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Ghost Hunting: A True Story PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Jeff Wagg   

blurA reader recently sent me an article (that I sadly can't link to) about some Missouri ghost hunting groups. Oh, I'm sorry... they don't hunt ghosts, they "investigate paranormal activity." The two groups in question are Mid Missouri Paranormal Investigators and Jefferson City Paranormal Investigations. Like every single other ghost hunting group I've encountered, these folks are dedicated, "skeptical," and "use science" to investigate. And they freely admit that most of what they encounter is easily explainable, but it's that 1% that isn't that interests them.

Let's talk about that 1% for a moment. 100 birds fly past your window, and your job is to identify them. So you record... "robin, robin, sparrow, sparrow, sparrow, sparrow, blue jay, crow, house finch, tpnom, robin, swallow, sparrow...and so on." You pack up, go home and review your data.

Lots of sparrows and robins. Boring. Yawn. But wait... tpnom? What's that? You search and search, but you can find nothing that matches that particular entry. What could it be?

The truth is you may never know. It's an anomalous entry, and you can infer no meaning from it. The problem with ghost hunters is that they're all too willing to ascribe such noise to the paranormal. And the reason they do that, is that they believe in the paranormal, which compromises their conclusions.

After all, as I've often said... if you hear a noise in the basement, why assume it's a ghost rather than an alien or bigfoot? Often it will depend on the last horror movie you watched.

These groups are popping up all over the country, and they're pretty similar in makeup. They're fans of the plethora of TV shows on ghost hunting, but they think they can do better, or at least as well as the folks they see on TV. And let me tell you... they can. That bar is particularly low.

So rather than rehash all that's wrong with the phenomenon of amateur paranormal investigators, I'll tell you a true story of the most interesting thing that ever happened on a ghost hunt that I was involved with.

I was staying in the King Ranch Suite of the Hotel Menger, right across the street from the Alamo in San Antonio. Dick King, owner of the largest ranch in the US, favored this room eventually died there in the late 1800's. The room has period furniture and even the bed Dick died in, though we were assured that the mattress had been changed.

To make a long story short, I was taking readings with a tri-field meter which was set to detect disturbances of electromagnetism. These devices are notorious for spurious readings, especially as personal electronics become more commonplace. But in this case, the device was pretty quiet... until I got near the bed. Indeed, every time I approached the bed the needle would get higher and higher until right near the pillow, it pegged. The phenomenon was repeatable. I removed the pillow and sheet, but there was nothing there.

And if I were filming a ghost hunting show, I would have ended it right there. "Here we have direct evidence of the paranormal! It must be King's ghost causing these signals." I might throw in something about eerie feelings in the room, and I definitely would have filmed in it infrared because... well, I like green. I can't think of another reason.

What I would not include is a wide shot of the bed that showed the bedside table. Because on the bedside table, right near the pillow... was an electronic alarm clock. One with a huge transformer in it that, sure enough, caused the tri-field meter to peg. You see, I actually did more investigation than just removing the pillow or sheet... and indeed, found a very plausible explanation.

If I were producing a show or simply wanted to believe, I would have stopped investigating and had a very credible story. Others could even reproduce it. But alas, as a lover of the truth, I was compelled to search deeper. And as a skeptic, if I hadn't found anything, I would have been content with "I don't know what caused that" rather than "the only thing that explains it is paranormal activity."

These groups claim to be helping their community by putting residents at ease. In some cases this may be true... they may discover that a door opens by itself at 4:00 every day because that's when the sun has heated the exterior wall of the house enough to cause the door opening to expand a fraction of inch and release the catch. But all in all, their effect is to promote a belief in the paranormal, and that's a belief that the evidence doesn't support.

By the way, the astute among you might notice that in my bird analogy, there is a solution, and it's readily available to any of you who care to figure it out. The anomalous reading "tpnom" has a very logical explanation, should you care to search for it.

And yay! I got to use the word "anomalous" and tell a "true ghost story." I even found a photo of something strange. I guess I'm cool now too. But only if I ignore the evidence.

 

 

 

 

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Comments (27)Add Comment
tpnom?
written by Marcus, June 17, 2010
How dull a recording job would it have to be if you're using a keyboard to enter your data?
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written by Squid, June 17, 2010
Just curious, but will you reveal what "tpnom" means? My very basic and quick research didn't uncover it, as I suspected it wouldn't, and I'll forget about it when I wake up tomorrow. (It's 4 am as I write this.)

And the picture looks like a child's toy (in this case, a monkey) that you throw against a wall and it sticks and "climbs" down. What was the picture?

Great article... it's a good read and how all the groups that I've had experience with have operated.

