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.

Haunted Houses and Carbon Monoxide

What does carbon monoxide have to do with a haunted house?

When people contact me about a haunted house, they often say things like:

  • dangers of the paranormal“Sometimes, when I’m in that part of the house, I get shaky, dizzy, and I feel weak all over.”
  • “I get a tightness in my chest, and I can’t catch my breath. Do you suppose the ghost died of a heart attack?”
  • “I’m okay during the day, but at night — especially when it’s cold out — it’s like something floats into my room through the bedroom window, and I can’t breathe.”
  • “The baby gets fussy in that room and seems to be looking at something that I don’t see, and the dog won’t go in there, ever.”
  • “I’m fine all day, but at night, when we close up the house and go to bed, I get headaches, it feels really stuffy in the room, and sometimes I feel kind of sick. I always have to get up and open the window, just to feel the breeze. About an hour or two later, around midnight, everything’s fine again.”

Well, those “symptoms” of a haunting can be caused by carbon monoxide poisoning. That’s why carbon monoxide is now the first thing to check in a house that might be haunted. This is especially true if the ghosts started to be a problem when the house was sealed up for the winter, or — in warm climates — for the summer.

The following is an edited excerpt from the book, Is Your House Haunted?, by Fiona Broome.


Before you do anything else…

Check the carbon monoxide levels at the possibly-haunted site.

Carbon monoxide is nicknamed “the silent killer.” Pets and children often react to it first. Carbon monoxide (CO), also called carbonous oxide, is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas. It is highly toxic to humans and animals in higher quantities. It can come from a variety of sources, including gas appliances, woodstoves, car exhaust, blocked flues, and even cigarette smoke.

Some people are more sensitive to carbon monoxide, and may show symptoms before others do.

Any of the following symptoms may indicate high levels of carbon monoxide.

  • Headaches.
  • A tight sensation in the chest.
  • Nausea.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Vomiting.
  • Dizziness.
  • Fatigue.
  • A feeling of weakness.
  • Confusion or disorientation.
  • Visual disturbances.
  • Fainting and seizures.
  • Flu symptoms.
  • Infants may be irritable.
  • Pets can avoid certain areas.

Carbon monoxide can also affect the heart and central nervous system, and raise blood pressure. Carbon monoxide poisoning can damage the fetus of a pregnant woman. Many areas in the UK, the US, and Canada have laws recommending (or even requiring) the use of carbon monoxide detectors in homes. Older homeowners may not realize that. Even if the homeowner has no fireplace or woodstove, and no gas appliances, check the levels anyway.

For example, if a nearby neighbor has a wood stove and you (or the client) sleep with your window open, elevated carbon monoxide could explain some “symptoms” of a haunting.

If you regularly investigate haunted sites, be sure your home has very low levels of carbon monoxide, too. If you’ve been sensitized to the gas, even low levels might trigger your symptoms at a “haunted” site. It could happen. Rule this out, immediately.

When you’re investigating a potentially haunted house and any symptoms match the warning list, carbon monoxide levels must be checked first.

If the homeowner does not have a carbon monoxide detector installed, and you don’t have a handheld monitor, call the fire department for advice.

Note: Before buying a handheld carbon monoxide meter, be sure to read the reviews.

If you’re investigating haunted homes and you can’t afford a good carbon monoxide detector, don’t bother with a cheap one. Either have the homeowner install carbon monoxide detectors in several places in the home — and use them for at least a week before you investigate — or ask the fire department if someone in the community can test the air for the homeowner.

A carbon monoxide meter that works is important. A cheap one that’s not reliable could put you and your client at risk.

So, either use a good detector or have the homeowner or someone else handle that part of the investigation.

Dangers of the Paranormal

dangers of the paranormalFor years, many of us have been warning about dangerous aspects of ghost hunting.  From physical safety to legal issues, and from personal liabilities to spiritual protection, this field has more pitfalls than many hobbies and professions.

