Our RISEUP Connecticut team, led by Tara Melendez had contacted Rich DiCarlo and Dan Rivera of Old School
Paranormal to inquire about a possible date at this famed Connecticut landmark which has not only a rich history
as a performance venue and administration building, but also comes with the type of notoriety usually attached
to a location that has a long-standing reputation as being quite paranormally active.
Rich and Dan essentially are the stewards of the building in terms of the paranormal claims and the interest
anyone has in investigating further into those claims. They have investigated the Sterling Opera House at great
length and have been granted the latitude to allow outside groups in at their discretion. We were quite honored
that we met their criteria and deeply appreciate the opportunity they provided us.
The location had also attracted the attention of the SyFy series "Ghost Hunters" and the Atlantic Paranormal
Society decided to shoot an episode here for the show.
RISEUP Investigators Present: Ken DeCosta
RISEUP CT: Tara Melendez
Geographical and Historical Data
The building was completed in 1889 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places on November 8,
1968. The Sterling was built to serve the cultural and political needs of Derby and the Lower Naugatuck Valley.
The theater opened on April 2, 1889 and remained in use until 1945. Two lower levels served as a City Hall and
Police Station until 1965. The city offices and a section of jail cells still remain.
Designer H.E. Ficken, one of the creators of Carnegie Hall, combined several architectural styles in the
Sterling. The exterior and roof-top and the interior walls and doorways are Italianate Victorian and display the
final evolution of the Italian Baroque opera house. The interior seating plan was influenced by German composer
Richard Wager's conception of a triangle seating arrangement, with all seats enjoying an unobstructed view of the
stage. No box seats were used, but two "piano boxes" were located on either side of the stage to accommodate
two Sterling Pianos.
A proscenium arch frames the 60-by-34-foot stage. Below are 10 dressing rooms. The auditorium boasts an
orchestra pit, two gracefully sweeping balconies and fine examples of bottle glass, keystone arches and wrought
iron work. Acoustically, the Sterling has no equal. Even a whisper can be heard clearly from all areas of the
The Sterling saw many of the biggest entertainers of the early 20th century upon its stage. Legendary actor
Lionel Barrymore performed here, as did escape artist supreme Harry Houdini. Boxing champion John L. Sullivan
did a turn as Simon Legree in a production of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, while Amelia Earhart addressed a local women’s
club. Master comedian Red Skelton yucked it up for the locals, and no doubt more than one foot was a-tappin’
when march king John Philip Sousa brought his star-spangled band to town. Famed auteur D.W. Griffith even
allegedly premiered the seminal 'The Birth of a Nation' here, among other films.
A lot of the claims that surround the building center on the spirit of a child named "Andy". Multiple recordings
of what sounds like a little boy's voice have been recorded during EVP sessions and a few balls that have been set
up for his amusement have been recorded moving as if under their own power. As a result of this, one can see a
wide array of toys that have been placed throughout the theater for his enjoyment and to act as trigger objects
There have been instances where hand prints have shown up on the dusty chairs (below) and the apparition of
a person on one particular chair in the balcony has been spotted numerous times. A photo of a woman in Victorian
dress in the balcony was shot from the stage by Rich DiCarlo.
There have been light anomalies witnessed by multiple people at the same time that seemed to float down a
set of stairs. Cold spots that appear to drain batteries of their power have been reported quite frequently. Another
apparition of a man in a brown suit is surmised to be the spirit of Charles Sterling, the piano making magnate who
built the theater and for whom it was named.
There has been at least account of someone attacked in the sub basement, that someone being Rich DiCarlo
who discovered three scratches on his leg while wearing a pair of shorts one hot summer night. Others have also
reported being touched by unseen entities.
The Sterling is not an expansive opera house and sound travels exceedingly well, so it was vital for all groups to
disperse and work together to eliminate all potential for sound misidentification. The wooden floors do not lend
themselves well to disguising movement on any level. Constant communication would be a key to this
Two groups were disbursed to the upper levels; one in the stage area and another in the upper balcony
hallway. It was here that we first encountered the type of audible misidentification that is always possible in the
Sterling. Footsteps were clearly heard coming down the stairs and a check with the investigators on the upper
level revealed that none had come anywhere near the stairway. The entire scenario as it played out emphasized
the need for multiple recorders everywhere investigators were stationed. While one recorded the sound of 11
footsteps with no other sound, another on the upper level revealed it was in fact Rich DiCarlo who came down the
stairs and announced he was doing so. In terms of arriving at the correct conclusion, it was a good piece of
technical work by the team.
Rich DiCarlo descending the stairs
Investigators were broken up into smaller groups through the seating area. While a few sat in the balcony to
visually observe anything anomalous in that area in terms of the prior claims of apparitions or light anomalies,
another crew worked the stage with a ball as a trigger object in an attempt to interact with the spirit of "Andy".
