OCEAN SPRINGS, Miss. (WLOX) - “The Mary C.” A name often heard and spoken throughout our community, affectionately referencing the old Downtown Ocean Springs building where so many have attended classes, celebrations, workshops, meetings and events: The Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Arts Center.
But the building didn’t always have this name, and rumors of ghosts and paranormal activity have been passed along throughout the years.
In this digital exclusive project, we take a deep dive into the history of the Mary C., hear of haunting stories from residents, take you along on a paranormal investigation and review findings to determine if the Mary C. may, in fact, be haunted.
“Well it’s a fascinating building, and it’s got a lot of history.”
Pat Pinson stands outside of the Mary C., giving us a brief rundown of its story. Pinson is the curator of the Albert Duckett Art Gallery and History Museum inside the center. She knows the history of the building inside and out, so we knew she’d be the perfect person to ask about any paranormal rumors.
Pinson tells us the building was constructed in 1927, designed by New Orleans architect William T. Nolan.
“It started out as simply the public school for Ocean Springs,” Pinson said.
And that it was for nearly 40 years. During that time, a teacher by the name of Mary C. O’Keefe stepped up to lead the school.
“She was the first woman superintendent in the state of Mississippi, and she did a good job because she got the school on the map, she got it to top ratings, and it kept those top ratings all the way through the Depression,” Pinson said. “So she retired I think in 1945.”
Eventually, the number of students outgrew the building, and in the mid-1960s, the former public school closed its doors.
“I know it sat empty for a good while,” Pinson said.
In the late 1980s, it was placed on the National Historic Registry, and in the early 2000s, work began to restore the building. Restoration was completed in 2003, when the building opened once again- this time as the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center for Arts and Education.
Any building with a long history is subject to stories of what’s happened within its walls; some of the Mary C.’s stories are of daily life, art, laughter and education... Some are of paranormal activity.
“Well there are all sorts of stories about the place,” Pinson said.
We wanted first-hand accounts, so we took to social media looking for real residents with real stories. Some responses were chilling.
“I was thinking, too, that there was one person killed,” Pinson says, scanning through archives.
There was. This person was named A.G. Foster. Foster was hired as a janitor when the school opened in 1927. One late December day, Foster was washing windows on the second story, when he fell to the ground and later died from those injuries. Could his spirit still wander the property?
“This area is one of the primary areas for... unseen kind of creatures,” Pinson says, leading us into the Mary C.’s dark theater. Pinson takes us through rows of old rusty chairs and up the stairs by the stage.
“For one thing, the doors open and close sometimes, and those doors are not easy to close,” Pinson says. “And a lot of times, when you go backstage here, you hear noises, you see light, you see color sometimes.”
We follow Pat into a gallery room, where she recounts one woman’s paranormal encounter from years ago.
“This is where the director of this area at the time was studying the Indian vase,” Pinson says. “And this is where she got pushed out of her chair was in here.”
The “Indian vase” Pinson refers to is a ceremonial burial pot, housed in the Mary C.’s Indian Artifacts room.
The director also said she would commonly put items down in one place and find them in another later on.
Mid-October, Shadowz Paranormal conducted an investigation at the Mary C. We tagged along in hopes of capturing evidence- or debunking- the haunting rumors.
Raven Busch is the lead investigator of Shadowz Paranormal, a local branch of TAPS (The Atlantic Paranormal Society) that has been investigating hauntings for years.
“Many moons ago, I had a strange paranormal experience, and I wanted logical, reasonable explanations for what had happened,” Busch says. “Still looking, haven’t found them, but I’m searching. I think science can answer my questions. There’s gotta be a scientific reason for everything.”
Busch has been investigating the paranormal for nine years, but it’s not a job she can do alone. Joined by a crew, they employ all sorts of gadgets to conduct their investigation and often... debunk supernatural claims.
“We use... here they are... electromagnetic radiation sensors,” Busch says, rummaging through investigation equipment during setup. “What these do is these pick up electromagnetic radiation, which is naturally occurring, that comes specifically through electronics. If it doesn’t go off, you got nothing.”
According to the World Health Organization, people exposed to that kind of radiation reportedly experience headaches, anxiety, nausea and even depression.
