New Feature: Ask Fiona

ghostbatAs I’m writing this, Halloween is fast approaching. It’s “ghost season” for those of us who investigate haunted sites.

Many investigators — new and experienced — have questions about ghosts, ghost hunting, and haunted places.

I may be able to answer them.

Ask your question in the comment form, below.

(Though you’ll see it, immediately, the public won’t see your comment until I manually approve it. If you’d like me to keep it hidden, tell me that or use the “comments are always hidden” Ask Fiona page.)

If a question needs a lengthy reply, I’ll write an article to answer it, as time permits. I’m creating an “Ask Fiona” series at this website, for those in-depth replies.

Leave a comment below, and ask me anything about ghosts, haunted places, and related paranormal research.

Haunted History: The Slaughter House, Liverpool

history of the slaughter house, liverpoolIf you’re a ghost hunter interested in the history of the Slaughter House, here are notes from my off-site research.

(If you’re looking for Slaughter House ghost stories, see my related article, Most Haunted: The Slaughter House, Liverpool.)

The following history might connect to ghosts in and near Liverpool’s Slaughter House.

First, I researched Jane Ellison. She was a previous owner of the Slaughter House site. I’m not sure those notes are useful.

Then, I studied old maps — and business directories — looking for local clues. That historical information may be very helpful for future investigations at the Slaughter House.

Jane Ellison

Using Tom Slemen’s list of historical owners of the haunted Slaughter House site, I researched early owner Jane Ellison.

For some reason, Jane’s name seems to “light up” for me. (When I use that expression, it means the item seemed to hold my attention more than it should. That’s when I go looking for something odd to explain it.)

Jane Ellison #1

Here’s one interesting Jane Ellison, but I don’t know if she had any connection to the history of the Slaughter House.

This Jane Ellison was born about 7 March 1820 as a “female bastard” child of James Ellison, a laborer (from the nearby borough of Knowsley), and a woman whose name might be Margaret, but I can’t quite read it.

Here’s part of the court record:

court record Jane Ellison Liverpool

However, Ellison isn’t an unusual name in England.

This document does tell us that, in the early 1800s, at least one Liverpool-area Ellison caused some drama. He didn’t show up at court when charged as Jane’s father.

That’s a big red flag, if this Jane Ellison was connected with the history of the Slaughter House.

Also, in the 1766 directory, I found only one Ellison actually in Liverpool. (He was David Ellison, a watch maker on Ranelagh Street, not far from the Slaughter House site.)

So, maybe “Ellison” wasn’t a popular surname in the area, until much later.

Jane Ellison #2

Next, I found a burial record for “Jane, daughter of Jane Ellison,” who was buried 4 Oct 1819 in Liverpool.

The oddity there is that she’s just the “Jane, daughter of Jane Ellison,” without a father listed. Other entries on the same page list the mother and father of each deceased person.

Here’s the burial record:

Jane Ellison burial record 1819 Liverpool

Below, you can read the detail.

Burial record Jane Ellison Liverpool 1819

That record shows:

  • She lived on Dale Street. (It was just around the corner from Fenwick Street, where the Slaughter House is.)
  • She’s noted as a “spinster.”

So, there are two red flags connected with the name “Jane Ellison.” One was an illegitimate child, Jane Ellison, who was born in 1820.

The second (but lesser anomaly) was another Jane Ellison who appears to be a single parent, and – in 1819 – she buried a child named Jane Ellison.

In my research, I always note those kinds of anomalies. At least half the time, if they’re connected to a haunted site, their stories will be related to that site’s ghostly energy.

(Additional — but less unusual — Jane Ellison notes are at the foot of this article.)

Next, I looked at Liverpool maps and city directories. If I were investigating at the Slaughter House, I’d definitely study the maps in greater detail. I’m sure more clues are hidden in the history of the neighborhood.

MAP STUDY

If you’re researching the haunted Slaughter House’s history, here’s how the immediate area looked in 1766 Gore’s Liverpool Directory. (That directory is available, online.)

