Unlike many paranormal investigators, educator, author, and singer-songwriter Gordon Thomas Ward grew up in a house filled with ghosts. His parents taught the young Ward and his younger brother not to fear the noises, apparitions, and “presences” they all experienced from time to time.
“I got into the business of paranormal investigation in reverse. A lot of people have an interest and then go out in search of it,” says Ward during a telephone discussion. “But my house was part of the old Lloyd Estate (in Bernardsville), and when it was broken up in 1922, the cottages were sold off as single-family homes. We grew up in what was the kennel keepers’ cottage. We had things happen that were extraordinary that every member of my family experienced.”
Ward will talk about those apparitions and things moving on their own when he presents “Ghosts I’ve Come To Know,” a performance combining true stories, original songs, slide photos, and audio tapes at the 1867 Sanctuary at Ewing on Sunday, October 8, at 4 p.m.
Ward says his life-long interest began when he was around 7 years old. “One day (my family) heard this muffled conversation downstairs. I remember asking my dad, ‘What is that?’ and he said, ‘I have no idea.’ ”
The interesting thing is that Ward’s father was not one whose imagination would run wild. In fact both of Ward’s parents had science-based backgrounds. His father was botany and biology professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and mother was a registered nurse at Overlook Hospital in Summit
Ward has been investigating ghosts and the paranormal for more than 40 years and still remembers scenes from the home he lived in for 23 years. “Things would move. There was a figure that was seen twice by two different people. Cabinet doors would open and close on their own. You’d hear people walking upstairs sometimes before school when it was just me and my mom. But we never felt threatened by it.”
Reflecting on the experience he says, “There were probably several people who passed away in our old house in Bernardsville. When I was 9 or 10, I’d be very quiet and pay attention to these noises I heard and try to explain — or not explain — them.”
A former public school English and history teacher, Ward says he will be “telling stories about the locations I’m showing and playing some audio evidence that I’ve collected at some of the sites as well. I’m not sure yet which stories I’m going to tell yet, but I know I’ll do one about the Headless Horseman, which came from New Jersey, the Great Swamp Area, the legend of the Headless Hessian that inspired Washington Irving to write his story. I’ll tell that story and sing that song.”
Ward — who majored in fine arts and psychology at Fairleigh Dickinson — says his interest in music began around the same time his interest in ghosts developed. He began playing guitar as an 11-year-old and soon began writing his own songs. He was involved in a procession of rock ’n’ roll bands in high school and college, and gave all of that a break after getting married — his wife, Veronica, works as an administrator for Chubb — and raising young children. He lives now in Pottersville, northern Hunterdon County.
Influenced by guitarists Dan Fogelberg, Neil Young, and Jackson Browne, Ward has recorded one album of all original songs, “Welcome to the Past,” and expects to release “Providence,” his new disc, in November.
He has also written several books including “Ghosts of Central New Jersey,” a History Press publication that details his in-depth investigations of haunted homes and sites.
There is also “These Days,” the weekly variety and talk show he hosts on WDVR-FM, Mondays from 5 to 6 p.m. “I have eclectic groups of people on the radio, and I often have musicians who come through the area,” he says, noting he will be doing a phone interview with Judy Collins in November. He also says he interviews “people that make honey and cheese makers, all sorts of people from the area.”
Like Angus Gillespie from the American studies department at Rutgers University, who gets busy around Halloween with his “Jersey Devil” presentation at libraries and historical societies, Ward also gets very busy in October.
“Halloween time is jammed for me every year,” he says. “Libraries will call me at the end of September and ask: ‘Can you do a show on Halloween?’ I say: ‘I’d love to, but that was booked in February.’ I think there are nine days in October when I’m not performing anywhere, and early October it’ll probably be down to about five.”
What separates Ward from the rest of the pack of paranormal presenters?
“I depart from most of the paranormal investigators you find out there and especially from these shows you see on TV, where every week it seems they’re off to another place. Unlike them I like to keep going back and build a body of evidence in these places rather than going to new places all the time. I’d rather keep going back to the same place and keep adding to the story.”
At the 1867 Sanctuary, the audience has the option of taking a cemetery tour before Ward’s presentation, as the cemetery there contains several Revolutionary War graves.
“There will be stories, I’ll show some photos on the screen, and there’ll be some short audio clips, and I’ll do some songs,” Ward said.
“It all moves pretty quickly. You’re not going to get bored.”
Ghosts I’ve Come to Know with Gordon Thomas Ward, 1867 Sanctuary, 101 Scotch Road, Ewing. Sunday, October 8, 4 p.m. $5 to $20. 609-392-6409 or 1867sanctuary.org.