A Fresh Approach to a Haunted Building’s History

This week, I was charmed by a CBS video about informal, modern-day archaeology.

Then I realized we could do this in many haunted locations, especially private homes and businesses, where the owners ask, “Who is that ghost?”

The video is less than three minutes long. I think it’s worth viewing if you’re actively involved in private investigations.

Though this kind of dig may not confirm anything, it might give you more clues about the history of the site. That could suggest a context for the haunting.

As I see it, this is a fresh research approach. It uses a little “informal archaeology” and it’s something almost anyone can do. You can include the site owners in this project, as well. (It might mean a lot to them, even more than it does to you.)

Since this kind of research is limited to areas like closets, it won’t disfigure the more visible parts of the home or business. That’s important.

(If you can’t watch that video, here’s a link to the related article: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/childrens-workshop-school-students-dig-up-treasures-from-closets-nyc/ )

Until I saw this video, I never realized how many historical clues could — literally — fall through the cracks.

If you try this (or have, in the past), I hope you’ll share results and insights. I’m very interested in whether this could be useful.

The site in the video is about 100 years old. So, this kind of dig — with permission, of course — could be useful at sites from the mid-20th century and earlier.

The Orbs Issue in One 1910 Photo

Orbs are a hotly contested topic. Are they ghost orbs… or something less interesting?

ghostly orbs at gilson road cemetery
One of my own orb photos

My message today is: In ghost hunting, the most reliable person is yourself.

When anyone (including me) assures you that something is true, verify it.

Most orb debates would resolve quickly if people routinely tested their own cameras to see what dust, pollen, rain, fog, reflections, breath, and insects look like in those photos.

Do this yourself. Test every camera you use for ghost hunting. Deliberately stage “false orb” conditions.

Then, analyze those photos. Could you confuse them with truly anomalous orbs?

When I stumbled onto this discovery, I was embarrassed by how simple it was. For nearly 10 years, I’d kept insisting that most orbs were caused by dust, pollen, insects, reflections, and so on.

Then, after a heated argument with a long-time friend who insisted that all orbs are ghosts, I was irked. I set out to prove my theory. I really wanted to show him that he was wrong.

But then…

I discovered that it’s more difficult to create convincing, fake orbs — with dust, pollen, smoke, insects, etc. — than I’d realized.

The key word is “convincing.” Until you know what you’re looking for, most orbs can look alike.

I’ll explain more about this in the future.

For now, I’ve stumbled onto a great, old photo that shows some easily identified issues, as well as orbs that might be ghostly.

The following is a photo of the Custer Battlefield National Cemetery. The picture was taken in 1910, when photography was very different from now. But, the issues remain the same.

Sunrise at Custer Battlefield Cemetery - orbs

I’ve enlarged some of the orbs to show what might be an anomaly — also called a “ghost orb” — and what’s probably a glitch in the photo.

Processing Mistakes

First, an obvious glitch. In the photo above, the following area is in the lower right part of the picture, to the left of the white writing.

chemical spatters

That photo was processed in a lab. Chemical splashes and spatters could happen. That’s the most likely explanation for those irregular, somewhat circular areas.

Even in the 1990s, when I was taking film photos at haunted sites, I still had to examine the negatives for splashes and lab errors.

False Orbs – Dust and Insects

The next enlargement shows what could be pollen and insects, as well as some possible anomalies. In the original photo, this area is in the lower half of the picture, and just left of the center.

Orb #1 includes a clear dot. In a color photo, it might be yellow or orange. When it is, the orb is almost always caused by pollen.

But, I see other similar, small dots nearby. So, the orb might be real and the dots might be a glitch from the developing or printing process, or damage to the print during storage.

Solution: When you’re taking photos, ask a friend to stand to one side and in front of you. He or she can tell you if anything in the air looked highlighted by your flash.

Orb #2 is an odd shape, and part of it is more solid looking. That’s often a flying insect.

Solution: When you’re ghost hunting outdoors, regularly look up at streetlights, or have a friend leave a flashlight on for several minutes. Many insects are attracted to light.

If you see bugs flying in front of a light, keep them in mind when you’re analyzing your photos, later.

Miscellaneous Items

The next enlargement is from the sky area in the Custer photo. It’s near the top and to the right of the middle.

Irregular shape #1 is probably damage to the print or something that spilled on the negative.

