Ghost Hunting and Respiratory Risks

biohazardWith the death of Sara Harris, ghost hunting health risks are now in the spotlight.

In my earlier article — written before Sara’s death — I touched on basic health and safety concerns, including respiratory issues and simple steps to reduce your risks.  Today, I’ve had time for a more in-depth study of the problem, and I’ve re-recorded my December 1st podcast — released early because it’s so important — with more comprehensive information. This is a 16-minute podcast.

Remember, I am not a medical professional or doctor and this is not intended as medical advice.  For hantavirus information and recommended protection, here’s a link to the CDC website.  (Scroll down that page to where they recommend N100 masks.)

I’m trying to strike a sensible balance but even one death is too many, so I’d rather lean in the direction of raising excessive concerns, than treat this too lightly.

Click here for my YouTube channel, for how-to videos including the one about stairways

Points you need to know

  • Airborne risks in dusty locations aren’t news.  Since speculation about “King Tut’s Curse,” people have been concerned about airborne diseases, especially those that have been dormant at locations where bodies may have been stored (including abandoned hospital morgues) or tombs.
  • The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists a wide range of rodent-related diseases, from Hanta to plague to one form of meningitis. Most are spread by “breathing in dust that is contaminated with rodent urine or droppings.”  Just last week, I’d pointed to a large mouse or rat in one ghost hunting video, but I think we’ve all investigated sites where mice and rats had once been (or still are) and they’ve left droppings.
  • Many abandoned hospitals that were described as “insane asylums” were also hospitals for victims of tuberculosis and other respiratory diseases.  Eloise Insane Asylum  (in Michigan, USA) is a good example of this.  Take extra precautions at sites where people have been ill.
  • Surgical masks are usually designed to protect the environment from the wearer, not vice versa.  If you’re buying blue masks, keep this in mind.  Depending on their design, those blue masks usually test between 15% and 80% effective.  The best are designed to filter the smallest particles, and have something at the nose so air isn’t entering and exiting, unfiltered, at the top edge of the mask.
  • Masks usually filter particles, they don’t disinfect anything.  If you have significant health issues leaving you especially vulnerable, or you’re going to extremes, look for military-grade gas masks designed to protect from chemical and biological agents, as well as flu pandemics.  At that level, you’ll achieve maximum protection.
  • Most medical-style masks do not filter out carbon monoxide or other toxic gases.
  • Indoors (with no open windows), setting up an air purifier ahead of time may help if it’s designed to HEPA standards.  (HEPA filters remove more than 99% of airborne particles, usually down to 0.3 microns.)  However, most air purifiers are designed to filter tobacco smoke, pollen, and dust, not chemical or bacterial agents.  Make sure the air purifier removes dust, and choose an air purifier with a CADR rating number at least 2/3 the square footage of the space you need to treat. (So, if it’s a room with 120 square feet, you’re looking for a CADR rating that’s at least 80.)
  • Remember that your hands, hair, and clothing can pick up the same particles you’re trying to avoid with a mask.  Keep your mask on when you shake your hair to dislodge particles, and when you change your clothes.  Disposable gloves — available in bulk from many pharmacies and beauty salon supply stores (like Sally Beauty Supply) — can be helpful when you might have to touch items that put you at risk, or in locations that are coated with dirt or dust.

There is a happy medium (no pun intended) between making ghost hunting so complex and fearful it’s a chore, and being far too casual about health and safety risks.  The precautions you take will vary from person to person, and from one investigation site to another.

Someone investigating in northern Maine and eastern Canada will have very different concerns than someone investigating in Louisiana or an area that’s been affected by flooding.  And, someone with severe allergies or respiratory issues will take different precautions than someone who rarely catches a cold and enjoys exceptionally good immunity.

What I’m adding to my own ghost hunting supplies

  • Basic blue surgical masks, for my own use and for anyone who’s with me that didn’t bring respiratory protection, and a few P95 or N95 masks, just to have them on hand for severe situations that surprise us.
  • I like the looks of WoodyKnows nose filters for discreet, short-term use, since they’re praised by people who use them for allergies.
  • N100 or P100 masks, preferably with the Cool-Flow feature, for hot climates.
  • Disposable gloves, for places where I don’t want to touch anything.  (I have a very low “ick!” threshold.)
  • A more comprehensive HEPA-style breathing mask, in the $30 – $50 price range.  I’m still researching them.
  • A personal air purifier that’s been proved effective in scientific studies.  My choice is the Wein As150mm Ionic Air Purifier.  It’s small and can be worn as a pendant.  As long as it doesn’t interfere with electronic sensing devices or other ghost hunting tools, it’s the kind of thing I’d wear routinely in dusty locations, basements and attics, and abandoned buildings… and when I’m on an airplane.

 

Ghost Hunting – Health and Safety Issues

Note: I’d prepared this article for the first week of December 2012.  When — on 28 Nov 2012 — I heard about the death of ghost researcher Sara Harris, I decided to publish it early.

Updating this article in 2016, I’ve changed some of the preface, below. I have no idea what happened to Shane Harris and his foundation.

It sounded like Shane Harris and his wife, Sara, were among yet another team of ghost hunters to explore a derelict home with ghost stories. Plenty of people had investigated the site — including its basement — in the past.

However, Sara returned home with a lung problem, later diagnosed as something she’d contracted at the haunted site. It had dust, dirt, and rodent droppings. That’s not unusual in abandoned haunted buildings.

Sara’s health declined, rapidly, and she died within days. That was a shock for many of us.

Her story wasn’t the first I’ve heard about ghost researchers contracting respiratory infections after investigations, but it is among the worst.

Her widower, Shane Harris, started the Sara Harris Foundation.

At the time, Shane said it would help to educate paranormal investigators about issues of health and safety, and provide masks and first aid kits to ghost hunting teams that can’t afford them.  He said, “I have 3M on board to donate masks as soon as I get the tax ID number,” and it looked like Ryan Buell was working with him to raise funds.

As of 2016, I find no evidence of Shane’s foundation.

But, respiratory risks are real at some abandoned, derelict, and rodent-infested sites.

In addition, a follow-up article at Paranormal Insider included even more reasons for concern among ghost hunters.

My article barely brushes the surface of the problem, but — in the interest of getting this information to more people, immediately — I’ve decided to publish it early.

Among ghost hunters, I’ve heard some really scary stories.  They’re not about the ghosts.  They’re about health and safety issues.

This is especially important during the winter, when we’re often investigating indoor locations.  Energy-saving measures — such as doors and windows with weatherstripping, and storm doors and windows — mean less air circulation.  The air isn’t as healthy, especially when someone has “indoor allergies” or environmental sensitivities.

  • Many researchers don’t take allergy medications before an investigation, especially if those medications might affect their alertness.  That can put them more at risk for respiratory distress.
  • Sometimes, a client blames physical phenomena — like dizziness or depression in just one part of the home or business — on ghosts when the actual issue is something environmental, like allergies, off-gassing from new wall-t0-wall carpeting, or oil-based wall paint with high VOCs.  That’s going to affect some investigators on the scene, as well.
  • Are you or team members allergic to pets?  Ask the site owner if he or she has animals in the home or business.  Since people often isolate their pets before an investigation team arrives, it’s a mistake to assume that there are no pets, just because you don’t see or hear them.

Allergies are the tip of the iceberg.

Basements and attics often present safety issues. In at least one case this year, an otherwise healthy investigator was hospitalized with a life-threatening respiratory complaint, after conducting research at a site with rodent droppings.

