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By Paul Lonardo
The Blackstone Valley is alive with the echoes of souls that roam the old mills, homes, social clubs and land they once inhabited, according to Tom D’Agostino and his wife Arlene, authors of a newly released book, Ghosts of the Blackstone Valley.
The couple, originally from Greenville, now live in Putnam, CT. They have many ties in Smithfield, and visit family and friends often. Tom and his brother continue to run a local music store, Rudy D’Agostino’s The Music Complex on Putnam Pike, which has been in operation since 1994.
Tom is a paranormal researcher and investigator, author, and student of history. He has been studying and investigating paranormal accounts for more than three and a half decades with his wife. Tom earned a degree in political science from Rhode Island College and is a multi-instrument musician who builds his own musical instruments, many from the Medieval and Renaissance eras. Arlene is a professional photographer. Her vast education spans from photography to marketing and fundraising. Arlene is also a talented tarot card reader with years of experience and success in the field. Tom and Arlene work together with some of the best names in the field investigating the paranormal from New England and beyond.
Growing up, Tom was not unlike other kids who had a strong interest in all things ghost-related. However, he had some unique experiences most kids did not, and this may have been what propelled an interest in the paranormal that continues to this day.
“We kind of grew up in a house that was haunted, or at least seemed to be haunted,” Tom says. “Some strange things used to happen that couldn’t be explained.”
As he grew, his interest never waned, and after spending six days in a purported haunted house when he was a teenager, he knew this would be a lifelong pastime. When it came time to go to college, he studied a variety of physical and esoteric sciences, including meteorology and astronomy.
“I wanted to see what angles I could best use to attack the phenomenon I experienced with ghosts, apparitions, unexplained noises, and other related activities,” Tom says. “To me, it’s more of a science. It’s all about energy. Energy is what influences objects and causes things to move, and I wanted to explore the hows and whys.”
It was around this time that Tom began to do his own investigations in cemeteries and houses believed to be haunted. And a paranormal investigator was born. It was 1982, just before this field became popular in modern culture, helped along by the success of mainstream films like Ghostbusters and Poltergeist.
“Back then, there were only a handful of us,” Tom says, “and you were considered a complete nutcase.”
Tom didn’t have a lot of that fancy equipment you might see in movies. He had been an automotive machinist, and he utilized thermal scanners that were used on engines. Tom had worked in construction, and had access to EMF (Elector-Magnetic Field) meters. These became his tools of the trade, simple but effective means of detecting energy sources and spikes.
Tom and Arlene have conducted over 1,200 investigations, a service they have always done for free.
“We don’t charge for investigations,” Tom says. “My wife and I do it to help people who are troubled by something and want answers or rational explanations. I started doing this because I loved the discovery aspect of it. Finding answers to what happened and what is really going on is why we both do it.”
A lot of the times, this local paranormal research team does find answers, but it’s not the kind you might think.
“Many times these events can be nothing more than a series of coincidences that lead some people to believe some paranormal is happening,” Tom says. “Sometimes if there are a number of things occurring, most can be quickly explained while one or two things remain unexplainable and could be something paranormal. So it can be a combination of something and nothing, and everything in between.”
Finding definitive answers about what’s on the other side of this veil of existence is what some people would like to know, but Tom doesn’t think that level of knowledge is attainable.
“It’s a one way ticket to the beyond,” Tom says. “It’s not something we can actually study very well. While we can provide some answers, we cannot go to the other side, find out what’s going on there and then come back and report it to others.”
Tom and Arlene have authored twelve acclaimed books on the subject of ghosts, haunts and folklore of New England, with Ghosts of the Blackstone Valley being their latest effort. A 2005 title, Haunted Rhode Island, describes some of the local haunting sites, but Ghosts of the Blackstone Valley goes much deeper into the paranormal activities that have existed, and still exist, in and around Smithfield. Tom and Arlene’s new book explores several newly discovered local sites where paranormal activity is suspected.
For instance, there is a monument in Cumberland where the ghosts of nine colonists slain in King Philip’s War linger. There is a haunted antique store in Chepachet, and spirits of another kind that are served in historic establishments like Granville’s Pub and the Tavern on Main. And then there is Woonsocket’s Precious Blood Cemetery, where ghosts wander endlessly searching for their loved ones.
“Blackstone Valley is noted as the Birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution,” Tom says. “With that you had people leaving their farms to go to work in the factories and mills, which were quite dangerous places. As a result, there were numerous accidents and deaths.”
Tom also mentions King Philip’s war, sometimes called the First Indian War, a 1675–78 conflict between local American Indians and New England settlers. The war was named for the Wampanoag chief who adopted the name Philip because of friendly relations with the Mayflower Pilgrims.
“Some of that war was fought right here on this soil,” Tom says. “And they didn’t just fight each other. They burned villages, killing women and children mercilessly on both sides. So there is an awful lot of scarring that took place, particularly in the Blackstone Valley. Between the mill tragedies and the brutal war, these things make the area rife for haunts.”
Ghosts of the Blackstone Valley can be picked up on Amazon and through local bookstores. And if you suspect a haunting, a ghost, or any type of paranormal activity in a residence or an outdoor location, contact Tom and Arlene through Tom’s website http://www.tomdagostino.com/ and they will investigate the phenomenon free of charge and they give you all the answers that are scientifically possible.