Squid
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written by Fanitullen, June 17, 2010
About tpnom: Take a look at your keyboard. If you were writing, but accidentally moved your hand one letter to the right(for all letters), what would the original word be?
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written by kenhamer, June 18, 2010
C'mon, fess up. All you did was "prove" the alarm clock was haunted, and not the bed.
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written by DrMatt, June 18, 2010
It wasn't really a tpnom, it was a y[nmb!
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@Fanitullen
written by JeffWagg, June 18, 2010
Congrats for figuring it out first. And you can bet the next time I see an unknown bird, I'm going to call it a TP Nom. Very tasty, so I hear.
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written by zaphod, June 18, 2010
My guess was an acronym, something like The Previous Name On Memo or something, but yes, shifting my hand position on a keyboard also explains it much better (didn't occur to me as I stare at my hands as I type)

As for the mysterious photo, I see those damned things flying around on my back porch all the time. Had to spray a nest they were building under the overhang next to my back door before they started to hatch.
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written by Steel Rat, June 18, 2010
Don't you folks at the JREF proofread each other's articles before they're posted? Sheesh!
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written by GeekGoddess, June 18, 2010
How did you hear about the Menger?



smilies/tongue.gif
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So what's the provenance of the photo?
written by mattand, June 18, 2010
Looks like a harpy from Harryhausen's Jason and the Argonauts.
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written by barneyj, June 18, 2010
I dunno, looks like an airplane to me smilies/wink.gif
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The Photo
written by JeffWagg, June 18, 2010
I googled "blurry bird" and found this: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/new...ecies.html

I suppose that's worth an article by itself. I believe it's an insect closer to the lens that it appears.
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EMF "ghosts"
written by doctechnical, June 18, 2010
Since these ghost hunts tend to take place in the dark (I guess ghosts glow or something), I've wondered why the hunters don't just open the main breaker on the building they're investigating? I would think that would get rid of an awful lot of false EMF positives from appliances and whatnot.

But perhaps getting rid of false positives isn't the goal.
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All too true
written by houdin654jeff, June 18, 2010
My goodness, that picture proves, PROVES, that dinosaurs roamed the Earth at the same time as man! Look at the wing joints, it's clearly an Archaeopteryx! It must be! I've wanted to see one for years! And now I have! Granted it's blurry and it will convince no one in the scientific community, but PROOF none the less, just like Bigfoot & Nessie.

My real problem with ghost hunting is the presumption people make about what spirits do after they leave their bodies. Let's assume I'm wrong about the afterlife (a definite possibility) and my soul, belonging to no religion, is doomed to roam the Earth forever. The things I will spend my time doing will not include hanging out in old hotels, bombing around ancient mineshafts or haunting the area where I died/was murdered/otherwise expired. Nor will I be speaking to John Edward or Sylvia Brown, I don't like them right now as I'm alive. I will be perusing the things I never got to see while I was alive, diving into the oceans, flying above Everest and the like. Either that or I will have the courage to leave this world behind & move on.

If ghosts exist and all they can do is push a door open a few inches or rattle the blinds in a house, I'll be the first to say there is very, very, very, very, very, very, VERY little to worry about with them. Until someone invents an absolutely conclusive way to commune with the dead (a feat mankind has been attempting since the dawn of our species) these shows and people remain little more than a curiosity and something to laugh at. Regrettably, I happen to have a supervisor at work who is very into that sort of thing... it's a bit sad really.
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Ho do they know?
written by jalfarmer, June 18, 2010
What I wonder is exactly how these self proclaimed “paranormal investigators” determined what kind of instrumentation should be used to “detect” a ghost. Jeff mentions a “tri-field” meter that detects electromagnetism. How do these “investigators” know that ghosts give off electromagnetism? How do they know that any of the characteristics they attribute to ghosts and test for have any basis in reality, assuming there are such things as ghosts, that is. They test for temperature variations, electromagnetism, and use cameras in various spectrums and that’s about it as far as I can tell. They test for the paranormal/supernatural by testing for purely normal/natural phenomenon so it stands to reason they will occasionally detect what they are looking for, and of course it has to be a GHOST!!!

I watched an episode of “Ghost Hunters” on SyFy out of curiosity. It was a rerun where some of them entered an old abandoned light house. They shined their flashlights around and pointed their camera up for some period of time. They were certain they saw something “shadowy” moving near the top of the tower but they didn’t bother to go up and see if there was anything there. Later on when they reviewed their video they saw “someone” look down over a rail then pull back. It could have been a bird, a cat, a raccoon, etc., or even a homeless person living in the tower. No, it was definitely evidence of a ghost. I waxed raucously riant and changed channels. I haven’t wasted any more time watching any more episodes.

Tpnom becomes the word robin if you move one key to the left on a standard QWERTY keyboard.

