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.

13 Ghost Hunting Truths

13It’s easy to list ghost hunting lies. I think it’s more important to remember some ghost hunting truths.

1. Anyone can be a ghost hunter.

You can be a ghost hunter, no matter what your background or education. You’re welcomed in this field whether you you start as a believer, skeptic, amateur, professional, child, or adult.

2. We know more than we did in the past, but we’re still looking for answers.

Many of us became ghost hunters because we had questions. We asked things like:

  • Are ghosts real?
  • Is this place really haunted?
  • What was that thing I encountered?
  • Is there really an afterlife?
  • What makes one place haunted, but another not?

Most of those answers will be personal. Our opinions may influence others, but — ultimately — each person will reach conclusions based on personal experience.

Thanks to tools developed by researchers like Bill Chappell, we’re able to say, “Yes, something odd and unexplained is going on, here.”

What we can’t prove (to others, anyway) is whether it’s a ghost, or even what a ghost is.

Haunted houseBut, it’s important that we can document the weird EMF spikes, temperature anomalies, visual quirks, voice (EVP) recordings, and synchronous replies we receive when we investigate haunted places.

Even the most dedicated skeptical critic can’t explain all of that evidence with normal answers.

We have increased evidence of the paranormal. That’s a big improvement over ghost hunting as it was, as recently as 10 years ago.

3. We’ve discovered more haunted places.

Over the past dozen years, many people have admitted that their homes, hotels, and restaurants are haunted.

More abandoned hospitals and schools, and previously ignored battlefields have invited researchers to investigate. Some of those sites are terrifying.

Of course, a few locations aren’t as haunted as people once thought. Also, some “hauntings” have been exposed as hoaxes.

The result is: ghost hunters have far more reliable opportunities for important research.

4. Ghost hunting can be boring, but thrilling as well.

If I don’t prepare for an investigation, about 80% of my field research is likely to be boring. My team and I will spend hours standing around, waiting for something to happen.

This can happen for several nights. If we’re lucky, one startling and powerful moment will make all the waiting worthwhile.

So, if I’m invited to an investigation or vigil and don’t have time to prepare, I’ll join the group anyway.

Of course, many investigators prefer not to know anything about the site they’ll visit.

They’ll feel more confident if they encounter an apparition or cold spot, and later discover that many researchers had almost identical experiences, at the exact same location.

That’s a personal call.

I prefer to find out as much as I can, ahead of time. In my opinion, understanding a site’s history — with insights about those who’ve lived and died there — gives me more rapport with any spirits or residual energy.

Also, knowing the site’s history makes the waiting time less tedious.

When I investigated the Myrtles Plantation, nothing happened for hours.

During that time, I checked out the bathroom where a ghostly child was heard weeping.

Then, I closely examined the bedroom — especially the bed — to see if any devices could jolt me awake around midnight or 3 AM. (Those were the most reported times, among people who’d spent the night there.)

I went downstairs, and studied the portraits as well as the “haunted mirror” in the front hall. I tapped a few piano keys to see what they sounded like.

This was partly to debunk existing “ghost stories” of the Myrtles, but also to become more comfortable in the setting.

After thoroughly exploring the site, I felt more of a connection with the house and any ghosts that might linger there.

So, as I waited for weird things to happen, I was not bored.

And yes, truly weird things did happen, eventually.

Others may not approach ghost hunting the way that I do. But, for me, my research — before the investigation and upon arriving at the site — makes the waiting less boring.

Either way, exciting discoveries are what make ghost hunting worthwhile. And yes, even after decades of research, I’m still startled at (and fascinated by) haunted places.

5. Old-school ghost hunting still works.

From hiking compasses to homemade dowsing rods, and from automatic writing to circles in charcoal (or chalk) to mark the place of an object (to see if it moves), old-school techniques work.

Is his own videos and on the Haunted Collector TV series, Brian Cano has introduced modern audiences to many of these techniques. He’s one of several people who specialize in that area.

Currently, I’m revisiting vintage ghost hunting books to learn more about research methods 19th and early 20th century investigators. So far, they’re intriguing.

What’s most important is this: You don’t need to invest a lot of money in ghost hunting equipment. In addition, old-school techniques can be far less distracting. When you can focus on all five (or six) senses to detect ghosts, you can have a very rich experience.

6. Some ghosts don’t need help.

In many cases, especially “green lady” ghosts and others who protect family members, ghosts aren’t trapped here. They don’t need your help. They’re here to help others.

7. Some ghosts can’t be helped.

Many ghosts refuse to accept that they’ve died. They want to turn back time and have their “Heaven Can Wait” moment.

Others are so terrified of what awaits them on the other side, they won’t budge.

haunted cemeterySome — especially 18th and early 19th century ghosts — are convinced that, as some gravestones say, they must wait “until Jesus returns.” That refers to Job 14:12,So man lieth down, and riseth not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep.

