No one can deny that the arrival of ghost-themed programming on cable television has created significant changes in the community of paranormal research and investigation. Teams and individuals that were out in the field long before the nation took notice of the plumbers from Rhode Island watched as hobby ghost hunters emerged from every nook and cranny. The market suddenly flooded with low-priced EMF meters, infrared cameras, and other gadgets that were once hard to locate and cost nearly a month’s pay. Discussing the paranormal with friends and coworkers was no longer taboo.
“Ghost Mania” has ushered in another phenomenon — the Haunted Destination. These sites, most with previously hushed rumors of paranormal activity, now openly embrace the professional and hobby investigator alike by offering overnight ghost-hunting events. Locations featured on programs like Ghost Hunters and Most Haunted, among countless others, are now cashing in on investigators hoping to emulate their television idols, sometimes at prices upwards of $500 per person and with reservations filled a year in advance. With so many people attempting to communicate with, provoke, or capture evidence of spirits at these popular sites, couldn’t the paranormal activity eventually be exhausted? Wouldn’t these entities likely meet someone who encourages them to move on?
As an experiment, I arranged a visit to Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. The imposing, castle-like structure was in use for nearly one hundred and fifty years and has quite a reputation for driving inmates insane. Those inmates are said to linger within the walls of the penitentiary in spirit, showing themselves as black masses and making themselves heard through sinister EVP. Eastern State was featured on an episode of Ghost Hunters that aired in 2004. During their investigation, the TAPS team captured a shadowy figure on film, but eventually dubbed the footage as inconclusive evidence. Of course, that has not stopped thousands of fans from visiting the penitentiary in hopes of capturing something similar.
The penitentiary was certainly spooky and had a unique horror movie quality that really set the mood. Its tiny cells, crumbling plaster, and tree roots reaching through the exterior walls were plenty to fuel anyone’s imagination. The prison’s strange, wheel-style floor plan made it very easy to lose your bearings and become quite disoriented. I found myself looking over my shoulder far more than usual, but eventually made it out unruffled.
During my investigation of Eastern State, I collected hundreds of photographs and hours of audio recordings. The number of anomalies I identified in that data took me quite by surprise, even for a site with a reputation so sinister.
There were none. Not even a single, arguable orb.
So, where were these rumored spirits? All of the EVP I was promised? Keeping their distance from another wave of nosy and demanding visitors, I suppose. I didn’t feel so bad, though, because I was helping out a good cause. Eastern State Penitentiary, like many other historically significant locations that lack government funding, uses the money paid by hopeful investigators (like me) for preservation and education.
While Haunted Destinations like Eastern State are exciting to visit, investigating the same places as television role models is not a necessary rite of passage. More likely, coming away with less evidence than you’ve seen someone else collect will only discourage you and make you less confident in your ability. No specific site will instantly make any inexperienced investigator into a seasoned researcher.
The best advice I could offer anyone new to the field of paranormal study is to seek out haunted locations that are “off the beaten path”. Every state has them, just take a look on the web at sites like Ghostvillage.com or Strangeusa.com and you’ll likely find one near your home. While it’s great to learn from what you see others doing on TV, from both their successes and mistakes, strive to be a pioneer when it comes to finding a haunted location to investigate. The experience you gain by starting from scratch and the objective eye (or ear) you offer your evidence will be of greater benefit to you and the field of paranormal research.