Slaughter House area Liverpool - 1766

Here’s a transparent overlay of the current Slaughter House site (courtesy Google Maps), on that 1766 map.

Overlay Google Maps and 1766 Liverpool

So, if you’re studying what was where in the late 18th century, the green arrow, on the map below, points to the current Slaughter House site.

I’m not sure what the “Dry Bn” was, or if that’s what the map says. But, I’d look at the history of the area where Fenwick Street (circled in red) intersected with Moore Street and — on the 1766 map — what’s indicated as Castle hill.

I’d also look at what was on Castle Street, in or close to the same building.

Fenwick Street and the Slaughter House 1766

In 1766, these were businesses on or near Fenwick Street:

1766 directory of businesses at or near the Slaughter House

“Peter Carson, dancing-master” caught my attention. From my previous research involving dancing-masters, he’s likely to have a colorful history. (But, to be fair, “dancing-master” didn’t always indicate something other than dancing lessons.)

Other directory notes

Surveying the area, I have an uneasy feeling about nearby Castle Street, where a “cabinetmaker and toyman” business was mentioned. Perhaps something there was connected to the Slaughter House’s ghost stories.

And, Thomas Banner was an innkeeper at the Golden Fleece on nearby Dale Street. It was a long street, so that may not be near the Slaughter House site. It simply caught my attention as I was studying the area. (Also on that street, an inn called the Golden Lion. Interesting juxtaposition of names, particularly if they were near one another.)

Note: Every “Golden Fleece” I’ve researched has had more ghost stories than average. One usually involves a man chasing a woman as she fled for her life. Some of those tales ended more happily than others.

If you find more useful history related to the Slaughter House ghosts, let me know in comments, below.

Slaughter House photo courtesy Rodhullandemu

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Additional notes about jane ellison

I’m including the following notes about Jane Ellison of Liverpool, for dedicated researchers who may find them useful. At this point, these Jane Ellisons don’t necessarily connect to the history of the Slaughter House or its ghosts.

Jane Ellison #3

This is not unusual; I’m including it in case it’s pertinent, later.

A Jane Ellison, age 75, was buried on 24 Jan 1838. (Born around 1763.) She died in the workhouse.

Aside from living to a grand old age (for that era), and the sadness of dying in a workhouse on a cold January day, there’s nothing of note in this. But, she could have been the surviving Jane Ellison #2 (above).

Jane Ellison died 1838 Liverpool workhouse

Jane Ellison #4

I’m not sure this has anything to do with the Slaughter House, either, but I found the “Will of Jane Ellison, Spinster” in Liverpool. (Reading it requires a fee, and I’m not that interested… yet.)

Note: If she is related to history of the Slaughter House, I’d read that will. Wills and probate records sometimes include the oddest details that can shed light on paranormal activity.

Jane Ellison #5

Here’s the marriage record of another Jane Ellison. Nothing odd here, but it may be useful, later.

Marriage: 26 Oct 1871 St Michael in the Hamlet, Aigburth, Lancs. (in Liverpool)
Joseph Craven – 25 Mariner Bachelor of St James Place
Jane Ellison – 22 Spinster of Collins St
Groom’s Father: William Craven, Builder
Bride’s Father: John Ellison, Labourer
Witness: Thomas Craven; Mary Ann Ellison

Sites – Legal and Illegal

video camera warning to ghost hunters
photo courtesy of Jason Antony and FreeImages.com

In the past, ghost hunters could discreetly slip into haunted sites that weren’t clearly open to the public. If it was public property — or abandoned — and it wasn’t posted, some investigators thought, “Why not?”

I’ve always advised against investigating sites that aren’t clearly open to the public for ghost research.

For example, in New England, Danvers (MA) State Hospital site has been notorious for trespassing, vandalism, and arrests of well-meaning ghost enthusiasts.

It’s one of many locations with eerie reputations, and vigilant security or police patrols.

Like many other locations in isolated spots, it’s easy for police to observe trespassers from a distance. Ghost hunters are at risk as soon as they drive up the road or driveway, or turn on their flashlights. Quite literally, they shed light on their own crimes.