In most cases, you’ll find those ghosts at cemeteries, churchyards, and family plots.

If you feel called (as a ministry) to help those spirits, that’s a noble effort. But, in many ways, it’s an adjunct to ghost hunting. It’s something people do after they’re sure a spirit lingers at a particular location.

If your focus is helping spirits find peace and “cross over,” be sure your fellow ghost hunters share your interests. The process can be lengthy, requiring hours or even multiple visits.

8. Hauntings are more than just “dead people.”

Some haunted sites seem to have ghosts. Others may be troubled by residual energy.

Ghost animals are more prevalent than you may realize.

Also, if you study the history of haunted objects, you’ll find some interesting trends. For example, in the 19th & 20th centuries, haunted chairs were practically commonplace.

(I’m reminded of the haunted chair in the upstairs hallway at Wunsche Brothers’ Cafe in Old Town Spring, Texas.)

So, keep an open mind. You may discovered eerie, paranormal activity where you least expect it.

9. Some “ghosts” aren’t ghosts.

Some paranormal phenomena clearly indicate ghosts. Others could be something else.

They could be faeries, aliens, crypto creatures, shadow people, or something dark or demonic.

In addition, some paranormal activity is actually the product of something normal (but odd).

This could range from symptoms of unshielded electrical wiring (high EMF) to carbon monoxide from car exhaust or a faulty furnace. Or, the explanation could be side effects of medication, or even infrasound.

It’s important to keep this in mind. Don’t assume anything until you’ve thoroughly investigated it.

10. Not all paranormal researchers are ghost hunters.

Some people who investigate haunted sites are looking for other phenomena. During your research, if you meet another team, ask what they’re looking for, and what they’ve found, so far.

Whether or not they’re looking for ghosts, you may learn useful tips from each other.

A surprising number of “haunted” sites are associated with UFO reports, cryptozoology, and other oddities.

Be prepared to meet people looking for anomalies other than ghosts. You may discover a related subject that’s equally fascinating.

11. Ghost hunting can be dangerous.

Remember that ghost hunting can be far more dangerous than what you’ve seen on TV or experienced at ghost hunting events.

Those locations are usually carefully examined ahead of time, to be sure there are no physical risks. That can be anything from a rickety stairway close to collapse, or bacteria lingering in an abandoned hospital, to a door that tends to close by itself and lock people in the basement.

When you explore local haunts, you may encounter hazards. That’s one reason I recommend a pre-investigation visit during daytime hours.

In addition to physical dangers, remember the spiritual risks. They include demonic activity and dark influences at “haunted” sites.  (Ghosts are not demons, but some demons pretend to be ghosts.)

The Catholic church reports increased exorcisms, and has made appropriate changes to reflect the growing need for them.

However, the church seems to interpret poltergeist activity as “demonic infestation.” (I’m more likely to categorize poltergeists as stress combined with volatile emotions plus a connection to PK, aka psychokinesis.)

You can encounter other dangers in dark, isolated places. More than once, the cover of darkness (and the thrill of ghost hunting) has attracted sexual predators. Some join ghost hunting groups and wait for fellow team members to drop their guard. This is rare, but it does happen.

12. Ghost hunting is fun.

Despite obvious risks, ghost hunting is still a fascinating hobby, and it can become a career.

But, above all, it should be interesting and — in most cases — fun.

If it’s not, maybe it’s time to do something else.

I’ve spent decades of standing around in uncomfortable abandoned buildings, and wandering through cold, damp cemeteries after dark.

I still look forward to every ghost hunting event, investigation, and vigil.

For me, ghost hunting means having eerie experiences at places with rich and unusual histories. And, I meet bright, wonderful researchers, too.

It’s a unique pastime, and one I’ve never regretted.

Most ghost hunters are likely to say something similar about their paranormal research, too.

13. We’re always on the brink of another discovery.

Almost every ghost investigation reveals something new about ghosts and haunted places.

At the very least, it confirms something we already suspected, or it raises new questions about “everyone knows” aspects of ghost hunting

The adventure of ghost hunting is its unpredictability. We never know what will happen next.

Every discovery (and every theory) can help us better understand ghosts and paranormal research.

I believe that’s part of its appeal, and I hope you’ll share what you’re learning as a ghost hunter.

13 Ghost Hunting Lies

13In any field of interest, whether it’s a hobby or a career, you’ll find lies.

Some are “little white lies.” Some are just popular misunderstandings, or they shade the truth. Others are simply outrageous.

Here some I’ve heard as a ghost hunter.

1. You might be the one person who finally proves that ghosts are real.

Are you planning to prove to the entire world that ghosts are real? Is this your main reason for getting involved in ghost hunting?

If so, think twice.

