Sites – Legal and Illegal

video camera warning to ghost hunters
photo courtesy of Jason Antony and FreeImages.com

In the past, ghost hunters could discreetly slip into haunted sites that weren’t clearly open to the public. If it was public property — or abandoned — and it wasn’t posted, some investigators thought, “Why not?”

I’ve always advised against investigating sites that aren’t clearly open to the public for ghost research.

For example, in New England, Danvers (MA) State Hospital site has been notorious for trespassing, vandalism, and arrests of well-meaning ghost enthusiasts.

It’s one of many locations with eerie reputations, and vigilant security or police patrols.

Like many other locations in isolated spots, it’s easy for police to observe trespassers from a distance. Ghost hunters are at risk as soon as they drive up the road or driveway, or turn on their flashlights. Quite literally, they shed light on their own crimes.

Today, surveillance cameras and other devices — similar to the tools we use in our research — make trespassing even more risky.

The following December 2015 story —  from KUTV (Utah, USA) — is a good example of what can happen if you break the law.

‘Haunted’ Property Owner Asks Trespassers to Keep Out

(KUTV)In Northern Utah, authorities are looking to the public in help finding a few people they want to talk to after vandalism was discovered at a former Catholic retreat believed to be haunted. The pictures are clear, taken from surveillance video a new property owner installed in recent weeks… Despite multiple signs posted on the property – “No Trespassing” and “Keep Out”, threatening fines and jail time for violators, individuals are still coming through the area… In some publications and online sites, the area has been described as a good ghost hunting location, a fun place to take a date and get a thrill, but authorities say this is no laughing matter. (Emphasis added.)

[Click here to read the rest of the article at KUTV’s website.]

That particular location — St. Anne’s, in Logan Canyon — is mentioned at many websites, including credible YouTube videos, as a reliable place to find ghosts. You can even find St. Anne’s ghost story at otherwise-trustworthy websites like the Weird US site.

This is why you must investigate site accessibility, even before you decide if a location might be haunted enough to explore.

If you don’t, or if you choose to risk getting caught, the quality of surveillance footage — day or night — can be good enough to convict you.

Don’t expect to see warning signs.

Don’t waste your time looking for the cameras, either. They can be tiny or well-concealed in hollowed-out tree branches or fence posts.

Ghost hunting might not be as popular as it once was, but modern surveillance equipment has become inexpensive and easy to use. Many locations are using it to detect trespassers, and fine them for vandalism they might be responsible for.

In the case of the Utah ghost hunters, that’s a $10,000 door that someone had kicked in.

(Really, if you’re facing a jury and trying to explain that, yes, you did trespass, but no, you didn’t damage anything, do you expect them to believe you? Is ghost hunting worth that risk?)

Trespassing can be a felony in some American communities. Jail time can be as much as a year, and fines can be as high as $4,000 per person, at the discretion of the judge.

If you’re an American convicted of a felony, you can be denied your right to vote in the U.S. You can also be denied travel to some other countries, including Canada and parts of Europe. If an employer or landlord runs a background check on you, a felony conviction looks very bad.

Since my earliest articles at Yankee Haunts (mid-1990s) and HollowHill.com, I’ve always focused on haunted locations people can investigate, with permission. Nearly all sites I talk about — at websites, on TV and radio, and in books — are open to the public.

What happened to the kids who were caught in Utah could happen to anyone. Don’t take that chance.

If you’re not sure whether a location is open to the public for ghost investigations:

  • Visit the location and look for signs, or ask the staff (if any) about restrictions.
  • Ask the reference librarian at the local public library, or check with the regional historical society.
  • Stop at the local visitors’ center or chamber of commerce, and verify the location and the hours it’s open to the public.

Of course, I always recommend visiting each haunted site during the daytime, to evaluate it for research and plan your investigation.

But, if that’s not possible, be sure to confirm when the location is open to the public for ghost hunting, and if any fees, rules, or limits apply.

Or, limit your ghost hunting to daytime hours, as well as ghost tours, public ghost hunting events, and ghost vigils.

Ghost Hunting – When Someone Gets Hurt

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

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

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

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

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

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

When the problem might be paranormal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ghost Investigations and Touching

“Touching” occurs at some ghost investigations.  The sensation of touch is among our five (or six) senses.

It’s one way that spirits may attempt to make contact… literally.

Normal touching

During a ghost investigation, you may feel:

  • Ghost hunting and touchingA ghostly hand touch or brush your face or neck.
  • A gentle brush, as if you’re walking through spiderwebs, even when you’re sitting still.
  • Isolated hot or cold areas, often measured with a thermometer.
  • A ghostly breath, particularly near the investigator’s face.
  • A slap, push, or shove.  Nothing too aggressive.
  • Something leaning into you, encouraging (or forcing) you to move in a certain direction.
  • Hair brushed, tugged or pulled.
  • Clothing grasped or tugged.
  • A sensation that the air is denser, as if you’re walking through water or molasses.
  • A feeling that the air is pressing on you, in one direction or from all sides.
  • Tapping on a shoulder or back.
  • Letters of the alphabet “written” with a ghostly finger, especially on the back of your hand or on your back.

There are many variations of these sensations.  All are routine – but can also be rare – at ghost investigations.  Usually, they’re nothing to be alarmed about.

If you’re uncomfortable with that, ask the ghost (or ghosts) to stop.  In most cases, they will.

