Ghost Hunting and Respiratory Risks

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

She was a healthy young woman, investigating a site that many others had used for ghost hunting, regularly.

She wasn’t wearing a mask. She became ill. And then, despite great medical care, she died.

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. It’s 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.

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.
  • A personal air purifier that’s been proved effective in scientific studies.  As of 2012, one possibility: 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.

Typical K-II Interactions

This video was a good example of a typical, informal investigation using a K-II meter.  The video was long – over an hour and a half – so I didn’t watch the whole thing.  However, you could learn a few good things in the first five or ten minutes.

Here’s where it was, at YouTube.

http://youtu.be/0f-vpjZE3iA

The video seems to be gone now. (That’s true of a lot of “investigation” videos from when the ghost hunting trend peaked. )

I’m leaving this article online for two reasons:

  1. The video might return…? Maybe, but probably not with that URL. And it may be another spam effort. I’m not sure.
  2. More importantly: my summary, below, may explain the patience ghost hunters need. You can sit for hours with nothing happening.

First of all, this video showed how imperfect real-time communication is with any EMF meter, but especially a highly sensitive meter like the K-II.

There were times when the lights flickered so quickly, it was difficult to tell whether it flashed just once (for “yes”) or two or three times.  In fact, at least once, a team member said he didn’t see it, when the light had flashed quickly.

This video also provided a vivid example of how tedious ghost hunting can be, particularly when you’re focusing on one specific research technique or tool.  Really, by the 47 minute mark, one of the investigators asked, “Is the fourth letter of your last name between the letters A and L?”

Wow.  That’s a very patient investigator.

You might ask, “Why not use a Ouija board, instead? It’s faster.”

The answer is personal safety.  The more people physically connect with the energy – like with a glass or platen that points to letters –  the more risks they’re taking.   With a tool like a K-II – one that requires no physical contact with the device – dangers are reduced.

The K-II results in this video could be pretty good.  I really wanted to like it and give it a very favorable review.  However, I had some major doubts.

The TV

My first concern when using a K-II is variable, environmental electronic energy.

Right away, I saw the TV in this video’s background.  Is that enough to cause normal EMF fluctuations?  Unlikely, but I wouldn’t rule it out until I’d checked it carefully. I’m not sure the guy in the video did that.

The cat

At times, a cat was on the bed where the K-II was.  I’m not too worried about that because I saw no reaction from the K-II when the cat was nearby.  Also, one of the researchers seemed to sit on the bed with enough vigor that the K-II moved around, but the K-II didn’t react to that, either.

The fan

The rotating fan in back of the EMF meter was a greater concern.  I thought I noticed more flashes after the fan moved to the far left and had just begun the return motion, but I wasn’t sure. (I’m still not sure.)  I’d definitely want to study some freeze-frame shots when the K-II is flashing.

Response synchronicity

I casually checked the frequency of the K-II responses.  In the first five minutes, the timing seemed odd.  In a spot-check near the beginning of the video, I noted K-II flashes at these times:

  • 1:21
  • 2:21
  • 2:28
  • 3:20
  • 4:20

In other words, the K-II was flashing about once a minute, always around the :20 or :21 mark.  If that pattern continued – or even repeated sporadically – I’d discount all of those flashes.

However, the 2:28 response was anomalous and fairly strong, so I’d be more likely to take that response seriously, if no other strong flashes sync with it near :28 marks.

That is the kind of analysis that researchers must do, in more formal investigations. On the other hand, this looked like a very informal investigation.

If I were analyzing this video as part of a formal investigation, I’d be concerned about the TV and the rotating fan.  Also, I’d wonder what else was in the room – or near enough to affect a K-II – that we don’t see in the frame of the video.

And, finally, the biggest credibility issue connected with this video was how it was uploaded to YouTube.

Keyword stuffing

In a misguided attempt to attract more viewers, the foot of the video description was stuffed with keywords that weren’t related to ghosts, such as “epic funny Santa Claus prank Christmas pranks bloopers,” “50 Cent The Voice” and “make money free cash” and “Black Friday Walmart black Friday.”*

I suspect the research team received bad advice about that tactic.  Please, don’t stuff keywords if you want to look like a serious researcher. (On the other hand, if you main goal is to boost your numbers to look popular or earn more money from your YouTube videos… Err, umm, no… what am I saying? That’s never okay.)

Summary

All in all, this was a good video to learn from.  And, the results might be impressive in a different context.