Shape #2 could be almost anything, including an insect or two, or a printing glitch.

Possible Ghost Orbs

After ruling out things that look like false anomalies, I still see several orbs I can’t explain. Not entirely, anyway. (I am mindful that sunlight may have been streaming directly towards the camera.)

I’ve indicated a few possible orbs from the sky area of the photo. But, a closer examination of the original photo may reveal more.

ghost orbs at custer battlefield cemetery

Of course, they could be processing errors from the darkroom. They could be insects or pollen, or something else that’s perfectly normal.

I have no idea and, frankly, no one can be sure whether anything I’ve said is accurate about this photo.

We’d need to test the camera the photographer used.

That’s my point.

For the past several years, I routinely test every new camera. I want to see how dust, pollen, moisture, breath, smoke, and other issues may affect my photos.

It’s a semi-scientific approach to ghost photography. More importantly, testing each camera is the only way we can tell whether our photos include possible anomalies… or probable dust, insects, and so on.

This is important, as well: Even after those tests, we’ll have unanswered questions.

Never to assume that the logical, normal explanation is the only explanation. Something that “looks like dust” could still be an anomaly.

And, even if it is dust, you may have another mystery: What causes dust in that area, but nowhere else at that location or nearby?

In other words, the orb may not be the anomaly. Maybe the weird dust is.

When to Go Ghost Hunting

When is the best time to go ghost hunting?

Many researchers prefer to investigate after dark.

Are ghosts more active at night? I’m not sure. Maybe the darkness makes it easier for us to notice them. After all, in the dark, we have fewer visual distractions.

For me, it’s more important to investigate at anniversaries. They’re the dates when someone at that site died, or married, or something significant happened. (Birthdays can be surprisingly good days for ghost hunting, too.)

This video shares more about the best times — days and hours — for ghost hunting.

Of course, your results may be different. If you have suggestions, I hope you’ll share them with Hollow Hill readers. Leave your comments (and questions) at this site.

I’ve created a When to Go Ghost Hunting Worksheet, as well as an instruction sheet for using it.

The worksheet includes more than just times and days. I’ve also added lines for possible triggers that may improve your research results.

The worksheet instructions feature even more suggestions related to research, era cues, and other ways to enhance your investigations, specific to each location.

Here are the PDF links (on Google Drive):

When to Go Ghost Hunting – Worksheet / https://drive.google.com/open?id=1_HSWKNTnx8bFmS7r7lFNtAz9YJH9Izh0

When to Go Ghost Hunting – Worksheet Instructions / https://drive.google.com/open?id=111_cv7Xzo0CaH2TI2NEzYpvp9jMpPZfp

If You Think Ghost Hunting is “Weird”…

If you ever meet people who think ghost hunting is a “weird” hobby, this photo of a gravedigger may change their perspective.

gravedigger woman - her hobby

It’s a 1944 photo from the (U.S.) Library of Congress.

Yes, it’s a little old woman, wearing a dress, a hat, and an apron.

And she’s a gravedigger.

The notes with this photo say, “Meet Mrs. Josephine Smith, aged 84, whose hobby is digging graves. She lives in Drouin, a typical little farming town (1100 people), in southern Australia, 60 miles out of the Victorian capital, Melbourne. …”

Maybe I’ve lived an insulated life, but in all my decades of trekking around haunted cemeteries, I’ve never met anyone digging a grave “for fun.”

Ghosts in the News: Nov 2017 [1]

cemetery at HalloweenCatching up on the Halloween surge of ghost-related new stories, a few articles caught my attention.

First, I noticed that several popular locations are increasing police surveillance, especially around Halloween.

Michigan’s Northville Psychiatric Hospital is one of them. It has an increased “no tolerance” approach to trespassers.

That article said:

The site is popular with paranormal explorers and ghost hunters. And with the Halloween season in full swing, police are beefing up surveillance at the site.

The property is full of asbestos, broken glass and other hazards, authorities said.

Whether or not a site is off-limits and patrolled, asbestos is always a concern at older, decaying sites. The cumulative effects of exposure can be fatal. Take no chances.

Fundraisers

Around Halloween, several ghost hunters provided demonstrations and tours to raise funds for charities. For example, a Racine (Wisconsin) group, Racine Paranormal, held a fundraiser for hurricane relief.

