“Con and Quartered” (Ghost hunt)

ghostjail
I prefer when possible to immerse myself in the subject of my posts, so I was disappointed to be out of town when a local paranormal group offered the chance to spend the night in a house brimming with ghosts, ghouls, and goblins.
For one thing, the cost was $20, which is the best bang for your disembodied spirits buck. Similar evenings run $150 or more in other locales. Plus, I’ve never been able to experience one of these first hand, nor are the hosts used to having the questioning within their midst. It could have made for an interesting mix.
 
It was set for two four-hour blocks, beginning at dusk. These are always held in the dark, even though there is no reason to think spirits of the deceased are more active at these times. The times are chosen to create more mood and drama, which is fine if it’s being presented as entertainment, such as with campfire stories. I love a good ghost tale and have a huge collection of black and white monster movies and watching these during the daytime is mostly a waste. With this ghost hunt, though, the promoters were suggesting the sinister spirits were real.
 
The locale also plays on stereotypes, as the evening is spent in a four-story, 19th Century mansion. Along with castles, huge antique homes are the favored locales for ghosts, who always seem to bypass split-level ranch homes, subdivisions, and Dillard’s.
 
Attendees were promised they “will learn how to use equipment as well as how to review audio and visual. We will have our 16 camera systems hooked up as well as some other gadgets and gizmos.” Presumably some nitnoids and doohickeys as well. The hosts were none too specific about what these are, but none of them are manufactured for the purpose of capturing Casper and less-friendly apparitions. For that matter, no ghost hunter ever offers many specifics as to how their equipment works to find their prey, or how we can know the results are indicating a poltergeist presence.
 
The evening took place on Rock Island Arsenal’s Quarters One, which is the second largest federal residence behind White House, and which contains 51 rooms of potential ghostly malevolence. The hunt’s promotional literature lists three military officers who died there. It refrains from explicitly saying their spirits roam the halls, but it does follow that list by announcing, “There are SEVERAL claims of activity.” This is the one part I’m inclined to believe, as I have no doubt many persons think something spooky happened. It’s the confirmation of those claims that I find lacking.
 

Claims such as this: “There is a man in the basement who constantly calls one of our investigators the B-word. He frequently uses fowl language.” I guess they mean he’s either profane or howls like an owl. In truth, it probably does sound more ornithological than human. Alleged ghost voices are usually the result of electronic interference, wind, whistling pipes, cracks, and floors settling, and it requires conditioning, expectation, and suggestion to turn these sources into a misogynistic missive from the netherworld.

Other assertions are that a maintenance man who hung himself lurks about Quarters One, and that there are unexplained opening and closing of doors, pacing of floors, flashlights flickering, doors locking, men chatting, furniture moving, shadows darting, and children leaving footprints in the dust. This is proof of haunting as long as your criteria is unverified evidence instead of data collected under controlled conditions and that is subject to falsification and replication, and which uses defined terms.

The hosts noted that “Weird EMF spikes can be found in certain areas on 2nd floor.” This is probably true, and there are many reasons beyond ghosts that can explain with. The mansion rests on the banks of the Mississippi River, where ships and their electronic devices incessantly pass. EMF sounds that resemble speech are the result of flaws in the equipment and those handling the equipment and was addressed  in an earlier post: goo.gl/fYr308.

Additional claims include:

“Visitors experience hot and cold spots.” This is very common for huge homes that have seen their sesquicentennial.

“Mists have been photographed.” None that cannot be explained using the terminology of photography. Shots taken in dark by amateurs will likely feature these flaws.

These items all highlight the key problem with ghost hunts, which is that every feature that seems out of place is inferred to be poltergeists. This in an instance of Tooth Fairy Science and magical thinking, plus it usually requires a great deal of imagination and desire to reach these conclusions.

I would have loved to have experienced it first hand to see what tricks were being used and to try and determine if those putting on the production believed it or were just selling it. I would have let my fellow customers have their fun and would not have pissed on anyone’s poltergeist parade. But I would have engaged the hunters privately and would have been most curious about what they would do with a ghost if they ever caught one. 

Ghost hunting is not in the same category as the anti-vaccine movement that inflicts newborns with Whooping Cough. It is not equivalent to activists who convinced two African governments to deny genetically modified food to famine victims. Nor are the hunters comparable to conspiracy theorists who torment victim’s families.

Rather, ghost hunters share terrain with proponents of a Flat Earth and ESP, in that they mostly are only impacting themselves. Still, they promote unproven ideas, encourage post hoc reasoning instead of critical thinking, and assume anecdotes are of more value than the Scientific Method. It is sad to see 21st Century adults gobbling this up and I would have liked the chance to confront it. My schedule did not allow for this, but that’s OK.  The Quad Cities Psychic and Paranormal fair is next week.

 
 
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