If this were one of several supporting investigations related to a single, haunted site, this might be good, but I’d need far more compelling evidence.

For starters, I’d like to have seen a detailed analysis of the video, especially related to the rotating fan and the timing issues.  Without that, there were too many red flags to trust the results. Also, it would have been simple to eliminate most or all of them, in a follow-up investigation, if they were serious researchers.

Originality  (Doesn’t really apply. It’s a K-II meter.)

2-stars

Credibility (The results were pretty good, but the context — especially the timing issue and the keyword stuffing — were huge red flags as far as I’m concerned, and made the entire effort look questionable.)

1-half-star

* No matter who tells you that keyword stuffing is a good idea to get more YouTube views, don’t do anything like the screenshot below.  It looks spammy, reduces your credibility, and… really, do you want people finding your serious, ghost hunting video using search terms like “prank ghost video” or “swimsuit boys dance gangnam style”?

keywordstuffing-nov2012

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, visited a derelict home with ghost stories. Plenty of people had investigated that 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. The basement 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 investigation-related respiratory infections, but it is among the worst.

Her widower, Shane Harris, started the Sara Harris Foundation to educate paranormal investigators about issues of health and safety. He also planned to provide masks and first aid kits to ghost hunting teams that can’t afford them.

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 (below) barely brushes the surface of the problem. But — in the interest of sharing this information, 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: Opinions Matter

Ghost hunting means something different to every investigator.

It’s natural to expect others to think like you about paranormal 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 ghosts and ghost investigations.

Before passing judgment on someone’s attitudes and research, take a second look.

Ghost research – differences and similarities

  • Why you research ghosts and haunted places.
  • The evidence you’re looking for… what you’ll excitedly tell others about, after the investigation. (And what kind of evidence 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.

Ghost hunting - opinions matterThese differences make each of us distinct. They also help us bring new insights to paranormal research.

But, accepting those differences can be a challenge.  We all want to feel understood and supported.  This can be a very stressful field.

For example, I focus on “what if..?” questions and research methods.

I expect to be challenged, not just by eerie phenomena and anomalous discoveries, but by others in the field. 

I know that some of my work might seem odd. Maybe even laughable, to some people.

Worse, people like me usually want to confirm our studies with lots of supporting evidence.  Until we do, we may not share our theories with others.

Consider the bigger picture

  • 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 discreetly testing fragrance as a trigger can be a good thing.  A person who insists on using a sage smudge at every site, and being theatrical about it… not so good.)
  • Does the researcher have a track record as an innovator?  After all, someone had to be the first to try recording EVP, or measuring EMF anomalies.
  • Does the researcher use 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.

Watch out for these 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. I’m pretty sure 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.

In ghost hunting, everything is controversial

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 unfair 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.

Yes, I’m often embarrassed.

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.

Even ghost photos remain controversial

I’ve steadily maintained that photos can’t be the sole evidence of a ghost or other spirit.

And yes, I’ll admit that, for years, I was skeptical of most “orb” photos I’d been shown.

Then I spent six years studying what I thought could cause false photographic anomalies. Those included reflections, moisture, and dust.

I was wrong. Reflections are usually easy to identify. Moisture can be an issue, but it’s easy to spot, too. And dust… well, the jury is still out on that topic, but I think excessive dust at a site might be evidence, even if related orbs aren’t.

A note about insects in photos

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

Many people have sent me “fairy” and “alien” photos.  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.

Avoid “I’m right because I say they’re wrong”

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.

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.)

GFI Poasttown Apparitions

This video is a great example of what real-life ghost hunting was like in 2012. I’m thankful for GFI’s research, especially the work of their cousin and tech guy, the late Joey Thorpe.

As ghost hunters, I think it’s important to remember the importance of every day, and every person we interact with, in real life, online, and at haunted sites.

If it hadn’t been for Joey and the GFI team, we wouldn’t have this kind of record to learn from, today and in the future.

Thank you, Joey, Adam, and GFI.


Here’s my original article, lightly edited in 2020, and with added comments by GFI’s Adam Bennett.

GFI Catches REAL Ghosts and Shadow Creatures on Video! Must Watch!

This was our second visit to Poasttown. We retured because we felt we had unfinished business at this haunted location. We will release a full video in the f…

This paranormal investigation video – “GFI Catches REAL Ghosts and Shadow Creatures on Video!” – includes two clips from Poasttown, Ohio.

The first one is good, but I’m not certain it’s ghostly. Also, I need to spend more time reviewing the second one.

