Shea's Corner Pub is imbued with spirits, some say, and not just the drinkable kind. Yet Shea's, which is in a soulless Boynton Beach strip mall by a Domino's and a Dunkin' Donuts, doesn't feel spooky. It's homey, thanks to touches such as dark-green walls with pastoral pictures and comfy chairs by a brick fireplace.
When Shea's was the Red Lion, it was a favorite haunt of local bands. That's when the first reports of spooks surfaced. "I've seen it plenty of times," said Keith Michaud, a singer/songwriter and Red Lion survivor. "Something out of the corner of your eye where, when you turn to look, it's not there. It's an elderly woman. Everybody's seen her."
Lisa Mercado used to run the Red Lion, which was her family's business. One warm May afternoon, the glasses above the bar tinkled, she recalled. Tupperware flew off the kitchen counter, the temperature plunged even though the air conditioning was off, and the Red Lion's doors shook on their hinges. "Two other people witnessed it," she said, including a catering client who didn't buy Mercado's alibi. "She was like, 'That's no fucking delivery truck.' "
Mercado said that she had a priest come to bless the Red Lion and that he was jolted by a blue flash by a mirrored beer sign and spices flying off the shelves.
Jeff Mark, a guitarist who played at the Red Lion with the Unseelie Court and with me in Hunger-Thump, said he never saw ghosts there. In all my drunken rock revels, I never did either. So I hooked up with Florida Ghost Team to try to get to the bottom of this via some high-tech sleuthing. I met them at Shea's on a recent Saturday just before midnight.
Ghost Team founder and director Shaun Jones, a truck company worker by day, was downing a Red Bull while her assistant, Rob Demarest, a private tutor in his other life, unloaded official-looking, silver-hinged black boxes. Soon, two more Ghost Team members arrived: Vickie Burnett, a grade-school teacher, and her 20-year-old son, Keith, who serves in the Army Reserves. All four were dressed in black work shirts and black ball caps. They set up thermometers and infrared cameras. Volunteers all, they worked systematically and meticulously. It was the group's third visit to Shea's.
I hadn't visited there since the Lion roared its last. Things didn't seem to have changed much, although the lighting and music were brighter. Kathy Shea Hatch opened Shea's in May 2006. She agreed with Mercado: The place was haunted. Specifically, she said, it was haunted by Francis and Major, two guys who in life had been Red Lion regulars, and Dorothy, the late mother of Mercado's father-in-law, who supposedly vowed to come back and haunt the bar.
The paranormal goings-on in the kitchen had ceased, according to Hatch. "It's all been out here," she said as she sat on a barstool beneath ivy vines and twinkling lights. A picture had been mysteriously inverted despite the screws that held it right-side-up to the wall, she said. And there was the time a female patron was waiting a long time in the hallway for the restroom.
"I asked her why she was standing there, and she said there was someone in the bathroom." The customer said she'd seen an elderly woman. "I opened the door and there was no one there." Dorothy.
While cover band Phree Bier and Shea's customers cleared out, the Ghost Team gave me a quick orientation. When encountering ghosts, I was told, don't ask them how or when they died because sometimes they don't know they're dead. And don't call them "ghosts." Call them "entities." We killed the lights.
"If you're lucky, you get an apparition or shadow, but most of the time, what you get is orbs," Vickie Burnett said, explaining what we were trying to photograph. "An orb is just energy. Some say it's the spirit collecting the energy around it so it can manifest itself, but you also get orbs coming off computer equipment."
Equipped with flashlights, voice recorders, and digital cameras, Vickie, Demarest, and I went into a dark service hallway where Jones had sensed activity. Jones and Keith Burnett were monitoring a computer from the safety of a back bar. We'd keep in touch with two-way radios.
Sitting cross-legged on the floor, Vickie tried the let's-get-to-know-each-other approach, asking for a sign that "anybody" was there. Ten minutes later, there was a bump.
"If that's you, you're gonna have to do better than that," Vickie said. "Can you knock louder?"
They brought in a black light to serve as a spirit conduit.
Jones radioed: She was sending in Keith. He'd gotten dizzy in the same hallway earlier, she explained, which can be a side effect of contact with entities. And Jones said she sensed an entity who was also a young military man.
"I got that same feeling again," Keith said when he joined us.
I felt dizzy too, but I chalked it up to low blood sugar.
"Is that you?" Vickie said to no one in particular. "Can you please tap on the wall or the ceiling?"
After another half-hour, we switched roles. I was on monitor detail now, charged with recording any strange image I saw, the time I saw it, and which of the four cameras I saw it on.
As I watched, orbs abounded, even in the rooms that were supposedly empty.
Then something in a front room whacked Jones' foot.
It was a loose cable. "That's how you debunk the paranormal," she said, laughing.
It was after 3 a.m. I was hungry.
"I wish the paranormal would bring me a burrito," I said to no one in particular.
Jones wasn't surprised that they hadn't seen more yet. This work is a waiting game, she said. And then they review the data on the recorders and cameras and hard drive, which could take hours to turn up anything.
As the Ghost Team packed up, Hatch served beer.
I returned to Shea's on a Thursday for a few more pints. Amanda Sammarco, a 27-year-old student, and Diorella Donofrio, a 27-year-old receptionist, were wearing sundresses and flip-flops as they sat outside at a plastic table drinking beers. Shea's is a friendly place, they said.
Yes, but had they noticed anything ghostly?
"We've never felt anything," Donofrio said. "They say there's something about the ladies room. I'm always attentive in there."
The ladies were joined by their friend Ryan, who laughed when I asked if he'd noticed anything spectral.
"Not even in the bathroom?" I asked.
"It tingles while doing number one," he said. "I don't know if it was number-one-related, but I wouldn't write it off."
I stayed for a bit after that, figuring I'd give the entities one more chance to spook me. I even lingered in the ladies loo. And no one said boo.