Haunted City: Helper restoration properties more than new owner bargained
HELPER, Utah — When Gary DeVincent first came to town, Helper’s Main Street looked much different. Many of the buildings were empty and in need of restoration, and barely a soul could be found at night.
“I believe a lot of these projects, anyone else would have just torn them out,” said DeVincent, who has since helped bring the street back to life with restoration projects that have attracted art galleries, antique stores, and tourists. “It’s all about preservation.”
Still, in the quietest of hours, as he walked alone in those early days, something was noticeable and palpable.
“5 or 6 years ago, clearly out of each building, you could feel something emanating,” acknowledged DeVincent, who generally considers himself a skeptic when it comes to the unexplained. “The whole town seemed to have this feeling—some sort of entities just around.”
DeVincent said he had never experienced something he would describe as paranormal, but his workers in recent years were a different story.
“Those are the guys that have some concerns,” DeVincent said.
Multiple restoration projects left workers with experiences and feelings, but nowhere were they more distinct than the old Kiva Club, once apparently a speakeasy, gambling parlor, and prostitution den with a checkered history dating back to the Prohibition era.
Locals told DeVincent the club had mafia connections back in the day and that the club was the last place some people were seen.
“The story is there were more bones incinerated in this thing than there are at the city cemetery,” DeVincent shared as he stood next to the old furnace.
He shrugged as he toured KSL-TV reporter Andrew Adams and photojournalist Jay Hancock through the dark, cavernous basement.
“Nobody ever wanted to work down here alone,” DeVincent acknowledged.
Mark Montoya, who helps to manage DeVincent’s Helper properties, said it was far more than just a dark feeling to him down there.
While others had reported phenomena such as capturing light anomalies in photographs, hearing voices when nobody was there, and hearing rocks being kicked across the floor, Montoya’s experience was more personal in the basement of the Kiva Club.
“I felt something touch my arm,” Montoya said.
At that time, he said a woman who was with him screamed because she saw a shadow-like figure behind him.
“Something doesn’t want you down there,” he said.
He surmised that perhaps working on the old properties may have stirred up spirits that shared a connection to the buildings.
“When you start renovating buildings, you disturb the memories and the spirits and just the vibe that are there,” Montoya said. “You kind of, in a sense, unearth them and get them active again and I kind of think that’s what’s provoked the energy to kind of shift a little bit—maybe some of the people that have worked there in the past or it used to be their favorite ‘haunt’ to go to has now become their actual haunt. They’re sticking around and haunting the place, so to speak.”
With so many experiences that had not been explained, DeVincent agreed to allow KSL TV and the Western Association for the Science of the Paranormal to investigate the Kiva Club as well as another property on DeVincent’s list for restoration—the Newhouse Hotel.
DeVincent said he wasn’t aware of any experiences of note in the Newhouse building, so it had the potential to serve as a baseline for whatever was uncovered in the Kiva Club.
At least, that was the plan.
Kiva Club Investigation
On the night of Oct. 11, the W.A.S.P. crew, headed by cofounders Chris Harmon and Chris Black, showed up with numerous gadgets designed to detect paranormal evidence.
They also came with a team member and medium, Stephanie, who soon picked up on the building’s history without previous research into it.
“I just keep seeing gambling, and I keep seeing cards being gambled,” she said as she toured the main floor.
It was only a few minutes into the first investigative session in the basement before Black reported feeling like he was punched in the chest. At around roughly the same time, Montoya said he suddenly felt nauseous, and DeVincent said his wife, Malarie, was affected to the point she thought it was best to leave for the night.
John Marchette, also a member of the W.A.S.P. team, deployed multiple microphones throughout the building, and as a result, the group recorded several electronic voice phenomena or EVPs.
Among them were unexplained whistling upstairs, unexplained male voices faintly saying “help us” and “help,” and an unexplained whisper of the word, “child” when nobody was standing around the furnace in the boiler room.
When the crew was conducting an audio recorder session around the stairway, Harmon attempted to lure in any possible spirits by presenting and stating that he had a Barber quarter from 1894.
An unexplained voice detected by an audio recorder was later found to have responded, “a gift?”
This year, the group also came equipped with a structured light sensor (SLS) camera built by Amitaf Paranormal Tech, a member of W.A.S.P.
The device, investigators said, projects a grid of invisible infrared light beams to map what is in front of it. People mapped by the device appear on a computer monitor as stick figures in the shape they appear in the field of view.
During an investigative session by the stairs in the basement—known to be one of the hot spots for activity at the Kiva Club, Harmon sat down. He attempted to contact any potential spirits or entities in the building. The SLS camera suddenly detected a stick figure over Harmon’s shoulder that appeared to move in a manner one of the investigators described as kicking Harmon in the head. Harmon also noted he felt a pain in his neck at that time.
After the unexplained figure appeared on the device for several seconds, it disappeared. The SLS camera did not pick up anything else of note for the remainder of the evening.
Harmon later acknowledged that was a remarkable piece of evidence, yet it may not have been the most compelling of the evening.
Newhouse Hotel Investigation
KSL and the W.A.S.P. crew moved over to the old Newhouse Hotel to see what could be noted there.
Expectations were not high because there wasn’t much of a history of known paranormal experiences inside the building.
That made what happened extremely surprising to all who were present.
Upstairs in the under-renovation building, the investigators deployed a motion sensor-activated music box, a device that sounds an alarm with sudden shifts in temperature, and a smartphone-based communication device that can detect and project voices supposedly spoken through it by unknown entities.
After several minutes of quiet, the investigators heard three unexplained knocks coming from the back of the building. They also observed unexplained pulley noises nearby. Around that time—and though nothing passed in front of it—the music box started to play.
Initially, it played briefly as apparent intelligent responses to questions.
“Are you happy to have people to talk to?” Harmon asked the room.
The music box triggered briefly.
“I’m going to take that as a yes,” he said.
Black asked if there was a single spirit in the room if it could pass in front of the device, and the music box played again briefly.
“Can you walk in front of it if there are multiple?” Black asked, referring to multiple spirits or entities.
Suddenly, the music box played again—this time roughly in a continuous manner for about 40 seconds.
“Can you move away from the device?” Black asked.
The music played for a few more seconds and then stopped.
Black said, “thank you,” and the music box played again very briefly, seeming to acknowledge the thanks.
Soon after the music box quieted down, the temperature monitoring suddenly started to alarm repeatedly with changes.
After some responses on the phone-based communication device perceived as unfriendly from whatever was in the room—including what sounded like a growl—the investigators decided it was time to leave.
Helper and Beyond
DeVincent was intrigued upon learning about the unusual evidence recorded at both locations.
He said he has always approached his restoration projects with the utmost appreciation and respect for the histories of the properties and the people who came before him.
“I’ve always felt like I know why I’m here, I know what I’m doing, I’m trying to do the right thing,” said DeVincent.
He seemed undeterred by any of the activity or experiences in the old buildings.
“I try to stay focused on the positive always, not allowing anything to creep in that way,” DeVincent said. “If dishes start flying across the room and stuff, yeah, well, I’m sure I’ll be singing a different tune.”
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