BROOKSVILLE — 'Twas the week before Halloween and all through the house, not a creature was stirring …
Or was there?
It seems things have been going bump in the night at Rogers' Christmas House Village, the Brooksville landmark and longtime destination for Christmas lovers everywhere.
Strange things happen. Lights flicker. Toilets flush. A helium balloon travels across the main house. A piece from a nativity scene is found unexpectedly across the room.
"I'm not a big believer in that stuff," owner George Rodriguez said. "But there are some things that kind of spook you out a little bit."
Last weekend, Bobby Hewitson and fellow members of the Paranormal Research Organization of Florida (PROOF), based in the Tampa Bay area, made their third visit during the past year to the five cottages that compose the Christmas House on Saxon Avenue near downtown Brooksville.
They had heard rumors about paranormal activity in the cottages — some of which are more than 100 years old, according to Rodriguez — and initiated the investigations. At first, Rodriguez was hesitant, but then decided the visits were harmless.
For each visit, the PROOF members have brought a full range of spook-spotting gear: surveillance and video cameras with night vision, digital cameras, digital voice recorders and an electromagnetic field meter.
"Our previous investigations have shown us that there may be paranormal activity at Rogers' Christmas House Village," Hewitson said.
And how. Hewitson said a woman's voice was captured on tape. Video recordings detected light anomalies. Two team members said something touched their legs.
"We have not been able to provide an explanation for occurrences that were experienced or captured as evidence," he said.
Rodriguez has worked at the Christmas House since the 1970s. He said original owner Margaret "Weenie" Rogers Ghiotto, who died in 2006, experienced some of the unexplained phenomena as well.
"Weenie named the ghost Persia," Rodriguez said. "Since 1971, we've had a standard joke: It's Persia the friendly ghost."
Hewitson's group doesn't charge anything to assess possible paranormal activity, but does accept donations to help offset the cost of equipment.
The group has more than 65 hours of material to review after last weekend's visit to the Christmas House. Members have gone through about 10 percent of the material, Hewitson said, and already have found three electronic voice phenomena, or EVPs.
"That's a voice that's captured on audio equipment that you weren't able to hear because it's at a lower frequency," Hewitson explained.
The group, which has been together for 3 1/2 years, has conducted nearly 50 investigations of homes and businesses in the Tampa Bay area.
Members keep careful records of their visits and what they find. They track details such as moon phases and solar flare activity, to help determine whether paranormal activity is greater during certain times. They hope to eventually compile a database in partnership with other paranormal groups.
When possible, they conduct investigations several times at the same place to validate or debunk findings.
Another paranormal group previously visited the Christmas House and also confirmed activity, Rodriguez said.
They all know what they've seen — or sensed. But it doesn't scare the members. Not too much, anyway.
"When the hair stands on the back of my neck or arms, my blood starts pumping," PROOF investigator Chris Gostkowski said. "Call me crazy, (but) I'm hoping something hits me in the face. It validates what I'm doing."
"People might joke about Ghostbusters," Gostkowski said. "Everyone's got their own beliefs; I just think it's interesting."
Some patrons of the Christmas House are intrigued as well.
"Sometimes people visit us for the first time and ask if there are ghosts here," Rodriguez said. "They say they can feel them."
Rodriguez said he believes in the spirit of a white-bearded, red-suited man reputed to haunt the place every Christmas season.
"Yes, I do," Rodriguez said.
Shary Lyssy Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.