If you’re part of a ghost hunting team, consider a similar fundraiser next Halloween. (Or, schedule one around Christmas. A surprising number of people are alone at the holidays. A fundraising event might be a wonderful distraction for them, and a big help to struggling communities and nonprofits.)

Ghost Hunters: The Next Generation?

I’m optimistic about the next generation of ghost hunters. I really liked an article about high school ghost hunters in Griffith, Indiana (near Chicago, IL).

Here’s part of it:

Fueled by the popularity of paranormal pop culture, such as “Ghost Hunters” and easy access to portable online electronics, the club now has 94 members among juniors and seniors — 25 percent of the school’s upperclassmen.

“When you go out on these things, you go out there expecting nothing to happen,” said Pete Ghrist, “and when something happens, it’s awesome.”

“We don’t rid people of ghosts,” he said. “It’s not a ‘Ghostbusters’ type of thing.”

“Slimer’s not going to come out of the wall and knock you over,” he said. “You’re not going to see some big apparition come out of the wall. Every once in a while, you get surprised. Something really cool happens.”

I especially like seeing cross-generational interest in ghost hunting. And, as I’ve often said, police officers are among our best resources.

Note: In November, the students will be visiting Old Lake County Jail. It sounds like a good investigation site.

Old Lake County Jail

I haven’t watching this video all the way through (it’s around 30 minutes), but the jail looks interesting. (The investigation starts at about 2:53.)

Open-Minded Skeptics

After that, I found a refreshingly skeptical article about ghost hunting tools, Verify: Is there a science behind ghost hunting? The video (and article) from a Dallas (TX) ABC station, WFAA, manages to lean towards skepticism but avoid most snark.

From that article, after mentioning results from a spirit box (or something like a Frank’s Box or Shack Hack):

Biddle says, what we’re hearing are random snippets from ads and DJ’s.

“And if you combine it with the expectations of a paranormal group that’s in there asking questions, over and over. And that’s just waiting for something that sounds like a word. Or sounds like an answer that fits what they expect to hear,” he says.

Kenny’s studied a lot of ghost hunters. His biggest problem is most do not use technology in a scientific way. Mostly, they’re hooked on the thrill.

“You gotta go in and find a cause. If something goes off and you can’t explain it, that does not mean it’s unexplainable,” he says.

That last line changed my mind about what seemed an annoying, “Yeah…? Prove it!” attitude.

The fact is, we do need to debunk every anomaly, if we can. And, if something happens that we can’t explain, that doesn’t mean it’s unexplainable.

But which explanation makes the most sense? It’s not as easy as saying “Occam’s Razor.” We can’t assume that everyone’s on the same page.

Remember that hard evidence — photos, EVP, cold spots, EMF spikes, etc. — aren’t the only evidence.

Personal Evidence Matters

Always consider personal reactions and connections.

On a foggy night, maybe that weird mist by your (late) Great-Aunt Hazel’s favorite rose bush is just moisture.

That’s one explanation.

But, maybe you always had a certain feeling when Great-Aunt Hazel entered the room, or you always knew it was her call, even before the phone rang.

If you had that same feeling right before the mist appeared, or as it arrived, maybe the mist was a greeting from Great-Aunt Hazel.

That’s a personal decision. In our research, I believe it’s important to consider credible impressions.

Those impressions are another reason to avoid total focus on your ghost hunting equipment. If you’re in hyperfocus, studying an electronic device, you might miss seeing a shadow person.

Or, if you’re shouting at a (loud) spirit box, you could miss a ghostly whisper from the darkest corner of the room.

You might easily explain your exhaustion, shoulder aches, or uneasy “gut feeling.” But… what if it’s actually a ghost trying to make contact?

In the past, I’ve spoken about baseline checks.

Routinely repeat them during every investigation, if only to pause and shift your focus away from gadgets.

Also note all personal reactions, no matter how small. When you exchange notes with other researchers, those “trivial” reactions may reveal a pattern that fits the site’s ghostly history.

Summary

From what I’m seeing, ghost hunting is still thriving. Even better, new generations of ghost hunters are joining us. They’re genuinely interested, not just copying something they saw on Ghost Hunters or Ghost Adventures.

Though a few people are still sensationalizing this field, most of us (new and old) are serious about paranormal investigations.

People are more skeptical about ghosts (in a healthy way), but also willing to explore new research techniques. That makes ghost hunting an evolving, exciting field.

It’s a good time to be a ghost hunter.