We think a word is in order about the use of these typical larger plastic or rubber balls that are often used on
investigations. The logical thought process suggests that a lighter object will be easier for a spirit to manipulate.
But again, this might just be us projecting our own intellect on a realm and a phenomena we clearly do not totally
understand or sometimes care to. The results can therefore be a bit skewed.
These types of balls are notoriously out of round and because of their extreme lightness can be easily moved
by any tilt of the floor, air flow or air convection. Rolling a ball of this type is equally futile because the resulting
movement can easily fool anyone who truly believes a spirit is present that an entity is responsible for any
counter-movement. The ball we used did in fact move slightly from a stationary position on the stage, but unless
the ball is levitated off the floor and bounced down an aisle, we can't relate as what we saw as any kind of energy
The possible presence of a child spirit might be reinforced in this audio clip. We are approaching the front of
the stage when one of our digital recorders captures what appears to be a welcome from a small voice.
One common claim is the high level of EMF readings throughout the building. Most puzzling is that there are
not a lot of electrical sources inside. In searching for an answer we think we have hit on why this condition exists.
On the section of the street which the opera house is located there has been some extensive reconstruction.
Utilities in this stretch have been relocated underground and utility poles on this short stretch of road outside the
theater have been eliminated. This most likely explains why various EMF meters register the random readings
they do. In the picture below, Wendy Thatcher records such a "hit" on a KII meter while standing with a group in
front of the stage as the investigators in “Ghost Hunters” did as well.
Ken’s explanation of random KII spikes
The sub basement where the jail cells and the former City Hall were located were a bit more fruitful in terms of
potential activity. The area is somewhat of a labyrinth with a many turns and corners, but surprisingly there are
still a great deal of artifacts left behind to scour. In one particular instance, Ken DeCosta, Chris Blanchette, Dan
Snizek and Marlaina Garboreault were in the City Hall chambers in the area where many feel the sensation of
being watched by an unseen presence. While simply observing the area all four of us clearly heard a rather gruff-
sounding voice from behind us coming form the direction of a set of stairs leading up to another level of the
basement. We managed to record this on the video camera Marlaina was using at the time.
While we were descending the stairs leading from the stage area to the sub basement, another very odd
voice was recorded on our handheld camera. We did not hear this audibly at that time, but on review it appears to
be a female vocally expressing some sentiment regarding our presence in a drawn-out series of words - almost
resembling a labored attempt at communication.
The jail at Sterling Opera House no doubt accommodated its share of miscreants and dubious people from time to
time. Perhaps the worst of which was a woman named Lydia Sherman (below). This citizen of Derby may have
been one of the most prolific female serial killers ever. She poisoned her first husband, a New York City policeman
after he had lost his job (and one presumes, his usefulness to her). Soon afterwards, each of their six children
met an untimely end by the same means. When she moved to Derby she married a very elderly gentleman named
Dennis Hurlibut and within a year, he was gone as well.
Eventually she conned her way into becoming the housekeeper for the widowed husband of another wealthy
family, married the widower, Nelson Sherman, and in time took the lives of both the his son and daughter and
eventually he himself.
When an autopsy was performed on Sherman, her heinous crimes eventually came to light and she was
convicted of mass murder. The press of the time nicknamed her the "Poison Fiend" and the "Borgia of
While they were no doubt numerous females incarcerated here for varying amounts of time for their crimes
and indiscretions, one cannot help but wonder if the singing we heard in the jail cell area might perhaps be that of
the warped and homicidally talented Ms. Sherman.
Theaters, like churches, schools and the occasional abandoned hospital are often mentioned as the best places
to find paranormal activity. We don't claim that every one of these places will yield great results, but it's not
difficult to see why they fall into the "active" category. Each contains a great deal of potential emotional residue.
Theaters mainly because of the larger-than-life personalities that once graced their stages and received the
adulation of an admiring crowd.
At the Sterling Opera House we can't begin to explain why a child spirit might remain there. Was he or she the
son or daughter of a local actor...a theater patron...someone who worked there? Despite everyone's best efforts,
that answer may never be known. Is the woman or the man seen occasionally in apparitional form someone with
close ties to the building? Are the voices heard in the basement area those of hardened criminals or the residual
energies of the people who served the city of Derby for years from their administrative offices? How close is
anyone really to answering that?
We were indeed able to explain some of the more rational circumstances that exist that might be
misinterpreted as paranormal activity, but the claims keep coming from various individuals and groups who are
fortunate enough to be presented with the opportunity to judge for themselves. Thanks to the generosity of Rich
DiCarlo and Dan Rivera, many do.
It would seem to us that the Sterling Opera House indeed has a sort of "personality" so common to places
where ordinary (and some not-so-ordinary) people came to meet, work, tend to duties, suffer consequences for
their actions and to entertain or be entertained. It is hard to argue that their emotion does not remain grounded
We believe the building displays signs of activity and the remnants of an age gone by. Should the opportunity
exist for us to return, we would do so without reservation.