Sure, if you’re looking for evidence to convince yourself, one way or the other, you may find that.

But, if you’re hoping to be the next Zak Bagans, Yvette Fielding, Jason Hawes, or Grant Wilson… I won’t say that ship has sailed, but you’ll need something fresh & different to attract media interest.

Are you trying to convince others that ghosts exist? If you want to change skeptical critics’ minds — convince a particular skeptic who’s close to you) — that’s unlikely to happen.

Note: I say “skeptical critics” because I think it’s smart to be skeptical in any field of study.

The problem is when, from the start, the person plans to be a snarky critic. (Like most trolls, they’re usually bitter people looking for attention.)

Of course, I think critical thinking skills are essential for every ghost hunter. That’s different from going out of your way to be a detractor.

Over the past thousands of years, no one has proved that ghosts exist.

Through research, each of us can decide what we believe, and feel confident about it.

But, that’s different from proving to the world that ghosts are real.

2. Orbs are ghosts.

Toulouse Street, New Orleans.
Bright lights. Shiny objects. High humidity. Some bugs… but no orbs.

In the past, I believed that most orbs were dust or humidity or reflections. Then I spent a few years researching those theories with multiple cameras.

Oops.

I’ve had to admit that I was wrong.

It’s true that some orbs are caused by normal things, like flying insects. (It’s easy to spot them, because they’re irregular shapes, not perfect circles.)

But, at haunted sites, unexplained orbs are common. More than I ever expected.

We can’t say they’re ghosts.

Yes, they might represent energy that connects us with those who’ve passed on. If you’re certain the orb in the photo of your birthday cake is actually your great-grandmother’s ghost, you may be right.

Why I say that: You’ve probably studied the photo closely.

You probably have additional, deeply personal evidence.

Does your “gut feeling” tell you the orb is the spirit of a loved one? I rely on that more than anything else.

That doesn’t mean all anomalous orbs are ghosts. Paranormal research doesn’t support a clear explanation for orbs… yet.

3. All ghost hunting TV shows are fake.

Ghost hunting shows are only as good as each researchers’ skills, the evidence at the “haunted” site, and — most of all — how the show is edited.

One Ghost Hunters’ episode raised more questions than any I’ve been asked about, before or since. At the time (2008), I wrote an article about this: Ghost Hunters TV Show – Fake?

In general, I raise an eyebrow if I see too many kinds of phenomena at a haunted site.

For example, if investigators see apparitions and hear voices and witness poltergeist phenomena and there’s a gruesome odor in a room and they see glowing writing on a wall… something is probably fake.

(In fact, I’m skeptical of anything glowing. I question any “vibration” that could be a hidden, old-school pager, and any writing that appears on a wall, during filming.)

I also raise an eyebrow when an investigator (on TV or in real life) makes some broad-ranging generality, such as “All shadow people are dangerous and someone may die!”

(At this point, we have no idea what shadow people really are. I’ve read interesting theories, but no one has wholly convincing evidence yet.)

And, when a team engages in sensational investigation practices — such as invoking dark forces with black candles and pentacles — I stop watching.

No serious, experienced ghost hunter is likely to do something that dangerous, even to improve a show’s ratings.

(And if they do, they usually speak out about it, as soon as they can.)

Viewers can judge for themselves after seeing a few episodes of any particular series. The fakes become obvious as they keep ratcheting up the drama. And then those short-lived shows are cancelled.

Of course, all ghost hunting TV shows are not fake. Some of the best (including Ghost Lab, among my favorites) just weren’t compelling enough to remain on TV, as viewers’ interests — or sponsors’ budgets — changed.

4. Ghosts are always dead people who need help to cross over.

What we think are “ghosts” may be something else altogether. For me, the term usually describes a category of phenomena.

At this time, we can’t claim they’re all “dead people.”

haunted houseAlso, I dispute the idea that all of them “need help to cross over.” I believe that some spirits visit to make sure we’re okay.

Others linger to keep an eye on the family, or the house where they lived. (Green Lady ghosts are among them.)

I can’t think in terms of a Deity who’d say, “Sorry, you’re dead now. You’re not allowed to go back and see your family, no matter how much you love and miss them.”

In addition, my research suggests that some “ghosts” are people who are alive and well in their own time period. My best guess is: it’s a parallel reality on a different timetable than ours.

Those are a few reasons to avoid generalities about ghosts.

5. The best way to make money in ghost hunting is to get a TV show.

No. Many stars on ghost hunting TV shows earn less than they would at a fast food restaurant.

That’s not hyperbole. I heard — from multiple reliable sources — that one ensemble on a ghost hunting TV series was paid just $500 per episode.

That’s not per-person. The $500 had to be divided among all the team members.

(Of course, that was an extreme. The cast negotiated better pay for later seasons of that TV show.)

