What’s next in ghost hunting?

It’s difficult to predict what will happen next in ghost hunting. These are my guesses.

Media-driven attention is fading, leaving mostly serious researchers in the field. That’s a good thing.

TV and Movies

TV producers and networks will seek more sensational, adrenaline-spiking ways to present ghost hunting. We’ll see more silly a few unabashed “freak shows.” (We’ve already seen too much.)

Finally, after exhausting every possible idea, TV producers will move on to something else.

A crowded stairwayI believe Ghost Hunters will be among the last canceled. (I first said that in 2013. Now, as I’m updating these Q&As in late 2016, that’s exactly what’s happened.)

Ghost Hunters retained a large following of dedicated fans. Many of them will remain loyal to the brand, and to the show’s stars.

Look for independently produced TV shows with very low budgets. They’ll air on YouTube or streaming services like Roku.

For the foreseeable future, fans may have to find those shows in an uncurated hodge-podge of good and bad productions. Nevertheless, I think indie produced (and aired) shows will replace traditional TV altogether.

Ghost-related films will maintain their appeal. At Halloween, movies will portray haunted places in extreme, unrealistic ways. That’s what audiences want.

Better Resources

In general, ghost hunters need more reliable, educational resources. Too many people come into ghost hunting for fame, money, and power over others.

That produces drama. It also attracts con men and other criminals. We reached that phase of the bell curve around 2006.

The good news is, now that ghost hunting isn’t so trendy, many charlatans have moved on to other fields.

Revisiting Past Mistakes

I’ve been in this field for over 30 years. The more I study ghosts, the more I realize how little we know. I have to revise my theories regularly.

Ralphie and the bar of soapFor example, I spent six years studying “ghost orbs,” and had to admit my early theories were wrong. It’s far more difficult to create a convincing false orb than I’d thought. (Please, test this for yourself. And then tell others.)

Unfortunately, mine was one of the earliest ghost-related websites. So, my mistaken theories influenced a generation of ghost hunters. That’s pretty embarrassing.

Of course, I’m not alone in my stumbles and mistakes. We’re all throwing labels — verbal shorthand — on phenomena we don’t really understand.

Maybe We’re Looking in the Wrong Places

We have no scientific evidence that ghostly anomalies are caused by actual ghosts.

We need to be flexible and open minded. Avoid dogma.

If we were on the right track with this research, we’d have seen clearer, more repeatable results at least 10 years ago.

We need to expand our research to look at far more phenomena that could influence our results, not just anomalies.

In the future, I believe we’ll learn more about haunted places thanks to advanced ghost hunting tools and techniques.

We’ll see more specialized cameras and voice recorders. Reliable heat and cold sensors and other devices will be within most ghost hunters’ budgets.

I’m interested in affordable infrasound detectors. We’re overlooking an important explanation for some hauntings. Every site should be check for elevated EMF, carbon monoxide, and infrasound.

The on-off phenomena with loosened flashlight connections is interesting. That technique needs refinement and standardization. In fact, I’d like more devices that can return binary results (on/off) for communication.

The subject of Frank Sumption’s boxes, usually called “Frank’s boxes,” is volatile. I don’t think we’ve even scratched the surface of what’s going on there.

What makes some of those boxes (and clones) produce astonishing results, while others do nothing? So far, we don’t know.

Ask “What If…?”

Start again?In general, we need to ask more “what if..?” questions. I’m not certain we’ve identified all categories of ghostly anomalies.

For example, as I’m writing this, few people check subnormal EMF levels.

Hot spots receive scant attention, compared with cold spots.

Personally, I’m continuing to focus on geographical and historical patterns. They might explain and even predict paranormal activity.

Repeating paranormal patterns could show us why some locations are haunted.

I’m also working on techniques to better understand personal dynamics that can influence hauntings.

Going Far Out on a Limb…

What’s might be next in ghost hunting? Lots of things.

I’m looking at something few are willing to consider.

As of late 2016, I’m revisiting one of my long-time theories. I believe that many ghosts are alive and well in their own time, in a parallel reality that some people are accessing at certain locations and at certain times.

With the broad introduction of multiple interacting worlds (or realities) as science, not science fiction, there may be some overlap between the Mandela Effect and paranormal research.

And, of course, that was the genus of the first “Mandela Effect” conversation, about seven years ago. That’s what led to me talking about the theory… but that’s a story for another day and another website.

How can I buy a haunted house?

Do you want to buy a haunted house? You might be able to, if you’re sure that’s what you want.

Weirdly, early in 2013, a haunted house in France was listed at eBay for one Euro.  I missed the listing, so I’m not sure what happened, but the details appeared on several respected news websites in the EU, UK, and US.