These clips are good reminders of how closely you need to study videos, to see anomalies in them.

Note: I recommend muting the music in that video to reduce distractions as you study it. (However, I understand that most viewer probably aren’t going to dissect a video as I do. Also, I’ll admit the music is campy and kind of cool.)

Initial impression

nov2012-green-1822

This first screenshot is from the corridor, when it’s normal.  It’s at the end of the first clip.

Like most night-vision videos, darkness and shadows are always an issue.

Ditto matrixing… looking for form and meaning in something that’s merely odd (not paranormal) at best.

What I’m seeing is a door that has a window, and a somewhat reflective surface on the door itself.  The floor is shiny and reflective as well.  Both of these could explain what happened in this video clip… but do they, really?

A shadow person?

The next photo shows the point that interests me the most.  In it, a shadow figure seems to cross in front of the door, below the height of the door handle.

nov2012-green-1816

It might be a normal shadow.  If someone ducked down and walked in front of the video camera, that could cast a shadow in the light, even though the person’s body wasn’t seen in the video.

Or, the shift in camera position could account for different lighting effects that simply look paranormal.

So far, there’s nothing  conclusive here.

A closer look

To get a better understanding of what I’m looking at, here are two annotated screenshots.

nov2012-greencorridor-300wiAt right, you’ll see a the 11:18:16 PM screenshot again. I’ve placed an oval over the areas that interest me the most.

(As this screenshot shows, the interesting area is dark. You may need to watch the video again, and adjust your screen settings to see it.)

I’m looking at a shadow that crosses in front of the door.  At its tallest, it’s about two feet, maybe two-and-a-half feet, tall. (Less than one meter.)

Then there’s the darker area in front of the door.

Let’s say it is an apparition or shadow figure.

Now, we have two questions:

  • Is the figure at the door, and is it reflected in the shiny floor?
  • Or, is the figure nearly human-sized, but closer to the camera?

Simply, does the oval (in the previous screenshot) include the shadow figure plus its reflection, or does the oval include the entire figure, with no obvious reflection?

Attempt at a clearer image

nov2012-green-shadow-arrowIncreasing the contrast didn’t answer any questions.  An example is at left.  The arrow points to the top of the shadow figure, as I see it.  (Others may see something totally different.)

Except that I discount what seems like easy matrixing, several other frames in this video offered some strange images.  One looked exactly like a line drawing of a head and torso, extending all the way up to the window in the door, and the shadow was in front of it.

Also, I can see a variety of figures – some upside up, some upside down – in the reflection or possible shadow figure in front of the door.

Yes, my speculations go far out on a limb.  That doesn’t mean the anomalies aren’t real.  Based solely on the video, I can’t claim the images are evidence of… well, anything. Yet.

But, let’s not get that serious.  I think it’s important to ask “what if…?” about even the threadiest evidence. (And, frankly, this video is better than many – and maybe most – that I see.)

You never know where your questions will lead.  They may not apply to the evidence in question, but they may trigger ideas for fresh investigation techniques, or new things to check for in old evidence.  (This is why I urge people never to delete old photos, videos, or EVP recordings.)

A shadow person could look that small

GFI Poasttown Shadow PeopleSo, let’s say that the shadow figure is directly in front of the door.  Why would it be that small?

Here are a few explanation:

1. The ghost is walking on a level that existed in his lifetime, and only his upper body extends above the current floor.

I’ve seen this phenomena among apparitions in homes where the floors changed, due to a structural change in the building.

For example, when a Victorian home (with high ceilings) is converted so the attic becomes a new living space – by lowering the floor – or the height of the foundation changes (common in homes renovated after flooding), the ghosts may be walking where the old floor was.

(Similar reports around York, England, describe half-bodies of Roman soldiers, still marching where the ground used to be, but it’s been filled-in, since.)

2. Maybe it’s not a ghost. Maybe it’s what researchers describe as a faerie.  Some faeries, such as gnomes, are about two or three feet tall.

3. Or, perhaps it’s another kind of entity, also small in stature.  (See my book, Ghosts – What They Are and What They Aren’t.)

At this point, as a researcher, I’d need more evidence to be sure that this video is showing something paranormal.

I’d need simultaneous EVP, or regular flash photos capturing the figure, or additional videos with the same phenomena.

Is that realistic for a typical ghost hunting team? No. Most teams don’t have the budget – or a large enough team – for that kind of evidence collection.

This is one reason why – as of 2020 (as I’m updating this article) – I stress the importance of personal observation. Not just what you see or hear, but how it affects you.