Even those who do earn a pretty good paycheck are subject to bad editing and abrupt cancellations. Like the show where the only way the stars learned their series was cancelled, was through email. (I wish I was making that up, but it’s true.)

I could tell you more behind-the-scenes horror stories from several ghost hunting TV shows, but I think I’ve made my point clear.

Ghost hunting TV shows are an unreliable way to earn a living. And, once you’ve been on TV, it’s very difficult to recover your personal privacy.

Yes, you might land your own TV series… but do you really want to?

6. Ghosts only appear at night.

No, I’ve seen apparitions in broad daylight, and poltergeist phenomena in the middle of the morning.

In Austin, Texas, I’ve witnessed (and even photographed) anomalies at dawn.

Ghosts may be easier to detect at night because we’re less distracted in the darkness.

But, some of the most reliably haunted locations are haunted day and night. It’s why I recommend starting investigations at dusk or earlier.

7. New homes can’t have ghosts.

This is one of the biggest and most dangerous misunderstandings in ghost hunting.

Yes, the idea of Native American burial grounds has been trotted out far too many times to explain hauntings.

But, some new homes were built over them. It may take a lot of research to confirm this. (The local historical society is a good place to start that research.)

More often, a truly haunted new home was built where something violent or tragic happened in the past.

It may have been the site of a mental hospital, a jail, or a slaughterhouse. Perhaps a family cemetery used to be there, and a few bodies remain there, even now, in unmarked graves.

Never dismiss evidence of a haunting just because “the house is too new.”

If the homeowner or tenant is troubled by unexplained phenomena, investigate it.

8. You need fancy (and expensive) tools to be sure it’s a ghost.

No, you don’t need anything more than patience and good observational skills.

See my articles about this, especially Basic Tools Every Ghost Hunter Must Have.

Also, though I mentioned this earlier: We use the word “ghost” to describe phenomena. At this time, we can’t always be certain the activity comes from a deceased person.

9. Ouija boards are always dangerous.

I don’t allow Ouija boards on my investigations. They are risky.

But, I believe that other divinatory tools can be equally dangerous.

It’s not the device. It’s the person using it.

As soon as you open yourself to allow something to speak through you, you’re at risk.

That’s as true of dowsing rods and pendulums as it is with Ouija boards. (You can read more at those linked articles.)

10. You’ll always encounter a ghost at ______.

In a perfect world, ghosts would appear on cue every time we visit a haunted site.

ghostly scene with trees and a moonThat’s not how it works. Not in real life, anyway.

Some sites — including the Myrtles Plantation, Tudor World (Falstaff Experience), and Gilson Road Cemetery — are far more reliable than others.

At most other haunted sites, you’ll be lucky if anything unexplained happens even half the time.

During most ghost hunting events, investigations, and vigils, you’ll spend hours waiting for something to happen.

You’ll be bored. You may get cold. You may be thoroughly annoyed and want to provoke the ghosts.

Then, when you least expect it, something astonishing will happen. Though it may have lasted less than a minute, it’s made the hours of waiting worthwhile.

Or, when it’s time to go home, you may have nothing but a vague feeling that “something wasn’t right” at the site. Or, you may have felt a fleeting chill… that could have been from an open window you didn’t notice.

Before visiting a site that may be haunted, I research its history. I’m very selective about the locations I investigate. That improves my chances of encountering something paranormal.

My advice to ghost hunters is: Hope for the best but keep your expectations realistic. Then, you won’t be disappointed.

11. All psychics are fake (or all psychics are legit).

I believe that most people have some psychic skills or sensitivities. During investigations, I’ve witnessed things that can’t be explained, except that the researcher is psychic.

In fact, some people discover they’re psychic during ghost investigations.

It’s true that some people pretend to be psychic, to impress people. Also, some psychics pretend to be more psychic than they are. (I learned that the hard way.)

In addition, I believe that some people are telepathic, and they’re “picking up” information from others’ thoughts.

If someone in the room (like a tour guide or local historian) knows a lot about the location’s history, the telepath might sense that person’s thoughts or memories.

When someone is psychic, it can be difficult to tell where the information comes from.

If your entire ghost hunting experience is based on what a psychic is telling you, be wary.

Most of what we encounter at haunted places is available to everyone.

One person may “hear” unexplained things, and another might see a ghostly shadow or light. Someone else may be great at setting up triggers (like a ball for a ghostly child to move).

The experience of psychics can be astonishing. It can make an investigation far richer.

But, if that’s all that’s going on, it may not be real.

12. All ghosts are demons in disguise.

No, we haven’t a clue what all ghosts are.

When the phenomena are genuine, some “ghosts” may be the spirits of those who’ve passed on.

Others could be residual energy imprinted on the site.

But, there are other possibilities. Few are demonic.

