Harry Price, the first ghost hunter (video interview)

Harry Price was a British psychic researcher and author, in the early 1900s who gained public prominence for his investigations into psychical phenomena and his exposing fraudulent spiritualist mediums. He is best known for his well-publicized investigation of the purportedly haunted Borley Rectory in Essex, England.

How I became interested in ghost hunting

My earliest memory of a ghost story was borne in a summer camp in the panhandle of Texas where my brother and I spent several summers. Not far from the camp was a deserted house that was rumored to have been built on an ancient Indian burial ground that was haunted by several ghosts. One evening, the camp councilors set up a field trip to the haunted house. From the nearest road, the house was about a mile away, so the kids followed the counselors in single file during the hike in. We were about halfway to the house when the line suddenly stopped. The people in front had stumbled across the carcass of a steer that had been brutally butchered and was laying in the arroyo which we were using as a path. I recalled hearing one of the adults saying something about hiking back to inform the police and after a short discussion, he left, heading back towards our parked bus. Meanwhile, the other adults continued the hike, leading us up towards the deserted structure.

We soon arrived at the abandoned old house. It was a dilapidated two-story building with a covered porch. Some of the windows were broken and the evening breeze caused the drapes to flutter and move. The councilors paused to do a head count to ensure everyone was present before leading us into the house. We were taken upstairs into one of the old bedrooms and told the ghost story of how a family was murdered one day by a group of Apaches. According to the tale the ghost of the mother still wanders about the place searching for her lost children.

From what I remember, a door on the other side of the room opened by itself. One of the counselors walked over and opened the door the rest of the way, perhaps to see if anyone was inside. The next thing I knew, all of the kids were screaming and we were being rushed out of the room, down the stairs and out of the house. The adults were quickly grouping us together, counting to make sure all the children had gotten outside. I was looking at the house when I noticed the drapes of one of the front windows being held open. As I watched, a face peered out of the window of the deserted building and then quickly pulled the drapes closed again. I can recall that the face was that of a wide-eyed man who had a full bushy beard and that his stare seemed somewhat menacing. He looked quite crazy to me.

Meanwhile, the counselors completed the headcount and confident that all of the children were accounted for, began marching us back to the bus as quickly and safely as possible.  The strangest thing is that I noticed that the adults appeared to be scared as well. The change in their attitude was quite apparent. What was happening was real. That was a little disturbing to me.

Once we got to the bus, we were loaded up and driven immediately back to the camp. Within a few minutes all the children, including the smaller kids who were not a part of the field trip, were gathered into a large storage building. The adults armed themselves with 22 caliber rifles from the camp’s shooting range. Though some of the memories have faded with time, I do recall the police arriving soon afterward. The red and blue lights from their patrol cars illuminated part of the storage structure through the open door and windows. A short time after that we were all loaded back onto the buses and driven back into town where our parents picked us up.

Ultimately this macabre event affected me in several ways. First of all, it created an interest in horror movies and the supernatural. I collected books on ghost stories, Famous Monsters of Filmland magazines and anything to do with classic horror films. Secondly, it sparked a curiosity about what had actually happened that night as the camp counselors and my parents never told me. So I became fascinated by unsolved mysteries and the people that investigated them. I collected anything I could find on Sherlock Holmes and read every detective novel that I could find.

So why do I love ghost stories? Because like horror movies they provide a temporary sort of terror, yet you know that you are safe. People go to horror films because they want to be frightened or they wouldn’t do it twice. You choose your entertainment because you want it to affect you.  I can watch a horror film like “Nightmare on Elm Street” and enjoy the movie; even though I know that Freddy Kruger isn’t real. The same is true with ghost stories. I really do appreciate them, especially if there is some historical element that is attached to the story. However, like horror movies, if the conversation changes to a discussion about if the stories are actually true, that is another matter.

One of the characteristics that distinguish paranormal narratives is that they emphasize mystery and the indeterminate, which  invites interpretation of various kinds. From my perspective, the answer to the question “Do you believe” belongs to the people that are telling or listening to a story of a paranormal experience. They decide to want to believe or even if they’re going to engage with it concerning any type of belief at all. What I do is take the paranormal narratives seriously. I pay attention to them and treat them analytically. It is that love of ghost stories that gives me additional insight. I become fascinated by the elements of the stories themselves. How were they created? Why do some last while others are forgotten? How do they morph over time as they pass from one storyteller to another? It is the combination of these interests that drew me into the hobby of ghost hunting and eventually, my own ghost hunting team, the Southwest Ghost Hunter’s Association (SGHA) in 1985.

Re-Investigating Un-Haunted Houses

Eight couples who had never experienced any ‘haunting’ activity in their houses and had no reason to expect they would experience ‘ghosts’ were asked by the author to keep a diary for one calendar month from 17th October – 17th November 2012 in which they recorded unusual experiences. 62.5% of the participant couples recruited completed the task and submitted the diaries for analysis. Of the five participant couples who submitted diaries, four reported at least some phenomena that met the criteria, and one couple reported no unusual activity at all. The study was a larger scale replication of Houran and Lange (1996). My findings are compared with those of the original study which featured only one couple. The read the rest of this article click here.

The 10 Biggest mistakes made by ghost hunters

I will admit that this is actually a rather old piece. I wrote the original back in 2005 where it was posted on the Southwest Ghost Hunter’s Association website. Unfortunately, it is needed just as much today, if not even more. So here is the list of “no-no’s” if you are wanting to approach this  a little more seriously,

  1. You cannot use the paranormal to prove the paranormal.

Simply put this is a circular argument that violates Scientific method and gives your skeptics the bullet to shoot you with. Simply put, not one single experiment in modern research has ever been able to conclusively prove the psychical talents of these so-called mediums. Worse still, many mediums appear to be in the field solely for the easily obtainable funding they can accrue from fleecing an unwary and gullible public.

This is not only limited to the use of psychics and mediums but also includes such things as electronic voice phenomena (EVP). EVP itself has not been scientifically proven and therefore cannot be used to prove that a location is haunted or has a ghost.

  1. Investigator Bias

Too often ghost researchers are composed of people who classify themselves as believers. This can contaminate the results of an investigation because it violates the use of scientific method. The scientific method attempts to minimize the influence of the scientist’s bias on the outcome of an experiment. That is, when testing a hypothesis or a theory, the scientist may have a preference for one outcome or another, and it is important that this preference not bias the results or their interpretation. The most fundamental error is to mistake the hypothesis for an explanation of a phenomenon, without performing experimental tests. Sometimes “common sense” and “logic” tempt us into believing that no test is needed.

The scientific method is based upon evidence rather than belief. This distinguishes science from faith. A scientist is suitably skeptical of anything but good evidence. That is not to say that scientists lack faith…it is just that faith for them operates in a different sphere of their lives. In scientific work there is little room for faith; in life there is plenty of room for both. Scientific and critical thinking require that one reject blind faith, authority, revelation, and subjective human feelings as a basis for reliable belief and knowledge. These human cognitive methods have their place in human life, but not as the foundation for reliable knowledge.

This is why it is crucial that skeptical investigators are apart of your team. Many people believe that skeptics are closed-minded and, once possessing reliable knowledge, resist changing their minds. This simply is not true. A skeptic holds beliefs tentatively, and is open to new evidence and rational arguments about those beliefs. Skeptics are undogmatic, i.e., they are willing to change their minds, but only in the face of new reliable evidence or sound reasons that compel one to do so.

  1. Understanding the proper use and limitations of equipment

There are several factors to consider about equipment used in your investigations. One example is the type of EMF meters; it depends on what kind of meter you are using and why you are using it. The majority of EMF meters out there are designed to find AC (alternating current) electromagnetic fields. AC fields will ALWAYS be manmade. Natural fields are DC. This is what runs the human body’s bioelectrical system, what causes lightning, and what powers a ghost. You cannot detect a ghost with an AC field meter. To even suggest that is preposterous to anyone who has even the slightest knowledge of physics. However you can use them to eliminate manmade sources.
Even beyond that, the majority of EMF meters are only rated for between 50-60 Hz. This is because these are the frequencies that the electrical grids in Europe and North America run at, and these meters were designed to detect these specifically.

Another consideration is the specifications of the equipment that you use. The old saying, “You get what you pay for” comes into play here. If you use EMF meters they need to be scientific grade to ensure that your readings are accurate. For example, those white 3 led ELF Zone meters that sell for $15 to $20 have an accuracy of 2%. This leaves a 98% chance that the reading you’re obtaining is inaccurate. EMF meters of that have a high degree of accuracy start in a cost range of $500 per meter and can go as high as $8,000. These types of meters often require an annual calibration by a certified individual and the certification date is marked on a sticker placed on the instrument. It is also important to understand that a link between EM fields and the paranormal is also very sketchy, a literal minefield of misinformation.

  1. Lack of a hypothesis

If you are going to prove the existence of ghosts you must have a hypothesis that defines not only what a ghost is but what you are looking for and why. If you’re searching for electromagnetic fields your hypotheses should reflect why and what frequencies and power levels you are targeting. How are apparitions formed? How do they move objects? All of these criteria should be explainable in your hypothesis.

Another common mistake is to ignore or rule out data which do not support the hypothesis. Ideally, the researcher is open to the possibility that the hypothesis is correct or incorrect. Sometimes, however, a researcher may have a strong belief that the hypothesis is true (or false), or feels internal or external pressure to get a specific result. In that case, there may be a psychological tendency to find “something wrong”, such as systematic effects, with data which do not support the scientist’s expectations, while data which do agree with those expectations may not be checked as carefully. The lesson is that all data must be handled in the same way.

The scientific method requires that a hypothesis be ruled out or modified if its predictions are clearly and repeatedly incompatible with experimental tests. Further, no matter how elegant a theory is, its predictions must agree with experimental results if we are to believe that it is a valid description of nature. Experiments may test the theory directly (by observation for example) or by testing for consequences derived from the theory using mathematics and logic. The necessity of experiment also implies that a theory must be testable. Theories which cannot be tested, because, for instance, they have no observable ramifications (such as characteristics that make it unobservable), do not qualify as scientific theories.

  1. Impartially evaluating evidence

Many ghost hunters go into an investigation with an unchanging, dogmatic idea that ghosts exist. During the course of an investigation, they will interpret almost anything they find as evidence of an actual ghost. Electromagnetic readings, cold spots or photographic anomalies all become additional ghostly phenomena, but the ghost hunters never seriously consider other, more earthly solutions. They start with the answer they want to reach before they begin investigating.

What do exist are unexplained events that seem to have a paranormal origin. These events can be investigated, and many times the causes can be determined. Often, the ghosts are “busted” when the investigator discovers that it was actually a poorly sealed window causing the cold draft, an electromagnetic storm that caused that odd reading on their Trifield meter or dust floating within the camera’s inverted focal point that resulted in a picture of an “orb”.

In the case of moving objects or unexplainable sounds, an attempt should be made to replicate the phenomena. Often they have a more earth bound solution. A good paranormal investigator examines the evidence itself and then tries to find out where that evidence leads.

  1. The use of pseudoscience

A pseudoscience is an established body of knowledge which masquerades as science in an attempt to claim a legitimacy which it would not otherwise be able to achieve on its own terms; it is often known as fringe- or alternative science. Ghost hunting has evolved very little since it was first established. The small amount of research and experimentation that is carried out is generally done more to justify the belief than to extend it. Ghost hunters need to think “outside of the box”. Obviously, the techniques and ideology of the early ghost researchers is flawed. The search for new knowledge is the driving force behind the evolution of any scientific field. Nearly every new finding raises new questions that beg exploration. There is little evidence of this in the pseudosciences.

Pseudoscientific concepts tend to be shaped by individual egos and personalities, almost always by individuals who are not in contact with mainstream science. They often invoke authority (a famous name or group for example) for support. Pseudoscientific explanations tend to be vague and ambiguous, often invoking scientific terms in dubious contexts. Phrases such as “energy vibrations” or “subtle energy fields” may sound impressive, but they are essentially meaningless.

  1. Keep religion out of it.

Science and religion deal with different aspects of human existence, they do not have to conflict with each other. Conflict arises when either subject infringes on the other’s domain. Religion should deal with moral and spiritual issues; it should not make claims on physical laws or facts. Science should deal with physical laws, not claim moral or ethical knowledge. Additionally, religion represents a world view of sorts and just as there are many religions, there are many different worldviews. The problem arises from the uncertainty of which world view to use and the interpretation of that world view.

  1. Lack of Scientific method

The scientific method is the process by which scientists, collectively and over time, endeavor to construct an accurate (that is, reliable, consistent and non-arbitrary) representation of the world. Scientists use observations and reasoning to propose tentative explanations for natural phenomena, termed hypotheses. Predictions from these hypotheses are tested by various different experiments. An important aspect of the hypothesis is that it must be falsifiable, in other words, that it must be possible to prove the hypothesis to be false. If a hypothesis is not falsifiable, it is not a hypothesis, and is instead an opinion or statement not based upon the scientific method.

Once a hypothesis is repeatedly verified experimentally, it is considered a theory and new predictions are based upon it. Any erroneous predictions, internal inconsistencies or lacunae, or unexplained phenomena initiate the generation of new hypotheses, which are themselves tested, and so on. Any hypothesis which is cogent enough to make predictions can be tested in this way.

Recognizing that personal and cultural beliefs influence both our perceptions and our interpretations of natural phenomena, we aim through the use of standard procedures and criteria to minimize those influences when developing a theory. Remember that the burden of proof is on you. The new theory should explain the existing data, provide new predictions and should be testable; remember that all scientific theories are falsifiable. Read the articles and improve your theory in the light of your new knowledge.

  1. Lack of knowledge of applied sciences

Nearly as common in usage as photographic equipment, electromagnetic field meters (or EMF detectors) have gained in popularity and utility in recent decades. All EMF sensors are designed to do one thing: measure the strength of electromagnetic fields in a given area. While they are invaluable tools, it is an uncomfortable fact that most paranormal researchers do not understand how to use these devices, or even what they are trying to prove by using them. Most EMF meters simply are not capable of measuring the fields we believe to be most likely associated with haunting activity. They were designed to measure manmade electrical fields within certain frequencies. Those frequencies almost always center on 50Hz to 60Hz, which are the frequencies of the electrical grids in Europe and North America, respectively. Some EMF meters can see further below 50Hz. A popular model is able to measure between 5Hz to 60Hz. But while most ghost hunters can tell an interviewer that it is important to register a wider range of EM frequencies, they cannot answer why it is. In fact, the EMF sensors most ghost hunters utilize are not even capable of registering a ghostly energetic field, and what results they do get are almost always caused by manmade interference. Understanding basic principles of electromagnetism are vital if you are using equipment to locate electromagnetic fields. A knowledgeable person can quickly determine an amateur or novice from someone that knows what they are doing.

  1. Removal of “Ghosts” (cleansing)

To remove a “ghost”, you need two things;

An actual, verifiable ghost
A tested, proven method of getting rid of that ghost

The problem a real investigator runs into is that neither of those things has ever been conclusively proven to exist. What do exist are unexplained events that seem to have a paranormal origin. These events can be investigated, and many times the causes can be determined. Scientific and critical thinking require that one reject blind faith, authority, revelation, and subjective human feelings as a basis for reliable belief and knowledge. These human cognitive methods have their place in human life, but not as the foundation for reliable knowledge.

Ghost hunting cartoons from back in the day…

Back in 2003, my ghost hunting team used a forum to communicate and arrange logistics and share our thoughts on various subjects. These cartoons were posted as “in” jokes about several topics that were going on at that time.

The first was about the subject of “orbs” which was being hotly debated back then. While most of us certain they were nothing more than photographic artifacts (dust) there were a few that thought that they could be ghosts. However the skeptical argument was a good one. So the debate among them was how could one determine if they were ghosts if they also looked like dust particles. While this debate was soon solved, this cartoon mysteriously appeared in the forum.

This was another, just a Southpark joke.

No explanation needed for this one.

 

Why Bob and I wrote the Conscientious Ghost Hunter’s Compendium

In the spring of 2020, the authors, Bob and Cody, started having conversations about updating their 2008 book “The Complete Ghost Hunter: Basic Methods to Advanced Techniques” since the book is now out of print. However, the inevitable question of “what is the point” became an entanglement. After all, there are a great many books on ghost hunting on the shelves, and frankly, many of them aren’t worth the trees killed to provide the paper they were printed on. The authors have read many of these, with reactions ranging everywhere from respect for a well-written tome to abject horror that someone in a publishing house actually agreed to give life to such an abomination. Thus, we did not feel that another book would necessarily be a good thing.

As the debate continued, we eventually found several reasons to write another. The first was that most books on the subject are written from one side or the other (Believer/Skeptic). Since the two of us are on opposing sides (Cody is skeptical while Bob is a skeptical believer), we thought that a reflection of the whole would be valuable to the reader.

The other noteworthy purpose would be to share our experience. We have done this activity for quite some time and have learned a lot along the way. Experience is vital because there are only four essential types of information that will affect the final outcome.

  1. The things you actually know.
  2. The things you think you know but really don’t.
  3. The things you don’t know and are oblivious to.
  4. The things you wish you would have known.

As the saying goes, knowledge is power. While due diligence plays an essential part in transforming misinformation (#2’s) into actual knowledge (#1’s), it does almost nothing to address the #3’s. Until you know what #3 is, you cannot determine #4.

Understanding these concepts only comes with experience, and by then, it is usually too late. The result? You can learn the hard way, inevitably get blindsided, fail, or give up on the endeavor.

The hope is that we can shine some light on the #4’s. So, grinning like inebriated leprechauns perched on a pot of gold, the authors tromped off pen in hand (or laptop in this case) to put their vast years of experience forth in distilled form for the edification and education of the masses.

We do not claim it is the be-all, end-all of ghost hunting or paranormal investigation. We don’t think that such a book would even be possible to write, as it would most likely weigh more than the average human being and would definitely pose a fire danger. However, it does encompass advanced concepts that many other works on the subject seem to avoid as if they were rabid ocelots intent on devouring the contents of your sock drawer.

Since this book is drawing from our decades of experience, it also became an autobiography of sorts. We hope that the read is entertaining as well as informative. For the most part, our time with this endeavor is finished (barring copious amounts of alcohol or large sums of money). As we ride off into the sunset, we will leave you with the words of William James.

“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.”

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08G1ZGXRW/

The Conscientious Ghost Hunter’s Compendium is now available!

From the back cover;
Written by a believer and a skeptic with over 30 years of experience, the Conscientious Ghost Hunter’s Compendium reveals everything that the authors have learned about the investigation of ghosts and hauntings. Filled with new discoveries, practical advice, and their own experiences, it provides valuable insight for those who are serious about the real art of ghost hunting.
From the curious reader to the experienced investigator, it offers an insightful look into the realities of investigating the paranormal and an invaluable resource for those wanting to explore these phenomena.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08G1ZGXRW/

My latest book, “Texas’ Most Haunted EXPOSED”, is now available!

From the back cover;

For decades ghostly tales have been told across the lone star state. Texas’ macabre past has created its share of phantoms. From by-gone gunfighters and wealthy socialites to ghost lights and phantom hitch-hikers, their tragic lives have left an imprint in time and legend. For 25 years ghost investigator Cody Polston has searched Texas’ famous haunted locations for evidence of the supernatural. Now, for the first time, the complete findings of all of his investigations are revealed. The ghost stories and history of Texas’ most haunted places are fascinating, but are they really haunted by ghosts?

https://www.amazon.com/Texas-Most-Haunted-EXPOSED-Polston/dp/B087SMDP95

Haunted Tombstone is now available

Once the rowdiest town in the Old West, Tombstone still holds echoes from those wild days of thieves, outlaws and gamblers. The ghost of the Swamper is said to stalk Big Nose Kate’s Saloon, afraid someone might find his stolen hoard of silver. The Brunckow Cabin played host to a string of mysterious murders in the late 1800s, and some say that a menacing specter remains. Pictures of cowboy Billy Clanton’s headstone in the infamous Boot Hill Graveyard are frequently reported to have unexplainable apparitions. From the ghosts of the O.K. Corral to the feuding prostitutes lingering in the Bird Cage Theatre, eerie wraiths live again in these stories from Cody Polston, former president of the Southwest Ghost Hunter’s Association.

https://www.arcadiapublishing.com/Products/9781467139717