In general, the paranormal community can be divided into three groups:

  • Those who know the risks and take appropriate precautions.
  • Those who don’t know the risks, or have only a vague idea, and aren’t as cautious as they might be.
  • Those who see the warning signs (literal and figurative) and ignore them, thinking they’re immune to the risks.

I want to be sympathetic when someone is arrested for ignoring a “no trespassing” sign, or when they go to Vale End (or a similar site) and return home, terrified… a fear that stays with them for years.  I’ve warned about scams and con artists, and sleazy people who like the cover of darkness.

Physical injury and illness aren’t as unusual as I’d like, and — in most cases — the victim never saw the problem coming.

Obviously, experienced professionals usually know the risks and do what they can to minimize them.  Event planners try to organize activities so no one is placed in unnecessary danger.

Trespassing

A wide spectrum of ghost enthusiasts seem to be oblivious to all risks.  I see that in my email in-box, with questions and tales of woe, daily.

But, the symptoms aren’t only in my incoming email.  Looking for good videos to explain issues related to haunted Eloise Insane Asylum in Michigan, I found three videos with the following kind of content.  All were filmed by a group of kids, emulating Ghost Hunters.

First, they filmed the no trespassing sign.  Then, they ignored it and entered the property anyway.

Eloise hospital - No Trespassing sign

Then, they actually captioned portions of their videos, repeatedly proclaiming that they were on private property.

And, even when one of the kids said she was afraid to slip under the fence because she might be arrested, her friends talked her into breaking the law.

  

Okay, they’re 12-year-old kids, so you might ask, “Where were the parents?”

The answer…?  In at least one part of the video, the mom was holding the camera.

I don’t want to single out these kids as if they’re an example of the primary problem.  They’re not.  Adults are doing this kind of thing even more often than kids are.  This group of amateur “ghost hunters” just happened to put their videos online.  (Not a smart move, if someone calls Child Protective Services.)

My point is: Ignoring safety issues is a problem in this field.

Also, the trespassing issue isn’t isolated to this field.  From homeless people seeking shelter to urban explorers, plenty of people ignore “no trespassing” signs.  However, in many cases, they’re constantly aware of the risks.

The “no trespassing” signs are more than legal warnings.  Frankly, many people are let off with a warning, the first time or two that they’re caught… though I wouldn’t want to trivialize trespassing laws.

The bigger issue is what the “no trespassing” signs can indicate.  Often, those signs indicate safety problems.  They might include something as simple (but deadly) as asbestos dust or as urgently perilous as structural damage.  An issue might be toxic waste underground, or a site known for harboring territorial, poisonous snakes.

And, almost all abandoned structures have rodent issues.  I talked about that risk in my earlier podcast about ghost hunting and respiratory risks and my article about ghost hunting and health issues.

Here’s the reason for alarm: With the “no trespassing” signs prominently displayed, many site owners and communities figure they’ll make repairs later, when they have more funds to work with. They (reasonably) assume that the signs will protect an unwary visitor from putting him- or herself at risk.

The problem could be minor or it could be truly dangerous.  “No trespassing” signs rarely go into detail. (When I last checked, the fenced-off area near Gilson Road Cemetery in Nashua, NH, did not explain that it’s a Superfund site.)

But, don’t rely on “no trespassing” signs as warnings.  Sometimes, we’re called into homes and businesses (in use, not abandoned) with significant risks — structural and health issues — as we explore moldy basements and attics with rodent droppings.  So, every researcher needs to be aware of the dangers, as well as precautions to take.

Other dangers in ghost hunting

From blunders with Ouija boards to sleazy people groping team members in the dark, and from cult-like groups to adrenaline addiction, this field can seem like a minefield to the unwary.

The key word is “unwary.”  Once you’re aware of the risks, you can evaluate which you’re okay with and what limits to place on your research.

In the past, I’ve mentioned — and sometimes ranted about — many risks in my articles.  I’ve avoided covering those topics in depth because… well, that’s not the focus of this website.  In the 1990s, I wanted to interest people in ghost hunting.  After Ghost Hunters and other TV shows made my earlier efforts redundant, my articles shifted to education — including my free course — so ghost enthusiasts can get the best results from their investigations.

Also, risks need to be assessed on a site-by-site basis.

It’s one thing to go into a paved, haunted cemetery after dark, when — even though it’s posted — you’ll meet dozens of joggers and dog-walkers cheerfully ignoring the faded “closed at dusk” sign.

It’s quite another to go into an abandoned building, exposed to the elements, presenting a wide range of structural concerns.

So, I rarely go into detail about the dangers you may encounter as a ghost hunter.  Every site presents its own challenges and risks.

Now, a website (by someone else) is dedicated to the dangers of paranormal research.  It’s a topic that needs a central clearinghouse of information, and I’m delighted that someone has taken responsibility for that. Here’s the link:  Dangers of the Paranormal.

Ghost Hunting and Respiratory Risks

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

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. This is 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.

Click here for my YouTube channel, for how-to videos including the one about stairways

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.
  • Masks do not filter out carbon monoxide or other toxic gases.  I’ve discussed this danger in my (free) book, Is Your House Haunted?
  • 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.  I’m still researching them.
  • A personal air purifier that’s been proved effective in scientific studies.  My choice is 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.

 

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, were among yet another team of ghost hunters to explore a derelict home with ghost stories. Plenty of people had investigated the 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. It 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 ghost researchers contracting respiratory infections after investigations, but it is among the worst.

Her widower, Shane Harris, started the Sara Harris Foundation.

At the time, Shane said it would help to educate paranormal investigators about issues of health and safety, and provide masks and first aid kits to ghost hunting teams that can’t afford them.  He said, “I have 3M on board to donate masks as soon as I get the tax ID number,” and it looked like Ryan Buell was working with him to raise funds.

As of 2016, I find no evidence of Shane’s foundation. Ryan’s history speaks for itself.

But, 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 barely brushes the surface of the problem, but — in the interest of getting this information to more people, 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 – 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.

Demon-Free Paranormal Research?

Many people email me and ask, “I’d like to become a ghost hunter, but I’m afraid of demons.  What can I do?”

If I could answer that, I’d ask them, “What’s a demon?”

The answer is important.

According to my copy of the Oxford Universal Dictionary, the word “demon” comes from the Greek term for evil spirit. Since 1706, that’s what it’s meant in English, too:  Evil spirit.

Any malicious entity or spirit could be called a demon.  That could be an alien or a faerie or something we can’t yet define.  My dictionary also says those spirits could be the souls of deceased persons.

In recent and popular use, the word “demon” has been used in a religious context, particularly the Christian beliefs indicating the (singular) Devil or Satan, or — more rarely — one of the evil entities under his command.

So, are you worried about ghosts and spirits?  Or, are you anxious about a dangerous entity described in the New Testament?

If you’re afraid of unhappy, angry and aggressive ghosts — that is, spirits of the deceased — don’t get involved in paranormal research.  Many ghosts seem unhappy. Some of them vent their anger in aggressive ways.

There’s no way to be involved in this work without dealing with unattractive and threatening spirits of the dead.  Sooner or later — usually sooner — you’ll encounter something startling.

On the other hand, if you want to learn ghost hunting in an setting that’s relatively free of any dangers from the religious (usually Christian) concept of a demon, start with “hallowed ground.”  That is, develop your skills in haunted cemeteries, preferably church-related cemeteries.  They’ve been blessed to keep Satan (or the Devil) out.

That doesn’t mean that cemeteries are entirely safe. I’ve mentioned severe problems at Vale End Cemetery in Wilton, NH.    Those were extremely rare encounters, and what we encountered wasn’t a ghost.  I’m not certain it was a demon, either.

Either way, it was unique among hundreds of sites I’ve investigated.

In my opinion, you have more to fear from the living than from the dead (or other entities), whether you’re in a cemetery or any other “haunted” location.

If you focus on relatively benign haunted cemeteries (described in Ghost Hunting in Haunted Cemeteries), you’re as safe as possible from demons (no matter how you define them).