  • Structural issues – Attic floorboards can be old and unable to support much weight.  Ask the owner before you venture up there.
  • Dust in attics isn’t just an issue when you’re trying to take credible orb photos.  It’s also an allergen for many people.
  • Basements are prone to mold and mildew.  Against cement or stone walls, the problems may not be obvious until someone starts wheezing.
  • In cities and warm climates where cockroaches are a steady problem, remember that it’s not always the insects but their droppings that present the worst respiratory challenges for people with allergies.
  • Histoplasmosis – Bat droppings can put you at risk. It’s not just “bats in the belfry,” but bats (and sometimes birds) in the attic and the basement.  Histoplasmosis can be a serious respiratory disease and a significant threat in some areas.  As it says at Bats and Rabies, “To be safe, avoid breathing dust in areas where there are animal droppings… wear a respirator that can guard against particles as small as two microns.”  Every researcher should have — at the very least — a few simple, paper masks in his or her ghost hunting kit. (However, not all blue medical masks protect at the level you need. Read the label!)
  • If you’re exploring a haunted cave (such as the Bell Witch cave), a mask is an especially good idea, if you’re subject to respiratory issues.
  • Investigating an abandoned hospital?  Some people worry about visiting old tuberculosis hospitals; they’re usually called sanitoriums.  Generally, TB can only be spread from human to human, and only when the contagious person has an active case of the disease.  However, some doctors are now saying that tuberculosis “is spread usually from person to person by breathing infected air during close contact.”  (Emphasis added.)  Should you wear a mask in dusty, abandoned hospitals?  Probably, but not because of TB.  At deserted sites, there’s a greater potential for disease-containing animal and insect droppings.

This isn’t a complete list of the risks involved in exploring old sites, especially those that haven’t been maintained, but it gives you the general idea.

Skip the scrubs, but consider the blue mask, seriously.
Skip the scrubs, but consider the blue mask. Be safe, no matter where you investigate.

With recent reports of ghost investigators becoming ill with life-threatening respiratory issues — and with the death of Sara Harris — we all need to be more aware of the dusty places we visit when we’re looking for ghosts.

You’re probably going to be in the dark, anyway.  Why not wear a mask if there are any reasons to be concerned?

A ten-cent paper mask can help protect your health, reduce your chances of an allergic reaction or asthma,  and — in extreme cases — might save your life.  Get a box for yourself, or your team, and carry some masks with you, no matter where you’re investigating.

Depending on your health concerns, and the environments where you’re researching, stronger protection may be necessary if biological hazards are a very real issue.

However, for the casual researcher visiting sites that may contain irritants, allergens, and significant dust, the basic mask is one that protects you from 2-micron size particles or smaller.  Inexpensive surgical masks are the simplest option, but be sure to read the labels.

(Also see Brian Cano’s comment, below. He makes some very good points.)

Ghost Hunting: What’s Important?

Ghost hunting means something different to every investigator.  It’s natural to expect others to think like you about this research.  You want them to be on your same wavelength… and maybe they are, pretty much.  However, no two people will feel exactly the same about every single aspect of ghost hunting.  Those aspects include:

  • Why you research ghosts and haunted places.
  • The evidence that you’re looking for… what you’ll excitedly tell others about, after the investigation.
  • The evidence that impresses you less.
  • The kinds of locations you like to investigate:  Battlefields, haunted residences and businesses, legendary sites (Salem Witch Trial sites, Bell Witch locations, the Myrtles Plantation, the Falstaffs Experience, etc.), cemeteries, abandoned hospitals and factories, etc.
  • The amount of time you’ll dedicate to one location, and how you prioritize your research when you’re there.
  • The size of your team and the skills of your team members.

These differences make each of us distinct, and uniquely able to contribute different evidence — and how we analyze it — to the field of ghost research, and paranormal studies in general.

Accepting those differences can be a challenge.  We all want to feel understood and supported in our respective research efforts.  This can be a very stressful field. It’s practically part of the job description.

Those of us experimenting with “what if..?” questions and research methods expect to be challenged, not just by eerie phenomena and anomalous discoveries, but by others in the field.  We’re not oblivious to the fact that some of our work looks a little odd.

Worse, we generally want to confirm our studies with years of supporting evidence, before presenting our theories.  In the interim, as we’re relatively quiet about our results — and sometimes ridiculed by those who don’t have our insights — it’s easy to have second thoughts about the “test pilot” roles we’ve adopted.

