Who doesn’t like a good ghost story? Especially with Halloween looming.
Ron Kolek sure does, and he’s got more than a few of them.
Ron is the founder, executive director and lead investigator of the New England Ghost Project, based right here in Dracut, where he has lived for about 65 years, currently on Merrimack Avenue.
Ron, 74, has been hunting ghosts since about the turn of the century. His life, mostly normal up to that point, suddenly turned paranormal.
The New England Ghost Project is, appropriately, Dracut Economic Development’s October 2023 Business of the Month.
Ron graduated from the since-closed Nathaniel Hawthorne College with a degree in Environmental Science. He then opened a business in the Beaver Brook Mill on Lakeview Avenue called Exit, which designed and manufactured environmental teaching aids. When that folded, he remained in the manufacturing business, doing work for such major retailers as JCPenney, T.J. Maxx, HomeGoods and Smuckers.
He then bought the old Kenwood Market on Merrimack Avenue (in a building now occupied by Extreme Toyz) and continued his manufacturing business while he and his wife, Jan, opened a craft store called The Wooden Peg up front.
GHOST IN THE MACHINE?
In 2000, Ron severely injured two fingers and the thumb on his left hand while working with a table saw. The bone in his middle finger was replaced with a cadaver bone (“If I give you the finger, it’s not me,” he says). After a 6½-hour operation, he suffered a pulmonary embolism and was rushed into intensive care, where he believes he had a near-death experience, though he cautions, “I was on all kinds of drugs.”
Nonetheless, the incident left a profound impression on him and piqued his curiosity about the concept of life after death. He figured that with his scientific background and newfound respect for the unexplained, he could investigate reports of incidents that may have roots beyond the realm of science in hopes of proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that spirits exist.
He doesn’t see dead people – well, not often anyway – though he does profess to being a big fan of “The Sixth Sense.” And he doesn’t drive around with ghostly vacuum cleaners and other gear like the guys in “Ghostbusters,” his favorite ghost movie of all time.
What he does is investigate paranormal activity when asked to, collaborate with other investigators, run tours of allegedly haunted places, and hold events where folks can learn about the latest news of hauntings and huntings. Over the weekend of September 29-October 1, 2023, he co-hosted Spirit Quest 2023: Beyond the Veil, a “unique paranormal retreat” that included talks about crystal healing, hauntings on Cape Cod, and a psychic detective workshop.
Ron’s job is not to convince you that ghosts exist. Like beauty, ghosts are in the eye of the beholder.
“It’s all belief,” Ron says. “It’s like religion. It’s based on belief rather than fact.
“Steve Parsons has one of the best answers,” he adds, referring to his frequent collaborator who The Wall Street Journal calls “The Gold Standard of Ghost Hunting.”
“Steve says, ‘I believe if people see ghosts, they see ghosts.’ It’s their experience. We don’t know. It’s more of a belief. I don’t think it can ever be proved.”
He will, however, tell you about his ghostly experiences. Whether you believe him or not is entirely up to you.
“I’ve seen three. They appeared as real as you. I know I saw them, but I don’t have them on camera,” he says.
SPIRITS IN THE MATERIAL WORLD
It was while recuperating from the embolism that Ron decided to take a class on TV production. To graduate, he had to produce a show on something.
“I had had this near-death experience so I figured I’d do mine on ghosts,” he says. “Then I wanted to do more on investigating things I couldn’t explain.”
His research continued to widen until he was rubbing elbows with some of the elites of ghost hunters. He turned his paranormal passion into his profession, starting the New England Ghost Project. He even did a stint teaching Paranormal CSI at Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill.
“I told my students, ‘When you go into an investigation, check your beliefs at the door. Collecting evidence is our goal.’”
Of course, the popularity of ghosts, mediums, haunted houses and other related topics began to take off just as he was dipping his toe into the haunted waters.
“When I first started this, the internet was just starting out,” Ron says. “There were maybe a dozen ghost-hunting groups in the country. Now there are probably a dozen in the trailer park.”
The three ghostly interactions he has had all occurred when he wasn’t actually on the clock, so to speak.
“I’ve seen a lot of interesting stuff, but I can’t tell you they’re ghosts,” he says. “The three times I saw things, I wasn’t doing anything special. Once I was doing a tour, another time I was having coffee, and the third time I was setting up a convention.”
That first one, in particular, stands out. It happened at Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse, where Ron and crew often host tours and fundraisers for the Ghost Project.
“I had started my speech and I noticed a woman outside walking around the observation deck, so I stopped and waited, thinking she was going to come in, and I didn’t want to have to start all over again. When she didn’t come in, I asked if there was someone outside, and the person at the door said no, there was nobody out there. But I saw her clear enough to stop what I was doing and wait.
“Then one of the representatives from the Coast Guard told me there had been reports in the past of a woman on the seawall, and someone would go to investigate and there would be no one there.”
GHOSTS IN DRACUT?
So are there any particularly paranormal places in Dracut? As you may expect, two buildings with long histories in town also have long haunted histories.
Ron and the Ghost Project have investigated both The Village Inn on Broadway Road and Lenzi’s (for years called The Windsor) on Merrimack Avenue, not very far from the home base of the New England Ghost Project. They picked up some electronic voice phenomena, or EVPs, particularly inside The Village Inn, where a small boy and girl are said to walk the rooms.
But, as Ron says, “Can I tell you there are ghosts running around the place? No.”
Ron has become somewhat of a media star through the New England Ghost Project.
He is known in Dracut, having served on the Cable TV Advisory Board and as a past chair of the Republican Town Committee. But now his notoriety extends beyond town borders to those around the country and world as a leading ghost hunter.
He has been featured on every Boston news channel as well as on a couple episodes of the Boston travelogue show “Chronicle” and just about every major newspaper in New England. He has co-authored three books with fifth-generation medium Maureen Wood – “Ghost Chronicles,” “More Ghost Chronicles” and “A Ghost a Day.” He hosts radio shows and podcasts, among them “Ghost Chronicles International” with the above-mentioned Steve Parsons. And he’s happy to host ghost talks for groups and charities.
All due respect to Howard Stern, you could almost call Ron “the King of All Mystical Media.”
HE WON’T GIVE UP THE GHOST
Though he is often referred to as the Van Helsing of ghost hunters, in reference to the famed fictional vampire slayer in the novel “Dracula,” don’t bother asking Ron about vampires or aliens or zombies or Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster – that’s not his specialty. He attends séances and has been present at three exorcisms sanctioned by the Catholic Church, and is not shy when talking about his experiences with demons. “There’s some nasty stuff out there,” he says.
But Ron’s main interest is hunting ghosts until he either proves they’re real or becomes one himself.
If the latter happens, you better believe he has plans.
“Maureen and I have our own code,” he says, referring to the co-author of his three books. “If either one of us dies, we’ll let the other know we’re there through the code.”
For more information, visit www.neghostproject.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 978-455-6678.