NEWBURYPORT — There is haunting taking place on Inn Street, but it only happens for 20 seconds a day.
Rocket Insights, a local product agency, recently began paying tribute to an eccentric 18th century Newburyport businessman and pamphleteer, “The Lord” Timothy Dexter, by projecting a video image of his “ghost" on the company's Inn Street window each day at 1 a.m.
"We do get weekend traffic up and down Inn Street," Rocket Insights partner Dave Witting said. "I thought it would be hysterical to scare the heck out of some of these late-night revelers."
Witting’s company builds apps for clients such as Hulu, HBO Go and Barstool Sports. Rocket bought its over 200-year-old location at 20 Inn St. from longtime architect Jonathan Woodman and his wife, Betsy, last year.
"Betsy gave us a tour of the place when we were closing," Witting said. "She had a quilt of 'The Lord' Timothy Dexter hanging over the fireplace. She said, 'Listen, I want to give you this quilt. I had it custom-made and every morning, I touch it and I say, 'Good Morning' to the spirit of Timothy Dexter. I feel like his presence is here.'"
Although Witting said he couldn't take the quilt, he wanted to keep the memory of Dexter alive in the building.
"I felt like there needed to be a homage to Betsy and Jonathan," Witting said. "So, we're sitting around one Friday and I had this stupid idea."
Witting's "stupid idea" ended up being pretty simple, at least in concept: What if the "ghost" of Timothy Dexter haunted Inn Street every night?
"We got one of our engineers (Matt Daigle) to dress up like Timothy Dexter and got him in front of a green screen," Witting said.
Once Daigle shot his costumed cameo, Witting sent the video footage to his brother Mike, who works as a post-production VFX artist in Hollywood.
Daigle’s image was given a ghostly makeover and “Timothy Dexter” was ready to appear on Inn Street. The only question was, how?
"We had a projector, we had a video, and we needed it to play on the third-floor window," senior engineer Ed Lewis said. "Nobody really knew how to do that."
Lewis quickly came up with the idea of using a small, cheap computer known as a Raspberry Pi that could govern the projection system when another, 21st-century problem presented itself.
“Like any TV, a logo comes up when you turn it on," Lewis said. "You don't want to have the logo show up and then the ghost."
Making use of a servo and a lens cover, Lewis programmed a certain amount of lead time before the ghost video's appearance, which leaves the projector covered until the Raspberry Pi automatically orders it to open.
"The logo just hits the lens cover when it turns on and then it moves out of the way and the video runs," Lewis said.
With the timing down, the ghost of Lord Timothy Dexter began popping up about two weeks ago in the third-floor window of 20 Inn St. at 1 a.m. sharp each day.
"It is on the third floor, so it is something you will probably catch out of the corner of your eye," Witting said. "That was part of the fun. It would have been more obvious to put it on the second floor, but we kind of like the idea that it is a passing glance that you might not be sure was your imagination."
Witting said his company will likely alter the ghost's appearance schedule just before Halloween. But for the time being, he is an early morning haunt.
"No one has admitted to seeing him yet," Witting said. "But we will see."
Witting said his "hack project" cost the company roughly $80,000 in lost productivity, but it's been well worth it.
He said Rocket’s next hack project will be a system in which, when an employee walks into the office, his or her phone will signal the individual's arrival with personalized theme music playing from wireless speakers.
“We have these companywide initiatives which are completely absurd but everyone seems to get a kick out of,” Witting said.
To see Rocket's "Haunting" page: https://blog.rocketinsights.com/haunt-your-office-in-6-easy-steps.
Staff writer Jim Sullivan can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.