QUINCY -- Kae Blecha is trained in occupational therapy, plays viola with the Quincy Symphony Orchestra and says she can speak to the dead.
Blecha, 59, is a regular at the Pier, and the self-proclaimed medium says the restaurant has a ghost. The eatery's owners are uncertain, but both Richard and Kelley Cole concede that some weird things happen there. Wearing a "Ghostbusters" pin on her lapel, Blecha shuffles into the restaurant with her arms full of pictures, documents and a Bible. For her, ghosts and religion go hand-in-hand. Blecha is prepared for an interview and a paranormal encounter.
"The Pier is on the river," she said. "There's lots of energy with the river and all the boat traffic."
Revealing three sets of copper dowsing rods -- l-shaped tools paranormal researchers believe can move independently in the presence of a ghost -- Blecha begins calling out for spirits. The rod in her left hand, which is meant to indicate the presence of a female spirit, shifts sharply toward her chest.
"Hi mom," she said, adding that, although her mother died in 2008, she had been appearing more frequently at Blecha's paranormal endeavors.
Blecha begins addressing a male spirit she has detected and quickly rattles off several questions. Moments later, the event is over. As she sets her rods down on a nearby table, she says the spirit has crossed over. It's the third time she says she's cleared the Pier in the last year and a half, and she plans to do it again.
Always an intuitive kid growing up in Grand Forks, N.D., Blecha said she used to know who was at the door or calling on the phone. Other family members had similar skills -- her mother seemed to have the uncanny ability to predict who would die next, and her sister can help find lost objects.
At 9, she started playing the viola and the violin and now plays with the Quincy Symphony Orchestra and Muddy River Opera Company.
The daughter of a physical therapist and a German teacher, she only had a few friends growing up. With "curly hair, glasses and braces," being an outcast as a child has given her a sort of fearlessness in adulthood -- she's been called weird before.
"Any time you're different, it will be pointed out to you," she said. "I made the best use of my time, reading books and developing the skills that people are jealous of now."
A music education major in college, she sang in clubs, toured with rock and pop bands and spent a couple months as a USO girl in the South Pacific.
"I was 24," she said, producing a black-and-white photograph of herself on stage during a USO show.
A near-death experience at 28, during which she suffered an asthma attack and was hospitalized, produced a surreal experience. She said she had a life review -- when your life flashes before your eyes -- and met an angel.
"The angel asked if I wanted to come with them, but I decided to live," she said.
The intuition grew from there. About 12 years ago, while helping with tours at Rockcliffe Mansion in Hannibal, Mo., she tapped into her paranormal abilities. Citing 1 Corinthians 12, she came to believe that the ability was a spiritual gift.
"Helping ghosts cross is why I think I lived," she said.
There's a big difference between mediums and psychics, she explained. All mediums are psychics, but not all psychics are mediums -- psychics observe, mediums converse.
She said she has helped about 100 ghosts cross over in the years since and always tries to bring witnesses when doing so. Blecha said ghosts appear primarily because they want help, adding that emotional baggage -- often anger, guilt or shame -- is a common reason for someone's spirit to stay behind.
She has a running list of restaurants, businesses and condemned buildings in the area that she plans to investigate. One of the restaurants, she believes, houses the spirit of a runaway slave who had escaped through the Underground Railroad.
"I have to be clinical," she said while describing an experience in which she helped three adults and three children cross over in one outing. "I might start to cry, but I have to fight it."
Blecha pursued her graduate degree in occupational therapy from the University at Buffalo 25 years ago. She used to work in geriatrics and saw death regularly. She would offer advice and encouragement to those who were dying.
"Health care and ghosts," she said, "I approach them in the same way, like a waitress approaches her table."
Hauntings at the Pier
On the spectrum from believer to skeptic, the Coles fall somewhere in the middle. They aren't quick to accept the many occurrences at their restaurant as paranormal activity, but they also aren't inclined to dismiss the possibility.
"I'm on the fence," Richard Cole said, "but after you have the chance to witness it, you start to wonder."
They've seen men walking through the river and entering a sewer drain in the middle of the day -- Kelley Cole has a grainy picture from that day that appears to back up the story -- wine bottles and dishes randomly crashing to the floor when no one else is around and odd problems with the elevator. Blecha said she recently helped a ghost named Gabriella cross over. The next ghost she plans to interact with at the Pier is named Brian.
"I definitely don't know," Kelley Cole said, "but there are many strange things that have happened that you have trouble explaining away."
Staff Writer Matt Dutton will bring you a story detailing the life of a local resident each Monday.