Ghost Hunting – Reality v. TV Shows, Revisited

In the early 2000s, ghost hunting TV shows helped many people learn more about paranormal research and haunted sites. That helped this field expand, almost overnight.

However, many viewers were disappointed when they went ghost hunting, themselves.

I’ve talked about this in the past, and – I’ll admit – ranted more than a little. Here are my current thoughts (mid-2019) about ghost hunting TV shows.

If you’re busy and you’d like to listen to this instead of reading it, here’s the six-minute recording:

Ghost Hunting – Reality v. TV, revisited

In April 2019, with a new (and different) season of TV shows, Fiona revisited the topic of ghost hunting on television versus what happens in real life. Six-minute recording. Related article: Ghost Hunting TV Shows, Revisited

Recently, a news report confirmed what I’ve been saying… and more concisely (and perhaps with more authority) than I have.

The article is “5 Myths about Reality Television,” and it was in the Washington Post newspaper.

Here’s part of what the article said:

With very few notable exceptions (like “Big Brother”…), most reality television is shot first over a period of days or weeks, then edited. A month in the field could be whittled down to 44 or 22 minutes of action. That way, the audience sees reality stars only in essential moments… Almost nothing airs exactly as it fell into the lens, but the final product is usually more or less what happened.

That’s true about many (not all) ghost hunting TV shows. A typical one-hour episode might require three to five days of daily filming at the site.

Then there’s editing, to make the show compelling to watch, with cliffhangers immediately before each commercial break.

What viewers see are the highlights of an investigation. They don’t see time spent waiting while nothing happens… and that can most of what goes on, at many (perhaps most) investigations.

We sit for an hour, and then something odd happens. We investigate it and debunk it, and then sit or walk around for another hour. And then something creepy happens, and it’s memorable. When we can’t debunk it, that’s what makes the wait worthwhile.

It starts with a good location.

Viewers don’t see the dozens of locations scouted by people like me. Location scouts know that most ghost stories turn out to be more fiction than fact.

(That’s typical in any community; if you’ve gone ghost hunting, I’m sure you’ve visited many places where absolutely nothing noteworthy happened. It can be discouraging.)

When a producer contacts me to identify good sites for filming, the majority of “haunted” sites either aren’t haunted or the owners (or tenants) prefer not to be featured in a TV show.

(The good news is, I almost always find some genuinely impressive haunted sites in the area, with owners willing to grant access to investigators and the camera crew.)

An encouraging trend

Ghost hunting is more than what you see on reality TV showsSo, from my experience, most sites features on TV shows are actually haunted. Also, what viewers see is usually more or less what happened.

I’m seeing a shift – towards almost radical authenticity – in some ghost hunting TV shows.

Most Haunted remains one of the leaders in this trend. They test show ideas (and investigation techniques) before most do.

Also, Most Haunted producers suggested they may air shows featuring outtakes. That’s a fun idea. (See @OnlyMostHaunted at Twitter.)

While more authentic ghost hunting TV shows – like Most Haunted – aren’t the adrenaline fuel of their fast-paced, highly edited counterparts, I like this trend.

(2020 update: Yes, some shows are far better at showing what’s real. And others still go for sensational shrieks and chills.)

Problem: Shows’ time limits

Ghost hunting shows are short – really short – compared with real-life investigations.

The only sites I’ve investigated for just 22 minutes (the length of a 30-minute TV show, sans commercial breaks) are those that seemed too dangerous for research.

Usually, that had nothing to do with ghosts; instead it was about creepy people in the area, or imminent lightning strikes.

My average investigation at a haunted home or large site is probably around two to three hours.

Then, I may revisit that location multiple times, and each additional visit can last several hours.

Or, if I’m familiar with a site, I might investigate just 45 minutes (the content of a one-hour TV show).

That kind of brief investigation is probably a follow-up visit, to debunk (or confirm) anomalies we previously encountered.

Though the time problem isn’t exactly new news, I was glad to see mainstream media mention the reality behind many “reality” TV shows.

Your investigations will be different

If you’re new to ghost hunting, don’t expect something startling every five or ten minutes. Instead, arrive at events and investigations with low expectations. Lots of waiting may be required.

But, that’s a good opportunity for you to do a thorough (and sometimes repeated) “baseline yourself” check, so you’re always aware when weird things start happening at a haunted site.

What you see on TV rarely represents everything that happens during a ghost investigation. I’d describe it as “ghost hunting without the boring bits.” (That’s a nod to Horrible Histories and Ghosts. I love their humor.)

However, TV shows can reveal the wide range of phenomena you might encounter at an extraordinarily haunted site.

Shows that emphasize real ghost hunting experiences… they’re well worth your viewing time. You can learn a lot from them. And, with their insights, you might be better prepared when you encounter something chilling.

Related articles

And, if you want to be on a ghost hunting TV show, search related keywords at sites like AuditionsFree.comBackstage.com, and – for the UK – Starnow.co.nz, TheStage.co.uk, and similar sites. (There are many.)

Ghost Hunting: How Much Should You Know?

Ghost hunters can 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.

Ghosts - how much should ghost hunters know, ahead of time?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 as 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

Finding Outsider Haunts - Free WorksheetRecently, we’ve been talking about “outsiders” in history, and their connections to haunted locations.

In general, they’re at one historical extreme or the other. Either they’re infamous, or they’re practically forgotten.

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.

And, it’s one reason I’ve been a go-to person for investigators who want a haunted site that’s a little different from the usual. Or, when they seek ghostly locations near a site they’re already planning to explore.

Historical research may be necessary if you want to find fresh, intensely haunted sites. One way to simplify your research: start with “outsiders” in history, and places connected to them.

An added bonus: You can find these locations during daylight (non-investigation) hours, and with online research, as well.

To help you find fresh investigation 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 for a TV show.

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.