Ghost Hunting: How Much Should You Know?

It’s one of the biggest debates in ghost hunting: Before an investigation, how much should you know about the site and its ghosts?

Many ghost hunters have very different opinions.

There are believers and there are skeptics.

You’ll also meet psychics who follow every whim, and start with the assumption that the “odd feeling” is a ghost. By seeming friendly to spirits, they believe they achieve better cross-worlds communications.

In many cases, they may be right.

At the other extreme, you’ll find investigators who insist on physical evidence they can’t debunk. They want hard proof – or at least electronic evidence – before they’ll take any ghost story seriously.

And so on.

But, another topic divides ghost hunters, and that’s how much to know before an investigation.

I respect team members who focus on their psychic responses to ghostly energy and spiritual impressions. Many – but not all – avoid learning anything at all about the site.

They feel their impressions are more credible (to themselves and others) when they can say “there was no way I could know about [whatever they perceived].”

In most cases, I believe that’s a personal matter. It affirms – to the researcher – that what he or she experiences is real.

Deep Research… Is it an Asset?

At the other extreme, some people (including me) want to know every possible detail about the site, its history, its geography, and its ghost stories.

I’m impressed when something quirky turns out to be true. I’m even more excited when we glean information that no one else had discovered, up to that point.

I’m sure there’s a large group between those opposites. They want to know a little about the site, but nothing that will make them wonder if an experience was “just the power of suggestion.”

But, for all of us, the question of telepathy lingers. That is, if the energy or mental images we pick up were inadvertently communicated, psychically.

Telepathy and Ghost Hunting

Peter Underwood Dictionary SupernaturalIn Peter Underwood’s classic Dictionary of the Supernatural, he describes telepathy as “Communication between one mind and another without the use of speech or any of the normal conscious channels. Also known as thought-transference [and] thought-reading…”

He also says, “Telepathy probably plays a part in spiritualist séances when information… could conceivably have been obtained by the medium telepathically.”

Then he references Zener card tests, which seem to show some psychic connection between certain individuals, but none among others.

The Telepathy Question and ghost hunting

So, I think telepathy can play a role in some investigations… but not all, and perhaps not most investigations.

For example, in Confessions of a Ghost Hunter, Harry Price described a remarkable psychic encounter:

The most striking incident was where the alleged spirit of Lieutenant Irwin came back within forty-eight hours of the crashing of the R101 airship and gave a circumstantial, detailed, and highly technical account of the disaster. The psychic was Mrs. Garrett, the British trance medium, who does not know one end of an airship from the other. The sitters present at the seance were also quite ignorant of such a highly-specialized business as navigating an airship; yet ‘Lieutenant Irwin’ gave particulars of the R101 which were semi-official secrets, and which were afterwards confirmed at the public inquiry.

If you’re familiar with Harry Price’s work, and how carefully he phrased his reports, you’ll understand why this account is credible.

Does Distance Matter?

One problem with questions of telepathy is the same reason Albert Einstein – initially, a believer in telepathy – rejected the notion: That is ESP (including telepathy) doesn’t fall of sharply and isn’t diluted with distance between the sender and receiver. (Technically, this relates to the inverse square law.)

In other words, the psychic investigator might be picking up thoughts from someone researching the site’s history, at a laptop computer 500 miles away.

Is that likely? I’m not sure.

As I see it, this means we can’t think of telepathy as something isolated to the investigation site.

Likewise, there’s a problem if telepathic communication doesn’t decay with distance, and a ghost is a spiritual/psychic projection by that ghost. In that case, we can’t assume the ghost is at that research site. It might be half a block away, or on the other side of the globe.

Okay, that’s placing one “what if?” question on top of several others. So, let’s put that challenging topic to one side, for now.

Where’s the Proof?

In my own research, I’m more alarmed by some investigators’ reliance on “evidence” provided by electronic ghost hunting equipment.

Oh, I use EMF meters, ghost boxes, voice recorders, and so on, just as many researchers do.

However, I still believe that the most meaningful proof – if there is any – is based in the mind of the investigator. If you’ve had a meaningful ghostly encounter, and it affirms your faith in life after death and spirit communication, does anything else matter?

That brings me back to the topic at hand: How much ghost hunters should research prior to an investigation.

Why I Believe in Pre-investigation Research

For me, historical and geographical evidence can support the idea that a location is haunted. Or, it can make me question it.

I like the odds stacked in favor of a successful investigation.

In addition, if I already know the names of likely ghosts – and those they associated with, in life – I think I get better results. Everyone likes to feel remembered, and called by name.

If I also know the context of the ghosts’ lives and deaths, I think it improves my rapport with them, whether I’m looking for a reaction on an EMF meter, an EVP response, or something else.