“I’d say probably, you know, 80% of our ‘hauntings’ aren’t hauntings because it is electromagnetic radiation,” Busch says.
While setting up cameras and other monitoring equipment, the team tests the entire building for those radiation fields. This serves as a baseline test to compare to findings later.
“So basically we’re going around, we’re checking any baseline readings, so... outlets, anything plugged in,” says Brandi St. Cyr, a member of the team.
St. Cyr shows us two different devices: One is an electromagnetic radiation detector, and the other is an electromagnetic field detector. She explains that if both go off, something natural is occurring. This is one of the primary methods the team uses to debunk paranormal claims.
With all 10 cameras set up and audio recorders placed around the building, the crew gathers to discuss a game plan. They then split up, and their hunt begins.
We follow one group to the Indian Artifacts room, where they begin their spirit box session. A spirit box is a device that scans through radio waves at a rapid pace, the theory being if you hear a word or sentence spoken across multiple frequencies, a spirit is trying to communicate with you. This is also called the “Estes Method.”
Below is a compilation of moments from two separate spirit box sessions. The first takes place in the Indian Artifacts room and the Architectural Library. The second takes place in the theater and includes an incident where two investigators’ walkie-talkies begin acting strange, producing rapid sounds and static noise. The sounds only stop once investigators promise to re-enter the spirit box. The second video also shows a flashlight turning on by itself, and lead investigator Busch hearing each investigator’s name through the spirit box.
Another method both teams use is called dowsing rods. One member holds L-shaped metal rods in their hand, while another asks questions. The idea is the spirits will move the rods apart to answer ‘no,’ and cross them over each other to answer ‘yes.’
Some eerie moments from our dowsing rods sessions are shown below, including a moment in the first clip where, through asking yes and no questions, we identify a missing book with a possible paranormal connection.
Other compelling evidence was found after the fact on the 10 strategically placed cameras and several audio recorders. For example, this ball- only activated by touch- was seen turning on in an empty staircase, and turning off just seconds before members of the crew walk by. If the crew didn’t cause the ball to turn on, then who... or what... did?
After hours of listening through recordings from the investigation, the team also found some strange Electronic Voice Phenomena, also called EVPs. These are voice phenomena that aren’t heard by humans in the moment, but only through electronic recordings. Note, we’ve raised audio at moments when EVPs appeared so you’re better able to hear.
A couple weeks after the investigation, we sat down with lead investigator Raven Busch and intern Colton for a review of evidence found after days of sifting through countless hours of video and audio. The team claims to have debunked some theories... and reinforced others. Here’s an exclusive look at that evidence review session:
Although the spirit box and dowsing rods sessions can seem compelling, Shadowz Paranormal is careful not to use these methods to verify paranormal activity, and instead classifies them as “personal experiences.”
“It is the policy of Shadowz Paranormal Investigations to relegate spirit box and dowsing rod sessions to the realm of personal experience, unless we have verified evidence to back up any information received via the spirit box, or dowsing rods,” Busch said during an email correspondence. “We conclude the spirit box sessions and dowsing rod sessions offer interesting personal experiences, yet provide no factual evidence of paranormal activity or communication with a specific spiritual entity.”
Busch also weighed in on the flashlights turning on by themselves, saying it was easily debunked once the team determined the lights have a continuous current, meaning they could have turned on by themselves at any time.
As for the strange walkie-talkie malfunctions, here’s what Busch has to say...
“The radio malfunctions during the EVP session backstage can’t be explained. No one was captured on film, or audio, using the radios during that timeframe. Once the intention to reuse the spirit box had been vocalized, the anomalies with the radio discontinued, and did not repeat throughout the remainder of the investigation,” Busch said. “While we can rule out human manipulation and error occurring during this anomaly, we can not conclusively conclude some form of ITC (Instrumental Transdimensional Communication) as well, and rule this as an unexplained anomaly.”
Every building has its secrets. Some are true and believable... others unusual and unexplainable. Perhaps the Mary C.’s secret is that spirits really do call it home.
You’ll have to decide that for yourself.
If you have an idea or suggestion for the next digital exclusive, deep dive story- concerning anything spooky, out of the ordinary, or lesser known in South Mississippi, please email Noah and Flora at email@example.com.
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