So, you may want to set up a Google Alert for “haunted house for sale” or something like that.

In many states in America, anyone selling a haunted house must report that the site has a ghost. So, start by checking the laws of the state where you’d like to live.

One Option: Be Direct

Langdell House, Wilton, NHIf it’s among the states requiring disclosure, visit a few realtors and explain your interests to them. Explain very clearly that you’d like to buy a haunted house. Don’t hint. Tell them directly, and be prepared to explain why.

(Also, be prepared for mixed reactions. So few people want to buy a haunted house, they may think you’re joking. Or that you’re mad. Or that you’re planning Satanic rituals or something.)

Or, Go Subtle

However, remember the practical side of this. Most people don’t want to live in a haunted house. So, some sellers conceal paranormal activity if they can.

If that’s likely, phrase your questions carefully.

– Act as if you don’t believe in ghosts.  Make a big deal over the great location, the swimming pool, or the quality of local schools.

– Casually ask if the house has any “charming legends” or “colorful tales” connected with it.

– Use the word “ghost” carefully. No homeowner wants to be forced to admit his house has the “defect” of a ghost.

Do Your Homework, First

You may need to conduct your own research to find likely haunted houses. Then, see which of them display a “for sale” sign.

In Austin, Texas, I’d look for any brick home built by Abner Cook.  Almost every public building he built — and several private homes — have ghost stories.  However, they’re just his homes built with clay bricks from nearby Shoal Creek.  His all-wooden structures don’t have the same reliable ghosts.

My ley lines maps that (literally) connect the dots between haunted houses. If a house is on one of those lines, it may be haunted. Start with a good ley lines map. Then drive around, looking for realtors’ signs and abandoned houses.

Warning: Some haunted houses are impossible to live in comfortably. They’re rare, and should be avoided.

Go Local

Local ghost hunting teams might be another resource in your search. Often, they’ve been called in to investigate a house that the owners don’t want to sell, but the site has activity they can’t live with.

If the team couldn’t resolve the ghostly problems, you may be in luck.

Even if the house hasn’t been listed yet, you might be the answer the homeowners need. Generally, they don’t want to deal with the challenges of trying to sell a haunted house.

At the other end of the spectrum, a homeowner might try to use the house’s ghostly history as a selling point. When that happens, the sellers ask an unusually high price. That tactic usually backfires. They won’t sell the house, but they’ll have plenty of visitors. For them, it’s a free ghost tour.

After a while, the homeowner usually reduces the price just to get rid of the house. That’s the time to place a realistic bid you’re comfortable with.

Do they ever film ghost stories in really haunted places?

Yes, they do film ghost stories at genuinely haunted (and scary) places. It’s happened many times.

Colonial American windowsThe 1963 movie, The Haunting, used the Ettington Park Hotel in Stratford-upon-Avon (England). It’s supposed to be delightfully haunted. The hotel is elegant and reminiscent of the famous movie.

Trivia: That movie’s original — and perhaps haunted — spiral staircase reappeared in the 1999 remake of The Haunting, too.

Another old movie, Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte, wasn’t exactly a ghost story, but it was chilling. They filmed it at Houmas House, one of Louisiana’s most haunted houses. (I’ve spent the night there and can verify that it has ghosts that appear, day and night.)

Not far away, several movies were set in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, at the edge of New Orleans’ French Quarter. They include Easy Rider and Cincinnati Kid. Producers filmed Interview with the Vampire at other haunted New Orleans locations.

The Hollywood movie set for the original movie, Psycho, was supposed to be haunted. I’m not sure if paranormal encounters happened before, during, or after the initial filming. At night, people were visible near upstairs windows… when there was no floor to walk on, and no possibility of a light near the window, either.

Those may be urban legends, but I heard enough first-person stories to think they might be true.

Session 9 was filmed at Danvers State Hospital, Danvers, MA (USA). The former hospital and the town of Danvers have many ghost stories, often overshadowed by nearby Salem.

The haunted Yankee Pedlar Inn in Torrington, CT (USA) inspired — and later became a set for — The Innkeepers.

I’m sure you’ll find many other movies listed, online. Look for “movies filmed at haunted places.”

Is Disney’s Haunted Mansion really haunted?

For years, Disney’s Haunted Mansion attractions have been connected with ghost stories.

light bulbAmong all of the Haunted Mansion attractions, the one at Walt Disney World has the most haunted reputation. I’ve heard compelling first-person stories from cast members who worked there.

However, in at least 100 visits at both Disneyland (CA) and Disney World (FL), I’ve never encountered anything genuinely ghostly.