But, for others, the stronger confirmation is what Harry Price described: An investigation where no one on the team (or nearby) had any prior knowledge about the ghosts.

That’s something each ghost hunter needs to decide, in general, and sometimes on a case-by-case basis, depending on your goals.

I like to know every bit of information I can dig up (no pun intended) about a site and its ghosts.

I’m interested in your opinions, and hope you’ll share them in comments at this website.

Finding “Outsider” Haunts – Free Worksheet

If you’re ghost hunting and you’d like to investigate overlooked, extremely haunted sites, “outsider” locations are ideal.

They’re infamous, or they’re practically forgotten. Or both.

In most cases, ghosts connected to infamous people – such as Jack the Ripper – are already well-known.

Often, the places they haunt have been researched by so many people, the ghostly (or psychic) energy can seem diluted.*

In my opinion, the dilution occurs when recent residual energy – from the intense emotions of paranormal investigators – remains at the site.

That’s why I’m always more interested in lesser-known haunts, and unreported sites.

If you want to find fresh, intensely haunted sites, historical research can make a big difference.

One way to simplify your research: start with “outsiders” in history, and places connected to them.

An added bonus: These sites can be “hiding in plain sight.” You might drive past them – or signs pointing to them – daily.

To help you find these kinds of sites, I’ve created a simplified checklist. It summarizes the main steps I take when I’m looking for a haunted site with unreported (or under-reported) paranormal activity, for my own research or as a location scout for TV producers.

Here’s the link to the PDF on Google Drive: Click here to download a free copy of Finding Unexplored “Outsider” Haunts. (It’s okay to share that link with others.)

Related articles at this website:

*There are exceptions to the dilution concept. Here are a few:

  • Of course, Tudor World (Stratford-upon-Avon, England) comes to mind immediately. That site is so eerie and so haunted, it breaks all the rules. I’m sure the site has a secret history that’s not been revealed yet – possibly multiple reasons why its ghosts are the strangest I’ve ever encountered. They’ve been there for so many centuries, I don’t think they’ll fade… ever.
  • I love England, including London, but there’s not enough money in the world to entice me to spend a night in London’s Highgate Cemetery. It has so many layers of paranormal activity, thousands of investigators could stream through, daily, for a century or longer… and it’d remain one of the most chilling, haunted places on Earth.
  • Lizzie Borden’s house (Fall River, Massachusetts) is another weird site every ghost hunter should investigate. Its ghostly energy probably won’t diminish until the real murder story is told. And, oh yes, if you explore the basement, be sure your companions have nerves of steel. I’m not sure those ghosts have any direct connection to sweet-when-she’s-not-angry Lizzie.
  • The library at Edith Wharton’s home, The Mount (Lenox, Massachusetts), is a room with an extraordinary level of paranormal energy, no matter how many ghost hunters investigate it.  The rest of the house is charming and at least lightly haunted, but the library… it’s in a powerful class of its own.
  • And then there are hot-and-cold sites like the Hellfire Club (Montpelier Hill, Dublin, Ireland) which seems to fluctuate between being insanely haunted… and then not haunted at all. Nothing in-between, and I don’t think that has anything to do with how many people investigate it.

Ghost Hunting? Here’s How to Find Haunted “Outsider” Sites

You want to investigate a truly intense, chilling, haunted site, but you don’t know where to start.

I know how that feels. It seems like almost every place that’s been investigated – especially those featured on TV or a video site – is a big disappointment.

Or it’s okay, but you want more. Stranger phenomena. Weirder vibes. A genuine fright or two.

That’s my specialty, and I’m about to share one sneaky way to find haunts nobody else knows about.

Be prepared. This technique can lead you to locations that most people run from, in terror.

If you’re ready to try something different, and you’re especially brave – or foolhardy – here’s one of my favorite techniques.

It’s about “outsider” sites.

In a previous article, I talked about the importance of identifying your community’s  “outsiders” history, first.

That’s essential, if you’re looking for haunted places that no one else has explored.

First, identify who the outsiders – groups and individuals – were.

Then, research their lives and lifestyles.

Then, you’ll be ready to explore where they lived (and usually died).

Here’s what to look for.

Where Did ‘Outsiders’ Live… and Die?

Outsiders often lived in tight-knit neighborhoods of their own. Often, their homes – if they could be called that – weren’t very nice. Many were shabby tenements, slums, and hovels.

Of course, some of those neighborhoods have changed radically since then.

For example, much of Beacon Hill (Boston, MA) is luxury housing. But, if you take a walking tour of the area, you’ll learn about several waves of immigrants and other outsiders who once lived there.

(You’ll find plenty of ghosts around Beacon Hill, but few residents will mention them. It could be bad for property values.)

Fiona Broome's advice

Sometimes, a local walking tour (like architectural tours, not necessarily ghost tours) will be your best resource.