That doesn’t mean you’re 100% safe.  No one can guarantee that, no matter where you are or who you’re with.

If you’re frightened by any aspect of ghost hunting or paranormal research, don’t get involved in this field. 

Sooner or later — often when you least expect it — you’re going to encounter something terrifying.  It might be a ghost. It might be something malicious.  It might just be some guy you trusted, but he’s a sexual predator.

If  you’re fascinated by ghosts and haunted places, and you’re willing to take risks despite the many potential dangers, this can be a thrilling field to research.

If you’re uneasy about ghost hunting, even before you’ve explored it… stop now. Find some other hobby or interest. Ghost hunting isn’t safe, and it’s not for you.

[UK] Ghost Boy Photo Hoax

“Ghost boy” appeared in a widely-publicized photo in late February 2010.

The story was: A British builder took the photo at a school in England that was being demolished. When he reviewed the pictures he took of the demolition process, he saw the image of a little boy in one photo. The builder claimed that the hairs on the back of his neck went up.

The school was Anlaby Primary School, near Hull, East Yorkshire, in the U.K.  Part of the original 1936 building was being demolished.  (The rest of the school is still in use.) The site has long had a reputation for being haunted.

At least two major UK newspapers considered the picture newsworthy, The Sun and the Daily Mail. (Click on the Daily Mail screenshot, below, to see the full-sized image and article.)

Daily Mail news story

However, this photo was a fake… one of many hoaxes we’re seeing online.

This particular photo was created with a 99-cent iPod/iPhone app called Ghost Capture.  The image of the little boy is at the center of the app screenshot below, in the second photo row from the bottom.

iTunes sold this app for 99 cents

This kind of nonsense is among the reasons why I don’t analyze or critique “ghost photos” for readers.

People send me photos all the time; reporters and journalists are especially eager to get me to say that a “ghost picture” is real, when they know it isn’t.  (I’m pretty sure they want us to look gullible or stupid.)

While we want to assure readers when their genuine photo shows an image that they find comforting, we can’t confirm that ghostly images in pictures are really ghosts.

Any photo can be made to look like it has an anomaly.  From 99-cent iPhone apps to Adobe Photoshop, these pictures can look utterly fake or convincing.  Anyone can be fooled.

I’ve said it before: A ghost photo is only as reliable as the expertise and integrity of the person who took it.

If you want to learn how to evaluate ghost photographs, browse my articles on the topic. I don’t know anyone else who’s spent nearly as many years as I have, trying to make sense of “ghost” photos.

Generally, ghost photos don’t show crisp images of people.  At best, the ghostly images are blurry, indistinct, and sometimes difficult to identify unless you know exactly what you’re looking for.  (The same can be said for many EVP recordings.)

Though I’m delighted when I see an eerie image in my own ghost photos, many strange photos can be explained as tricks of the light or something natural, rather than an actual haunting.

It’s smart to rule out the normal explanations, before placing ghost photos online.

Ghost Investigations and Touching

“Touching” occurs at some ghost investigations.  The sensation of touch is among our five (or six) senses, and it’s one way that spirits may attempt to make contact… literally.

Normal touching

During a ghost investigation, you may feel:

  • A 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 — if sometimes 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.

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 it’s worth discussing.  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.  (Or, at the other extreme, someone clearly 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.  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 always 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, his/her voice in EVP, or measure other physical anomalies with EMF detectors, thermometers, and other tools.

Scams and Con Artists – What to Look for

Scams and con artists can be in any field.

Unfortunately, ghost hunting is especially attractive to people whose primary interests are financial gain, celebrity status, or power.

I’m not talking about people who mistakenly think they’re more skilled than they really are.  I mean the people who look you straight in the eye and tell you lies for personal or professional gain.

If you join a group with a self-styled guru, or a con artist works his (or her) way into your circle of friends, here’s what to look for.