Today, surveillance cameras and other devices — similar to the tools we use in our research — make trespassing even more risky.

The following December 2015 story —  from KUTV (Utah, USA) — is a good example of what can happen if you break the law.

‘Haunted’ Property Owner Asks Trespassers to Keep Out

(KUTV)In Northern Utah, authorities are looking to the public in help finding a few people they want to talk to after vandalism was discovered at a former Catholic retreat believed to be haunted. The pictures are clear, taken from surveillance video a new property owner installed in recent weeks… Despite multiple signs posted on the property – “No Trespassing” and “Keep Out”, threatening fines and jail time for violators, individuals are still coming through the area… In some publications and online sites, the area has been described as a good ghost hunting location, a fun place to take a date and get a thrill, but authorities say this is no laughing matter. (Emphasis added.)

[Click here to read the rest of the article at KUTV’s website.]

That particular location — St. Anne’s, in Logan Canyon — is mentioned at many websites, including credible YouTube videos, as a reliable place to find ghosts. You can even find St. Anne’s ghost story at otherwise-trustworthy websites like the Weird US site.

This is why you must investigate site accessibility, even before you decide if a location might be haunted enough to explore.

If you don’t, or if you choose to risk getting caught, the quality of surveillance footage — day or night — can be good enough to convict you.

Don’t expect to see warning signs.

Don’t waste your time looking for the cameras, either. They can be tiny or well-concealed in hollowed-out tree branches or fence posts.

Ghost hunting might not be as popular as it once was, but modern surveillance equipment has become inexpensive and easy to use. Many locations are using it to detect trespassers, and fine them for vandalism they might be responsible for.

In the case of the Utah ghost hunters, that’s a $10,000 door that someone had kicked in.

(Really, if you’re facing a jury and trying to explain that, yes, you did trespass, but no, you didn’t damage anything, do you expect them to believe you? Is ghost hunting worth that risk?)

Trespassing can be a felony in some American communities. Jail time can be as much as a year, and fines can be as high as $4,000 per person, at the discretion of the judge.

If you’re an American convicted of a felony, you can be denied your right to vote in the U.S. You can also be denied travel to some other countries, including Canada and parts of Europe. If an employer or landlord runs a background check on you, a felony conviction looks very bad.

Since my earliest articles at Yankee Haunts (mid-1990s) and HollowHill.com, I’ve always focused on haunted locations people can investigate, with permission. Nearly all sites I talk about — at websites, on TV and radio, and in books — are open to the public.

What happened to the kids who were caught in Utah could happen to anyone. Don’t take that chance.

If you’re not sure whether a location is open to the public for ghost investigations:

  • Visit the location and look for signs, or ask the staff (if any) about restrictions.
  • Ask the reference librarian at the local public library, or check with the regional historical society.
  • Stop at the local visitors’ center or chamber of commerce, and verify the location and the hours it’s open to the public.

Of course, I always recommend visiting each haunted site during the daytime, to evaluate it for research and plan your investigation.

But, if that’s not possible, be sure to confirm when the location is open to the public for ghost hunting, and if any fees, rules, or limits apply.

Or, limit your ghost hunting to daytime hours, as well as ghost tours, public ghost hunting events, and ghost vigils.

Haunted Houses and Carbon Monoxide

What does carbon monoxide have to do with a haunted house?

When people contact me about a haunted house, they often say things like:

  • dangers of the paranormal“Sometimes, when I’m in that part of the house, I get shaky, dizzy, and I feel weak all over.”
  • “I get a tightness in my chest, and I can’t catch my breath. Do you suppose the ghost died of a heart attack?”
  • “I’m okay during the day, but at night — especially when it’s cold out — it’s like something floats into my room through the bedroom window, and I can’t breathe.”
  • “The baby gets fussy in that room and seems to be looking at something that I don’t see, and the dog won’t go in there, ever.”
  • “I’m fine all day, but at night, when we close up the house and go to bed, I get headaches, it feels really stuffy in the room, and sometimes I feel kind of sick. I always have to get up and open the window, just to feel the breeze. About an hour or two later, around midnight, everything’s fine again.”

