Thursday, August 6, 2009

Encounters of the Embarrassingly Explainable

(Above: Nothing magical there, it's a shot of sprinklers going off and hairs dangling.)

Every ghost hunter has to go through it, those moments of thrill and excitement, burst of adrenalin, and then the resulting deflating of one’s enthusiasm by explainable means.

I’m talking about the awkward and embarrassing debunking in the infancy of ghost hunting. Yup, we all have to experience it. Some, like Zak Bagans, don't seem to do the debunking or learn much, so they still look like asses, but some of us really care about the credibility of what we find, so we're willing to look stupid at first, but ask questions and seek answers so we look smarter in the future. Now, I’m a highly skeptical person and it takes a lot to impress me because everything has to go through my bullshit-filter (my noggin). I try never to let my body sensations or emotions guide me on a site. There's just no room for that when you want to gather proof and debunk. You have to stay icy and you have to stay critical, but it pays off when you find the truly unexplainable.

Admittedly, when I first started actively hunting in 2003, I went forth with such enthusiasm, expecting to encounter lots of what I encountered when I was growing up, so every sound, every photograph, every experience seemed to have merit. Then, my logic stepped in and I found that the unexplainable is very rare. Even when it is explainable without great specificity, it can still be explainable, such as something falling over in an abandoned building; I might not find out what object, but I can guess the pile of crap against the back wall might have shifted.

That being said, here’s some hilariously na├»ve and adorable things I did in my first year and what I learned from them:

A beautiful auburn-colored streak across my photograph had me studying its shape—looked like a long tube with little circles inside of it. It could be a vortex, perhaps some kind of shooting energy. Nope. It was one of my long hairs dancing in the wind. (Lesson: Tie my long hair back).

Gorgeous spiral showed up on a photo taken at an old gravesite. Looked so beautiful and had a wonderful funnel-shaped look to it. Spiral ended up being my camera strap. (Lesson: Remove all straps from cameras henceforth).

Taking shots towards a couple in a graveyard having a drunken argument about sex and money (in other words, the classic American couples fight). I shot pictures, thinking maybe their emotions would stir things up. Tons and tons of orbs looked like they were barreling towards me. My son who was wandering around the cemetery announced that the orbs were actually the dust that occurred when the woman got in the car and sped off, leaving the guy alone in the dirt lot. (Lesson: Orbs are not energy, they are tiny particles of dust, pollen, moisture—stop naming them and saving them and looking for meaning in their pretty glow).

Upon going to a cemetery before twilight, I parked my car near the gates and wandered around with my son taking pictures, doing EVPs, filming… Before dark, the caretaker locked all the gates, leaving us to have to climb the tall fences and walk through a bad part of town to find a phone. (Lesson: Carry a cell phone even though I loathe the things and park outside the gate or halfway through so he can’t close it).

Investigating someone’s home, I get a scratching sound every time I speak. I’m certain this is contact of some kind. My skin begins to prickle and I get excited. This is it! I keep asking questions, keep getting a scratching. The owner comes into the room to see how things are progressing and I show her an example. She smiles and says, “Oh sorry, I thought leaving Bo gated up in the kitchen would be enough, apparently he needs to be in the yard.” She goes to let her Cocker Spaniel out of the gated kitchen where he’s been scratching on the gate, hoping the person talking to him will let him out. (Lesson: Investigate the house and its sounds first so you’re familiar with what should be there and shouldn’t).

Everyone in ghost hunting has those wonderfully embarrassing stories of chasing something in the dark and finding out it's a rat, getting arrested for trespassing and having to explain they were ghost hunting, or feeling a chill when the air-conditioner turns on. Don't beat yourself up, there's a learning curve. Hopefully other people's stories and watching shows like "Ghost Hunters" can hasten the pace of your learning. For me, "Ghost Hunters" wasn't out on TV yet and there weren't any debunkers running around at the time, so I had to figure it out on my own. All I can say is stay skeptical, believe everything is explainable so you approach it that way, and always spend enough time in a site to know its sounds and feels well, as well as knowing if power is on or the windows are open.

I still do stupid things upon occasion even now after over six years of doing it. My friends tend to compare me to a big gallopping puppy. My enthusiasm and energy are boundless, my excitement and childish glee are high, my sense of humor is bawdy, but when it comes down to the moment of proof-gathering, I can be the most focused team member.

The kid inside me still goes to all the hunts, but the adult supervises.


  1. These were very interesting Autumnforest! I loved the ones about your camera straps, hair and the car that had sped off producing the dust! i also agree that it isn't good to talk about "gut" feelings a lot in research. A long time ago when Xdell was doing his series on the Manson family -I made a comment in his comments section that a woman involved in the case much later (she became involvd with Tex Watson in the early 90s while he was in prison) that I just didn't trust her on an intuitive level-and when i looked back at my comment it sounded stupid-like who do I think I am Jeane Dixon or Alison Dubois haha (btw allison is who I picked) I almost deleted my comment but didn't. great research as always and I hope you are having a great week all the best!!

  2. I took your advise on my camera and found out that most of the orbs I have been getting are explainable. There was a couple in the Copper Queen Hotel that I'm not sure about. I did get excited about them at first but now I will try and find a logical explaination for what they can be. Interesting post as always.

  3. Devin;
    Glad you liked it. I chuckle when I think of my early days. People ask me a lot of times, "if you're psychic and you can read stuff, can't you just go into a haunted place and read it?" Yeah, duh. The thing is that as someone trying to prove hauntings, I would never use something as unrepeatable as readings. But, my ability to read a site can tell me if it's active, in neutral, or blank, and it can also help me to know where to go and when to go there, but it's up to me to get the proof. So, intuition-good, intuition with proof--impressive.

    I always tell people to take their camera and do cold air breathing shots on a winter night, do a rainy night bunch of shots, shots before a duststorm, shots when someone shakes out a table runner, pictures with your hair and camera strap dangling, do the same place on a still night and a windy night, shake a tree and take a picture...find out what's normal for your camera. Then, you'll know when something isn't normal. I have seen some orbs that were very impressive and strange, like one I took that reflected in the pool below which is very weird, and another that was taken on a still night as I called out and it was very bright and had a tail which orbs usually don't show. I wouldn't use them as proof, but if I get an unusual one, I might try some EVP just in case.