So, when looking at what others are doing, it may be important to suspend judgment or even disbelief.  A few factors can help you decide:

  • Is the person looking for attention?  If, from the start, the person has needed approval and attention from others on the team — in a distracting way — that’s a warning sign.  On the other hand, if the person seems to be happy enough, working quietly on his (or her) own, that can be a positive sign, depending on the circumstances.  (A person quietly testing incense as a “white noise” factor in visual anomalies can be a good thing.  A person who has to use a sage smudge at every site… not so good.)
  • Does the researcher have a track record for discovering things (that can be verified, impartially) that are unique and useful?  After all, someone had to be the first to try recording EVP, or measuring EMF anomalies.
  • Does the researcher generally adhere to consistent research standards and practices?  A one-time anomalous observation isn’t “proof” of anything. If it seems to happen eight times out of ten at a haunted site… that’s worth testing further.

However, no matter how the person rates in those terms, one factor outweighs them all:  Is the researcher honest?

That’s not just about the work he or she is doing, but about his or her life, in general.  Without credibility as a foundation, no research theories or results can be taken seriously.

There can be no “white lies” in paranormal research.

That’s not just about research-related claims (like inflated CVs related to ghost hunting experience) but also liability issues:

  • A researcher with a chronic theft or shoplifting problem is a risk if you’re investigating homes and businesses. (This issue is rare. I’ve only heard about it second-hand.)
  • A researcher who talks, hugs, and touches inappropriately — on ghost hunts and elsewhere — can’t be part of your team. He certainly can’t be trusted in the dark. (Some of us had to deal with this in 2009. That guy still pretends to be a ghost expert, and participates in ghost hunting events.)
  • A team member who insists she’s always sober during investigations, but keeps showing up unsteady on her feet, and rambling when you need silence for EVP recordings. She can be a liability on many levels. (Always watch for this, even with long-time team members. Everyone hits a difficult time in life. Some self-medicate to get through it.)

Those issues can extend into mental health areas, and it’s something team members need to be sensitive to.

But, at the core of our work, honesty is essential. It’s basic to genuine respect, within this field and among the public.

Mutual respect is equally important.  Once the professional slurs seep in, and reactive, defensive walls come up, we’ve lost important ground in this field.  Be aware of your biases, even when they seem well-founded.

EVP is controversial.  We know that EVP is fraught with credibility issues.  And, so far — EVP isn’t my strong suit.  The fact that I rarely get good recordings at even the most haunted sites… that doesn’t disprove EVP as a viable research tool.

As an example of someone working with extreme EVP techniques, see what John Sabol is doing.  For years, his unique and flamboyant research methods have raised eyebrows.  I was impressed from the start, but I’ve heard and read several unfair — and sometimes snide — comments about his work.

John now has a track record that’s earned him respect, and he’s invited to speak at ghost- and archaeology-related events, worldwide.  But, even within paranormal research, many people have never heard of John and his work. That’s a glaring omission, and a symptom of a larger problem in this field.

Real-time communication is controversial, especially non-standard techniques such as loosening the light bulb connection in a flashlight, on-the-fly EVP analysis, and tools such as a Frank’s Box.  I’ve seen all three work, convincingly, over and over again.

I’ve also seen (and heard) results where I blink and think, “You’ve got to be kidding.”

That doesn’t mean these tools and techniques aren’t valid.  Until we can standardize and refine our research methods, results must be evaluated by people who were there, and on a case-by-case basis.

Often, our conclusions are the result of the aggregate experience at a location.  It’s difficult to convey that context to someone who wasn’t there at the time.

Sometimes, when I’m trying to explain why some minute anomaly interests me, I’m reminded of when I try to tell jokes. (I’m terrible at jokes.)  As I describe flat-out weird anomalies, I find myself steadily saying, “Oh. Wait. I forgot to tell you…” And then I explain about the shadow figure.  Or the voice that the team recorded simultaneously on three different voice recorders, though no one heard anything like it in real life.

Ghost photos are still controversial, too.  I’ve steadily maintained that they can’t be the sole evidence on which you build your case for something paranormal.  And, I’ll admit that, for years, I was skeptical of most “orb” photos I’ve been shown.  Until I spent six years studying what I thought could cause false photographic anomalies, I dismissed the majority of orbs as reflections, moisture, and dust.