For a better answer to your question, ask former Haunted Mansion cast members. Some have websites. Also see stories at TheShadowlands.net and Doombuggies.com.

For the latest ghost stories, ask cast members dressed as Haunted Mansion staff. Most probably don’t know (or won’t admit to) any real ghost stories at the attraction.

You’ll have the best luck immediately outside the Haunted Mansion’s exit. There, some cast members are more chatty than others.

Remember, Disney’s Haunted Mansion attractions’ ghosts are “all in good fun.” That attraction is designed to entertain the entire family. For lurid ghost stories (real or imagined), you’ll have more success outside Disney theme parks.

One more tip: Ask about ghosts at the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction. Some first-person stories from former cast members seem credible and fascinating. That attraction may be even more haunted than the Haunted Mansion.

Don’t overlook Universal Studios’ theme parks in Florida, too. Search online (look for “USF ghosts”).

Look for ghost stories about the Back to the Future attraction, later redesigned as The Simpsons. Some say it’s one of the most interesting haunts in Orlando.

(Warning: Ghost reports from the old Kongfrontation attraction are unreliable. Universal is meticulous about safety for workers as well as guests. Any time you hear a ghost story related to someone who supposedly died at a theme park, raise an eyebrow. Then, fact-check what really happened… if anything. In many cases, the stories are 100% fiction.)

What’s the best haunted house attraction at a theme park?

Unless it’s Halloween, few theme parks feature a haunted house among their attractions.

ghost figure in haunted house attractionTheme parks like Universal (Orlando, Florida) stage haunted houses and scary locations for their Halloween “Horror Nights.”

They can be great if you’re looking for “a good scare.” But, they’re usually more grisly than authentic.

That’s why Disney’s Haunted Mansion is one of the world’s most popular haunted house attractions.

I like the classic style of Gracey Mansion (the real name of the first Haunted Mansion attraction) at Disneyland.

For size and grandeur, the Haunted Mansion at Disney World (Florida) is in a class of its own.  Disney constantly improve and expand the decor, too. I’m always impressed.

If you’re a Haunted Mansion enthusiast, be sure to see the 1963 movie, The Haunting. It inspired many elements you’ll see in Disney’s Haunted Mansion attractions.

For fans of “Hidden Mickeys” at Disney theme parks, learn their locations before you visit the Haunted Mansion.

The Haunted Mansion is wall-to-wall images of ghosts and haunted places. Prepare to be overwhelmed during a first visit.

Also, don’t overlook the first-ever “Hidden Donald.” It’s also at the Haunted Mansion.

Now and then, a theme park tries to introduce a good, haunted house attraction. The balance between “fun” and “scary” is a tricky one, and few attractions can match what Disney has achieved.

How should I write haunted house stories?

Authors often ask me how to write (or even begin) a realistic novel about ghosts and haunted houses. They’re usually asking about typical haunted house stories:

  • The team that spends the night locked in the haunted house.
  • The individual or couple stranded on the road, who take shelter in the only nearby house.
  • Or, the family that innocently moves into a house that’s deeply troubled and dangerously haunted.

First, decide whether your story is primarily character-driven or plot-driven.

Character-Driven Haunted House Stories

If it’s character-driven, outline a rich array of characters that your readers will care about. Shirley Jackson’s novel, The Haunting of Hill House, is a good example of a character-driven haunted house story.

TVTropes.org can be a great resource for the tropes you’ll want to include among your characters. Or, you can default to the basic character types in Scooby-Doo. (I’m not kidding. They’re classics.)

When the Ghost is a Character

If your ghost is a character in the story, he or she will need a backstory. Decide why the ghost lingers at the location, and exactly how he or she manifests.

Choose one or two sensory features to focus on. Few real-life ghosts produce noises, moving objects, physical contact with the investigators, smells, or ghostly voices. (If you want to include all of those, write multiple ghosts or entities into the story.)

When the Location is a Character

haunted houses can be disorientingSometimes, the haunted house is almost a character. Jackson’s Haunting of Hill House is a good example. We’re never entirely sure if the house is evil, or if a specific ghostly entity is behind the scenes.

If you’re going to use this story device, study several genuinely haunted houses, and (loosely) base your story on one of them. The house should have a personality, displayed in its styling, decorating, or the kinds of things that happen there.

(A moaning sound suggests a different kind of haunting than an evil cackling. The modern house built over a Native American burial ground will have a different “style” than a falling-down castle in Ireland.)

Plot-Driven Ghost Hunting Stories

The first movie in the House on Haunted Hill series is a good example of a story that’s primarily plot-driven. Many characters were shallow and unsympathetic. Viewers didn’t really care when each died a terrible death.