Creepy figureFor example, we don’t fully understand the influence of shadow people, and whether faerie phenomena (and UFOs, space aliens, or crypto critters) are real in some settings.

Those labels may not be accurate, either.

Yes, demons and malicious entities seem to be a problem at some haunted sites. Don’t take them lightly, and do not antagonize them with amateur exorcisms.

But, anyone who insists that all ghosts are demons, is speaking from a theological place of fear.

In serious paranormal research, we avoid those kinds of generalities.

13. Haunted objects don’t exist. It was just hype for a TV show.

Believe that at your peril.

Most people have seen at least one object at a historical museum — such as the British Museum in London, or Harvard’s Peabody Museum — that looked normal enough, but had a creepy “vibe” to it.

The story of the Hope Diamond and other “cursed” objects suggest that some things are haunted, if not downright evil.

If you believe in residual energy hauntings — where intense energy seems imprinted on a location — there’s no reason the same energy won’t attach to objects, as well.

In fact, two psychic friends — Lesley Marden and Sean Paradis — and I enjoy browsing antiques shops, detecting energy on some of the objects displayed. (They’re rarely as dramatic as items portrayed in the Haunted Collector TV series.)

I firmly believe in haunted objects. Some may not hold much energy, but others can be just as powerful as whatever rises outside the Myrtles Plantation windows, and looks inside at guests.

Avoid hype, lies, hoaxes, and popular misunderstandings.

In ghost hunting, it’s important to use your critical thinking skills.

Question everything. (Politely, of course.) Look for compelling evidence that couldn’t be faked.

Research every haunted site. See if its history supports a haunting. (Some wildly haunted sites don’t have a violent history, but most do.)

Decide your own goals — fun, entertainment, scientific research, or simple curiosity — before each ghost investigation.

If you know why you’re ghost hunting, you’re less likely to be disappointed by hype, and enjoy each investigation for what you’ll learn.

And, if you happen to encounter a truly astonishing haunting, that’s even better.

13 Signs That a House Is Haunted

13The only sure sign that a house is haunted is if it has confirmed, paranormal activity.

(But, be sure to verify the thoroughness of past investigations. Even the best teams make mistakes, now & then.)

Without a reliable confirmation, a ghost story could be an urban legend or total fiction.

If you have no trustworthy reports about a location, or you’re among the first teams to visit the site, clues can suggest a house that’s worth investigating.

Look for the following. More than three or four of these could indicate an active haunting.

Even one could be enough, if the site’s history or location is extreme.

1. It has a history of drama, violence, and conflicts between powerful (or highly emotional) people.

If the owners were very wealthy or subject to dire, life-threatening poverty, that’s enough to suspect drama.

But, in many haunted houses, even casual research will turn up a sinister history. (The local cemetery may hold clues.)

2. The house has been sold (or rented) often, and the price seems too low.

Haunted or not? Haunted houseUse real estate sites like Zillow.com to see how recently the house has sold, for how much (compared to nearby houses), and how frequently it’s been on the market.

Look at past years’ records, too. See if there’s a pattern of unusually low prices, frequent sales, or other anomalies.

If everything looks normal, take note of “too low” prices or “too frequent” sales of nearby homes. The story you heard might be about a nearby home, and the report got the address wrong.

3. Residents’ personalities start to change (stress or due to the ghost’s influence).

If you suspect that a house is haunted, ask the owners or tenants. Especially if they’ve just moved in, they may be delighted to share what they’ve heard about their ghosts. (For them, this may still seem like fun.)

Or, they may react with hostility if too many ghost hunters have contacted them, or if friends & family have voiced concerns about the house.

Several times, I’ve investigated homes where the wife confided that her husband hadn’t been sleeping right since they moved into their new home. Or, the husband reported that his wife “wasn’t herself,” lately.

Of course, just the act of moving into a new home can be stressful. Respect people’s privacy.

Always listen to your “gut feeling.” If it tells you something isn’t right, leave your name & contact info with the current residents.

Tell them to contact you if anything seems amiss in their new home. Be sure they know you don’t charge anything to investigate, and they can trust you to keep their concerns in confidence.

Then, leave them alone. There are plenty of other unexplored haunted houses.

Keep looking. You’ll find one.

4. The house is in a steep valley or gorge.

In folklore, it’s an evil omen when a house already “buried” between tall hills or cliffs. At the very least, it can give a sinister impression.

From my experience, many haunted houses are at extreme ends of the happy-to-ominous spectrum.

Either the location is sunny and cheerful and the house seems at odds with the setting, or you take one look at the area and say, “Wow, what a great, dismal place for a haunted house!”

Oil City, Pennsylvania comes to mind immediately. I’d love to go back there and explore its older homes. Don’t let the cheerful photos fool you. I spent just one sleepless night in Oil City, but that was enough. I’m convinced it’s one of America’s most-overlooked haunted communities.

