Posts Tagged “hauntings”

Scary Ghost / naoshika, via Open Clip Art LibraryIt’s been a while since I last blogged about the phenomenon of “hauntings as news.” Of course, that’s not because media outlets have stopped reporting on “hauntings” and other “paranormal” events as though they were legitimate news stories. Oh no. In this age of so-called “reality” shows featuring ghost hunters, mediums, etc., it’s obviously something the media have decided they’re not going to let go of.

And frankly, why should they? “Haunting” stories are the sorts of things that literally drop themselves into reporters’ laps. Either people tip reporters off to “hauntings,” or else they overhear a “haunting” story and decide to relay it. They might have to talk with a couple of people familiar with the supposedly-haunted location, but most of those folks are willing interviews who have a lot of information to give (or so they think). It’s quick and easy to write a “haunting” story … whereas, by comparison, most other types of real news are much harder to develop. In this age of pared-down newsrooms, one can see the appeal of such stories.

As for “reality” shows, supposed ghost hunters (cached) and “paranormal investigators” are very good at ginning up drama and staging things to appear however they wish them to. The shows’ producers don’t have to work too hard at their jobs. It’s easy money!

The latest example of “paranormal journalism” caught my eye — and engendered this blog post — because the venerable Hartford Courant reported flat-out that a building is haunted. As though it were definite and confirmed. There are no caveats, qualifiers, “reportedlys” or anything of the kind. Reporter Dan Haar lays it out unequivocally and unreservedly (WebCite cached article):

In Canton, near the town green, the contrast between The Junk Shop and The Blue House a few doors away is striking.

Both sell antiques and vintage furnishings but The Junk Shop, owned and run by Eric Hathaway, has the feel of a chaotic workshop and is open to noise from Route 44. The Blue House, owned and run by Eric’s wife, Kimberly Hathaway, is quiet, orderly, filled with linens and lace, artwork and clothing.

Oh, and The Blue House is haunted.

Did you catch that? It’s a simple, clear, unqualified statement: “… The Blue House is haunted.” Nothing else.

This is not the first time Connecticut’s paper of record has declared a building definitively “haunted”; I caught them at it right around 5 years ago. The Courant is also part of the same group (within the larger Tribune media conglomerate) which thought exorcisms were genuine “news” a couple years ago and told us all about how a “spiritual battle” is underway, and that “in recent years, it has intensified” … as though they’d somehow managed to verify that claim.

Anyone with a brain — and who can use it — knows there’s no such thing as a verified haunting. Lots of places are supposedly “haunted,” but that’s a far cry from being definitely known as “haunted.”

If Canton’s “The Blue House” has, in fact, been confirmed haunted, it ought to be trivial for its owners (or for reporter Haar or anyone else connected with the place) to provide verification of it. So let’s have it! Upon what objective evidence can anyone know this building is “haunted”? I dare someone to demonstrate it. (Oh, and when they’ve done so, they may as well turn around and apply for the million-dollar grant that the Randi Foundation will no doubt provide them.)

This is the kind the bullshit a paper like the Courant ought never to stoop to. It’s beneath their dignity, and their editors ought to have known better. And it’s a cheap way of grabbing eyeballs. As I said above, I get why they want to churn out stories like this. It’s easy writing and it’s dramatic. People like hearing this crap. Unfortunately, it remains crap, no matter how much readers might like it. And reporting affirmatively that a building is “haunted” without any verification that it actually is, is dishonest at best and lying at worst. It needs to fucking stop. It just does. No one is served by overly-credulous reporters repeating bullshit and lies as though it’s all true — no matter what excuse they come up with for having done so.

Photo credit: Naoshika, via Open Clip Art Library.

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Lebeau Plantation - fire guts historic building in Old Arabi Friday morning, Nov. 22, 2013. (Ray Solis Photo, via The Times-Picayune)As I’ve mentioned several times before, once upon a time, the vocation of “ghost hunter” and/or “paranormal investigator” was rare. It was so rare, in fact, that in Connecticut, where I grew up, these phrases were used to speak only of Lorraine Warren and her late husband Ed. Over the past 10 years or so, though — probably owing to the numerous television series on “ghost hunting” that have cropped up on almost every cable channel — it seems virtually everyone has become a “ghost hunter.” And why shouldn’t they? There’s no training involved, no credentialing, and no standards to abide by. Pretty much anyone can grab a camera, a recording device, maybe a light meter, and traipse through old places claiming to find “entities” and assorted other nutty stuff.