(Towards the end of the movie, we care more about the characters surviving than what’s going on in the house. Whether we loved them or hated them, we wanted to know what happened next.)

Nevertheless, the House on Haunted Hill franchise presented clever plot elements with superb timing. It’s not quite a “puzzle story” like The DaVinci Code or National Treasure.

Still, the mysterious sequence of events held our interest more than the characters. In that respect, plot-driven ghost stories are similar to mysteries. The reader (or audience) try to guess “the real story” before the reveal at the end.

What’s Important

Whether it’s a plot-driven story, a location-based tale, or a character-driven story, get right to the action. Reveal the characters and make them endearing — or unappealing – in a story that has already begun.

Your characters can make or break your story. Tropes are fine, if the plot is the focus of your story. (Avoid making your ghost a predictable trope.)

For a plot-driven story, avoid stereotypes for the lead (and possible romantic interest). The sidekicks can be cliches. The early victims can be “redshirts.” (To understand them in depth, see TV Tropes.)

Don’t base any characters on real-life stars of ghost hunting TV shows, or the shows they’re on, either.  Not closely enough to be sued, anyway. Those shows are considered “intellectual property.” They’re protected by trademark laws and highly-paid attorneys.

If you need more ideas for rich, dimensional characters, study ghost hunting in the past. Going back in time: the subject has been popular in the 1960s, the 1920s, and throughout the spiritualist era of the 19th century.

You’ll find plenty of material and some biographies to inspire you. Those can help you with your characters as well as your story line.

How should I write a ghost story?

Writing convincing ghost stories can be challenging.

opening door - ghost story tropeYou might think you can get away with more in fiction than nonfiction.

That’s not necessarily true. You’re competing with accomplished writers like Jane Goldman, Heather Graham, Stephen King, and Nora Roberts. Past greats include Edgar Allan Poe, Henry James, and Shirley Jackson.

Fiction

If you’re writing fiction, read lots of ghost stories. Don’t skip children’s literature. Those can be the best stories to study.

Watch classic movies based on haunted houses, and compare them with later remakes.  There are formulas for haunted house stories. You can find them online.

Take careful notes during your favorite ghost-related movies. Do the same as you’re reading ghost-themed books. (I take scene-by-scene, page-by-page notesto understand the structure.)

Do on-location research. Use a voice recorder to capture what you notice at every point during your visit.

Keep your voice recorder (or your phone set to record, easily) by your bed, afterward.  If you wake up with nightmares or fears related to the haunting, those are useful points to include in your story.

However, if you aren’t already a fan of the genre, think carefully before proceeding. Fans of ghost stories have certain expectations. They can seem like hidden standards, but they’re important. And, the reading audience is widely segmented. Some readers love a scene where the heroine goes down to the basement though it’s clear she shouldn’t.

However, some readers will give your book a terrible review if you include that cliche.

Know your audience. Deliver what they expect, and a few things they don’t. They’ll love you for it.

Nonfiction

If you’re writing nonfiction, thoroughly research the site, people, and relevant time periods.

If possible, visit the location. Explore historical sites and living history museums for additional insights.

Interview people with first-person stories. Investigate the site with a professional ghost hunting team, if you can.

Your story should include all of the elements that have made ghost stories – true and fictional – enduring and successful.

Get waivers from everyone you might quote in your book. You may also want a release form signed by the owner of the haunted site. These precautions protect you from later lawsuits.

In paranormal niches, nonfiction readers may have fewer expectations. Your book can succeed if you tell them something new and interesting or useful. Include as many details as you can. Experienced ghost hunters are looking for specific cues and clues, even if you don’t consciously add them to your book.

In a book about poltergeists, I’m looking for research notes from the kitchen, bathroom, and basement. The author doesn’t need to make a big deal about that. I know the signs of a credible tale.

Regional cues can be important. An Irish or Scottish ghost is likely to protect the house or castle, as well as the family. An English ghost is more likely to care about lineage, honor (even among thieves), and the portrait gallery. Are your ghost stories set on the coast? To take smuggling legends seriously, I’ll expect some reference to tunnels.

Research your stories thoroughly, whether they’re fiction or nonfiction.

Then, your stories will impress readers who are experienced ghost hunters.

Why do some haunted houses require waivers?

haunted? monasterySome haunted sites require waivers due to dangerous areas that visitors must avoid.

The fact is, some ghost enthusiasts take risks anyway. A waiver protects the site owners from lawsuit.

Usually, waivers are designed to create a scarier atmosphere. It’s simply good theater. Consider the waiver and posted warning signs part of the set dressing. It’s performance art.

