Ghost Hunters Responsibility? What About Venue Responsibility?

This is an old blog post of mine from another blog some years ago.  I am re-posting an edited version here because I think that the subject is still relevant.  This particular location discussed is still in business, and still offering a low quality experience for a high price tag:

Some years ago I went with my ghost hunting group to Ft. Mifflin in Philadelphia PA.  For $80 a person, we were given the run of Ft. Mifflin for the night.  It was incredible!  I didn’t even cover the whole fort, and I couldn’t wait to go back.

I mention this trip because of how impressed I was.  For that fee we were escorted to our command central; a heated room that had snacks, sodas and coffee for us.  There were cots and benches, as well as some flyers for places that deliver food complete with notes showing how late they deliver.  We were all impressed because we had carted in our own snacks, sandwiches and energy drinks for the night. This investigation was a long night of hunting in the cold and the rain.  It was so wonderful to be able to run into command central to warm up, and get comfortable for a few minutes before we went back out to a new location within the fort.

As if this weren’t enough, the next morning we were escorted to another building outside of the fort where we were served a full breakfast!  I am talking about pancakes, eggs, bacon, biscuits… the whole nine yards.  It was by far the best ghost hunt I had ever been on when it comes to hospitality!

Now I do not expect snacks and soda’s to be provided to me on ghost hunts.  Most places I go are long abandoned and I am excited just to get my foot in the door.  I was born and raised in the woods of Southern Oregon so I don’t even require an indoor bathroom (I am not saying I grew up peeing in the woods, but that I grew up camping a lot with my family… we had indoor plumbing!).  Outhouse or not; I look at what I am getting for the price.  Am I really being provided a cost to benefit that is acceptable?  Is  the juice worth the squeeze?  In Ft. Mifflin’s case it was, and still is.

Then there are the venues that aren’t a value…

We all know what I am talking about.  The ones that popped up out of nowhere and claim to be the most haunted place in America.  They slap together a tour that sounds like it was copied verbatim from a ghost hunting show… and lets throw a hanging in there too, hangings most surely mean a haunting!

The Haunted House:

I had a very different experience with a historic home near me.  I knew someone, and was involved with his “group”, here in West Virginia.  This person, I will call Sam, was living in an apartment building next to the historic home.  He would be moving into that home and running it as a haunted attraction once the lease ran out for the current caretaker.  Until that lease ran out, Sam was not allowed to enter the home aside from a couple of walk throughs while escorted by the owner.  The caretaker residing in the home was bitter about being replaced by someone else and made his last days there difficult.  I explain this because I want you to understand the background of this now “haunted home” that sells tickets for ghost hunts and tours.

During the time that Sam was  living next door in the apartment building, which was several months, he began his “PR campaign” and laying the ground work for when he would be able to move open for business and start selling ghost hunts.  Sam was in this apartment for many months before moving into the haunted house and during that entire time Sam didn’t lift one finger to go the 6 miles into nearest town and work with the library and historical society to learn about the history of the house.  He did sporadically talk to some locals who would say that they believed the house was haunted.  With that information he began touting it as the most haunted place in our area.  He also began conveying blatantly untrue “facts” about John Wilkes Booth being involved in the houses history, and stated that Booth was originally supposed to flee the assassination of Lincoln and hide out in this particular house.  That Booths fiance was at the house waiting for his arrival before he broke his leg and things with drastically awry.  Well I didn’t need a library to tell me that the woman that was supposed to be his fiance was actually in the white house meeting with one of Lincoln’s sons at the time of the assassination, and she had no knowledge of the assassination plot Booth was to carry out.

It was only after several of us involved with Sam’s group continually brought up our concerns that his claims were not based on fact, and he hadn’t done anything to research them, did he finally start to dig into the true history of the house.  At this point he had moved into the house and it had been open for business for some time before Sam finally conceded that many of his claims about the house have no factual basis, not even a hint.  Unfortunately, he just started saying “legend has it…” as a justification for continuing these untruths about the history of the house.  As time went on Sam has made some adjustments to his original telling of the history of the home, but he still makes factual claims about things he knows to be untrue.  Because of this, myself and the majority of his team, left Sam’s group and never affiliated with him again.

Just before I made the decision to leave the group for good Sam asked myself and a fellow investigator, we will call her Pam, to help with the house one night as he had to host tour in the nearby historic town.  This is an account of my experience as well as a warning to ghost hunters when looking for a place to investigate:

For $80 a person (the same cost of the previously mentioned Ft. Mifflin at the time this happened) a group of friends had paid for an overnight ghost hunt of the haunted house.  Now this group was not a seasoned ghost hunting club, but several friends who had an interest in ghost hunting while most of them had never done it before.

This group had opted to have their night “chaperoned”.  This meant that the host guided the group with an agenda for the evening; including a schedule of training’s and hunting throughout the night.  In addition; equipment is provided in this type of service as the clients most likely won’t have any.  This is typically offered by many locations so that those who fit the above description can also enjoy a ghost hunting experience.  It is a great way to introduce people to the field.

Sam asked Pam and I to show up at 6:00 pm.  Unknown to us, this was the same time that the group was supposed to arrive, so there was no time to show us what we were supposed to do, or what his agenda contained.  We had not hosted an evening at this house prior, so we were not familiar with his plans.  Luckily the group was running late so we got a very short, truncated, explanation of what was expected of us.  Poor planning on Sam’s part, but this alone is not a deal breaker by any means.  Add to this other observations, however, and it made for a very interesting night.

