Ghost Hunting Personalities – Entertainers… or Researchers?

In ghost hunting — and the paranormal field, in general — there are two very different approaches… and a broad overlap between them.

tv-remoteEntertainers appear in the media, and they’re paid guests at events and at “investigations.”

They are there to entertain you. They may be speaking from memorized scripts. If what they’re saying (or portraying on TV) is true, that’s nice… but not necessary, as they see it.

If you enjoy their performances, they’ve succeeded and their careers grow.  If they don’t, they fade away, reinvent themselves, or shift to another line of work.

They create an illusion so the audience suspends disbelief long enough to enjoy the performance.  That’s measured in TV ratings and tickets sold at events.

David Blaine is one of many entertainers who appear to be working mystical feats. He correctly describes himself as an illusionist.

clue-magnifierResearchers look for breakthroughs in paranormal studies.  Their standard is integrity.

Most don’t care if they entertain anyone.

What they discover — and the tools and techniques that they develop — may become far more famous than the developers’ names.

Bill Chappell is the inventor of many brilliant research tools (often featured on Ghost Adventures). More people recognize the name of his inventions (such as the Ovilus) than his own name.

I’m a researcher, not an entertainer.  I say, “Fiona Broome” and people may look confused.  I mention HollowHill.com, and they suddenly recognize me.  (It’s nice when people recognize my name, but I’d rather have them remember my discoveries.)

Few are both researchers and entertainers.

Some researchers have been cast in paranormal “reality shows.” Some actors in those shows — with no prior research experience — became brilliant investigators.

But, in general, how someone seems on TV may be very different from how they appear in person, and how much ghost hunting expertise they actually have.

I could list several “ghost hunting experts” from TV shows who, in real life, had little understanding of paranormal research.

I’ve also known several genuine experts who had more experience and integrity than viewers saw on related TV shows.

A couple of genuine researchers who’ve starred on TV shows

John Zaffis is a good example of someone who’s worked in both research and entertainment (The Haunted Collector).  He was a respected researcher and demonologist for many years before ghost hunting became popular. His joking manner can be entertaining… but he’s speaking from decades of genuine research.

Barry Fitzgerald is another researcher who’s bridged the gap between academic and scientific study, and the entertainment field (Ghost Hunters International).

They’re just two of many researcher/entertainers I’ve admired for their integrity and expertise in real life. (I mention them because wasn’t thrilled with how they were edited for their respected TV shows. They deserve more recognition as innovative investigators.)

Have low expectations and you won’t be disappointed.

Before attending an event or public “investigation,” it’s important to adjust your expectations.  For the past 15+ years, I’ve said in my Guidelines for ghost hunters, “…if someone is charging you money as if they’re providing a show… perhaps they are.”

Keep in mind that there’s a difference between a con artist and an entertainer.  In most cases, the entertainer separates his (or her) role, on stage, from what’s true in his personal life.  The lines may blur, but there’s no fraud involved.

 

Sure, an entertainer may disappoint you with a poor performance, but that’s different from being a fraud.

Likewise, a researcher’s results may be disproved by later studies.  That’s not a con, it’s a normal part of trial-and-error research… there will be errors!

The vast majority of entertainers and researchers are good, honest people. They have every reason to be proud of their work.

The biggest confusion is when a TV show or movie presents an entertainer as an expert when he (or she) isn’t one in real life.

Or, when people attend an event or public ghost hunt, and expect every expert to be chatty and entertaining.

“Reality shows” can blur the lines. When you meet stars or researchers in real life, keep your expectations in check so you’re not disappointed.

Do you have a question or opinion on this subject?  Let me know in the comments form, below.

Fake! In Ghost Hunting, Does It Matter?

Integrity is a researcher’s most valued asset. In paranormal research, it’s especially important.  However, since entertainment has become part of the paranormal scene, the lines have blurred between reality and showmanship.

Does it matter if some ghost hunters are fakes?“Fake!”

I hear that accusation far too often, and usually about the wrong people.

It’s true that there are fakes, frauds, and con men (and women) working in ghost-related professions.

More are sincere researchers, looking for answers to questions that have been around for centuries.

