By MIKE CHAIKEN
If you tuned into the Bio Channel’s “My Ghost Story: Caught on Camera” on Saturday night, not only would you have seen a historic architectural icon of Connecticut… you would have seen a Bristol resident’s experiences as this episode’s focus.
The ghost story of Linda Panikowski of Bristol was the focus of this particular episode.
Interviewed via email, Panikowski explained her ghost story begins at the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford in 2011.
“A friend and I were doing an evening filled with Halloween/autumn events on Oct. 15, 2011,” explained Panikowski. “The Mark Twain House had advertised its ‘Graveyard Shift Ghost Tours’ a few weeks earlier, and so we thought it would be a cool event to do.”
Panikowski explained, “I am intrigued by Mark Twain because of his literature and because he was a great lover of cats, as am I. My friend was more interested in the paranormal part of it—-she is more of a ‘ghost hunter’ than I.’”
While there, Panikowski took some photographs that seemed as if they were innocuous enough,
“I wanted to document our night of Halloween/ autumn events, via photos on Facebook,” said Panikowski.
But there were limitations put on the patrons at the Mark Twain House, said Panikowski.
“We were informed at the beginning of the tour that it was not permitted to take pictures inside the Mark Twain House, and so in order to capture this part of the evening, I decided to at least get a few shots of the outside of the house,” said the Bristol resident. “It looked spooky enough in the dark, with the silhouettes of the trees that were blowing in the autumn breeze.”
Panikowski took her photographs and thought nothing more about them initially.
“When I got home and uploaded the photos onto my computer, I was shocked to see the figure of a woman on the porch,” said Panikowski. “She was not only in one photo, but two, and in different standing positions. I immediately contacted my friend and told her what I saw.”
“I also contacted the Mark Twain House,” continued Panikowski. “I left a message for them, stating that I had been on one of their ghost tours that evening, and that I had some pictures that they might want to take a look at.”
“(The Mark Twain House representatives) called me on Monday and had me come down so that they could view the photos,” said Panikowski. “They were astounded at what my camera had picked up — the woman had not been visible to the naked eye.”
Panikowski isn’t one to go “ghost hunting,” she said. But that doesn’t mean the paranormal is a strange concept to her.
“I do occasionally have brushes with ‘the other side,’” Panikowski explained. “There have been instances where I come home and the smell of my grandmother’s perfume lingers in the air. I do not own a bottle of her perfume, and she passed away in 2000. I worked on a locked psych ward while living in Boston in the ‘90s, and experienced cold areas in corners at the end of the hallway, and a figure dressed in medical attire when no one who fit the description was on the floor at the time—-a figure that other staff members confirmed that they had seen as well.”
As for the event at the Mark Twain House, Panikowski said, “I couldn’t believe that my camera had captured these images. For a moment, I considered the possibility that my camera was now haunted. I wondered why (this figure) would show up in a photo that I had taken, when a staff member at the Mark Twain House said that there was only one other recorded photo of something paranormal there. And here I had two.”
Panikowski eventually reached out to the producers of “My Ghost Story.”
“Some time had passed since I took the photos,” she said. “The Mark Twain House had them forwarded to the Smoking Gun Research Agency, who concluded that they could not say that the images in the photos were not ghosts, and may, in fact, be of a paranormal nature.”
“My friend who went with me that night had talked about the show ‘My Ghost Story’ before, and I had seen the show a few times,” said Panikowski. She went to the show’s Facebook page and saw they were looking for stories worthy of an episode.
Panikowski had seen the show before. But she wasn’t a regular follower. If an episode looked interesting, she hung around. But that was it.
Once she contacted “My Ghost Story,” the personnel on the show asked her to submit her particular tale before she forwarded any photos.
It didn’t take long for the show to get back to her. Panikowski said, “About two hours after I had sent in my story via e-mail, the producer of the show out in Los Angeles contacted me via phone to ask me for pictures, as well as a ‘casting reel’ video of me telling the story of that night.”
Panikowski, in time, was on a plane on the way to Los Angeles.
“(They decided my story) would be a good fit for the show,” said Panikowski. “They decided that they would like to have me and someone from the Mark Twain House to come out to L.A. for filming of an episode.”
In the meantime, she said, “They asked if I could take more pictures, to see if I could capture additional images. I did go and take more photos.”
“I thought it would be highly unlikely for me to get more ‘ghost pictures,’” said Panikowski. “Well, was I wrong.”
“I got several more images that were undoubtedly of a paranormal nature. I was shocked.”
Asked about the filming process once she arrived in L.A., Panikowski said, “(It) was exciting, and I was a bit nervous. We prepped in the dressing room (hair and make-up), and I felt such butterflies when the director who was bringing me down to the filming room announced on his earpiece microphone ‘Storyteller walking.’ After that, I had a whole new appreciation for the Hollywood actors and actresses…it’s not as easy as it looks.”
Eventually, the show returned to Hartford for some more filming.
”This past August, we re-created the events of that evening back in October 2011. They did a lot of filming inside the house and out, to really capture the essence of that evening. They did invite others to join in as well…there was a ghost hunting group, who had picked up some EVPs (electronic voice phenomena) on a previous visit as well as some of the staff members of the House.”
After all that, Panikowski then played the waiting game.
“I was very anxious to see the final results of the project, as were all of my friends and family,” said Panikowski. “I received countless requests to let them all know when the show was to air.”
But as she waited, Panikowski said she had to keep a tight lip about the episode. “The producers did not want to give away too many details of the show… as not to spoil the surprises.”
Looking back on the experience that now stretches back over a year and a half, Panikowski said, This was undoubtedly one of the most exciting adventures of my life. I would like to perhaps at some point, exhibit all of the photos, which I had taken in a gallery, perhaps in the fall, close to Halloween.”
For more information, go to Biography.com.
By MIKE CHAIKEN