Mosquito at Portsmouth South Street cemetery.
Mosquito, not a fairy.

Not quite ghost hunting:  I’m receiving more “fairy” and “alien” photos from concerned ghost hunters.  The pictures are charming, and I hate to spoil people’s fun, but bugs are commonplace at many research sites.  It’s key to know what they look like in photos.

At right, that’s a mosquito. It’s one of many bug-related photos I took, deliberately, as part of my six-year study of photographic anomalies.

Is that kind of photo always an insect?  I’m not sure.  So far, I can easily create fake fairy and alien photos, but it’s a mistake to think that — just because something can be faked, easily — it’s always a fake.

My best tip for recognizing when bugs might be an issue at an outdoor investigation:  Regularly check streetlights near the research site.  If you see insects flying around them, you’ll probably see insects in your photos, as well.

However, I was dismayed when I was reading articles at a respected website — preparing to link to some of them — and I stumbled onto a dismissive phrase, “mere photos,” regarding evidence related to ghosts and haunted places.

I understand how that happens.  Defending what makes your own research unique, it’s easy to slight others’ research.   It can be unconsciously done, or it might be deliberate to align yourself (or attract supporters) who share that skepticism, whether it’s related to a specific researcher’s work, or a general category (such as ghost photos or EVP or EMF anomalies).

We need to become more aware of that easy habit — or misguided networking effort — especially as we expand into “what if…?” areas of paranormal research.

When you’re ghost hunting, it’s important to set goals and focus on them.

Your goals will determine what’s important to you.  Whether you’re at a haunted site for personal experience, to help a client, or to help a spirit, know your goals.

And then, keep improving yourself as a researcher, not to become better than everyone else, but to contribute expertise and theories to the ghost hunting field.

My advice

  • Know your own areas of expertise.   Even after 30 years of intensively studying ghost-related fields, I’m still an amateur in some aspects of paranormal research.  For example, when it comes to cryptozoology, I defer to Robin Pyatt Bellamy. Demons?  I refer people to John Zaffis and Pete Haviland, among others.
  • Know what you don’t really know.  If you haven’t done first-hand research, but you’re accepting the advice of experts (including me), test that advice yourself.  Trust no one.  Their information may be second-hand, it might be erroneous, or it might be correct.  Test everything.
  • Take time time to fill in your education gaps, when you can.  That’s especially important when only a handful of people have studied closely (and scientifically) one ghost hunting specialty.  If 100 people have carefully studied and analyzed data related to a paranormal topic, and posted (or published) that information so others can benefit from it, that’s good.  Updated studies are always useful.  However, if only two or three or even five people have studied something ghost-related and shared their results, and it appeals to you… please make that a high priority for your own research.
  • Share what you’ve learned.  Be clear about the areas in which you’ve exhaustively studied ghost hunting tools, methods, and phenomena.  Be equally clear when you’re making “educated guesses” about your findings. (And, the fact is, almost everything in ghost hunting is still an educated guess.)

Ghost Hunting – When Someone Gets Hurt

Ghost hunting in real life is far more risky than watching it on TV… and not just for paranormal reasons.  Now and then, someone gets hurt. This is why every team of ghost hunters should have a good first aid kit that includes:

  • Sterile wipes.
  • A treatment for cuts and bug bites.
  • Some bandages (like BandAids™ or plasters).
  • Fabric for a sling.
  • A stretch (Ace-style) bandage for sprains.  (If you need a splint, you can usually improvise).
  • An OTC painkiller like aspirin, and something other than aspirin. (Some people are allergic to aspirin and related medications.)
  • On a more serious health-related topic, be sure to read Ghost Hunting and Respiratory Risks.

It’s a good idea for someone on the team to take a first aid class.  Community centers often offer them, and some church and Scouting groups will, too.

However, it’s just as important to determine what caused the injury, and if that person — or others on your team — are at risk at that location… now or for repeat visits.