It’s important to know the difference.

Or, depending on your goals and interests, maybe it doesn’t matter.

What are your goals?

Entertainment

Many people enjoy ghost-related TV shows, ghost tours, dinner and stage presentations, and ghost-themed events.

If you’re looking for entertainment, keep your focus on the fun. Don’t worry how much of it is real or just a clever presentation.

In real life, ghost hunting is tedious.  The one-hour show you see on TV may have taken two to five days to film.  You’re seeing only the interesting moments.

If you’re at an event and just one or two people keep you entertained for an entire evening, as if it’s a show… maybe it is.

But, if you’re only there for the fun and an occasional “good scare,” does it really matter how much of it is real?

Disney’s Haunted Mansion attraction isn’t “real.”  However, many ghost enthusiasts – including me – wait in line for an hour or longer to enter that attraction, because it’s great entertainment.

If you’re at an event or watching a show to be entertained, judge it by the fun, period.

You Have a Question

Many people have questions about ghosts.

  • You may want to know if there really is something after death.
  • You may have had a ghostly encounter, and want to know if it was real.
  • You may suspect that you’re psychic, but you’re not sure.
  • Or, a movie or TV show scared you, and you want to know if that kind of phenomena is real.

If that’s what draws you to paranormal research, get involved with a good research group, or start one yourself.

Some TV shows*, stage presentations, and events lean towards “entertainment.”   In other words, they may be faking some or all of what you see.

Unfortunately, people who want to believe in an afterlife can be among the most gullible.

If you’re looking for answers to spiritual questions, keep these two points in mind:

1. You may never find absolute proof of an afterlife or ghosts.  “Clear evidence” for one person may seem ridiculous to someone else.  Only you can decide if you’ve found answers you seek.

2. Many seekers are vulnerable.  Become a skeptic.  Don’t confuse performers with genuine researchers.  Learn to tell them apart.

After you find an answer to your questions – or decide that there is no answer – you may lose interest in paranormal studies.

It’s okay to walk away from ghost hunting if (and when) it stops being interesting.  Don’t keep watching TV shows, paying for events, or going on investigations if they’re disappointing you.

If asked, say, “I found the answer that I was looking for.  It’s personal.”

And then, change the subject.

Or, once you feel as if you found what you’re looking for, you may be more interested in paranormal research.

You’re with a Friend and…

Sometimes, people  join a friend (or friends) at a ghost tour or a ghost investigation.  Soon, they’re involved in paranormal research, too.

Or, they go to an entertainment-style event, find it intriguing, and become a fan.

Remember why you’re there, and – before taking anything seriously – use your critical thinking skills.  Get educated.  Listen to believers and skeptics alike.   Both provide important advice.

Power, Fame, and Money

stage-lightsWhen any subject is featured on several TV shows, some people get involved for fame and fortune.

There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as everyone’s reasonably honest about it.

Most theatrical ghost tours and Halloween “haunted houses” are clearly fake.

As long as you remember it’s just a show, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying it.

Now and then, an entertainer will mix reality and performance.  More than one genuine psychic has been tripped up that way, feeling obliged to put on a show when nothing was actually going on.

Would you be happier spending $150 for a ghost hunt in which nothing happened all evening… or if a few people exaggerated their experiences, to give attendees a chill?

My advice for fans:  Treat ghost hunting like any other form of entertainment.  Some shows will be more authentic and more fun than others. Decide your goals – and your spending limit – ahead of time.

Entertainer or Researcher… or Both?

Among ghost hunters, psychics, and paranormal “experts,” some people are entertainers.  They can be tremendous fun, on- and off-stage.

Some tell wonderful stories.  They may also be moderately psychic… or good at convincing you that they are.

Enjoy that for what it is:  Great fun.

Others are serious researchers.  I’m one of them.

Frankly, we can be geeky, boring people.

However, if you can keep from nodding off when we talk about our latest projects, you may glean some useful insights for your own research.

People like me were paranormal researchers long before TV shows made ghost hunting popular**.  We’ll be here long after the fad is eclipsed by the next popular trend, too.

