their hometown of Bridgeport, Connecticut, when she was 16, and they married shortly after he enlisted in the navy during World War II.
After he was discharged, she says he decided to investigate haunted houses because he grew up in one. "He used to see an old lady in his closet and he'd hear footsteps coming up the steps to his house and walking around his bed... So he wanted to see if other people had similar experiences."
Of her own psychic abilities, she says: "I was in a private Catholic school when I was younger and I began to see lights around people. I told the sister, but she didn't believe me. I couldn't talk to my parents because I knew they would not understand me."
But she has never been afraid of haunted houses and her faith keeps the evil in her basement at bay. A priest also blesses the room daily.
She calls the Perron case one of the most trying because of the way it affected their lives for months after. Having watched the film, she was impressed by it and says that most of the events in it are true, though "some dramatic licence is taken".
While Spera has taken over most of the investigative duties, she still assists on cases. "I love the work... and I'm doing it for Ed. He would want me to continue what we worked so hard on for such a long time."