Art School's ghostly reputation

Last updated 05:00 07/07/2011

Ghost busters: Mark Marriott, photographer and ghost hunter, who is at home in Inverlochy Art School's haunted halls.

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Laura Walters continues her series looking at Wellington's haunted buildings.

Inverlochy Art School takes a lighthearted approach to its resident ghost by selling a promotional T-shirt with a Casper-like cartoon on the front.

But the ghostly stories are far from a joke.

The school – which is tucked away among apartment buildings in Aro Valley – is well-known for its abnormal activities.

However, it does not have the spine-chilling feeling of other haunted buildings.

The house was built for Wellington politician Thomas MacDonald in 1878, but was later converted into two luxury flats.

In the 1920s there was a fire in the back of the house, which is said to have claimed the life of a Maori maid.

Since then there have been numerous sightings of a Maori woman in the back half of the house, where the servants' quarters were likely to have been.

The manager of Inverlochy Art School, Mark Marriott, said he was a bit of a sceptic, but did not disregard the sightings.

Mr Marriott – a photographer and a member of the ghost-hunting group Strange Occurrences – said some people seemed to be more sensitive than others.

"Maybe I'm completely and utterly insensitive to ghosts," he said.

His group had been through the house to conduct electro-magnetic field tests several times.

Numerous people who took part in the testing picked areas in the house where unusual things had happened. But the findings were "very tenuous", Mr Marriott said.

The Maori maid had shown herself to artists at Inverlochy and even meddled with printing equipment when no-one was around.

Although there had been a fair number of strange occurrences in the house, no-one found the place too spooky, Mr Marriott said.

The house has been blessed more than once since the 1980s, when some peculiar activity took place.

During the 1980s, businessman Arthur Williams threatened to knock down Inverlochy to make way for the expansion of his Mercure Hotel. In protest, some art students staged a sit-in.

One night they were going to leave the building when a mirror flew across the room, smashed against the door, then the pieces slowly slid to the floor.

The artists took that as a sign not to leave the house, Mr Marriott said.

"I'd take that as a sign to run like hell."

The leader of Strange Occurrences, James Gilberd, said it was important to understand what a sceptic was when it came to ghost hunting. "A sceptic will look at evidence before they proclaim it to be true."

He described his group as "open-minded and neutral", but was dubious when it came to supernatural reality television.

"They are edited entertainment programmes," he said.

It was hard to create something entertaining when nothing happened for hours, he said.

"It's like fishing; some days you don't get a bite. You're blimmin' lucky if you get something."

Strange Occurrences' book, Exploring the Paranormal in New Zealand, will be out in August.

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- The Wellingtonian


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