If you’re attending an event, listening to the radio or watching TV, ask yourself:

  • Is this person an entertaining speaker presenting  reliable information?
  • Is this improving your understanding of ghosts and ghost hunting?
  • Or, is he (or she) putting on a show?  If so, is it entertaining?

Houdini wasn’t a “fake.” He was a performer.

The same can be said for modern-day stage magicians.  The fun (and the challenge) is figuring out how he or she makes it seem real.

The excruciatingly boring speaker at a conference probably isn’t “fake.” He or she is sharing research results.  If you thrill to news about scientific breakthroughs, the fun is examining the evidence to see if it’s helpful.  The learning curve… maybe not so much fun.

In general, if you know what your goals are, use them to judge the merits of the TV show, event, investigation or personality.

Fake?  That’s an issue if you’re looking for answers and a genuine encounter with the paranormal world.

A better question is whether you’re disappointed, and if the show, event or person is worth your time.

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If you’re concerned that someone is a fraud, see my article, Scams and Con Artists.

*For many years, I defended Jason Hawes’ and Grant Wilson’s work on the Ghost Hunters TV show.

Today… I don’t know if they were set up, if they knew, and how much their contracts prevented them from admitting to it.

Editing can dramatically change how something looks.

**I began writing for FATE magazine in the 1980s (via the Wayback Machine). My first Fate story with a byline (under the pen name Margaret Brighton) was the true California ghost story, “Boots,” published in February 1989.

This website – first as Yankee Haunts and then Hollow Hill – has been online since the mid-1990s.

In other words, I can prove how long I’ve been professional in this field. My integrity – and legacy – are important to me. And frankly, I’m terrible at lying.

Betsy Ross Ghost Investigation – Another TV Hoax?

stars-and-stripes1The Betsy Ross episode of “Ghost Hunters” had barely aired when I started receiving emails.

People are asking me if Betsy Ross was a hoax, but I suspect that many are actually asking me about the TAPS team.

I’ll repeat my previous statement:  I’ve known Jason and Grant for years.  I trust them 100% and have no doubts about their integrity.  They didn’t get into ghost hunting for fame or fortune, and they’re not going to knowingly risk their reputations for something as silly as show ratings.

Have the show’s production staff ever faked evidence, edited the show so the televised version was different from what occurred, or outright conned the stars…? Those are fair questions that I can’t answer.

LET’S USE LOGIC

It’s important to separate the issues.  First, there’s the TAPS investigation of the Betsy Ross house.  The Ghost Hunters’ reveal segment summarizes what they experienced.

Then there are the historical questions, which are academic more than experiential.

So, criticism of the house’s history does not reflect one way or the other on the integrity of the Ghost Hunters’ episode and especially not the stars’ investigations.

‘PROVING’ HISTORY

Regarding Betsy Ross, her famous Philadelphia house and her involvement with one of the earliest American flags… no one can absolutely, positively prove anything one way or the other.  They can only talk about evidence that’s lacking.

In court, both sides would rely mostly on hearsay and circumstantial evidence.  It’s true that no one can prove that she sewed anything in that house… but they can’t prove that she didn’t.

I’m posting part of an email that I sent to one reader this morning.  The Hollow Hill reader who’d written to me referred to a link supposedly “busting” the Betsy Ross legends.

Here’s part of my reply:

lantern-w-flagsI wouldn’t take that article too seriously. Few events in history were lived as if they’d need to be documented for skeptics.

Really, could you absolutely, positively prove what you had for lunch a week ago, and provide enough overwhelming evidence to convince a rabid skeptic? Probably not.  A receipt or your memories probably wouldn’t be enough.

There are groups that insist there was no Holocaust. You’ll also find hundreds of articles that claim that the Oklahoma City bombing  was a government conspiracy, and the Pentagon was never hit by a plane on 9/11.

Likewise, many people have written carefully footnoted articles insisting that no astronaut has ever walked on the Moon.

Note: Please don’t comment here about those controversies.  I’m not taking sides in those arguments, just showing that many (or most) historical accounts have two or more sides with enough evidence to raise questions.

In my opinion, historical arguments can actually increase activity in a haunted site.  The spirits know the truth and they may try to convey it to us, by whatever means they have.