Obviously, if it’s a turned ankle, an insect bite, or something you could encounter at any location, routine warnings and precautions are a good idea.

But… what if it’s something unknown, invisible, or paranormal?  What if someone is pushed, shoved, slapped, or scratched during a paranormal investigation?

When the problem might be paranormal

If the haunted location has a reputation for possibly demonic activity, get out now.  Conduct off-site research to find out if rumors and stories have enough credibility to make it a “don’t go back there” location.  Look for moderate warnings in about 20% to 30% of credible reports, or reports of significant issues from a few teams that include experts you respect.

If one ghost hunting team keeps encountering dangerous physical phenomena at a variety of locations, I’d suspect one or more issues.  None of them should be taken lightly.

  • Someone on the team is either a prankster or deeply unhealthy, and is using the cover of darkness to hurt others.
  • Someone among the ghost hunters is attracting poltergeist activity.  Usually — but not always — you’re looking for a female coping with an emotional or hormonal roller-coaster.  If you think you’ve identified the person, ask that person not to participate in two or three investigations, and see if the issue continues.
  • The team are really good at finding and activating physical phenomena, wherever they investigate.  This can be an asset, if the team take safety precautions.

On the other hand, if it’s a rare event and at just one location, there are several explanations.

  • It’s a poltergeist linked to that location.  Advice: Take safety precautions, and stop investigating if the physical dangers increase.  If one person is the regular target, ask him or her not to return to that location for a month or so.  Then, proceed with caution.
  • The spirit was just playing a prank and it got out of hand. (That happened to me at the Myrtles Plantation.)  Advice:  Talk out loud to the spirit, tell it that you are okay, but that kind of prank is not acceptable while you’re investigating.
  • The spirit is still figuring out ways to communicate.  Advice: Explain to it, out loud, more appropriate ways to communicate.  Clearly, it can move things, so give it something to move, like a small ball, a feather, a set of marbles or ball bearings, etc.  Also explain how your EMF meter works, that voices can be recorded on your voice recorder, and so on.
  • Though it’s unlikely, double-check in case the injury (especially a scratch, a sprain, or a bruise) happened earlier and the person was so involved in research, he or she didn’t notice until it started to bleed, sting, or hurt.  That’s happened to me, but only a few times in 20+ years.  Usually, after the initial surprise, the victim will say, “Oh. Wait a minute. I might have scratched myself when we were passing that hedge.”
  • The activity might be malicious or demonic.  Advice: If there is any chance of this, leave immediately and do not go back.  (Well, not unless you’re also involved in demonology and know exactly what to do next.)  Research the site, compare notes with other investigators, and then decide if this is a real possibility.  Demonic attacks are very rare, but not impossible.

As long as the injury is minor and an isolated incident at that location and for that individual, I wouldn’t worry about it.  I’d make sure my first aid kit is well-stocked, I’d take sensible precautions in the future, and — just in case — I’d recommend normal spiritual protection like a brief prayer or circle before entering that site again.

The chances of the injury being paranormal depend on the people involved and the reputation of the site.  The likelihood of it being demonic are slim, but should never be lightly dismissed if anyone’s “gut feeling” indicates a problem.

A malicious or demonic attack usually includes most or all of the following:

  • A physical injury.
  • A sense that the injury was a warning or “just the beginning.”
  • Something that impinges on the awareness of the person… a feeling of evil or intended injury.
  • Uneasiness that lingers far longer than you’d expect after an encounter with a ghost, even one that makes physical contact.

Remember that any physical contact with a ghost (or other entity) is unexpected and often feels like a violation of personal space.  That’s a reasonable reaction.

When the person is still distressed long after you expected the whole thing to be shrugged off or even forgotten in other conversation, something else may be going on: Either something genuinely disturbing happened, or the person isn’t ready for intensely haunted locations.

In most cases, once the person gets past the initial surprise, you’ll recognize it as one of those weird, rare things that can happen during an investigation.

If you return to that same site, fairly confident that the injury was a fluke, take a few extra precautions for safety’s sake.

I wouldn’t avoid a location as long as all the following criteria are met.