Tour guides often know about today’s buildings, but they may also know what used to be on that land… and what happened there.

Also, gentrified neighborhoods can be pure gold for ghost hunters.

Old neighborhood
Photo courtesy Dids

To locate “gentrified” neighborhoods, ask your local historical society, or at the local library’s reference desk.

(Here are a couple of articles about recent gentrified areas: LA and the other top 10 most gentrified zip codes in the US and The 10 Most Gentrified Cities in the UK. Some of them might have the kind of history you’re looking for.)

Ask local historians about underground dwellings, such as the vaults in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Where did homeless people live during the Depression and other challenging financial times? Did they sleep rough? Or, did charities take them in, or what?

Those homes – even if they were temporary – may harbor residual energy, or even a few ghosts. Ask local residents if they’ve heard about haunted sites in the area.

Ghostly Workplaces

When we think of immigrants and brutal work conditions, most of us focus on factories. Without a doubt, the Industrial Revolution spawned tragedies that are the root of many of today’s hauntings.

Today, many of those empty factory buildings have been converted to loft apartments, condos, and offices. Some have credible ghost stories.

However, factories weren’t the only sites where terrible things happened. Even a casual study of local child labor practices can be chilling, and highlight places you might find lingering spirits.

Old sign on building
Photo courtesy Adam Lowly

(I’m not sure I’d want to research those sites. They could be profoundly sad.)

On a lighter note, take a fresh look at your community and study it for “ghost signs.” Sometimes they name the business that used to occupy that building. That’s a great starting point for your research.

Other “ghost signs” linger, advertising large, nearby businesses. Go to your public library or historical society and ask for “city directories.” (They’re like phone books, but from before phones were in every home and business.)

Find out where those large (but now defunct) businesses once operated.

Tip: While you’re browsing local city directories, look for addresses of funeral homes, too. The ones that served “outsiders” probably didn’t survive past the mid-20th century, and many of those sites are eerily haunted.

Research large-scale disasters – floods, fires, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, and so on – that happened nearby. Some may be well-known. Others may have been lost among bigger, more recent headlines.

Look for weird, out-of-the-blue disasters, such as the Boston Molasses Flood. I’ve often wondered about the lingering molasses odor some Bostonians describe, especially around the anniversary of the flood. Do remnants of the flood remain embedded in the streets, or is the odor paranormal?

Boston Molasses Flood | 100 Wonders | Atlas Obscura

In 1919 a wave of molasses traveling at 35mph destroyed an entire neighborhood – Subscribe for new videos every Wednesday https://faceb…

Evidence of similar disasters and freak accidents may have vanished long ago, but ghosts, EVP, and residual energy can linger.

Also, don’t overlook past brothels, “red light districts,” opium dens, gambling houses, and other sites where people broke the law. A person desperate enough to frequent those places, might also be desperate enough to kill… and that increases the likelihood of ghosts.

I’m reminded of a ghostly area of Ogden, Utah, where brothels once lined the street, and – even today – people describe the sound of coins being tossed from upstairs windows. Long ago, prostitutes used them to attract customers’ attention.

By day, that area is ho-hum.

After dark, I’m sure something haunts it.

Haunted Gaols, Prisons, Hospitals, and More

Of course, in some cities and towns, your search might be simple.

Study old maps to find out where the jails (gaols) and prisons were, and where they buried their dead. Look for early workhouse and hospital sites, too.

The buildings may be gone, but the ghosts can remain.

Their graves may be unmarked, but the bodies are still there.

In fact, some “outsider” cemeteries are hiding in plain sight. Walk around clearly identified cemeteries. See if a lesser-known cemetery is in the weeds behind it, or off to one side. I’ve found several that way, from Massachusetts to Florida to California. Some are among my favorite haunts.

Wherever you find evidence of “outsiders,” you’re likely to find ghosts – or at least residual energy hauntings – as well.

Reverse-Search to Find Outsider Sites

Sometimes, the fastest way to discover haunted, “outsider” sites is to look for what’s odd. And then explore that site’s history.

For example:

  • Any cemetery that – when it started – was in the middle of nowhere. (Gilson Road Cemetery comes to mind.) Why did they want those graves so far from the community?
  • Pay attention to the perfectly good building site that’s empty, or the prime real estate location that’s a parking lot. (I’m thinking of a parking lot in downtown Austin, Texas. I spent weeks conducting library research to discover its story: The city’s own “Jack the Ripper” had killed a woman there.)
  • Or, learn more about the apartment building or neighborhood that seems fine, but nobody wants to live there… so it’s abandoned. (I’m reminded of a lovely flat we lived in for a couple of years, and then discovered our building was on a powerful ley line of haunted sites. Today, it’s deserted, despite being in an ideal suburban location in a low-crime area.)