Fiona's adviceBut… whether they’re “set dressing” or not, don’t ignore those signs. They might just be legitimate.

Haunted houses can be very old, and old houses can have loose or weak floorboards, narrow corridors, and other potential hazards.

Sometimes, liability insurance requires waivers. When you are investigating in the dark, it’s easy to bump into something, trip over a loose carpet, or lose your footing on stairs.

The same thing could happen if you’re wandering around an unfamiliar not-haunted house in the dark.

Take precautions, whether you’re asked to sign a waiver or not. If you see someone stumble on uneven stairs, tread carefully. Old houses and other haunts can present risks like that. That’s expected.

However, if you’re ever hurt at a “haunted” site due to the owner’s obvious negligence, see an attorney.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve signed a waiver. There’s a big difference between an accident, and poor site maintenance.

How much does it cost to go into real haunted houses?

Some genuinely haunted houses — especially haunted hotels, museums, and B&Bs — charge admission.

Note: This is different from commercial, theatrical “haunted houses” that are set up at Halloween.

We’re talking about sites that seem to be haunted by actual ghosts and paranormal activity.

theatre curtain - is that site really haunted?If you’re simply touring a haunted house, the admission price should be consistent with local museums.

Read online reviews before spending a cent.

Some haunted houses charge more for overnights and ghost hunting events, and similar experiences that provide extra value.

If you’re not promised extra value* as part of your visit, be sure you’re comfortable with the price of admission.

Is it a ghost hunting event?

If so, ticket prices should reflect these features:
– The quality of the guest speakers or investigators.
– Food and entertainment.
– How small or exclusive the event is. That is, will you be elbow-to-elbow with beeping EMF meters and swinging dowsing rods? Or, will you be able to conduct research, undistracted, with a small group of people?
– How much individual attention you can expect from the professional ghost hunters.

Is it a simple overnight vigil?

The price should match moderately priced hotels in that same area.

Of course, if the vigil includes a tour and a series of specific experiments — that can produce startling results — you may expect to pay more.

Fiona's adviceIn general, compare the price of any haunted house visit with any similar hotel, museum, or historical home that doesn’t have ghosts.

If admission is considerably higher, be sure you’re getting a good value. Ask ghost hunting friends and read reviews. Weigh them against other, similar haunts you can visit, and your budget.

*No genuinely haunted house can (or should) claim that you’ll have a paranormal encounter. If they are… be skeptical. It might be mere entertainment, not the real thing.

What’s it like to live in a haunted house?

What’s it like to live in a house that’s really haunted? Do people always have to leave their haunted houses if the ghosts won’t leave?

Most haunted houses are benign. I’ve lived in a few.

haunted stairwayGenerally, it’s like living with an invisible roommate. Some ghosts can be annoying.

That’s especially true if the ghost likes to turn lights on and off, adjust the volume on the TV, or turn a faucet on and leave the water running.

I don’t mind ghosts in my house. I do mind any inconveniences they create.

Downtown Houston’s famous ghost

One of the most persistently annoying ghosts haunts downtown Houston, Texas. She is Mrs. Pamelia Mann, one of Houston’s most famous madams.

Many evenings, Mrs. Mann strolls around the Market Square block she once owned.

She visits ladies rooms (toilets) in modern-day clubs and restaurants on that block.

Once in each ladies room, she locks the door so others cannot enter. Then, she vanishes. The staff are not amused, because they have to keep unlocking the door at the request of impatient patrons.

However, the living and spirits of the dead usually find ways to stay out of each other’s way.

Other famous haunted homes

Lantern outside Salem haunted houseAt some locations, such as the Myrtles Plantation, the staff regard the ghosts as friends. Many people who live in haunted houses feel the same way about their ghosts.

I know one homeowner in Salem (MA, USA) who is extremely protective of “her” ghost. Although the first floor of her haunted home is a shop, she won’t allow anyone inside if she thinks they’re looking for her ghost.

That’s a little extreme.

The owner of the Lizzie Borden house seemed comfortable with that house’s ghosts.

TV, movies, and reality

Many TV shows and movies present scary ghosts. Reality is very different.

Once people become accustomed their ghosts (and vice versa), some seem to forget they live in a haunted house.

When I’ve lived in haunted houses, I’ve been unable to forget they’re there. Not for long, anyway. Sometimes, I’ve been startled by an apparition floating across my kitchen. Unearthly footsteps still surprise me when I’m tired, especially if the ghost has been silent for a while.

Despite that, living with ghosts can be easier than living with roommates.  Ghosts don’t steal your food, come home drunk at night, or leave the seat up.

I’m okay with that.