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Speakin’ of Ghosts…

SO, WHY DO YOU LIKE TO “GHOST HUNT”?

Imagine yourself as a child.  Your mother has asked you to fetch something from the cellar.  You don’t like the cellar.  Your mother thinks it’s nonsense and your brother will make fun of you (even though you know he hates it, too!) so you grudgingly head that way.  You pick up the flashlight and turn the knob to the door that opens into the musty darkness.  The cool air greets you but you’d rather suffer the heat than go down there.  Your weak flashlight beam finds the wooden steps and you begin the long descent into the black, praying something doesn’t reach between the open steps and grab you by the ankles, dragging you into the cellar and feasting on your flesh.  You hurry down the rickety steps as quickly as you safely can, fetch the jar of green beans and take the steps two at a time until you reach the top where you slam the door, leaning against it, thankful you made it out alive, your heart beating wildly…

Or perhaps you’re lying in your bed.  The moonlight shines through the window just enough for your desk and toys to be nothing more than dark shapes.  You notice your closet door is open.  It’s just a teeny bit, but still… That china doll you hate but feel obligated to keep because it was a gift from your Great Aunt Ethel is in there.  You know once you start to drift off to sleep it will come to life and attack you.  You just know it.  But now you’re too scared to get up and close the door because everyone knows you can’t put your feet down after dark – who knows what’s under the bed?  So you lie there, too scared to get up and too scared to go to sleep.  Finally, you get up the nerve so you bound as far from the bed as possible, run to the closet, slam it shut, and jump back onto the bed, keeping a safe distance from anything that might be able to reach you from underneath it, your heart beating wildly…

I recently came across the photographic works of Joshua Hoffine.  He sets up his shoots just like a movie set complete with makeup, costumes, and realistic scenery and props.  The children in the photos are his and while several people have questioned that particular judgment, the kids love doing it.  They realize it’s all pretend.  However, the emotions these photos elicit are quite real.  He covers it all from the monster under the bed to the thing under the cellar stairs.

His pictures made me think about fear and what scares people.  What scared you as a kid?  Something under the bed?  A long, dark hallway?  Being abandoned?  Spiders?  Clowns?  The ever so slightly opened closet at night?  The dark in general?  Ghosties?

I asked this question to several people and the responses were colorful and varied.  The fears mentioned most often were under the bed, the closet door being open, clowns, spiders, and intruders.  There were also completely random ones like moths, birds, needles, aliens, and bridges.  A lot of people are scared of dolls or ventriloquist dummies, too.  In truth, most of us are still a little scared of these things even as adults.  We probably don’t realize it, but when we think back to times gone by we still shudder at the thought of many of these things and can easily recall the terror they caused us as kids.

As a paranormal investigator, I spend a lot of time in what would be considered scary places.  Most of them are dark with spiders, snakes, birds, bats, and other creepy crawlies.  Most of them are the scenes of some type of tragedy, deep sorrow, or death, with the likelihood of ghosts.  We spend the night in places most people wouldn’t venture into in the daylight.  So what causes some people to get an adrenaline rush from being scared and others to quake in their boots?  Some people would just as soon never see a scary movie, never had any fears growing up, and would never, ever go on a paranormal investigation to a supposedly haunted place yet some people yearn to be terrified.  Carolyn Palmer, a psychology professor at Vassar College, said that some situations tie into our need to master threatening situations because anytime we master something, we get a thrill from that sense of control and the closer we get to not being in control, the greater the thrill.1

Now, most paranormal investigators will tell you they investigate to find the “truth” or to prove that ghosts exist.  If you ask just about any investigator what got them interested in investigating the paranormal, most of them will tell you it’s because of an experience they had and they want to know “why.”  This is very noble, but in reality, I believe a lot of us do it for the sheer thrill of being in a spooky situation.  Some people are simply fascinated with scary things and the thrill we get from experiencing them.  Would I love to prove the existence of ghosts?  Certainly.  But until then, I will just enjoy hanging out with the spiders in the dark spooky hospitals and prisons.  So there you have it – the reason I like to investigate the paranormal is simply because I love being scared.  I’m a sucker for spooky places and scary movies.  I love the thrill of a good spook house.  I scream and clap my hands with delight at the same time.  Crazy?  Maybe a little.  Stephen King explains the need to be scared as a sane way of expressing the insanity we all have – he likens it to feeding the inner “gators” – as long as we keep them fed, they don’t come to the surface.

I related to several of the same fears everyone else listed.  One that a couple of people talked about that was also depicted in one of Hoffine’s pictures was nuclear war, or the end of the world.  When I was young, the movie “The Day After” came out and nuclear war was a popular subject.  I was terrified of dying that way and I was terrified of what it would be like if I didn’t die.  The above scene with the closet door and china doll – not made up!  I had a doll that scared me to death, but I couldn’t get rid of it.  I think part of me was scared it would come back.  I would lie there and fret until I finally got the nerve to close the closet door.  Take a look at Hoffine’s pictures and let me know what scared you – or still does.  Granted, as we grow up our real fears change a bit – things like not being able to pay the bills or losing a child, but I think you will be surprised when you think about it that some of those childhood fears are still lurking there, just under the bed…