Also, let others know what happened right away, so they can check the area for EMF surges or other paranormal activity.

Inappropriate touching

If the ghost is touching you inappropriately, you must bring that to the attention of others in your group.

This is a rare occurrence, but it happens now & then.  Though more women seem to be “touched” than men, it’s not a gender-specific issue.

It is not okay for a ghost to ignore your boundaries.  Keep in mind, most ghosts are from an era when touching — especially of a sexual nature — was even less acceptable than it is now.

Times have changed, and so have the cues

As the song, “Anything Goes,” reminds us:

“In olden days, a glimpse of stocking
“Was looked on as something shocking.”

Likewise, in the early 19th century, a kiss was considered so significant, some expected a marriage proposal to follow immediately.

Through the early 20th century, a single man and woman would avoid being together (but otherwise alone)  in a room with the door closed.

That was against the rules of propriety.

By the late 20th century, the rules had changed again. In some eras and cultures – especially the hippie community – “love the one you’re with” was okay. Others sternly disapproved.

So, the range of what’s inappropriate is even broader when you’re dealing with a ghost.

Depending on his or her context, any touching could be a warning sign for investigators.

What ghosts expect

Some of our most colorful investigations (and ghost stories) are related to locations that were once bordellos.

Wunsche Cafe in Old Town Spring, Texas, is one.

Oilcan Harry’s in Austin, Texas, is another.

So, some ghosts may not realize that investigators – particularly women – cannot be treated as the people who once worked at the brothel.

If you have concerns, state the rules and boundaries out loud.

Also remember that women in trousers were regarded differently prior to the early 20th century.  In general, women’s bodies were far more concealed – by corsets, bustles and loose-fitting clothing – than today.

Language considered crude (in the ghost’s era) can also send a confusing signal to ghosts.  In fact, speaking directly to a ghost – without introducing yourself first – could be considered very forward, in their world.

The ghosts may not reply (since, as far as they’re concerned, you’re being rude) or think it’s an invitation for something you weren’t expecting.

It may help to announce your name, what you’re doing there, and the year you’re in, each time you investigate a different room or part of the site.

State the rules and boundaries out loud

It’s always better to be too careful than too casual, if you have concerns in a haunted location.  Set firm rules and boundaries at the start of each phase of the investigation, and explain them to the ghosts, out loud.

Then, if the ghost behaves inappropriately, he (or she) has no excuse for it. You’ll know right away that the ghost is ignoring your rules, if you’ve already made those rules clear.

If that happens, be sure you’re accompanied by several people, and that continued touching will not be tolerated.

Opportunistic touching

This additional issue is rare, but important.

Even one “problem” in our community is a risk to all of us, as professionals.

We’re often researching in the dark.

Groups split up to investigate.

It’s important never to be alone with someone you don’t know, or with someone who makes you even a little uncomfortable.

Even in a group or crowd, stay away from people who give off a “bad vibe” or seem to make excessive eye contact.

At the other extreme, be wary of anyone avoiding any eye contact at all.

If you feel very uncomfortable or uneasy, say something to a person in charge.

If the situation doesn’t improve, leave the investigation.

(Ask to be escorted to your car, by someone you trust.  Never leave a group by yourself, if you’re already anxious about your safety.)

Before accepting someone on your team, no matter how likable the person seems, check his or her background. Ask for ID, so you know what name to research.

When I recently heard about a ghost  investigator’s criminal record, I checked his name at the FBI’s National Sex Offender Public Website.  There was no record of his past problems, though I’d heard about them from an impeccable source.

I realized that I don’t know his real name. It’s routine for researchers to use a “pen name” to distance paranormal work from their personal and professional lives.

Also, nicknames can be very different from real names.  For example, Ted can be short for Theodore or Edward.  Nellie can be a nickname for Helen.  William is Bill and Robert can be Rob or Bob.  Elizabeth can be Beth, Betty, Eliza, Liz, and so on.

So, sex offender lists aren’t 100% reliable if you’re checking on someone you might be alone with.  (Check them anyway.) Always take precautions, and follow your “gut feeling” when you’re on a ghost tour or investigation.

I’ve always said: We have more to fear from the living than from the dead.

Use common sense

If your children want to go on a ghost tour or attend an event, they must be accompanied by a responsible adult at all times.  That’s not just about the tour guides, but a concern about others attending the tour or event, who might see the darkness as an opportunity.

Here’s the rule: If you feel that you’ve been touched (or had a physical encounter of any kind) -by a ghost or someone in physical form – say something immediately.

If you’re not comfortable with what happened, say that very clearly, too.

Don’t think it was all in your imagination.  Speak up, and let the other investigators (or guests) respond immediately.

After all, it might be a ghost manifesting so physically, we could catch an image in a photo. We might be able to record his/her voice in EVP, or measure other physical anomalies with EMF detectors, thermometers, and other tools.

Physical contact with ghosts is unusual in most haunted settings. Physical abuse by a ghost – slapping, pinching, or scratching – can happen, too, but it’s a major warning sign. That location isn’t safe, and the entity might be demonic.

Whenever it feels like someone has touched you, especially if it wasn’t necessary, speak up.

It might have been a ghost. Or it might have been someone in your group, and he, she, or they are using the cover of darkness for bad behavior.

Don’t just shrug it off.

Say something.