Man shares his passion for paranormalWESTPORT - Jon Nowinski's life changed 19 years ago. It was a fall evening, and he and his sister, Lisa, were in a parking lot in downtown Greenwich waiting for their mother, Shirley, to return from an appointment.
By Tim Stelloh
By Tim Stelloh
Nowinski, who was about 7, peered into the sky and noticed something strange. A black, triangular object hovered a few hundred feet above the street. It had three lights and didn't make a sound as it shuttled past nearby office buildings.
When Nowinski told his parents about what he had seen, they told him it must have been an airplane. Shortly after, he saw a newspaper article about the "Hudson Valley Sightings" - a rash of UFO sightings reported from the early 1980s into the 1990s along the New York-Connecticut border. The article was accompanied by a sketch of a black, triangular object.
"When I looked at the sketch I said, 'That's what I saw,' " Nowinski said last week in his Westport office. "And my family said, 'OK, other people saw the same thing, so maybe it wasn't just your imagination.' "
Since then, Nowinski has become passionate about all things inexplicable. He has spent countless hours at the library, and, after discovering the Internet, began searching for people who had similar experiences.
Today, Nowinski remains committed to his pastime. Yesterday, he celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the Smoking Gun Research Agency - a nonprofit organization that investigates ghosts, UFO sightings and other inexplicable phenomena.
Nowinski, 26, started the agency when he was 16. His research had become so overwhelming that he needed to organize and record his findings. Two friends helped him to organize the material into case files.
Soon after, he said, a newspaper article about the agency turned him into a minor celebrity: He began hosting lectures at local libraries and began receiving requests to investigate eerie sounds and apparitions that were supposedly haunting area homes.
By 1999, he said, the organization had shifted its focus from research to field work. He estimated he and his four staff members have conducted 2,000 investigations. About 500 have proven fruitful or he and fellow investigators discovered something they couldn't explain, he said.
The most striking discovery were three "misty objects" photographed at Fort Stamford, a field on Westover Road that contained a fort in the late 1700s. He said he sent the images to a photo lab to see if something was wrong with them - perhaps they had been overexposed or the misty objects were reflections. The lab reported that the images were in good shape, he said.
"A lot of people have contacted us and said 'We have something in our house,' " he said. "We don't claim that we can get rid of a ghost. But we go in with our equipment and see if anything shows up. Most of the time that's all people want. They want to see some validation of what they're feeling."
That "equipment" is housed in several thick, metal briefcases in a back room of Nowinski's office. He has digital cameras and night vision goggles; tape recorders and flashlights; heat sensors and video cameras. Nowinski estimates he has spent about $1,500 on gadgets over the years.
Because he doesn't charge for investigations, much of this equipment is paid for out of pocket. He receives donations, he said, and distributes a newsletter to about 500 subscribers.
The agency's workload has increased in the last couple of years, Nowinski said. And his co-investigators don't seem disenchanted by the lack of funds.
"The SGRA as an organization is terribly important to me," said Nick Roesler, 26, a clerical worker with the Wisconsin Department of Corrections who works with the agency by e-mail and telephone.
"If you have a (paranormal) experience, it goes from an interest to a passion to an obsession. It defines you."