  1. It was a one-time, minor injury.
  2. The victim is okay and didn’t feel any emotional or spiritual distress at the time of the incident.
  3. The site has no credible reputation for malicious or demonic activity.
  4. The team wants to return there.
  5. You take extra precautions the next few times you visit that site.
  6. Nothing risky happens during future visits.

If the physical issues continue with that person or someone else on the team, pause and consider other explanations, including non-paranormal ones.

Ghost Hunting, Archaeology, and tDAR

Ghost hunting and archaeologyExperienced ghost hunters routinely check the history of the areas where they’re investigating.  When it’s a new house that’s haunted,  I look for what was there before the house was built.

In the Americas, when it’s a truly weird haunting — a candidate for another Amityville horror story — we look for really early history, usually Native, early Colonial, battleground, or pioneer records.

If the home has a geographically advantageous placement — such as a hill or a site with panoramic views — the history is likely to include a Native community or a burial gound.  More recently, I may find that an early American fort or outpost was there.  In the Americas, an early community or a fort can connect with one or more incidents of broad-scale violence at or near the site.

In the UK, the history of haunted location may be surprising, as well.  The Falstaff’s Experience at Tudor World — one of England’s most haunted sites, and the strangest I’ve investigated in the UK — is in a building with a colorful history involving blood, death, and more than one tragedy that spread across England.  However, the land beneath it (and nearby) has an even older history, with additional reasons why Falstaff’s is home to myriad phenomena. (If you think Stratford-upon-Avon is just about Shakespeare… you haven’t visited the Falstaff’s Experience after dark.)

Until recently, the ghost hunters’ challenge has been finding documentation of that kind of history.  Urban legends aren’t enough, even when there’s supporting anecdotal evidence.

Professional researchers like me want more solid, factual information. That’s where archaeology enters the ghost hunting picture.

John Sabol, a professional archaeologist, and Mary Becker have been impressing many of us with their startling results in ghost excavation research. (If you have an opportunity to watch them work, don’t miss it.)

However, many of us don’t have the advantages of a degree in archaeology, as John has.  We need access to archaeological information… at least enough to give us a guess as to what might have been at the location, and what we can rule out.

That’s when the Digital Archaeological Record (tDAR) can be among ghost hunters’ most useful resources. However, I’ll warn you: If you’re not a geek about this, and academic research puts you to sleep, that site may disappoint you.  For the rest of us — an admittedly small group — it’ll make your pulse race.

At tDAR, you can search for the history of your target location and its surroundings.  At a glance, you can see what time periods have been explored with archaeological digs, what they were looking for and what they found.  The map feature shows you whether the reference is related to your location or not, and you can focus your database search with exact GPS coordinates.

Though the actual records may not be at the tDAR site, you’ll know exactly what to look for at public and university libraries.  In many cases, those libraries have online catalogues, with notations about whether that book or report is in the library, or if it’s been checked out.

Thus is a huge step forward for aggressive and conscientious ghost investigators.

Over the past 20+ years, my paranormal investigations moved from “ooh, what’s that noise?” to in-depth research with historical documentation and geographical references.  Today, before I even visit a site, I’ve spent a full day with databases and maps, plus two or more days taking notes from dusty history books.  Stories and uncertain spectral encounters aren’t enough for me.

tDAR is the kind of tool you’ll use if you delve deeply into paranormal research.  As ghost hunters, we need historical resources that take our reports beyond “well, it might be….” to “here’s solid evidence to explain the history of what’s going on here.”

The majority of ghost hunters investigate to confirm activity at a site.  Many homeowners only need to hear, “No, you’re not imagining things.  Strange things really are going on, here.”  They’re happy to hear that, and the research team has enough other cases to deal with.  They don’t have the time or interest to dig deeply into why the house is haunted.  If the homeowner says something about someone dying there, a century ago, or a cemetery that used to be across the street… that’s good enough.  You don’t need to conduct more research at or about that site.

On the other hand, if you remain in this field long enough to want far more from ghost hunting and paranormal research, tDAR may be the academic and historical tool you need.