5. The house is on a peak.

This may seem the opposite of the folklore, above. In this case, it’s about history and burial traditions.

In some cultures, including several Native American societies, the ideal place for a burial is as close to the sky (heaven) as you can find.

Also, powerful communities and land owners chose home (and fort) locations where they could look down on approaching enemies.

This kind of history is prime for power struggles that led to hauntings.

(New York’s Morris-Jumel Mansion is a typical “peak” mansion, overlooking the Harlem River. It’s Manhattan’s oldest house and it has a haunted history.)

6. Electrical equipment fails.

One of the surest signs of a haunting is when electrical devices fail or batteries drain for no apparent reason.

During an investigation, if you find AA batteries in random places, those were probably left behind by previous investigators. It’s a good sign that the site is haunted.

(If you find others’ abandoned batteries, pick them up and dispose of them responsibly. Ghost hunters earn a bad reputation when they leave litter behind.)

7. People see lights or figures in the windows, when no one is there.

Yes, this can be a made-up story. It’s a common urban legend.

But, if the homeowner (or a neighbor) insists that figures are seen in the windows when no one is home, that’s enough reason to investigate.

(This is when the police can be tremendously helpful. They know which houses are reported with unexplained lights, inside, but — when the police get there — they never find evidence. Shepherdstown is among the most famous.)

8. When people live there, they keep the curtains closed all the time.

Closed curtains can indicate a home where people are frightened. But, it might be a sign of someone with an offbeat sleep schedule. Ask about this.

Hiding behind closed curtains
Photo courtesy FreeImages.com

Frightened people hope their uneasiness comes from outside the home. So, they close the blinds, shades, and curtains to shut out the danger.

It may be an unconscious reaction.

They may have an excuse, but it’ll sound hollow. They’ll say things like, “Oh, that’s to keep street noise out,” though the street is obviously a quiet one.

At residential hauntings, when many curtains are always closed, I know someone – or everyone – in the house may be unreasonably frightened.

9. The house still has most of its original/previous residents’ belongings in it.

The Amityville Horror house is a good example of this. At least two families bought the house when it was still furnished by the previous tenants.

Amityville Horror house, based on a photo by Seulatr.

After the DeFeo murders, I suppose the furniture was simply left there. There wasn’t anyone to claim it.

But, when the Lutz family left everything behind as well, that was practically a flashing neon sign: Something was deeply wrong at that house.

It’s normal to find a small bookcase or broken chair in a basement. Small piles of dirt or discarded items are routine, as well.

However, when people abandon large items that are expensive to replace, either they’re moving a long distance or fleeing the house.

Or both.

10. The house holds your attention (or repulses you) 

More than any other sign, a place that seems odd (or even creepy) and you can’t explain why, is worth investigating.

(That’s how I stumbled upon Austin’s “Jack the Ripper” connection. Until I researched what they had in common, I couldn’t explain — even to myself — why I felt drawn to certain Austin locations, over & over again.)

I’m not sure that, all by itself, that one factor is enough to say, “That’s haunted.” But, it greatly increases the likelihood of paranormal activity.

11. There’s a graveyard (or a rumor of one) on the property.

This is especially likely at older home sites, when family cemeteries were routinely placed near the house.

You may need to research the site using very old maps and property descriptions. (When a property was sold to a new owner, the land and features on it may have been detailed in the deed.)

You may hear that, in the 19th or 20th century, the graves were moved to a community cemetery.

What people are less likely to tell you: Even today, coffins, bodies, and even body parts are sometimes left behind. Without ground-penetrating radar and detailed records, it was easy to overlook graves.

If the graves were really old and the wooden (or cardboard) coffins rotted in the ground, finding all of them may have been impossible. (I’m reminded of the New Hampshire home where the owner insisted on carrying a shotgun when she went out to the backyard, after dusk.)

Also, unmarked graves are normal at any cemetery, large or small.

A forgotten grave could explain a haunting. Nobody wants to be forgotten.

12. It has hidden rooms, or rumors of them.

If you know that a house had a secret passageway, a hidden room, or something like a “priest hole,” investigate it.

If you’re not sure, measure the rooms and compare them with the dimensions of the house. A digital (laser) measuring device can save the most time.

A jag in a wall could indicate a chimney or where pipes are routed through the house.

Or, if it’s large enough, you may have stumbled onto a hidden room or boarded-up closet. That site probably has a credible ghost story.

Tavern 27 (Laconia, NH) has several great ghost stories.  When I investigated it, several years ago, the owners still hadn’t found the legendary hidden passage from the attic to the basement.

13. It was part of the Underground Railroad.

In the United States, starting in the 1700s, the Underground Railroad was a network of “safe houses” for runaway slaves. A similar 17th century escape route led from the American colonies to Spanish territories.

