At this alley, something eerie?
TV 'hunters' test for ghosts
A frustrated candlepin novice might well accuse the ball of being possessed. At Sacco's Bowl-Haven, it might be true. The Sci Fi Channel show "Ghost Hunters" came to Somerville last month to investigate reports of haints and haunts at the Davis Square lanes.
To be sure, the past is always present at Sacco's, which opened its doors in 1939, said co-owner Damon Sacco. "The way it was is the way it is," he said.
The room has wood paneling and a teal-and-orange color scheme. The prices are frighteningly low - $3 a string, peak.
On Feb. 20, the only echoes were those of falling pins. However, a few employees have reported creepier sounds.
Sacco's mechanic, Mike Carey, has "heard noises that don't make sense," he said.
When co-owner J.P. Sacco worked the closing shift, four or five times he heard "a real definitive footstep" above the lanes.
"And then there's the dark shadow," he said casually. A few times after the lights went off, a "mass would go flashing by me at very high speed."
Not all were convinced. Sure, manager Dave Taylor heard pins fall after hours, but he chalked it up to a less-mysterious force: gravity. The pins rest above the pin-setter "on a canvas belt that's at an angle," Taylor said.
Still, he had seen two TVs "just come and flash on for no reason." After his Sci Fi interview, he said, "I walked off-camera and the Pepsi machine blew a fuse or something. That was weird."
(Turns out he got his job after his predecessor thought he felt something on his neck. "He just quit right then," Taylor said.)
John Mahoney, 68, and John Wheeler, 61, both of Somerville, have come to Sacco's on Friday evenings for 25 years. Neither had heard rumors of a haunting.
Wheeler thought his own house might be haunted, however - he has heard footsteps when his tenants seemed to be out.
"It's the old house creaking," said Mahoney dismissively. He believed that "people can have premonitions and hear things" but he thought apparitions were a tad beyond the pale.
"Once in a while I think he's a ghost," Mahoney said of Wheeler. "When the check comes, he seems to disappear!"
The hunters loaded in their spook scopes Feb. 10, Damon Sacco said. Employees joked about pulling tricks but restrained themselves.
Taylor said they shot the intro in the boiler room. Though not associated with the reports, the huge square boiler looked eerie resting below cobwebbed beams and bags of recycling.
Sci Fi Channel spokeswoman Maureen Granados said an air date had not been set.
Did the rumors hold a ghost of truth? Historical rationale for a restless spirit seemed slim. Dee Morris, a local historian contacted by the show, didn't exhume anything at the library.
She noted that Davis Square "was very, very active in Revolutionary times," with an ambush occurring on Willow Avenue. Colonials loved lawn bowling, she said. Putting the two together, Morris came up with the idea that when dead Redcoats heard the pins fall it "brings back memories of their ambush."
Her suggestion was more fiction than fact, she said.
Wheeler thought perhaps a ghost was upset that the alley was for sale. (The building has been on the market for four years, J.P. Sacco said; the brothers are holding out for a buyer who will keep the lanes going.)
Comedian/historian Jimmy Del Ponte gave the Ghost Hunters several possible explanations. Maybe it was Minnesota Fats, angry because a Somerville man once beat the famed pool player at his own game at Sacco's billiards room. Rumor said a habitué of an after-hours club next door was murdered, though not at the lanes.
It could even be his own sister, Del Ponte thought: She'd had run-ins with a Sacco's employee before her death, in 1992.
Somerville city spokesman Tom Champion tried to focus the attention across the river: He'd expect "Sammy White's Brighton Bowl would be the locus" of paranormal practices in Boston, he said. Four employees were murdered there in 1980; a Somerville cabbie was convicted.
Carey simply shrugged. "I have a better chance of answering that after I become a ghost," he said.
The mystery may remain unsolved. In the end, the Ghost Hunters sat Damon Sacco down and told him: no ghosts.
Sacco professed to be relieved. "I'm happy to know that the place isn't haunted," he said. He did the show "just to help [set] everyone's minds at ease."
Still, "they did find a few things that were bizarre," he said - specifically "extraordinarily high levels of electromagnetic energy" that can cause paranoia and creepy feelings.
Can they power a door? As this reporter stood in the entryway on a windless night, the front door cracked open by itself, then shut.