Picture Yourself Ghost Hunting: Step-by-Step Instructions for Exploring Haunts and Finding Spirits, Spooks, and Specters
By Christopher Balzano
Publisher: Cengage Learning (August 2008)
Pages: 300 plus 90-minute DVD – Price: $19.99
There have been a few “how-to” ghost hunting books that have come along in recent years, but most come from authors who give you one viewpoint (their own) on how to go about investigating. Though each of those books has something to offer the paranormal enthusiast, Picture Yourself Ghost Hunting is the first to explore the topic from an objective point of view that includes many difference techniques and methods. Add a full-color book and 90-minute DVD, and you have a package that paranormal investigators simply shouldn’t live without. Author Christopher Balzano is having a prolific year. In 2008, no less than four of his books have hit the shelves. Ghostvillage.com caught up with Chris to ask him about his latest book, Picture Yourself Ghost Hunting.
How did you first get interested in investigating ghosts?
Christopher Balzano: I spent my first two years of college at Emerson with the haunted Charlesgate Hotel in Boston as my dorm. My friends and I experienced everything from odd noises to hidden rooms, to fire alarms going off on request. I also began to see people taking the reputation of the dorm and using it as a backdrop for other hauntings that were complete urban legends. I started to be drawn into how people reacted to ghosts and ghost stories and how easily the line between folklore and genuine ghost stories could be blurred. I began to record people’s stories and found myself in the field looking for the spirits they were talking about. I originally wanted Massachusetts Paranormal Crossroads only to catch stories, but more and more I was being asked to follow up.
After I stumbled upon the activity in the Bridgewater Triangle, things took off. I got more reports of that area and investigated them. The more I investigated the more I received reports. I can’t think of a better training ground for any investigator, researcher, or reporter than the Triangle.
Considering there are so many ways to go about a ghost investigation (esoteric, scientific, a blend of both), how did you choose which methods to cover in your book, Picture Yourself Ghost Hunting?
I wanted to cast as wide a net as possible. There really is no tried and true method that works for every investigator, and the field has been making serious steps forward in the past few years. Rather than try to present one view as etched in stone, I wanted to create a salad bar where people could be exposed to different ideas. My goal was to present an idea, weigh the good and the bad, and let people decide what works for them.
A great example of this would be the use of a spirit board or a talking board. Opinions on its usefulness and possible dangers divide people. Sides are passionate, but there are also these shifts in what is the popular idea. Rather than condemn or support it (I support it, by the way), I merely presented all of the compelling arguments for all side.
I like to think of the book as education without agenda.
Do you feel it’s necessary to belong to an investigative team or group in order to do paranormal research?
It is important to have a community to turn to in the paranormal world. You should never go out alone for an investigation and it is always nice to have someone to bounce your ideas and evidence off of. A community also helps to keep your learning curve on an upward spring. You should always be learning and growing as an investigator, and I had the good fortune of meeting some of the best out there by making relationships with people around New England. When I have a question, I can turn to people I respect and who challenge me. I am uneasy about groups. There seems to be a trend toward too much formality and structure. At times it shadows the direction of the group. Meetings become about club business and not about the paranormal. There are dynamics working in any group that change the focus, and I don’t care who is in charge or who is having an issue with someone. There is also a temptation to over-classify roles within the group. I found one that had a skeptic-in-training. How does one do that? Do they stand in front of a mirror and just repeat, “I don’t believe that?”
What are some of your must-have pieces of equipment?
I never conduct an investigation without a pen, notebook, and a tape recorder to capture the living. I am excited by things like new versions of Frank’s Box, but ultimately an investigation is trying to capture lightning in a bottle. If nothing happens that does not mean something is not there. At times investigators work so hard to explain everything away they do not listen to what people have experienced. It is as important as what an investigator might find in their limited time in a location. My parent’s think my son is an angel, but they do not see him when he hasn’t had a nap and his bedtime is approaching. If you want the full picture of him, ask my wife and I. If you want the full picture of a haunting, don’t ignore the people who live with it on a daily basis, regardless of what you find when you’re there.
What’s your favorite “haunt” and why?