Alan
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written by Able, June 18, 2010
jalfarmer. Ghost hunters just know what instruments to use because they have used the same tools to find other ghosts. Apparently you would make a lousy ghost hunter and probably wouldnt even shake the camera very well when taking pictures of them smilies/grin.gif.
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Tried and failed
written by ClareZ, June 18, 2010
I was looking for something fun to watch one evening and I came across and British ghost hunting show. I figured, hey, I will open my mind and watch this and see if there is anything compelling to see. Britain has the best ghost stories, after all.

There were two shows back to back. I wasn't even trying that hard to be skeptical but it was laughable. In one the residents talked of seeing ghosts during the daytime - why then did everything have to be recorded at night? In the other the man 'contacted' was named Jim and he killed his wife in 1750 or something. They found a story from that time about a man named John who killed his fiance for a different reason than Jim gave but that 'very well could be' the same person. Well, no. It is a completely different story. And on and on. I would love to 'see' a ghost or a real explanation for what these families are experiencing, but this show did not provide anything except cheesey night filming and serious self delusion. Disappointing.
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@GeekGoddess
written by JeffWagg, June 19, 2010
Indeed, 'twas you that introduced me to the Menger, which set up the idea for the ghost hunt there. The Menger is a fabulous old hotel that's worth a visit to anyone in the San Antonio area. Ghosts or not, it's worth your time.
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@Able
written by jalfarmer, June 19, 2010
“Ghost hunters just know what instruments to use because they have used the same tools to find other ghosts.”

Really! Assuming you are not merely being sarcastic, can you please present a validated and verifiable case where a ghost has been proven to exist using any of the tools ghost hunters employ?

“Apparently you would make a lousy ghost hunter and probably wouldnt even shake the camera very well when taking pictures of them”

Actually, I would make a very good ghost hunter because I would go the extra distance to verify any and all evidence to eliminate the purely natural and mundane explanations before jumping to any conclusions. Also, I would not be working with an existing confirmation bias or a “need to believe.” But, finally, I wouldn’t bother wasting my time hunting for things I have no valid reason to believe exist.

Alan
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written by Steel Rat, June 19, 2010
I would love to 'see' a ghost or a real explanation for what these families are experiencing


They're experiencing over-active imaginations.

Really! Assuming you are not merely being sarcastic


Jeez, it was blatantly obvious he was being sarcastic.
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@Steel Rat
written by jalfarmer, June 19, 2010
"Jeez, it was blatantly obvious he was being sarcastic."

Jeez,just covering all the bases. I figured it was sarcasm, that's why I posted as I did.

Alan
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I'll admit
written by StaudtCJ, June 20, 2010
I've seen things I can't explain. Some people would probably call them ghosts. I, however, say that I lacked either information or perspective for the natural explanation, or was experiencing a neural episode. People get offended at this, when I am relating my own experiences. Why are people so invested in the idea of ghosts?
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written by Starthinker, June 20, 2010
Funny this article was posted when it was because I just wrote a program that uses the wireless antenna in my laptop to detect ghosts. It is, after all, a powerful antenna that can, when programmed properly, detect many things other than what wireless networks are nearby. Once I perfect it everyone will want it! Imagine, not only being able to detect ghosts with you laptop but knowing if it's the ghost of a male or female, and even some other stats, and you can record everything to your hard drive at the same time. I will make a fortune! I just need some investors, so if anyone would like to invest, say, an even hundred grand just e-mail me!
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Honest, I was just kidding!!
written by Able, June 20, 2010
jalfarmer Not trying to knock this site, (i have been a fan for too many years) but because it does not allow you to "preview" posts like so many others, I was not able to express myself correctly. I was in total agreement with what you said and was truly being sarcastic when I said "Ghost hunters just know what instruments to use because they have used the same tools to find other ghosts. Apparently you would make a lousy ghost hunter and probably wouldnt even shake the camera very well when taking pictures of them". I really was in agreement with what you said and am sorry I didnt come off that way.
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written by LovleAnjel, June 21, 2010
The pic looks like one of the fairies from a Torchwood episode.
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@Able
written by jalfarmer, June 22, 2010
Thanks for clearing that up for me, Able. I figured you had your tongue in your cheek but there was an element of doubt. I've never understood how a supposedly immaterial entity would be able to manifest material phnomena. Only in the minds of the believers!

Alan smilies/wink.gif
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written by Able, June 23, 2010
LoL! I should know better by now. My attempts at sarcasm and wit usually fall kind of flat.
Going over to visit my in-laws in a little while. Mother in-law has every Sylvia Brown and John Edwards book written and is frightened by ghosts. As you said "only in the minds of the believers". I have given up even minor attempts at showing her the light because she doesn’t want to offend the spirits smilies/sad.gif.
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