BETSY ROSS – DOES IT MATTER?

For people who will only believe in Betsy Ross if they see her, in person, and actually witness her stitching the flag…. well, there is no proof that will satisfy them.

To them, it’s all “myth and folklore” and there’s nothing anyone can do to convince them otherwise. I am sorry for their cynicism. Their lives must be very bitter.

Is the Betsy Ross story entirely true? People will decide for themselves how much makes sense, given the existing evidence and the strength of historical traditions.

Here’s something to consider: If you don’ t believe that Betsy Ross sewed the famous flag, it might be smart to look for hauntings at the home of the person who actually sewed it.  He or she may have a story to tell.

HISTORY AND HAUNTINGS

When considering the haunting of any location, documented history can affect how we tell the story, but little else.

For example, we’ve seen sites that increase in activity because visitors believe that the location is haunted.   Those visitors’ beliefs and emotional reactions may contribute to the residual energy.  Gilson Road Cemetery (Nashua, NH) may be an example of that, as may Louisiana’s Myrtles Plantation.

We’ve also heard reports of ghosts who should logically haunt where they lived and/or died… but they haunt a site more popularly associated with them.  (Portsmouth, NH’s Sise Inn comes to mind, since the ghosts probably lived in a nearby house.  By the time people researched the facts, the ghost stories were already associated with the Sise Inn.)

In my opinion, history can anecdotally support evidence of paranormal activity, and vice versa.

Did Betsy Ross actually sew the famous flag in that house?  Maybe she did.  Maybe she didn’t.  History is not especially relevant to the credibility of any ghostly encounter at the famous Betsy Ross house.

History can be an issue when psychics make claims that contradict well-documented facts.

However, the TAPS team were there for physical evidence.  History is not a factor, one way or the other, and it makes critics look silly when they raise irrelevant arguments.

Ghost Hunters TV Show – Fake?

“Is Ghost Hunters TV show a fake?” “Are the Ghost Hunters fake?” “Did TAPS fake their Halloween 2008 show?”

Grant's jacket tuggedStarting the first of November, 2008, the emails poured in. Each of them asked me questions like those.

I was going to ignore them, but similar emails continued to flood my in-box.

So, here’s my answer.

I’ve looked at the Ghost Hunters TV show footage on YouTube and studied it frame-by-frame.  I also listened closely to the audio, where a voice clearly says, “You’re not supposed to be here.”

Here’s my analysis.

“YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE HERE”

That voice is alarmingly clear.  During my own ghost hunts, I’ve never heard anything that audibly crisp or like someone was right there, saying it.

Then again, I rarely hear things audibly when I’m conducting research.  I rarely capture any EVP, either.

Audio is not one of my stronger areas.

However, Jason and Grant have documented increasingly clear EVPs during their research.

In my experience, this seems to be a skill — perhaps related to rapport with the spirits — and most ghost researchers improve as they investigate a variety of sites.

So, while this was a very unusual and audible voice, I think it’s possible in a profoundly haunted setting… and that’s what they chose for their Halloween 2008 show.

Also, at Jason’s MySpace blog, he pointed out that the voice was so clear, he asked if someone had said anything.

(If anything irks me about Jason, it’s that he tends to be aggressively skeptical.  This show was no exception.)

Likewise, it looked to me as if Grant was asking the producers if they were in the wrong location… if they weren’t actually supposed to be where they were at that moment.

So, I don’t think that Jason, Grant or the TAPS team faked the voice.  I also trust the integrity of the SciFi channel.

There are other, natural explanations, but I don’t think that Jason, Grant or the SciFi channel set this up.

GRANT’S JACKET PULLED

The second controversial moment was the tug on Grant’s jacket… if it was that.

If you watch the video, frame by frame, you’ll see that the collar moves oddly just before Grant stumbles backwards.

However, the fishing line explanation doesn’t work.  I’d expect to see the line highlighted by the cameras, or a shadow on the wall when the cameras moved in.  It’s possible to do that on a recorded show, and use CGI to cover it.

However, on a live show, the production company couldn’t take that chance.