Most of the time, aside from the occasional trespassing incident (cached), and the even-more-occasional freak-accident death, there’s little harm this pastime. Still, “ghost hunters” do manage to get themselves into trouble, and even destroy property. The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports on a cadre of ghost hunters who, upset that they couldn’t manage to scare up a ghost in a supposedly-haunted plantation, set fire to it (WebCite cached article):

The seven men in custody in connection with the suspected arson of LeBeau Plantation [cached] in Old Arabi apparently were looking for ghosts, according to St. Bernard Parish Sheriff Jimmy Pohlmann. The sheriff said the men had been smoking marijuana and drinking in the vacant house.

One of the men is from Arabi, one is from Gretna, and the others are from Texas, the sheriff said.

The men, between the ages of 17 and 31, arrived at the home late Thursday night, likely entering through a gap in the fence around the property that had been cut out by other curious trespassers over the years, according to Col. John Doran, who oversees the Sheriff’s Office’s criminal enforcement.…

Doran said the men appear to have become frustrated when no ghosts materialized. Police believe that in a haze of alcohol and marijuana, one of them decided to burn the place to the ground.

Doran said the ringleader seemed to be Dusten Davenport, 31, of Fort Worth, Texas, who is suspected of having the idea to start the fire, and who began stacking up pieces of wood.

Despite being supposedly fogged by booze and/or pot, these creeps managed to do a pretty thorough job of razing the place. I have to wonder how intoxicated they truly were. They’re lucky none of them was hurt or killed during the course of this little adventure.

Photo credit: Ray Solis Photo, via The Times-Picayune.

Hat tip: Raw Story, via RationalWiki.

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High resolution scan of engraving by Gustave Doré illustrating Canto XXXIV of Divine Comedy, Inferno, by Dante Alighieri. Caption: Lucifer, King of HellLike so many other media outlets, the folks at WTIC-TV in Hartford seem to have run out of material to fill their nightly news, to the point that they ran a story on exorcisms in my home state of Connecticut. I’ll grant the Nutmeg State has some history in that regard. It’s home to the famous ghost-hunters, the Warrens (Lorraine and her late husband Ed). The famous “demon murder trial” took place here in the 1980s. It was the setting of the 2009 movie The Haunting in Connecticut. Famously haunted places in Connecticut include the abandoned hamlet of Dudleytown, the defunct Norwich State Hospital, Union Cemetery in Easton, and Pettibone’s Tavern (now Abigail’s Grill) … just to name a few.

In their effort to pursue the “hauntings as news” motif I’ve blogged about so many times already, the folks at WTIC-TV ran this story on a paranormal-investigation group and one of their recent cases (WebCite cached version). Unfortunately this is a video report only, and there doesn’t seem to be any way for me to embed it here … so you’ll have to click on the link in order to see it.

They report — uncritically — that a “spiritual battle” is underway, and that “in recent years, it has intensified.” The group they follow is called Connecticut Spirit Investigators, and the reporter cites its claimed 40-year history as a way to grant the group credibility. The group’s high-tech equipment is also on display. What is never explained, is precisely how the group “knows” that a stray magnetic field or a cold spot in a room can only be caused by a ghost, spook, spirit, demon or devil, and can’t possibly have any mundane explanation. They also seem to think weird noises coming from their so-called “ghost box” are proof that supernatural entities lurk at a place; I think it’s proof only that these folks have deluded themselves.

The reporter also claims the group’s “investigation” (if one could call what they do “investigating”) led to an exorcism being performed by a “Bishop McKenna” who’d also exorcised demons in the famous Amityille Horror case. The reporter may have considered this impressive, but I don’t. The famous Amityville, NY haunting turned out to have been a hoax (cached)! Also, the “bishop” in question would have to be Robert McKenna, whose consecration as bishop is suspect, and who in any event is a schismatic (he claims the popes after Pius XII have all been illegitimate); it’s extremely unlikely that McKenna has ever received official approval to perform any exorcisms.

The reporter also brings in another evangelist for ghost-hunting, Fr Bob Bailey from Rhode Island (who’s also appeared on the show Paranormal State). Fr Bailey pontificates on the eternal “cosmic struggle” mentioned at the beginning of the piece, as though he’s an authority on the subject, and not a paid hack who makes money making such claims.

The reporter ends the piece by stating that none of the region’s diocesan offices would discuss the matter, and referred the station directly to the Vatican. That also didn’t go anywhere, apparently. And that’s no surprise … the Catholic Church doesn’t really talk about exorcism — at least, not officially.