Well, those “symptoms” of a haunting can be caused by carbon monoxide poisoning. That’s why carbon monoxide is now the first thing to check in a house that might be haunted. This is especially true if the ghosts started to be a problem when the house was sealed up for the winter, or — in warm climates — for the summer.

The following is an edited excerpt from the book, Is Your House Haunted?, by Fiona Broome.


Before you do anything else…

Check the carbon monoxide levels at the possibly-haunted site.

Carbon monoxide is nicknamed “the silent killer.” Pets and children often react to it first. Carbon monoxide (CO), also called carbonous oxide, is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas. It is highly toxic to humans and animals in higher quantities. It can come from a variety of sources, including gas appliances, woodstoves, car exhaust, blocked flues, and even cigarette smoke.

Some people are more sensitive to carbon monoxide, and may show symptoms before others do.

Any of the following symptoms may indicate high levels of carbon monoxide.

  • Headaches.
  • A tight sensation in the chest.
  • Nausea.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Vomiting.
  • Dizziness.
  • Fatigue.
  • A feeling of weakness.
  • Confusion or disorientation.
  • Visual disturbances.
  • Fainting and seizures.
  • Flu symptoms.
  • Infants may be irritable.
  • Pets can avoid certain areas.

Carbon monoxide can also affect the heart and central nervous system, and raise blood pressure. Carbon monoxide poisoning can damage the fetus of a pregnant woman. Many areas in the UK, the US, and Canada have laws recommending (or even requiring) the use of carbon monoxide detectors in homes. Older homeowners may not realize that. Even if the homeowner has no fireplace or woodstove, and no gas appliances, check the levels anyway.

For example, if a nearby neighbor has a wood stove and you (or the client) sleep with your window open, elevated carbon monoxide could explain some “symptoms” of a haunting.

If you regularly investigate haunted sites, be sure your home has very low levels of carbon monoxide, too. If you’ve been sensitized to the gas, even low levels might trigger your symptoms at a “haunted” site. It could happen. Rule this out, immediately.

When you’re investigating a potentially haunted house and any symptoms match the warning list, carbon monoxide levels must be checked first.

If the homeowner does not have a carbon monoxide detector installed, and you don’t have a handheld monitor, call the fire department for advice.

Note: Before buying a handheld carbon monoxide meter, be sure to read the reviews.

If you’re investigating haunted homes and you can’t afford a good carbon monoxide detector, don’t bother with a cheap one. Either have the homeowner install carbon monoxide detectors in several places in the home — and use them for at least a week before you investigate — or ask the fire department if someone in the community can test the air for the homeowner.

A carbon monoxide meter that works is important. A cheap one that’s not reliable could put you and your client at risk.

So, either use a good detector or have the homeowner or someone else handle that part of the investigation.

Dangers of the Paranormal

dangers of the paranormalFor years, many of us have been warning about dangerous aspects of ghost hunting.  From physical safety to legal issues, and from personal liabilities to spiritual protection, this field has more pitfalls than many hobbies and professions.

In general, the paranormal community can be divided into three groups:

  • Those who know the risks and take appropriate precautions.
  • Those who don’t know the risks, or have only a vague idea, and aren’t as cautious as they might be.
  • Those who see the warning signs (literal and figurative) and ignore them, thinking they’re immune to the risks.

I want to be sympathetic when someone is arrested for ignoring a “no trespassing” sign, or when they go to Vale End (or a similar site) and return home, terrified… a fear that stays with them for years.  I’ve warned about scams and con artists, and sleazy people who like the cover of darkness.

Physical injury and illness aren’t as unusual as I’d like, and — in most cases — the victim never saw the problem coming.

Obviously, experienced professionals usually know the risks and do what they can to minimize them.  Event planners try to organize activities so no one is placed in unnecessary danger.

Trespassing

A wide spectrum of ghost enthusiasts seem to be oblivious to all risks.  I see that in my email in-box, with questions and tales of woe, daily.

