THE REAL DEAL The Johnsons have been hunting ghosts for more than 30 years.
Rhode Island's Ghost Rush — the books, the TV shows, the tours — often seems built to squeeze a little money out of a haunted economy.
And the two men at the heart of the state's paranormal-palooza — identical twins Keith and Carl Johnson — are not above a little entrepreneurialism. They are storytellers, TV personalities, and authors.
But for the Johnsons, ghost hunting is more than a passing fancy. "We've been at it steadfastly for the last three decades, when it wasn't popular," Carl says. "If the cycle turns again and it's not so popular, we'll still be doing it."
In a world of apparitions, they are the real deal. Or, as real as it gets.
Keith and Carl's interest in ghosts began in their childhood home in North Scituate where LPs flicked on mysteriously and a grey-frocked apparition named Sylvia appeared periodically in Carl's bedroom.
As teenagers, their taste in Ouija and vampires was not exactly a boon to their social lives. Parents warned their kids to stay away from "the Johnson boys." Carl swears that as he walked through downtown Scituate, spooked neighbors would close the shades, one by one. After an impromptu lecture on lycanthropy, the study of werewolves, rumors spread that Keith had stripped naked and run free under a full moon. "After that incident," he wrote in his memoir, "I pretty much kept my research into the supernatural to myself."
These days, the brothers have gone from shunned to celebrated. They have appeared together on SyFy's Ghost Hunters, and in solo appearances on A&E's Paranormal State and Animal Planet's The Haunted. They have delivered lectures at public libraries and paranormal conventions. And instead of keeping their work a secret, they are spreading the ghostly gospel.
At the "Demonology Desk" of Keith's website, nearparanomal.com, you'll learn that swarms of green flies are a sign that "demonic entities paying homage to Beelzebub." Carl's website, beyondtheveilparanormal.org, extends beyond ghosts to subjects like the tall, furry creature that has been spotted in the woods of northern Rhode Island. He has named the elusive beast Hominem Hylocomium Tenebrosus, or "Big Rhodey" for short.
On a crisp Friday night earlier this month, I headed to Slater Mill for "Mills and Mysteries: A Ghostly Experience," the brothers' ghost tour series.
They were dressed in their usual garb: Keith, in black slacks, a billowy black shirt, and a cloak tied around his neck; Carl, in black boots, black jeans, a black sweater, and a leather jacket. They stood facing the plaque that reads "BIRTHPLACE OF THE COTTON MANUFACTURING INDUSTRY IN AMERICA" and a crowd of people wearing jeans, jackets, and sweatshirts.
With Keith by his side and a blazing torch in his hand, Carl led the tour down to the swirling waters of the Blackstone River, where he told the story of 1955's Hurricane Diane, which tore coffins from Precious Blood Cemetery and sent them bobbing and tumbling downstream. As we walked, Keith held a flashlight and whirring tape recorder that was listening for "electronic voice phenomena" — gasps, moans, and other messages from the Other Side. The tour silently followed the pair into Slater Mill, where we could make out the dark outlines of weaving machines and mannequins in 18th-century dress. The sound of the water rushing and occasional growl of a RIPTA bus drifted in from outside. The lights were off.