At no time during this piece was there even the slightest hint that the interviewees’ claims were anything less than 100% true. At no time does the reporter point out that there is not one iota of objective evidence of the existence of ghosts, demons, poltergeists, devils, souls, Satan, haunted houses, possessions, or the slightest veracity for any of the “paranormal investigators’” antics. At no time does the viewer hear that there’s no objective evidence that any “spiritual battle” is going on at all, much less any evidence offered that it has “intensified in recent years.” At no time did the reporter ask any probing questions, such as “How does any of your equipment prove there’s a ghost or demon here?” There’s nothing about this story that suggests it’s anything other than a puff-piece on CT Spirit Investigators.

I guess this is what passes for 21st century journalism. Unfortunately.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Pac Man GhostThe “hauntings as news” phenomenon is one I’ve blogged about many times, as a sterling example of lazy journalism at its most obvious. A nearby newspaper, the Torrington Register Citizen (part of the barely-alive collection of rags known as Journal Register Company) is a chief offender in this regard; they’ve reported several times on hauntings and ghosts as though they are real news stories deserving professional journalistic attention. That ghosts do not exist, and that hauntings do not really happen, appears not to matter to the RC‘s hypercredulous staff. They just continue running after every ghost they hear about, including this latest example of their idiocy and laziness (WebCite cached article):

RISEUP Paranormal CT, an affiliate of the Rhode Island based RISEUP Paranormal Group will be investigating the Warner Theater in Torrington, Connecticut on January 16th. The Connecticut based group is led by Gail Capolupo, Ann Collette, Don Krantz and Thomas Flanagan.

We are to be confident that these people are experts on ghosts, for reasons the RC carefully copies verbatim (I assume, since it reads that way) from the group’s press release:

RISEUP (The Rhode Island Society for the Examination of Unusual Phenomena) is a non-profit organization that specializes in researching, investigating, and documenting reported hauntings, UFO/USO experiences, and unidentified mysterious animal sightings. Members are trained to apply science in order to seek logical explanations about supposed paranormal events through the use of surveillance tools, recording devices and common sense. While RISEUP remains open to the existence of ghosts, spirits, extraterrestrial beings and crypto zoological animals, each investigation is conducted without pretensions allowing the group to conduct research as unbiased observers.

These are not really valid “credentials” granting weight to any of their determinations, however. That they’re non-profit does not mean they can’t be deluded or incompetent. That they “document” things does not grant veracity to what they document. That they claim to “apply science” to things, does not mean they actually do. That these people are “open” to strange things means they may be too credulous to bother looking into mundane, non-mystical explanations for things. That they claim to investigate “without pretensions” does not mean they actually do. That they say they’re “unbiased” does not mean they actually are. For all I know, these folks may sincerely believe the pablum and nonsense they’re serving up. But that also does not grant them any veracity.

The only way to establish the veracity of ghosts, is to subject them to rigorous, valid scientific testing. To date, this has never even been attempted, much less tried and failed. Anyone who is certain s/he can do so, would do well to submit an application to the James “the Amazing” Randi’s One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge, collect his/her prize, and become instantly wealthy.

And yes, the Randi Foundation has that money set aside. Yes, you will be allowed a say in how your own test is conducted. And not to worry if you don’t need all that money, you can always donate it to charity … so don’t let that stop you! If you’re right, you have absolutely nothing to lose, and everything to gain, by doing so.

Lastly … I’ve been to the now-magnificent Warner Theater in Torrington many times, beginning way back in the 70s when it was a dreary, run-down movie theater, rather than the art-deco live theater it is now. I’ve been in its backstage areas and all around the building. But never once have I seen even the slightest hint of anything that could even remotely be called a ghost. I grant that I’m a cold-hearted godless agnostic cynic and skeptic, so I guess the ghosts there have — quite obviously — read my mind, detected that, and steered clear of me so that I would remain skeptical.

Or something like that, the true believers love to say.

Photo credit: acordova.

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GhostI’ve blogged several times already on the dismal phenomenon of “hauntings in the news” — that is, when bona fide media outlets treat ghost stories, hauntings and other paranormal events as though they were truly newsworthy. Some of those incidents have involved a newspaper local to me, the Torrington (CT) Register-Citizen. Unsurprisingly, the RC continues — wrongly! — to report “ghosts” and hauntings as though they were news (WebCite cached article):

If you live in the Burlington [Connecticut] area, no doubt you have heard of the Green Lady of Burlington. But, her only claim to fame is she’s boring!

No tales of being scared out of your pants in the middle of the woods.

No disembodied heads popping out of teapots.

No terrifying bedroom appearances in the middle of the night.

She just slowly fades in, smiles at you like Mona Lisa and then slowly fades out in a green haze.

Wow. What cutting-edge journalism. A news story about a ghost story whose main feature is that it’s totally unremarkable! A non-newsworthy version of a non-story. What an incredible waste of time and space in a newspaper and on a Web site!