Here’s a bigger problem with the fishing line explanation: Grant’s jacket was open at the neck.  If line had pulled on his jacket enough to throw him off balance, it would have jerked the neck opening of the jacket as it pulled him backwards, slightly choking him.

In my opinion, Grant perceived it as just his jacket, but he was actually forced backwards by something else.  The only visual manifestation — besides Grant stumbling — was the movement at the collar a split second before he stepped backwards.

I can’t explain what happened.  I have no idea, and can’t even guess.

Strange things occur in haunted places.  That’s one reason we keep investigating them: We’re looking for explanations, but we often leave with more (and new) questions than answers.

The jacket tug baffles me.

NOT ENOUGH REACTION?

Several people have claimed that Grant’s body language, tone of voice, or other cues “give away” that he was faking the whole thing.

That’s not very good evidence of a hoax.

Anyone who has been on real ghost hunts knows that we get used to odd things happening. The “usual” anomalies stop surprising us after awhile. (This may be another reason why the manifestations become increasingly dramatic around experienced ghost hunters.)

But, if you’ve been with me on ghost hunts that turn dramatic — for example, with doors slamming repeatedly, or windows opening and closing on their own — you’ve seen me sigh and mutter, “I wish they wouldn’t do that.  It’s really annoying.”

Things that scare other people don’t even surprise experienced ghost hunters, after we’ve encountered the phenomena enough times.

So, it’s a mistake to judge the authenticity of phenomena because an experienced ghost hunter doesn’t seem startled enough.

We just don’t startle as easily as someone with less ghost hunting experience.

Grant’s reaction (or lack of it) doesn’t prove anything.

A MATTER OF INTEGRITY

Jason and Grant are my friends.  I’ve spent a lot of time with them. We’ve chatted over breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and at events and parties.  We used to exchange emails when something was of mutual concern.

In general, Grant is very honest. Usually, he looks you straight in the eye when he talks with you.

But, I have to qualify that, because I feel that Grant deliberately misled me during one conversation.

It was not an outright lie. It was something personal and had nothing to do with ghost hunting. It was about a part of the country where we’d both lived, briefly, and how he described why he was there.

A year or so later, when the truth became obvious, I asked him about it. So far, he hasn’t replied.

No, I never expected a detailed explanation. I just wanted him to admit he’d misled me, so I could say, “Sure, I get it. Just don’t do that again, okay?”

We haven’t spoken since then. I’m sad about that, because I admire him tremendously as a researcher and as a talented artist.

But, in terms of ghost hunting, I have no reason to question Grant’s integrity.

I like Jason, but he can seems an almost incorrigible skeptic.  If anything, he’s likely to trivialize evidence that the rest of us point to as proof of a haunting.

It seems absurd to think that he’d be part of a hoax. That’d be completely out of character. During an investigation – in real life – he’s the first person to be skeptical and often the loudest.

Sure, Jason has a very dry wit, but he would never compromise his own integrity as a ghost hunter, the integrity of the TAPS team, or the Ghost Hunters TV show.  That’s not his style.

If you’ve met him in real life or listened to him talk at any conference, you know that he’s rock-solid honest.

If the show’s production company said, “We want you to fake this,” Jason would reply, “I’d quit rather than do that.”

And, he would.

On the show, I can’t think of any reason for Grant and Jason to compromise their integrity.  None whatsoever.

DID IT HAPPEN?

It’s true.  Some very odd things seemed to happen during the Ghost Hunters TV show on Halloween 2008.

Could they have been faked?

Yes, the voice might have come from a very well hidden microphone.  But — if that voice was part of a hoax — I’m confident that Jason, Grant and the SciFi channel weren’t aware of it.

I wasn’t there to know what direction the voice came from, and what it was like. All I can evaluate is what I saw on the Ghost Hunters TV show… and frankly, that’s not enough information for me to judge.

I’ve said it often: It’s a mistake to judge what is (and isn’t) a real haunting, a real ghost photo or real EVP  unless you were there.

The incident with Grant’s jacket is another issue altogether.  It couldn’t have been faked without Grant’s knowledge.

All in all, I trust Jason and Grant.  They say that they didn’t fake anything on the show, and I believe them.