In some cases, the locations included hidden rooms. They’re surprisingly tiny.

Also, some of those rooms — once hidden — were later converted to root cellars or other storage areas. If the cellar seems odd or divided, ask if the homeowners know its history.

When a home was used as an Underground Railroad site, intense fear — both the slaves’ and the homeowners’ — could explain a residual energy haunting.

(If you investigate an old cellar or hidden room, be sure to take precautions in case the air isn’t safe.)

Many other features suggest a house that may be haunted. These are the top 13 that came to mind, when I wrote this article.

If you can suggest other “red flags” that indicate a haunted house, I hope you’ll leave a comment about it.

13 Reasons to Start Ghost Hunting Now

Now is the best time to become a ghost hunter. Here’s why, and how to make the most of it.

1. Reliable Research

13After over a decade of popularity, amateur and professional ghost hunters have identified many genuinely haunted sites. They’ve also debunked places that aren’t really haunted.

By starting your investigations at sites with confirmed hauntings, you’ll have a richer, more chilling experience.

2. Previous Investigations Identified What Happens and Where

Before 2000 (or so), we’d stumble around a haunted site, hoping also to stumble onto ghostly anomalies.

At best, it was a coin flip.

Today, a quick Internet search may turn up reports by investigators and perhaps a few YouTube videos. You may learn exactly where and when to expect certain phenomena.

3. The Best Ghost Hunting Equipment

Ghost hunting’s recent popularity produced several great benefits. One of them was a surge of new, useful and experimental research tools. We have better EVP recorders, better devices triggered by EMF spikes, better digital thermometers, as well as tools to rule out normal (but odd) phenomena.

I still recommend “old school” ghost hunting techniques. Personal observation makes paranormal research thrilling.

But, to confirm an uneasy feeling or the raised hair on the back of your neck, today’s tools are superb.

Fiona Broome's adviceWhat I use: It’s not impressive to look at, but I still use the Ghost Meter Pro. It may have been an “as seen on TV” product, but — from my experience — it really does work.)

I also use dowsing rods, but only to double-check my “gut feeling,” or narrow my research focus to a smaller area.

My main camera is an old-school Nikon Coolpix, because it uses standard AA batteries. In a dramatically haunted location that may drain batteries quickly, it’s easy to reload the camera from a supply of inexpensive batteries in my backpack. Or, someone can dash to the nearest convenience store to buy replacements.

4. Less Commercial Interest

For nearly a decade, too many restaurants, hotels, and tourist traps tried to claim a resident ghost.

Some really were (and still are) haunted, but only on certain days, or in response to specific modern triggers. Sleazy sites omitted those details.

Ghost hunters visited — and sometimes paid a hefty admission fee — but left disappointed.

Now that having a ghost isn’t a guaranteed commercial success, most less-haunted (and never-haunted) sites have improved their advertising.

Some sites still make false claims, but most know: that financial ship has sailed.

When you hear about a haunted site offering paid ghost tours and vigils, it’s usually haunted.

But, double-check reviews, and ask friends who’ve been there, anyway.

Fiona Broome's adviceSites almost guaranteed to give you chills: Tudor World (Stratford-upon-Avon, England), Mary King’s Close (Edinburgh, Scotland), and the Myrtles Plantation (Louisiana, USA).

(Note: at the Myrtles, be sure to stay in the main building or its annex, not a wholly separate building. The closer you are to the haunted mirror in the main entrance, the better.)

5. Smaller Crowds

Now that ghost hunting isn’t as trendy, you’ll have more time (and usually more elbow room) to explore haunted sites when they’re open for investigations.

Between 2010 and early 2017, I stopped investigating most well-known haunted sites. It became too difficult to take photos when people were often in the way.

Focusing on what I was sensing, internally, was nearly impossible.

And then there were the distractions of others’ flash cameras, phone ringtones left on, and the myriad beeps and loud clicks of some EMF detectors.

Today, I’m far more comfortable scheduling visits to haunted locations… unless it’s Halloween or a Friday the 13th, of course.

6. Focused, High Quality Events

Starting around 2004, ghost hunting events became popular. Some were held in locations with history… but no ghosts. Or, to accommodate a large crowd, non-haunted areas were part of the event, wasting investigators’ time.

Today, events are usually smaller and more focused. They’re usually at sites with extraordinary ghostly anomalies, too.

Fiona Broome's adviceWhen Barry Fitzgerald (of GHI) is a guest at an event, it’s likely to be interesting. Dustin Pari is another investigator whose integrity I trust. And, the Klinge brothers are still innovators in the field, who speak honestly about ghost hunting.  All of them are worth listening to, at events.

That’s a very short list. I’m sure I could add another dozen links. But, they’re the people that come to mind, immediately, when I think about reliable ghost-related events.