This report even includes putative “proof” the Green Lady of Burlington (CT) exists:

Below is a YouTube video of a visit to the graveyard by Barry Dillinger, with the only recorded EVP ever made at this site. She sort of moans. Turn your volume up to hear it. …

I don’t know what you heard, but I didn’t hear a damned thing. But even if I had … who’s to say that it couldn’t have been something uttered by a living (not dead) person off-camera? This video — even if it did contain any discernible “moaning” sound — does not constitute “proof” of the Green Lady of Burlington’s existence. Far from it!

It would be nice if the RC refrained from this kind of bullshit reporting. But given they have a history of offering this kind of “news,” I don’t expect they plan to stop any time soon. More’s the pity.

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Pam Ziobron, Deep River Public Library (Mark Mirko / Hartford Courant / 4/16/10)I’ve blogged before on the “hauntings in the news” trope. I’m amazed that reporters these days can’t seem to find anything better to report on. It’s nothing more than “make-news,” or stuff they crank out in order to take up space in the paper. This morning’s example comes from the venerable Hartford Courant (WebCite cached article):

Odd things are happening at the Deep River Public Library.

Staff member Pam Ziobron was working by herself late one Saturday. She had shut off all the lights except for the one at the circulation desk, where she was standing, when she had a strong sense that she wasn’t alone.

“It was just a feeling. … It was just so light and airy, like a female coming down the stairs. It was very, very real,” Ziobron said.

Oh well. I guess there’s no question about it, then. Whenever you get those “feelings … like a female coming down the stairs,” then it can’t possibly be anything else, now, can it?

The article goes on to cite a couple of “haunting” stories in the Deep River library, none with any better evidence than Ziobron’s. It also goes on to cite a presumed expert on the subject:

Michael Dionne, founder of Full Spectrum Ghost Hunters, said that about 1 percent of the cases he investigates are paranormal.

And of course we know Dionne can’t possibly be wrong about that, because … well … he makes a name for himself going around talking about the paranormal and electromagnetic fields and all. Right?

Wrong. These ad hoc, self-appointed “experts” have no objective, verifiable basis for any claim they make. Yet the Courant — which has the distinction of being Connecticut’s newspaper of record — touts one such person as having indisputable veracity.

Sheesh. What bilge. Get with it, Courant, and report some news, not useless tripe like this.

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The “hauntings as news” trope has gotten old and tired, yet journalists continue to pound out “haunting” stories — even though hauntings are not news. But this latest example is a twist on that trend. A nearby paper, the Torrington Register-Citizen, reports on the cessation of a haunting rather than one that’s ongoing (WebCite cached article):

The horses do not mysteriously switch stalls at the Santos farm anymore.

Nor does the cat’s bowl move from one step to another step to another.

Donna Santos believed spirits were at work inside her house and inside her barn on West Hill Road.

Ms Santos credits some help she received, for getting rid of her “ghosts”:

Eventually, she heard about a group called the Northwest Connecticut Paranormal Society. Comprised of people who believe they have experienced a paranormal activity, the society scrutinizes instances in which people report suspected supernatural activities. …

John Zontok, the founder of this paranormal society, describes himself as a skeptic and a critical thinker. With its goal being to educate people, the society includes a college professor, a professional photographer, a paralegal, a business executive, a Marine, a Reiki master, college students and a dog, according to the organization. …

“Our main goal is to find something to show that paranormal activity exists,” Zontok said. “I am a sceptic regarding the paranormal.”

Let me clear something up right now: No genuine “skeptic” is going to run a “paranormal society” that finds ghosts. It doesn’t happen. What Zontok is doing, is to claim to be a “skeptic” so that he can appear to disarm other, genuine skeptics. To paraphrase, “I’m a skeptic, and I believe in this stuff. If you’re a skeptic, you should too … and if you don’t, then you’re not a ‘real’ skeptic and are just being unreasonable.”

Sorry Mr Zontok, it doesn’t work. You don’t get to call yourself a “skeptic” but then run around acting like a hypercredulous nut chasing every ghost you hear about. I’m not stupid enough to fall for that maneuver. As for how a dog can be an expert on the paranormal … well … that hardly merits comment.

At any rate, as the Register-Citizen goes on to explain, after this society’s “investigation,” the Santos’s problems have ended:

Ever since the paranormal society people investigated, the unexplained phenomenon have stopped, according to Donna Santos.

Ms Santos, have you considered that these “unexplained phenomena” have ended — because there never were any ghosts in the first place? Perhaps whoever had been pulling tricks on you, decided to stop, after you reeled in the Northwest Connecticut Paranormal Society to check things over?

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