But, I’m also aware that many people like a “good scare” on Halloween, and — starting the very next morning — they want to assure themselves that the whole thing wasn’t real, and scary things don’t wait for them in the darkness.

I think they’re the loudest detractors of the Halloween 2008 Ghost Hunters TV show.

I have nothing to prove, one way or the other. My opinion is: I saw no evidence of a hoax in that TV series.

Amityville Horror, NY – Some Thoughts About It

Artistic rendering of the Amityville Horror house, based on a photo by Seulatr.

Was the Amityville Horror real?

Without a doubt, parts of the story are entirely true.  In fact, reports may have understated the severity and scope of what happened at that house.

The current owners of the home insist that the house is not haunted.  Since I’ve seen how some people can — without any effort — counteract even the most intense paranormal activity, I believe the house may not seem haunted right now.

I’m equally convinced that, based solely on the murders, it’s unlikely that the house is clear of residual, ghostly energy.

Did the house retain potential ghostly or malicious energy?  Were the Lutzes telling the whole story?  I’m not sure.

This week, I watched a documentary questioning the hauntings at the ‘Amityville Horror’ house.

On one hand, I try to be very respectful of researchers’ subjective and psychic experiences.

On the other… Well, several years ago, I explored another classic “ghost story,” the Ocean-Born Mary tale, supposedly haunted by Mary Wallace.

My extensive research is described at The Truth about Ocean-Born Mary’s Ghost. Some of the historical information was true, but most of the hauntings cannot be attributed to Mary Wallace.

(That said, I’ve heard from the daughter of the psychic who went to Henniker, NH with Hans Holzer. She is confident that something haunts the famous house. I haven’t done enough research to identify who that spirit might be. We only know that it’s probably not Mary Wallace.)

Since that Henniker, NH research, I tend to be extra skeptical about sensational hauntings.

The Amityville documentary was inconclusive. Each side — believers and skeptics — maintain the truth of their claims.

I’ve been skeptical ever since I read that the Lutz family let their children sleep in the same beds where the previous residents’ children were murdered.

Was that true?  I don’t know.

As a parent, I can’t even think about doing that… even under the most compelling financial circumstances. But, it certainly increases the horror level when the story is told.

That possibility (if it is true) makes me question whether the Amityville “horror” was planned as a hoax from the start.

Oh, the interviews with Mr. & Mrs. Lutz seemed sincere and compelling. They probably believed the story (or most of it) as they told it. And, it’s a very good story.

I also believe that they could have been working with false memories, which are a volatile area of psychological study; I’m reluctant to say that anyone is lying.

Also, during the show, Ed Warren commented that ghosts are seen telepathically. I want to clarify what he was probably talking about:

In most cases, it’s rare to see a full figure, solid-looking ghost. Most of our perceptions aren’t visual… not in the way we usually see the world around us.

However, many of us have seen ghosts and briefly confused them with actual, living people. For example, I’ve seen two ghosts that looked like real people at Gilson Road Cemetery in Nashua, NH.

One of our team researchers — with a third-degree Black Belt in Karate — was so convinced that one of the Gilson Road Cemetery figures was real, he tried to physically block the figure from attacking me.

So, that ghost was not seen telepathically, but in real life and by several of us at the same time.

The Amityville documentary emphasized the importance of physical evidence. While no proof will be enough to convince a determined skeptic, it can tilt the scales when someone isn’t sure about a haunted site.

I’m still not sure about the Amityville house.   Even the police reports raise questions.

(For some time, it seemed that there was an unreported body among the victims. Later, the police said it was a filing error. That kind of dramatic mistake – in the records of an infamous case – is an anomaly in itself. I don’t know what to think of it, but it’s odd enough to be significant.)

Ghost hunting remains a subjective study until we have more proof. When the Amityville house was a sensation, ghost investigations were handled very differently from today’s research.

Although paranormal studies can be fascinating and personally meaningful, researchers should always collect as much evidence as possible. From EMF to EVP to ‘ghost photos’, it’s key to document everything that provides proof of anomalies in haunted settings.

As the Amityville house reminds us, there may not be an opportunity to collect additional data, later.