Ultimately, almost any ghost-like phenomena can be debunked by a determined skeptic.  (Whether their arguments are credible… that’s another matter.)

Often, the real proof is how the haunting affects you, personally. When you know you’ve encountered something unexplained, no one can debunk that.

This video is odd enough to make additional research a priority.  Something seems to be casting the shadow, but – without further evidence – it’s difficult to tell if it’s a normal shadow, a shadow figure, or something else.

Adam Bennett’s insights

In August 2020, GFI’s Adam Bennett generously shared some of his insights about this video. Here’s some of what he said:

Tremendously slow down the second video. The ear effect was caused by a shadow cross contaminated with the movement of the apparition. As it retreats back into the room you can make out what looks to be a head, upper torso, and arm. The arm looks to extend and push itself back into the room. Hopefully that helps clarify.

Then he explained:

If you pause it as it returns back into the room you can see a transparent head, arm, and torso.

Those are useful tips. (Thanks, Adam!)

Also, I was pleased when Adam added the following information about Joey Thorpe. Personal insights create a connection, and make ghost research mean so much more.

Our video guy and my cousin would be so proud and pumped that the video is is still around. We miss him a lot. We don’t investigate anymore.

What looks like a mouse?

mouse-in-hallThe second segment of this video confuses me.  Maybe I’m not looking at the correct area in the video, because what I’m seeing doesn’t look paranormal.

Many years ago, in our Florida kitchen, we saw mice that looked disturbingly like Mickey Mouse.  (When I set them free, far from our house, I think they just returned to my kitchen, rather than heading to Disney World.)

In the Poasttown video, I see something rush out, pause, and then rush back into the wall or a doorway.  To me, it looks like a mouse or a rat… a rodent with large-ish ears, whatever it is.  Varieties of mice with ears this large include Gremlin mice.

That b&w image (above) was an enlargement of the screenshot.  To me, it looks like a mouse on his hind legs, with his ears at full alert, watching the person in the doorway, further down the hall.

At the correct angle, with the lighting “just so,” this mouse could look like the one in the video.
At the correct angle, with the lighting “just so,” this mouse could look like the one in the video.

Then, he drops back down on all fours, and scurries back to the room or opening where he’d emerged from.

Of course, with a really shiny floor, it’s difficult to evaluate the figure’s height.

Maybe the anomaly is something else in the video.  I’ve watched it several times, and the mouse-like figure attracts my attention every time.

If there’s something else in this video that I’m not seeing, please let me know.  I’d hate to miss a really good anomaly.

Fiona’s analysis (2012, before Adam’s insights)

The first segment in this YouTube video shows something odd enough to make follow-up investigations imperative.  Though I can explain the shadow in a variety of ways, I’d want to visit the site for test like these:

  1. Have someone cross in front of the camera, but just beneath the lens, to see if that creates a similar shadow.
  2. Deliberately film from a variety of angles, filming constantly, to see what happens with shadows and reflections as the focus and angles of light vary.

For most people, that shadow figure puts this in the “scary ghost video” category. That figure is something I can’t fully explain. When I investigate a site, that kind of anomaly is exactly what I’m looking for.

The second segment – the b&w one – the activity at the left side of the screen looks too much like a mouse or a rat.  But, as I said, maybe I’m missing a truly interesting anomaly in another part of the corridor.

Takeaways from this video 

  • Examine each video very carefully.  Sometimes, the anomalies are really subtle.
  • What you think you see in a video may be influenced by what you saw when you were at the site, or your teammates’ opinions.
  • When you post a video online, consider adding an arrow or other indication of where we’re supposed to look. Of course, many viewers prefer to spot anomalies themselves. For them, that makes the anomaly – and the likelihood that the site is haunted – more credible. (Arrows would have made my analysis easier, but are they a good idea? I’m not so sure.)

You can read my conversation with Adam Bennett in comments at a post at my Facebook Page, Fiona Broome News. Thanks again to him, to GFI, and especially to the late Joey Thorpe, who helped us understand ghost hunting better. He will be remembered, with gratitude.

Haunted, Unmarked Quaker Graves?

Old North Cemetery, described at HollowHill.comIn my book about haunted cemeteries, I mentioned ghost hunting opportunities at unmarked graves and at graves just outside cemetery walls.  At the time, I described many of them as the graves of “sinners,” or people whose lives (or deaths) did not allow them to be buried in consecrated ground.

