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SYFY WIRE The Conjuring

I met the real Annabelle in her real house, and this is what happened

By Dany Roth
The Annabelle doll in Annabelle Comes Home

Horror fans are familiar with Ed and Lorraine Warren's occult exploits and their archive of cursed objects. The real-life paranormal investigator duo have been the subject of James Wan's film franchise, and moviegoers have seen them (as played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) in action in two Conjuring movies, The Nun, and now in Annabelle Comes Home, the third film in creepy doll Annabelle's corner of the universe.

But, before Annabelle Comes Home, SYFY WIRE is visiting her home. Just a month after Lorraine Warren died, I was invited to New Haven, Conn., by Warner Bros. to learn the true story behind the Warrens, getting a chance to speak with their daughter, Judy Spera, and her husband (and Ed Warren's longtime protege), Tony Spera. I visited their archive of cursed objects, and, yes, I met Annabelle and have (so far) lived to tell the tale.

Annabelle Comes Home

Our first stop is Union Cemetery in Easton, which isn't all that far from New Haven. The cemetery is full of headstones dating back to the 17th century and a supernatural rap sheet a mile long, making it one of the most haunted places in the United States. Tony Spera gathers me and the other guests in a circle and gives us the lay of the land: The spirits that haunt Union Cemetery are not from the dead buried there. Some of these are presences called upon by satanic cults and witch covens.

The more simple truth, though, according to Spera, is that a place becomes haunted because people will it to be so. You don't have to actively court spirits, you just have to believe hard enough that those spirits exist.

The most famous of those spirits is undoubtedly the Woman in White, a specter who often appears on the side of a road (usually Route 59 right by Union Cemetery). She's so famous that she was the first bit of American occult lore to be featured in the long-running CW series Supernatural. Well before that, though, the Woman in White had a run-in with the Warrens.

According to Spera, a wealthy man was once driving down Route 59 when he suddenly hit a woman wearing white who appeared out of nowhere. He came home to his wife crying because he was so shaken, Spera tells us. Seeking help, the man called Ed Warren, who then went to Union Cemetery with a VHS camcorder and waited for hours upon hours. When he looked back at the footage later, he saw movement flitting among the graves of, you guessed it, a woman in white.

Stark grave

Which brings us to our first lesson: how to take a psychic photograph. The first step — and Spera repeats this over and over again throughout our journey — is to envision yourself surrounded by a bright white light. That, according to Spera, is God's protection. Spera is very clear — you'll need His protection if your intention is to seek out spirits in a graveyard. The only other requirement, besides belief, is a camera (or your phone, which will do in a pinch).

Spera instructs us to walk around Union Cemetery, feel out anything that might call to us, and then snap a photo. After waiting 15 seconds, we snap a photo in the same spot. You wouldn't see anything in the moment, but it's possible that your own belief will bring forth an image later. I look back at my photos later and I don't find anything unexpected or strange in my photos beyond my fellow guests and YouTube influencers. The lack of any supernatural evidence is both a letdown and, honestly, a relief.

Obviously, you can't keep up all this paranormal investigating on an empty stomach, so we go to dinner, where we watch the very video of the Woman in White that Ed Warren shot. And you can absolutely see someone moving through the graves. There's also a video of Maurice Theriault, or, as you may have known him better, "Frenchy."

The French-Canadian character who appears in The Nun is very loosely based on a real farmer, Theriault, who the Warrens believed was possessed by one or more dark spirits, including the grand poobah of evil, the Devil himself. In the video, which Ed Warren took, we can see what appears to be sweat on Theriault drip off of his face and transform into blood on his shirt as he answers the question "Who are you?" with "I am who I am." Spera explains that, while the Warrens were able to give Theriault some relief, he did eventually take his own life.

Having eaten, we head to a second graveyard: Stepney Cemetery in Monroe, Conn., the cemetery where both Ed and Lorraine Warren were laid to rest. It's here where we are given our next lesson in reaching out to spirits: by talking with them and recording the audio.

Tony and Judy tell us that we probably won't find much success contacting spirits tonight because of the size of the group we're in. They also insist that women are more likely to make a connection because they are usually more emotionally open. Spera insists that can be very dangerous for women before he explains how to use your keys as a weapon for self-defense. There's always this oddball pragmatism to his stories, an almost blue-collar approach to the paranormal.

I approach a nearby grave, set my phone to record, and ask a series of questions, waiting about 15 seconds between each, just like when I attempted to take a psychic photo.

"What's good?" I ask, and listening to the recording later, I actually hear a high-pitched sound in between that and each successive question. It sounds almost like a plane, but I don't recall any planes flying overhead at the time, and the sound does stop while I'm asking my questions. Interesting.

Missing media item.

Tombstones and spooky sounds are one thing, but they can't hold a candle to Annabelle — the real Annabelle. So after the group has been sufficiently psychologically prepped, we drive to the Warrens', where the Archive remains in a kind of museum format. And, naturally, before we enter, a priest says a prayer over all of us, placing oil on our foreheads. One of the PR reps for the film actually had her rosary on hand as we entered.

If you've seen the movies that make up the Conjuring-verse, then you have seen the fictionalized version of the Warrens' archive, where they keep all the cursed objects they come across. In Annabelle Comes Home, you get a larger look at it than ever before. But the reality of the archive is very different.

For the sake of movie magic, the fictional Warrens inhabit a world where every object has its menace quotient amped up to 666. In a way, though, it's the more mundane, everyday quality of many of the objects in the real archive that make it exciting. For example, there's a Tyrannosaurus rex toy that Spera explains was deeply haunted and, even to this day, will sometimes move around the Archive at will. But it looks just like a toy does. 

That's sort of the point. After all, the real Annabelle doll is just an oversized Raggedy Ann, not the obviously evil doll from the movies. But the real Annabelle is housed in a very special case. The stain of the wood has holy water in it, and there are three crosses representing the holy trinity. The Lord's Prayer and Michael's Prayer are both inscribed on the wood.

"Is it dangerous? Yes," Spera says of Annabelle. "Is it the most dangerous object in this museum? Yes."

Annabelle Comes Home poster

Spera explains that there's more to Annabelle's story than what moviegoers have seen in The Conjuring and Annabelle. He tells of a priest who shouted at Annabelle, claiming that no demonic force is more powerful than the Lord. The priest arrived at the Warrens' in a brand-new car, one he'd been very proud of, only to have it demolished in a collision with a tractor-trailer the same day. Spera says the priest saw Annabelle in his rearview mirror moments before the accident happened.

Next, Spera tells the tale of a man and his girlfriend who asked to see the doll and mocked it when Ed Warren told them the history of Annabelle. The man supposedly lost control of his motorcycle that same day, killing him and severely injuring his girlfriend.

Is Annabelle's curse real? Spera likens taking risks with the supernatural to a game of Russian roulette. There's maybe only one chamber with a bullet in it: Would you still fire the gun? Or would you choose not to take the risk in playing around with something you don't know and can't quantify?

Naturally, we all take pictures with Annabelle.

Actual Annabelle doll

It's about a week later, and as far as I can tell, nothing terrible has befallen me or anybody else who attended this Annabelle Comes Home event. But I'll tell you this: I had nightmares all last night before writing this article.

Annabelle Comes Home arrives in theaters June 26, 2019.