7. Less “Me, Too”

Hooded figure with red eyesMany people are so eager to believe in ghosts, they jump at shadows. They claim that something was surely a ghost, when it was merely startling or odd.

I’m wary when I hear reports of ghostly tropes, like “the hooded monk with the red eyes.”

When looking for places to investigate, those recommendations weren’t helpful. Worse, it was difficult to conduct research at an event where “Dude, run!” moments distracted everyone.

You can’t trust every first-person “ghost story,” but — thanks to a declining number of thrill-seekers — recommendations are more reliable now.

8. Lower Prices

In many cases, haunted sites were able to charge far higher prices during the recent ghost hunting trend. I heard about $150 (and more) for two- or three-hour tours, with no value added. (That is, no food, no private rooms, and no genuine historians or professional ghost hunters on hand.)

Now, pricing is one extreme or the other.

Either the tour (or vigil) has lowered its prices to attract more visitors, or they have to charge very high fees since the site will otherwise be closed to the public.

For me, that’s a coin-flip.

  • I’m not thrilled to be among a crowd who think it’s a big joke, and only signed up because the tour was cheap. But, if the tour is inexpensive and the few other guests are serious researchers, the experience can be great.
  • On the other hand, I expect a lot from a high-priced tour or event. If it’s disappointing, I’m irked. But, since higher prices often deter thrill-seekers and jokers, if the site is truly haunted, it’s worth the money.

In general, you’ll find some great ghost hunting experiences at lower prices than, say, five years ago. But, be sure to research the location ahead of time, to confirm its ghosts.

9. Reduced Modern Residual Energy

Do you believe that past dramatic events leave ghostly residual energy at a location? I do.

But, this means that recent drama — including ghost hunters who encounter scary things (even if they’re jumping at shadows) — also leave an energy imprint.

Several respected ghost hunters — including John Sabol, who recorded EVP that was an imprint of a Ghost Hunters’ investigation (perhaps a “time echo“) — have described those newer layers of energy. So, modern investigations can make ghost research more difficult.

Usually, recent energy is light or shallow. It wears off quickly.

Deeply troubling drama in the past has left a far more indelible energy imprint. And, according to some researchers, those imprints can be re-energized by modern-day triggers.

So, I’m pleased to see smaller crowds and fewer investigations at haunted sites.

In the coming years, we’ll have less distracting, recent energy imprints at the most popular haunts.

10. Fake Claims Abandoned

Some sites may be genuinely haunted, but — during the recent wave of ghost hunting popularity — they (deliberately?) neglected to fix issues that only seemed like evidence of ghosts.

Eerie figure in doorwayI’m reminded of the Lizzie Borden house, where researcher Thomas Spitalere found extremely high EMF readings near pipes (and perhaps wiring) at the top floor of that home.

Though I’m sure Lizzie Borden’s house is haunted, I didn’t overlook normal issues — like elevated EMF — that could merely make a place “feel” haunted.

When we reported this to the woman hosting our investigation, she seemed to shrug it off. At the time, people didn’t understand as much as we do now, about EMF at eerie locations.

Today, sites like that are better informed about those kinds of problems. Most of them make sure visitors’ experiences aren’t affected by normal (not paranormal) issues.

11. Higher Percentage of Serious Researchers

At any haunted location or event, you’ll meet new and experienced researchers. You can learn a lot from serious researchers, if you follow them around and — if it’s okay with them — ask questions.

Now, with fewer trend-followers among the site’s visitors, there’s a far better chance of meeting a serious researcher, and learning from him or her.

12. Better Ghost Tours

During the peak frenzy of ghost hunting, now and in the past, some businesses seized any excuse to outshine the competition.

Today’s ghost tours usually fall into one of two categories:

  • Silly, theatrical performances that emphasize lurid events that may not have happened. (I’m reminded of the stories of New Orleans’ LaLaurie Mansion. The top floor that tour guides used to point to, and talk about a slave girl falling to her death…? That floor didn’t even exist when the LaLaurie family lived there.)
  • Well-researched ghost tours given by guides who’ve studied the sites’ histories, and tell authentic tales based on actual events and hauntings.

If you’re looking for the latter, most can be identified by their advertising. Every tour is likely to indulge in a little hype, but the theatrical ones often highlight their “performances.”

If you want a genuine experience, look for a tour that stresses the area’s history. They’re easier to find than they were between 2003 and 2015.

13. Breakthroughs and Discoveries Continue

Ghost hunting has followed the Diffusion of Innovations Curve to its conclusion.

In most cases, we’re back at the beginning of that curve. People still involved in ghost hunting are among the innovators and “early adopters.”

It’s a good opportunity for serious ghost hunters. I hope you’ll be part of the new wave of research and discoveries in this field.

And, in addition, it’s fun again.