During a recent Saturday investigation in Concord (NH), I discovered another explanation for those graves.  The answer surprised me.  It’s Quakers (also known as “Friends.”)

Quakers and unmarked graves

Apparently, between 1717 and 1850, gravestones and memorials at cemeteries were considered “vain monuments” and — according to a decree by members of the Quaker faith — had to be removed from Quaker graves.

In other words, some (perhaps many) unmarked graves aren’t anonymous because the families were too poor to afford gravestones, or because the markers were stolen, but because the burial plots belonged to Quakers.

On the other side of the fence (literally, in this case), mainstream Christians objected to members of the Friends Church or Religious Society of Friends – generally known as “Quakers” – being buried in consecrated ground.  This was because Quakers aren’t baptized, or – in Quaker terms – “sprinkled.”

This adds up to a disturbing thought, though it may explain why some homes and fields seem haunted, with no obvious explanation:

Quakers have been buried in fields, and family plots – also unmarked – near their homes.  In other words, you may have walked over Quaker graves many times without realizing it.

Old North Cemetery, Concord, NH

I discovered this during some post-investigation research about the Old North Cemetery in Concord, New Hampshire.  I’d been there with Lesley Marden and Sean Paradis, and we spent about two and a half hours researching the site.

Sean and I had been there before, and I’ve investigated the cemetery on my own, during daytime hours.  (It’s on the edge of downtown Concord, in the middle of a busy residential area.)

Though the site may be haunted after dark, and we noticed many anomalies at the cemetery, I don’t consider Old North Cemetery profoundly haunted.  It is intriguing, nevertheless.

The cemetery is L-shaped and covers nearly six acres and – according to the National Historic Register application – it’s comprised of three areas: The main cemetery, the Minot Enclosure (sort of a cemetery-within-a-cemetery), and the Quaker Lot.  (That’s not quite true, as I’ll explain in a few minutes.)

The cemetery was in most frequent use between 1730 and 1958.

The Quaker Lot

Looking through the fence, past Minot Enclosure in Concord, NHThough I’d been to Old North Cemetery before, I hadn’t noticed the odd, open field in back of the Minot Enclosure.  That field has just a few markers, and one of them reminded us of a bunker marker.

It’s indicated by the arrow, and the Friends’ (Quaker) marker is in the oval.  That part of the cemetery is separated from the Minot Enclosure by a cast iron fence (with a break in it) and a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire.

To reach the Quaker burial lot, you’ll exit Minot and walk through the main Old North Cemetery, to where the Quaker Lot begins.  (It’s not fenced-off from the main cemetery.)

Once you’re standing in what looks like an open field, about 10,000 square feet, you’ll see just a few markers.  The main one is the slanted memorial listing many of the people buried in the Quaker Lot.  Apparently, the lot was purchased in 1811, according to the terms of the will of Benjamin Hannaford. He’s one of the people buried in the lot.

At left is the memorial marker.  (Due to the late-afternoon lighting, I had to increase the contrast in this photo, for the lettering to show at all.)

At the back of that memorial, you can see a metal marker for Levi Hutchins.  I think it’s a military marker, and it’s just sort of leaning there.  No one knows where Levi Hutchins was buried, so there’s no actual place for the marker.

On the other hand, Levi Hutchins’ wife, Phebe, does have a gravestone.  Apparently, Levi flew in the face of Quaker traditions and commissioned a headstone for his late wife.  That’s it in the photo at lower right.

Phebe Hutchins gravestone in Concord NHThe history of the Quakers in Concord is an interesting story.

The part that caught my attention was that the Friends (Quakers) built a meetinghouse in 1815, but in 1816 the state bought the land from them (it’s where the Concord State House is, now) . The city moved the meetinghouse to a location just east of the Quaker burial lot, fronting on North State Street.  (Sean, Lesley, and I had wondered about the odd landmarks on the property.)

In those days, that was the edge of the city.

In 1845, the meetinghouse was sold and moved again, to become a school building.  The land it was on was purchased by the city in 1911, for the sum of $300, because it was “in a very bad condition and a disgrace to our city.”

So, that’s an added reason why the Quaker Lot (and land near it) may be more active than other parts of the Old North Cemetery.

And, from the popular, gated entrance to the cemetery at Bradley Street, the Quaker Lot is – as you might expect – at the back left corner.

Quaker-related activity at Minot Enclosure?

We spent considerable time at the Minot Enclosure, an exclusive section of the Old North Cemetery, surrounded by an elaborate cast iron fence and containing 62 graves.  There, we noticed that random gravestones had been turned so they face slightly away from the Quaker Lot.

