For the past 40 years, Ken DeCosta has been investigating unusual phenomena and things that can’t always be explained.
When he was about nine or 10, he developed a fascination with the unexplained after reading about ghosts and UFOs. Then, when he was older, he started going out on his own to investigate.
“When I was 18, I started talking to people that claimed they had experiences and visiting places where things happened,” he said.
On Saturday, Oct. 10, DeCosta will continue that endeavor as he leads a public investigation and tour of the John Waterman Arnold House, located at 25 Roger Williams Circle in Warwick. The house, which serves as the headquarters for the Warwick Historical Society, has a bit of haunted history, with newspaper clippings dating back to 1967 that quote staffers as having heard and seen strange things, such as apparitions and mist on the stairs.
“It’s a gem of a place off the beaten path,” DeCosta said.
DeCosta is the director of RISEUP Paranormal, or the Rhode Island Society for the Examination of Unusual Phenomena, which he co-founded with his son David in 2007.
“David had some classmates at [Rhode Island College], who we discovered had a shared interest in what we were doing,” he said. “We started with five people, and now we have affiliates in five of the six New England states.”
DeCosta said when people experience something they can’t explain, they contact the group and invite them to their homes or places of business in an effort to find answers. To get down to the bottom of what’s going on, the group conducts interviews, collects environmental readings and documents data.
“We try to come at it from an academic point of view and not rush to judgement,” DeCosta said. “We come from different disciplines and backgrounds. We have people with medical backgrounds, teachers, defense contractors, and engineers. If there’s a rational explanation, we’ll offer that, which is usually the case.”
DeCosta said RISEUP has had approximately 500 residential cases.
“When people are scared or overdramatic, the best possible outcome is to find the cause and effect of what’s happening, then they’re fine,” he said. “It’s relatively rare when we can’t explain something.”
DeCosta said RISEUP was invited to investigate the Arnold House.
“In the years we’ve been doing this, we’ve been fortunate to establish relationships with many historically significant locations throughout the state with legends and folklore attached to them, tales of ghosts, etc.” he said. “I’m the type of person that would love to go in the house, not just walk by it. We want to go in, walk around and see the places.”
DeCosta said RISEUP started conducting public investigations and tours of these locations as a way to not only educate people about the history of these sites, but also to show them how RISEUP does what it does.
“We started taking people to Fort Adams and Belcourt Castle in Newport, which opened the door for groups that wanted to try it. It gives people a more realistic view of what we do, the equipment we use and how we document what we find,” DeCosta said, adding that all proceeds generated from the investigations and tours go directly back to the stewards and groups they partner with, many of which are non-profits.
“People embrace these legends, so the non-profits try to think outside the box in terms of generating revenue since grants are hard to come by,” DeCosta said, adding that RISEUP approaches locations very respectfully. “We don’t want to trivialize these places, or turn them into ‘the haunted house down the road.’”
After being invited to investigate the Arnold House, DeCosta said RISEUP established some summer events there.
“I’ve been there four or five times and it seems active,” he said. “It’s a beautiful place. It’s been very rewarding to go there; we appreciate the opportunity.”
When conducting investigations, DeCosta said the group takes a pragmatic approach.
“We know your mind can play tricks on you,” he said. “We’re not believers or skeptics, but unbiased observers. We’re not expecting anything.”
That being said, DeCosta believes he’s seen something in the Arnold House during multiple visits there.
“My first three times there, I was sure I saw a figure walking through the archives room on the second floor. The person I was with saw the same thing the second time, and again the third time with the same person,” he said. “We don’t really get freaked out, but we had a chuckle at it.”
DeCosta said the group has devices that can read magnetic fields and interact with spirits, but it also knows the devices can be triggered by a lot of outside influences, which can cause fluctuations in the readings.
“As an example, we know the Arnold House is in the flight path of Green Airport, so we could pick up [airport] communications,” he said. “We measure the environment and if there are fluctuations, that’s a sign something has been introduced to the environment.”
While at the Arnold House, DeCosta said the group passed around historical documents listing who had lived at the house and began asking questions.
“Every question we asked, we had the devices lighting up,” he said. “When we would ask control questions, something we knew was negative, the devices didn’t light up, but if it was a legitimate question, they did.”
DeCosta said a woman in the group asked questions about a friend of hers that was buried in the cemetery next door.
“She would ask questions only she would know about her friend and we were getting positive responses to ‘yes’ questions,” he said.
DeCosta said at one point, a metal easel in the room everyone was in suddenly fell over and hit a woman in the back of the head.
“She was a bit shaken but she took it with humor,” he said, adding that all six people in the room witnessed it. “I have not seen a lot of object manipulation. The easel was away from the table we were sitting at. It was made of metal, it was on a tripod and it was stable; no one had moved it.”
DeCosta said he’s heard and experienced a lot of things that make him change the way he looks at things. When asked about the most convincing thing he’s seen, he said it was an easy answer.
“I was at the Paine House Museum in Coventry when I saw a child apparition float down across the hallway about 20 feet away. I was just sitting there by myself. The apparition was about four feet high and went across the hallway in front of me and into what used to be a classroom,” he said. “Although I didn’t feel I was in any danger, it was pretty unsettling. My reaction was, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me!’”
DeCosta said the group had set up a camera pointing down the hall, so they reviewed the footage.
“Everything synced up,” he said. “The camera picked up a pulsing ball of energy; it was illuminated and giving off light at the same distance and speed as what I saw.”
As for what the future holds for RISEUP, DeCosta said the group continues to field calls, staying busy and active conducting private and public investigations.
“The public investigations allow us to further our own research as well as get to see what happens when guests come in,” he said.
In addition to the Arnold House, DeCosta said the group is planning public investigations at the Paine House Museum in Coventry and Smith’s Castle in Wickford.
“We’re really blessed to have three locations put their faith and trust in us,” he said. “We had credible people at all three locations that experienced something.”
Although Saturday’s public investigation at the Arnold House is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m., DeCosta said people should arrive at 6:30 p.m. in order to do a walkthrough of the house and get used to the layout prior to the investigation. Historical background on the house will also be provided. Call the Warwick Historical Society at 467-7647 to reserve your spot. The cost is $25 per person.
“All proceeds will go to the Warwick Historical Society for maintenance and upkeep of the house,” DeCosta said. “Come for the ghost, stay for the history.”