Sam lives at the location, and it was a mess.  Not just a little messy, but smelly messy.  The kitchen had a very unpleasant odor coming from it, even though the door was closed, of rotten food and stagnant water in the piles of unwashed dishes in the sink.  We walked into the room used for “command central” to find days worth of open and half eaten bags of junk food laying about.  A large industrial trash can with no lid on it, and moldering with old trash. Dirty footprints all over the carpet that didn’t look like it had been vacuumed in over a month.

Now I know I said earlier that I don’t even need to have such amenities as indoor plumbing to be happy with my hunt.  And I have hunted abandoned locations before, but in my opinion (and this piece is all about my personal opinion) there is a HUGE difference between dirtiness from abandonment or disrepair and dirtiness from being lived in by a slob.  Peeling paint, vines growing through broken windows, glass and dirt on the exposed floors… not a problem!  A location where someone just didn’t take the time to clean up after themselves, for what was obviously extended periods of time, is just plain disgusting.  For me this is especially bad when the host cannot seem to take the time to clean up for clients that have paid $80 a head to spend the night there.

This was just the beginning.  When it came to the actual investigation it got even better.  Sam stayed around to do a tour then left us in charge to start the group on an investigation.  Though there was no time planned to have myself and Pam get acquainted with what was expected of us, we trusted the host had prepared for the evening.  We quickly found out that our trust was misplaced.  There wasn’t any equipment designated for the group to use.  And what we could scrounge up from around the room, we soon found to have dead batteries or none at all.  Now I wasn’t investigating this night, but I did happen to have a couple of pieces of equipment on me.  We were able to get a few things spread out among the group so that they could feel like they had SOME equipment to use.

In the mean time I took to digging around a house that isn’t mine in an attempt to find working equipment… with no luck.  At the same time I am texting Sam, unfortunately his answers back to me were rather ambiguous:

Text: Where do you keep your batteries?  We need triple A’s.

Answer: In the drawer

Text: What drawer, where?

No answer

Needless to say, our night got off to an embarrassing start.  In trying to support Sam and his business I was not going to say anything to indicate that Sam had not prepared for this group that bought tickets well over a month in advance.  Pam and I were the two hosts this group was relating the service to, and we absorbed their displeasure.  Also, because we are the only ones available to help these clients Pam and I were left feeling responsible for the disorganization and unpreparedness that Sam had left us with.

Our issues became even more embarrassing when I started studying the agenda for the evening.  A video vigil was fast approaching, and I knew that I had not seen any video camera’s when I was rooting around everywhere. Pam and I had no idea what we were supposed to do, and were trying to think of other options we could implement to keep this group occupied and having fun.

Luckily we were saved by the bell, my phone rang and it was time to pick up Sam from his walking tour and bring him back!  I went and got him, and asked him about the video vigil on the way back to the house.  I got some clarification that made my heart drop into the pit of my stomach.

From midnight until 2 am about 8 people were expected to crowd around a TV and watch a video feed trained on a toy rocking chair in another room of the house.  Then for another two hours, from 2 am to 4 am the feed would be switched and they would watch a child’s bicycle in another room.  As if 8 people snuggled around a 19″ TV in that dirty, smelly, command central for 4 hours wasn’t enough… something was nagging me in the back of my mind made me ask…  “Are those camera’s recording?” and the answer was no!  So this group is expected to stare for 4 hours at a TV for nothing?  If they see something there is no way to go back and examine, nor is there a way to take a copy of their new amazing evidence home with them!  Sam was in such a hurry to turn a profit that he had not even prepared with proper ghost hunting equipment before opening the house for business.  A self proclaimed parapsychologist and seasoned paranormal investigator advertised this haunted house and promised he would take care of the inexperienced with a planned agenda and equipment when he didn’t have the preparation or equipment he advertised.

Keep in mind that he is charging the same amount of money that a full night at Ft. Mifflin cost; and that is including all of the amenities that Ft. Mifflin provided.  To be fair, this house was offering bags of chips and sodas… for $1.00 a piece.

Amenities aside, this house also doesn’t have the reputation that Ft. Mifflin has.  Nor does it have the amount of evidence that the fort has to back it up.  So you are paying a premium to hunt a home with no background to support the price charged.  Granted, if the house really is haunted, it will gain that reputation.  And it will have the evidence to back it up.  But at this point in time, a new place that is basically un-tested?  Are you getting the value from your dollar that you deserve?  You decide.

So be careful out there!  I have run across places I suspected weren’t haunted at all, but just a way for a struggling place to make some extra money.  I have run into calamities like the one listed above.  But, just as often, I have hunted places that were exactly what they should have been, and I am happier for it.  Just keep your eyes peeled.  Just like any other retail operation, there are those out there who are not truthful, too lazy to provide a proper product, or just don’t care.  Whatever the reason, it means you are not getting what you paid for.

An update to this experience that is now several years old.  This “haunted house” is still in operation.  Recently I went to the post office and found a flyer posted by Sam on the bulletin board.  In addition to running the haunted house he claims to be a licensed Hypnotist with over 19 years of experience.  Offering to help people lose weight, stop smoking and other services hypnotists offer.  Well I know for a fact he wasn’t a hypnotist when I knew him not 4 years ago… and if he has been a hypnotist for over 19 years, he would have started when he was about 15 years old.  So the hits keep coming from that little corner of the world.  A Carney has to keep his act fresh to keep his bills paid.  Unfortunately, like Austin Powers says, Carney’s smell like cabbage.  In this case, rotten cabbage.

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