The first rule is: Never give or loan money to anyone without getting a signed, dated receipt. (It’s a good idea to have a long-time, trusted friend as a witness, as well.)  I don’t care how nice the person seems. If it’s a loan, have the terms in writing before you give the person anything.

And, never give or loan money that you can’t afford to lose.

Keep your money safe. Then, look for other signs of a scam or a con artist.

  • Con artists are charming.
    They’re usually fun to be with. They tell great stories, and they seem to have lived the kind of life you’d like to live. They appear to be successful or they look like rising stars. Around them, you may feel like you have a connection with greatness.
  • Con artists collect friends as quickly as possible.
    This is partly because they’ll lose so many friends, as people become suspicious. But, the larger their apparent entourage or fan club, the more you’re likely to believe their extravagant claims. You won’t know that dozens (or hundreds) of friends and fans have been deceived, too.
  • Con artists seem to have dazzling credentials.
    Their friends are famous people. Their degrees (or titles) are impressive. They talk about their past experiences and celebrity connections, pending TV shows, and events they’re planning. Their claims are so extravagant, you think, “Who’d make this up?”
  • Con artists separate people so they don’t swap notes.
    A con artist leads you to believe that you’re one of the only people he likes and trusts. He says he doesn’t trust this person and then that one. Following his advice, you’ll stay away from them, even if you used to be good friends. The con artist knows that, if you all got together and exchanged stories, his lies might be exposed.

The con artists’ larger-than-life claims lead to their downfall. They simply can’t stop lying for very long… and they’re often lying on a grand scale.

It’s vital to check the person’s claims and credentials. Check all of them, not just the first few that he or she mentions. (I’ll talk about the con artist as if the person is male. However, female con artists can be just as prevalent as male con artists.)

Types of claims

Let’s say that he claims a degree or a title, such as ‘doctor’ or ‘reverend’. Ask what kind of degree (or title) it is, and where it came from. Anyone can become a legally ordained minister, for little or no expense, through the Universal Life Church and similar organizations, such as  http://www.themonastery.org/?destination=ordination

Some mainstream universities give honorary doctorates, etc., as well.

I’ve been awarded a few of those, myself.  It’s flattering. (I mean, really, would you turn down that kind of recognition…?)

There’s nothing wrong with having that kind of title, and some do require actual work to achieve the degree.

However, when that kind of credential is represented as a formal, four-year+ degree… that can be a problem.

Some con artists claim far loftier credentials. If it’s a degree from a university, check the university’s alumni records office. Ask if the person is a graduate of the school, college or program. (Many schools proudly post an online list of some of their former registered students and graduates. In some cases, you can also use classmates directories, online, for more information.)

Please note that many universities offer extension school courses, online study, and other legitimate educational opportunities that can lead to a degree.  However, to receive a degree from that institution, most (not all) students must be formally accepted to a degree program.  While that sometimes happens within weeks of when the degree is awarded, a paper trail usually exists.

It can be more difficult to verify a student’s participation in those kinds of alternate study opportunities, if a degree has not yet been awarded.

If someone claims a British (or other) hereditary title, check Wikipedia. It lists the qualified holders of hereditary titles, including their actual surnames, and when the title was created.

People in the U.S. — and other countries where formal titles aren’t awarded — can be dazzled by claims to a real title.  Always check the person’s credentials, no matter what their IDs say.  Fake IDs are available everywhere, and con artists know that a convincing fake ID is a smart investment.

If the person claims to have a title, look it up.

For example, here’s one page at Wikipedia, listing people who hold the British title of Marquess: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_marquessates_in_the_peerages_of_the_British_Isles

If the person’s title is vague but you know their legal surname, David Beamish maintains a list of members of the United Kingdom peerage from 1801 to the present day, and he has indexed it.

It’s online at http://website.lineone.net/~david.beamish/peerages_az.htm and other pages at that website. You’ll also want to check Wikipedia’s list of the Peerage of England.

