Across the Great Divide

 “Hocus Pocus for Profit”

Businesses featured on paranormal television shows are attempting to milk their 15 minutes of fame long after the cameras have left the building.

I get that- to a degree.

They’re in business to make money; but they do so by making a mockery out of the science of paranormal research with deceptive business practices.

These businesses aren’t interested in the science behind the paranormal activity- whether it’s fact or fake; and they’re using shows like Ghost Hunters and Paranormal State to get advertising for their struggling business, then cashing in on that by playing up the results of those investigations by making it into a tourist attraction.

Followers of Ghost Hunters remember well the “Moss Beach Distillery” incident. For those that don’t, let me bring you up to speed.

The Moss Beach Distillery has been reportedly haunted for decades. Some very well-known and well-respected parapsychology professionals, such as Loyd Auerbach, have conducted methodical scientific investigations there with some interesting results; some of those investigations have been written about in the world’s leading parapsychology research journals.

The restaurant made a tourist attraction out of that history; and has since installed gadgets to “enhance visitors’ experiences.” Okay let’s be fair, we all know that you can rarely set paranormal phenomenon by a watch. Patrons will want to come because of the chance of being spooked, but that isn’t going to happen to everyone all the time; so they installed speakers in the bathroom and several other parlor tricks in and around the restaurant to both excite and humor their customers.

The members of TAPS had a fit when, in the course of their investigation, they discovered the gadgets. They weren’t on, but there is a point to be made that it could have tainted evidence had they been on; in the case of EMF, the mere presence of the speakers could have influenced readings whether on or off.

Here’s where the politics of “reality” television come into play.

The members of TAPS made public statements asserting that they never knew the ‘parlor tricks’ were installed, but there is documented evidence that indicates that the producers of Ghost Hunters were specifically informed by Loyd Auerbach, and several others, during background checks on the distillery that the gadgets were present. The show’s producers never told the members of TAPS about it, assumingly, so as to make compelling television.

There you have it, then. Ghost Hunters gets ratings for the SyFy channel and the Moss Beach Distillery gets some national advertising. Everybody wins, right?

Well, that is everybody but the scientific community and the public who were deceived by the incident.

A little over a year ago I was asked if I would be interested in getting a group of friends together to go on a haunted tour and ghost hunt at Waverly Hills. It was going to be a fun and unique memory for someone’s 30th birthday. Sure, the idea intrigued me, but there was a catch. To keep the cost down, we would need a group of at least 10 people paying $100 each.

So, let me see if I have this straight. Waverly Hills (a dilapidated and abandoned mental asylum) gets the fame of being proclaimed haunted by the pseudo-celebrity folks over at Ghost Hunters; now the property owners are cashing in on that notoriety by charging $1000 to take groups of tourists on a thrill ride by letting them conduct a 5-hour ghost hunt. This is, on its face, nothing more than a glorified- and ridiculously expensive- Halloween-style haunted house attraction.

The basic format of haunted tours impacts any “investigation” conducted at such an event.

Let’s also be honest. The intent of some tourists won’t always be mature or even scientifically-themed; the mental state of those conducting the investigation will impact any results collected. I’d be willing to wager that a group of high school or college students won’t have serious science on their mind. EVP sessions will also, undoubtedly, be filled with a lot of OMGs and excited shrieks over every gust of wind.

If paranormal phenomena are caused by, or derived from, the energy created at the time of an emotionally-charged event, then having large groups of people constantly imprinting their own energy over that being investigated will affect not only that session but the following ones as well. This is a serious risk in any investigation, no matter where or how small.

The chance for tainted empirical evidence goes up with the size of a tour group in comparison to the size of the building being investigated. If you have ten or more people walking around a building the chance for the noises caused by those members, the flashes from their cameras, and the various effects that their other equipment may provide can seriously raise questions as to the validity of any data collected.

There’s also another parallel trend I’ve been meaning to address. That of some ghost hunting groups having exclusive contracts with reportedly haunted locations.

Here in the Detroit area, we have a very posh restaurant known as The Whitney; it is also known for being haunted.

I had contacted their management at one time to request an investigation by my group, the Deep Forest Paranormal Society. I was well received by the person I spoke to, but a short time later I was emailed by another person stating that an investigation would not be possible because The Whitney had an exclusive contract with another Detroit-based paranormal group and that they were the only organization allowed to investigate at that location. This supposedly scientific research group also regularly hosts haunted tours for profit benefiting both the restaurant and the ghost hunters.

Any evidence that this group presents from this point forward would be highly suspect because no one else can come in to refute or confirm the findings.

DFPS is not-for-profit, and will always be so. Science is not for profit. Any group that charges to do an investigation is not a scientific organization; they’re money-hungry glory hounds. So does any group that maintains an exclusivity clause with a location. This smacks in the face of one hundred years of diligent research by academics and real scientists. This group isn’t in it for the science, they’re in it for the fame.

Another local spot is Camp Ticonderoga, an historical home in the city of Troy with a checkered past turned into a restaurant. The location is reportedly haunted by a spirit named Hannah- a fact that is proudly extorted on the restaurant’s website. However, good luck landing an investigation there.

I tried, as did a few other ghost hunting groups, to come in and investigate to confirm the findings. My requests were treated nonchalantly until they weren’t answered at all.

The restaurant wants to claim paranormal activity, but not allow independent groups in to investigate to confirm that.

This type of business practice is steadily becoming the norm, and it really frosts my cookies.

You can’t have a monopoly on knowledge. To deny the objectivity and fresh perspective that can come from different research styles is just bad science.

Something seems fishy, and I don’t mean the menu.



© 2012 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions