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Confessions of a Novice Ghost Investigator is Mike Brody's monthly humor column on the paranormal.

Emanuelson Inn in Zion, Illinois

What’s the scariest song you can think of? One that really makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Maybe it’s a song that makes you instantly recall masked serial killers with knives, like the theme from Halloween? Or something demonic like The Exorcist? That’s pretty scary. But not for me. When I think of ghosts and goblins and things in the night, I think vaudeville. I think of black and white films from the early 1900s. I think of “Shave and a Haircut.” I know what you’re thinking: “What the heck is ‘Shave and a Haircut’?” Trust me, you know it. Yes, you do. It goes like this: “Bah bah bah-bah bah…bah bah.” Wow, it’s basically impossible to describe a song through words. Okay, click this link. Got it? See, “Bah bah bah-bah bah…bah bah.” Just like I told you.

The reason this song reminds me of ghosts is because paranormal investigators are constantly using it. They tap it, they sing it, they play it on a piano. It’s like karaoke night, but without the awful Led Zeppelin renditions. According to many investigators, “Shave and a Haircut” is supposed to be the easiest way to make contact with the “nether-regions.” (I think “nether-regions” might actually refer to someone’s crotch, but I like the way it sounds and I’m keeping it.) All you have to do is tap out the first part of the melody on a table and ask the ghost to knock back the last “two bits” at the end. In theory, this proves that there is an intelligence behind the noises because they are timed and seem to follow a request instead of just random, wild bangs and booms. It almost never works. But sometimes, it does. I don’t know how to explain it. Sometimes you’re alone and there’s nobody else around making the knocks. And yet it happens. Often times it’s not caught on video. But then again, sometimes it is. More on that later. Hint, hint.

As weird as this might sound, I think this song could actually be important to understanding the paranormal. According to Wikipedia, the first known rendition of the song is from 1899. So if you had a ghost repeat the two knocks to you, this could mean a few things: 1) You’re crazy. 2) You’re faking it. 3) You’re incredibly bored. 4) This ghost was alive at least post-1899. 5) This ghost died before 1899, which means ghosts can learn things as time goes on. This greatly excites me as I’ve always wanted to see a specter in an Abraham Lincoln-style outfit tap out the tune to “Who Let the Dogs Out.” “Who? Who? Who? Who?” (Little known fact: “Who Let the Dogs Out” is the #2 ghost-knocking song ever. Congratulations, it’s now stuck in your head.)

I think that this technique should be shown to anybody who wants to go ghost hunting but is too afraid to do so. There is nothing remotely scary about a ghost rapping out a snappy show-tune. Nobody is scared of pin-striped old-timey barbershop quartets. Here’s a phrase that’s never been said before: “Run! That small group of singing old men looks dangerous!”

My Sweet Adeline... sweeeeeeet Adeeeeeeliiiiiiiiine.

Okay, so why am I talking about “Shave and a Haircut” so much? Because I actually got to see it in action just recently while on a road-trip. I was in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for a stand-up comedy gig and was invited by W.I.P.S. (Wisconsin Illinois Paranormal Solutions) to come investigate with them at the Emanuelson Inn in Zion, Illinois. The Emanuelson Inn was built in 1903 in a place that makes the town from “Footloose” look like Sodom and Gomorrah. Holy cow, I don’t think “super-duper religious” gets used very much, but that’s the only way to describe Zion. Take a look this sign that used to grace the city limits:

Zion sign.

Zion was founded in July 1901, by Christian Catholic Apostolic Church founder John Alexander Dowie. When Dowie wasn’t busy founding things, apparently he enjoyed putting up signs telling the people of Zion what they were and were not allowed to do. Here is just a short sample of the “rules” of Zion.

  • No profanity
  • No liquor
  • No tobacco
  • No drugs
  • No theaters
  • No dance halls
  • No sorcerers
  • No medical poisoners
  • No surgical butchers
  • No cut-throat competition
  • No pharmacies or drug stores
  • No secret societies
  • And presumably no fun

(Strangely, “no murder” didn’t make the cut. Maybe they had to leave them something to do?)

Zion sign.

The Emanuelson Inn.

I arrived at about 1 AM and wasted no time in beginning the investigation. W.I.P.S. carries around with them an EMF meter that goes off by flashing and beeping whenever there’s a spike in the electromagnetic field. The theory is that ghosts are/use energy and this meter reads when said energy is being manipulated.

And here’s where the aforementioned “Shave and a Haircut” video comes in.

We had set up in the living room with our cameras and meters. Judy Lucero, the Emanuelson Inn owner, was in the room as well as Spooky Dudes Paranormal Investigations founder Craig Gauss and W.I.P.S. members Justin Libigs, Heather Bram, and Nick Ford. Nick is the gentleman holding the EMF meter throughout the video. Watching this scene is obviously different than being there. If I were to watch this video from an outsider’s perspective who didn’t know these people, I would of course assume that Nick was manipulating the machine. However, I was there and I know Nick. He wasn’t doing anything to the machine. In fact, at one point I even got up and switched his meter with a totally different meter that had been sitting idle just to make sure that he hadn’t rigged it. Same exact results, without delay. If you watch closely, Nick’s hands or fingers never go near the top, only the side. And regardless, if you do hit the button it releases a wild spray of beeping incoherent mayhem. In this video, the responses are all calculated and “intelligent”.

So what does this mean? Is there a spirit from the “nether-regions” spitting out old-timey tunes? Is this their way of letting us know that they are here and they are intelligent? Or is this just a spattering of coincedence, taken too seriously by a bunch of kooks desperately looking for any sign of an after-life?

Decide for yourself:

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