Those random and very slight turns weren’t consistent with vandalism.  That was one of many mysteries we wondered about as we walked around the cemetery.

Now that we know about the Quaker Lot, Sean Paradis has raised an interesting question:

The Quakers in the Quaker Lot are from a time when gravestones were considered “vain monuments.”  Just feet away, the Minot Enclosure is where the 14th U.S. president, Franklin Pierce, is buried. Might the activity within the Minot Enclosure be based in the mutual uneasiness of the Quakers and the upper social register in the Minot Enclosure?

That’s a stretch, but it’s fun to speculate.

However, as I was studying the cemetery records, I realized that Old North Cemetery isn’t just a combination of three cemeteries.  In fact, I discovered a fourth section of the cemetery, not often mentioned.

The Prison Lot

Original NH State Prison - 1860 photoAccording to the National Historic Register application, “The Prison Lot, comprised of a long 10′ x 75′ rectangular lot just west of lots #384 and #385 in the center of the cemetery, appears on all maps drawn after the 1844 western addition to Old North Cemetery.”

The report also states that the cemetery records note that there are at least a dozen graves there, but no records of the names of the deceased in those graves.

And, since the old State Prison – built in 1811 – was replaced in 1880, there’s probably no way to determine who might be in those graves. (The photo on the left shows that 1811 prison, on two acres near the Court House.  It was attached to a three-story Superintendents house.)

Unmarked graves + prisoners + no records of any kind to tell us who they were… That’s a formula for hauntings.  (If anyone’s giving “ghost tours” of downtown Concord, NH, take note.)

If you’re going to investigate those graves, be sure to check the chronological history of the NH State Prison.

Book - Ghost Hunting in Haunted Cemeteries

And, in general, if you’re going to visit or investigate Old North Cemetery, I recommend reading the full National Historic Register application, linked below.

(Note: I’ve tried downloading it three times, and it consistently crashes my Adobe PDF reader.  If that happens to you, notice which page you’re on when it crashes, and then use the “go to” page function when you reopen the PDF, to pick up where you left off.)

Both the main cemetery and the Minot Enclosure deserve separate articles, which I’ll write later.  Today, it’s important to share what I learned about Quaker burial practices.  Remember, as it says in one history of the Society of Friends, “By 1700 the Society gained considerable influence in most of the New England and middle-Atlantic colonies. Quaker migration to the southern colonies, especially North Carolina…”

In other words, unmarked Quaker graves – and even unmarked (and forgotten) Quaker burial lots – may exist throughout the eastern United States, as well as Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Canada.

What you need to know about all Quaker graves and burial lots

  • Expect no grave markers for burials before the late 1840s.
  • Quaker graves could be in Quaker burial grounds, near the person’s home, at the far corner of a family farm or homestead, or in a rural location.  I found one reference that said Quakers “always regarded the physical remains of a person as spiritually insignificant.”
  • The burial was intended to be as inexpensive as possible, within the law.  One Quaker historian commented, “Well into the 20th century, it was not unusual for a country burial to have an unembalmed body.”
  • In some Quaker cemeteries, especially before 1850, coffins were placed in the first available slot in the cemetery, not in family groups.  Philadelphia’s Arch Street burial ground (between Third and Fourth Streets), in use until 1804, was organized so the coffins were four layers deep and none had markers of any kind.
  • Despite rumors and folklore, I found no evidence of any Friends (or Quakers) being buried upright.  There was no rule against that practice, but no provision for it, either.
  • In the 20th century and later, Quakers generally choose cremation.

Quaker beliefs about death

I’ll let William Penn have the final word about the Friends’ (Quakers) attitude towards death.  This is from a poem published in 1693:

And this is the Comfort of the Good,
that the grave cannot hold them,
and that they live as soon as they die.
For Death is no more
than a turning of us over from time to eternity.

References

Old North Cemetery, Concord, NH – National Historic Site application (PDF)

Fox’s Pulpit Quaker burial ground, Sedbergh, Cumbria

Quaker Burial Practices, at Quaker-Roots-L

Burial Practices of Quakers, at Genealogy.com

The Buried Past: An Archaeological History of Philadelphia, by John L. Cotter, Daniel G. Roberts, Michael Parrington, page 200

Quaker Funeral Arrangements, by Oxford Quakers

Quaker Funeral Customs

Society of Friends (Quakers) in the United States, at FamilySearch.org (LDS)