You’ll find similar lists if you search using phrases like “list of [country] nobility.”  Here are a few:  French nobilityLists of French noble families (in French) –  Lists of nobility (at Wikipedia)

If the person claims to have worked with or for a celebrity, you can confirm that. Find the official website of the celebrity, and contact the person’s manager or press agent. Ask if the celebrity has worked with the person who’s making the claim.

If the person claims to have been a paranormal investigator for many years, there should be clear evidence of that, online. Even if the person didn’t have his own website, other people will have mentioned the person, at least in reference to a case, a “ghost story,” or an investigation.

You can see how long ago they registered their domain name by using a WhoIs lookup.

(I’m not being critical of people who are new to the field; many are excellent researchers.   This article is about lies that reveal a con artist.)

If someone suggests that they’ve been on a TV or radio show, or appeared on stage, check that online. Go to the show’s official website and search for the person’s name.

(Remember that anyone can add a comment after an article or in a forum, making it appear that someone was in a show.  You’re looking for official cast lists and official lists of guest stars.)

A claim may seem harder to verify if the show was cancelled years ago.  It’s not that difficult.  In most cases, show information remains online for years, even decades after the show is all but forgotten.

The following are a few older ghost-related TV shows sometimes used as references. This kind of “reality” show became so popular, a complete list would be very long.

Some con artists prefer to claim they were on shows so old, it’s difficult to find a reliable list of cast, crew, and guest stars. The following links may help, and some shows include full cast lists at IMDb.

Every major ghost-related TV show and movie is represented by at least one webpage or website.  If all else fails, check IMdB and Wikipedia.

The truth will set you (and maybe a few other people) free.

These are just a few claims that people make, seeking a shortcut to fame or fortune… or plain old control over others, aka a “power trip.”

Thanks to the Internet, almost any person’s claims and credentials can be verified using independent sources.

Don’t assume that the person is “too nice” to lie to you, or their friends are too bright to be conned. The more impressive the person’s stories and claims, and the more convincingly they tell them… the more you must verify them, independently.

If the person is a con artist, it’s better to find out early. Thankfully, scams and con artists are a tiny minority. (To quote the movie, Grease, “They’re amoebas on fleas on rats.”)

Avoid them when you can.

Though it’s important to be watchful for scams and con artists, it’s also important to keep things in perspective.

The vast majority of people who work in paranormal fields are like you. They’re kind, sincere and genuine. You’ll meet many of them at events, investigations, and in the field. They deserve your friendship and admiration, and they make ghost hunting even more personally rewarding.

This article is part of my free, four-part course, Introduction to Ghost Hunting.

And, just so you know:  Yes, I was conned.  I wrote this article shortly after that painful truth came to light.

It was fun-fun-fun working with an apparently gifted psychic… until I started questioning some of his team’s claims.  To my absolute dismay, I learned that one or more of the guys were lying.  I’m still not sure how many people were involved.

It was a clever ruse, and I fell for it.  At the time, the guys’ claims were so extravagant — about money, celebrity connections, TV appearances, and more — I thought no one would make that up.

Then, one of them went too far. He took one outrageous story to the next step. As soon as he made the comment, I knew it wasn’t true. I quizzed him further, expecting him to correct the obvious error.

He didn’t. In fact, he dug himself in, even deeper. That’s when I began looking into his other claims… and everything unraveled.

I’m still sad about what happened. I had to speak up. The team members’ reputations were destroyed, and those of us who’d trusted them… we looked foolish.

As time went on, I learned that a few others in their circle had shady backgrounds. (One of them was the person who delivered the most damning evidence against the guys who’d been lying… and then that guy turned out to be a con artist and cheat, as well.)

Along the way, many good people had been deceived. Some had lost thousands of dollars. Charges were filed against the con artists.

The tragedy is, the highest-profile member of the team was truly gifted.  He didn’t have to fake anything, to impress me with his psychic abilities. He made poor business choices, and that brought him down.

Since then, I’ve learned about convicted sex offenders and other criminals in the ghost hunting field.  Please be cautious, even when the individual or team seem bright, fun, and on the brink of becoming celebrities.