Almost any time you look at a site that seems truly out of place, research its history. Chances are, there’s a reason it stands out as “odd.”

That reason is likely to be a connection with a dark (and perhaps hidden) past.

That past can give you useful information for triggering ghost responses. And, exploring related history, you may uncover additional haunts connected with those same outsiders.

Some of the Creepiest Places…

From my research, some of the creepiest, haunted places are the ones no one has investigated yet.

That’s where the raw, ghostly energy is. In those overlooked places, distraught spirits may be frantic to tell their stories and find closure.

Of course, you’ll find memorable ghosts of famous people in elegant homes and well-manicured cemeteries. And, those may be the most reliable sites to research… but not always the most exciting.

Be mindful of personal safety. Don’t linger in bad or dangerous areas, even during the day. If your “gut feeling” tells you to leave any site, do so immediately. No ghost encounter is worth risking your own life.

However, in many communities, the “bad neighborhoods” of the past are among the most upscale areas now.

If you check history and then ask the right questions, you might discover a terrifyingly haunted site, right in front of you.

Why “Outsider” Sites Can Be Terrifying… and Haunted. Perfect for Ghost Hunting!

If you’re looking for hidden haunts, here’s a tip: Start with people. Dead people. They’re among the most overlooked resources in ghost hunting.

I don’t mean famous people from your community’s past. I mean outsiders. As a group, they’re far more likely to linger as ghosts than, say, a former mayor.

Who are the “outsiders”?  They’re people considered different, outcasts, or – for any reason – routinely shut out of everyday society.

Every associated location has the potential to be haunted.

Don’t be deceived into thinking ghosts are from just one era or just one community.

For example, don’t default to “it must have been a Native American burial ground,” without solid research to support that.

In many cases – such as the Amityville horror house – the Native American legend may be true, but it may be just a trope.

More recent outsider groups have left residual energy where they lived, worked, and died, too. Some spirits linger, haunting those sites.

Don’t overlook them.

Outsider Categories

To find outsider locations, explore the area’s history. Usually, you need only go back to the 19th century to discover a community’s secrets. Maybe not even that far.

But, in some areas, research earlier times, as well. You might strike gold by digging deeper. (No pun intended.)

Look for groups or individuals the community may have disdained, rejected, shunned, or locked up, such as:

  • Criminals
  • Mentally ill people
  • People with dangerous, contagious diseases in their era (plague, leprosy, tuberculosis)
  • Religious and ethnic minorities
  • Hobos and homeless or destitute people
  • Any group the community felt were a burden on their generosity, or worrisome, or a risk to citizens

If you look only for stereotypes, history may surprise you.

For example, in the U.S., during colonial times, Catholics were outcasts. Priests were thrown into prison and even executed, just for being Catholic priests. (Don’t expect to find their graves in hallowed ground. In fact, don’t expect to find their graves… period and full stop.)

Chinese immigrants were targeted in a horrific incident in Los Angeles in 1871. Twenty years later, one of America’s worst public lynchings involved Italian immigrants in New Orleans.

Those are the kinds of shameful incidents many communities omit from their public histories.

Study old newspapers to learn the truth… and find related haunted places. Sometimes victims’ spirits linger, waiting to be exonerated.

Outsider Locations

Powerful ghosts can linger at "outsider" locations.Once you’ve identified those labeled “outsiders,” start looking for locations associated with them.  If you can, focus on sites where dramatic events and tragedies occurred. Some may be well-known haunts.

For example, almost every community has a site that was once a burial ground for a jail/prison, workhouse (poorhouse), or hospital. Most people know about them, and – typically – those locations report paranormal activity. They’re always worth investigating, as long as you don’t expect much.

Fiona Broome's advice

Note: From my experience, well-known haunts can be disappointing. I believe ghostly energy – particularly residual energy hauntings – can (sometimes) be diluted when the site is visited by hundreds or thousands of ghost hunters and tourists.

For better investigations, cast a wider net and look deeper. Explore locations that others overlook.

In my next article in this series, I’ll go into more detail. For now, start learning more about the secret history of your community.

Maybe it was a red-light district. Perhaps, during Prohibition, your community had speakeasies. Or, part of town was “the wrong side of the tracks,” but it’s been so gentrified in recent times, most people have forgotten it… or choose to pretend it never existed.

The starting point is usually identifying the outsiders, as groups of people treated as outcasts.

Then, for each outcast or group, explore their everyday lives:

  • Where did they live?
  • Where did they work?
  • When criminal activity was involved, where did it happen?
  • Where were they buried?

You’ll start uncovering likely haunts. Almost every community has them, and – sometimes – they’re hiding in plain sight.

Next article in this series: How to Find Haunted “Outsider” Sites