My first instinct is to say the Assonet Ledge deep within the Freetown State Forest in Southeastern Massachusetts. It has been the site of suicides and legends and Pukwudgie attacks. I covered it in my first book, Dark Woods and revisit it in Ghosts of the Bridgewater Triangle, and I actually have an investigation I did there with the New England Ghost Project in the instructional DVD that comes with the Picture Yourself Ghost Hunting book.
I am more compelled by the case of Katie and Johnny at the Samuel West House in Acushnet, Massachusetts. I feature it in the DVD and tell the whole story in Ghosts of the Bridgewater Triangle, but it is a place where I always get some evidence that throws me for a loop. When we were editing our footage for the DVD we found a clear male voice talking while my camera battery was being drained. That is a gem when two events happen at once.
What really makes me keep going back to the location is the picture it gives us of the life of a ghost. In addition to finding residual spirits living side-by-side with intelligent ones, we have recorded voices talking to each other, even telling one another to be quiet because there are people recording them. It hints at a hierarchy on the other side where different souls at different levels of consciousness understand what a ghost is capable of. That idea challenges me, and that is what makes me stay in this business.
Is Picture Yourself Ghost Hunting meant for beginners, or is there something in there for more seasoned investigators as well?
Again, a good investigator is one who tries to take in as many different methods as possible. I talk about how odd I find it that so many investigators take all of their pictures straight on, as if ghosts will only appear that way. I encourage them to take pictures at different angles and from different perspectives. I encourage investigators to take the same perspective in all of their work. Look at things differently, or think about them in a way you have not thought of before. The book will be a roadmap for people new to the field, but it also looks to shift the ideas of people who have been doing this for a while. Ultimately, I would love to have some of the things I say in the book challenged, and for people approaching ghost hunting in a unique way to share their new ideas with me.
What’s one of your funnier moments on an investigation?
There is a cemetery I talk about in Ghosts of the Bridgewater Triangle that I ended up in on my first investigation in the field. I was out with two female friends and there was a full moon. We slowly walked up the main road through, arm-in-arm, and I could feel them both shaking. There was a rustling of leaves a few feet from us, and we all jumped. I thought of all of those movies where the man dies when the bad guy jumps out and the girl goes on to become the hero. I was not going to let that happen and knocked them both down getting back to the car.
There is also the story of investigating the Hockomock Swamp in the Bridgewater Triangle and getting a tick in my bellybutton so deep it had to be surgically removed by a doctor, but my wife has asked to stop telling that story.
Considering “Exorcism” is Ghostvillage.com’s theme of the month, what are your feelings on the topic? Have you ever attended one? Do they work?
Exorcism makes for good television because they have a natural climax to them. They follow a narrative arch, and witnesses and investigators see that. Too many of them jump quickly on the idea of a demon being in their house because that is what they are being fed. Watching the news wires for Ghostvillage, I see case after case in the newspaper where normal people are caught up in it. It allows people to manipulate others and can sometimes put some weaker minds in very dangerous situations, like the recent case in Texas. People are surprised that the Vatican is ordering more exorcists to be trained, but becoming the ultimate protection against the rise tide of evil is a great way to get people in pews.
The proof, like in many aspects of the paranormal, is in the case that cannot be tossed away. There are darker forces out there, and they make themselves known. We can fight them, but the power of a successful exorcism comes in the focus of intention. Exorcisms are dangerous in the hands of people who are not well grounded.
What future projects are you working on?
I am finishing up a book focusing on some of the haunted location, personal stories, and haunted legends in the suburbs of Boston for Schiffer Publishing. I am also working on a book exposing some of the haunted urban legends from across the country. It looks to delve into why we believe them when everything tells us they are not true, but will also offer stories that defy their untruth. It basically involves telling people I’m right and then telling them I may be wrong.
What’s is the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow?
My father always said when confronted by a question you don’t know the answer to, ask a question to distract from your own ignorance, so I present this: If I have a nightmare where I am reading Jeff Belanger’s The Nightmare Encyclopedia, does this reveal I have a fear of the sleeping mind, literacy, or Jeff Belanger himself?
You can visit Christopher Balzano’s Web site here: www.masscrossroads.com.
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