But, the symptoms aren’t only in my incoming email.  Looking for good videos to explain issues related to haunted Eloise Insane Asylum in Michigan, I found three videos with the following kind of content.  All were filmed by a group of kids, emulating Ghost Hunters.

First, they filmed the no trespassing sign.  Then, they ignored it and entered the property anyway.

Eloise hospital - No Trespassing sign

Then, they actually captioned portions of their videos, repeatedly proclaiming that they were on private property.

And, even when one of the kids said she was afraid to slip under the fence because she might be arrested, her friends talked her into breaking the law.

  

Okay, they’re 12-year-old kids, so you might ask, “Where were the parents?”

The answer…?  In at least one part of the video, the mom was holding the camera.

I don’t want to single out these kids as if they’re an example of the primary problem.  They’re not.  Adults are doing this kind of thing even more often than kids are.  This group of amateur “ghost hunters” just happened to put their videos online.  (Not a smart move, if someone calls Child Protective Services.)

My point is: Ignoring safety issues is a problem in this field.

Also, the trespassing issue isn’t isolated to this field.  From homeless people seeking shelter to urban explorers, plenty of people ignore “no trespassing” signs.  However, in many cases, they’re constantly aware of the risks.

The “no trespassing” signs are more than legal warnings.  Frankly, many people are let off with a warning, the first time or two that they’re caught… though I wouldn’t want to trivialize trespassing laws.

The bigger issue is what the “no trespassing” signs can indicate.  Often, those signs indicate safety problems.  They might include something as simple (but deadly) as asbestos dust or as urgently perilous as structural damage.  An issue might be toxic waste underground, or a site known for harboring territorial, poisonous snakes.

And, almost all abandoned structures have rodent issues.  I talked about that risk in my earlier podcast about ghost hunting and respiratory risks and my article about ghost hunting and health issues.

Here’s the reason for alarm: With the “no trespassing” signs prominently displayed, many site owners and communities figure they’ll make repairs later, when they have more funds to work with. They (reasonably) assume that the signs will protect an unwary visitor from putting him- or herself at risk.

The problem could be minor or it could be truly dangerous.  “No trespassing” signs rarely go into detail. (When I last checked, the fenced-off area near Gilson Road Cemetery in Nashua, NH, did not explain that it’s a Superfund site.)

But, don’t rely on “no trespassing” signs as warnings.  Sometimes, we’re called into homes and businesses (in use, not abandoned) with significant risks — structural and health issues — as we explore moldy basements and attics with rodent droppings.  So, every researcher needs to be aware of the dangers, as well as precautions to take.

Other dangers in ghost hunting

From blunders with Ouija boards to sleazy people groping team members in the dark, and from cult-like groups to adrenaline addiction, this field can seem like a minefield to the unwary.

The key word is “unwary.”  Once you’re aware of the risks, you can evaluate which you’re okay with and what limits to place on your research.

In the past, I’ve mentioned — and sometimes ranted about — many risks in my articles.  I’ve avoided covering those topics in depth because… well, that’s not the focus of this website.  In the 1990s, I wanted to interest people in ghost hunting.  After Ghost Hunters and other TV shows made my earlier efforts redundant, my articles shifted to education — including my free course — so ghost enthusiasts can get the best results from their investigations.

Also, risks need to be assessed on a site-by-site basis.

It’s one thing to go into a paved, haunted cemetery after dark, when — even though it’s posted — you’ll meet dozens of joggers and dog-walkers cheerfully ignoring the faded “closed at dusk” sign.

It’s quite another to go into an abandoned building, exposed to the elements, presenting a wide range of structural concerns.

So, I rarely go into detail about the dangers you may encounter as a ghost hunter.  Every site presents its own challenges and risks.

Now, a website (by someone else) is dedicated to the dangers of paranormal research.  It’s a topic that needs a central clearinghouse of information, and I’m delighted that someone has taken responsibility for that. Here’s the link:  Dangers of the Paranormal.