American Paranormal – Eastern State Penitentiary – Part I

Absolutely fascinating!

After reading a few articles about this new show I decided it needed my attention. American Paranormal is a group of scientists (no, real scientists) put together by National Geographic to explore the scientific nature of ghosts and paranormal events. Their destination for this episode is the widely known and imminently scary, Eastern State Penitentiary. The Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures team and just about everybody else has done investigations and soiled themselves within these walls, so what better place to test out theories and work up some experiments?

The American Paranormal team is here to ask if there’s any basis for the experiences people have. And they brought a ton of cool equipment with them (no, real scientific equipment). Besides it’s recent popularity on paranormal shows, claims of activity go back decades. Even Al Capone and his syphilis riddled brain claimed to see ghosts in his cell. One big paranormal claim is that of a locksmith named Gary Johnson who was working one night on the cells (night calls to a haunted prison?) when a slew of apparitions appeared and spoke to him. He claims the experience lasted several minutes with ghostly figures and apparitions talking to him. Of course there are dozens of other claims.

So why is this placed haunted? Why is it such a cornucopia of experiences and since so much happens here, can the scientists actually capture a sprit’s presence? If the ghosts actually do show up, they should be able to capture it.

The fun stuff starts with a 3D model of the prison, specifically cell block 12 which is supposed to have the greatest amount of activity. This gives a full layout of the environment so if something happens they will be able to pinpoint it’s location.

While the 3D imaging takes place there is a discussion on EMF meters, the tool of the paranormal investigators trade. The scientists confirm that everything gives off some sort of electromagnetic charge; from watches, to cell phones, to power lines, to the very EMF meters themselves. If it’s on, it’s giving off some small amount of EMF. The takeaway is that EMF spikes and EMF detectors are unreliable gauges of paranormal activity. Hopefully no one was surprised by that.

As for the rest of the investigation, it’s broken down into several distinct parts, the first of which involves Dr. Jim Houran who has degrees in clinical psychology and psychology (psychology and ghost hunting, I like it!). He wants to see what influence "confirmation bias" or the power of suggestion has on a place. He takes two groups of volunteers and separates them into true believers and relative skeptics. He then tells the group who is more prone to believe that the place is haunted and that they should experience paranormal activity. He tells the skeptics the exact opposite. He then tells both groups to go investigate certain parts of the prison and report on their experiences and feelings.

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that the people who believed most in the paranormal had the greatest number of experiences, while those with a more skeptical approach reported no activity. Both groups investigated and took notes in the same location, just at different times. This lends itself to the idea that people can convince themselves to have experiences. We’ve all been saying that for years, but now we have evidence of it in action. Basically, you can convince yourself of anything.

Another big part of their work is to try and determine what ghosts are mode of. As we know from afterschool and Saturday morning cartoons as well as the Ghost Hunters, ghosts can appear and then disappear through walls when chased. Or can they? The question is raised since an object can not actually exist as a vapor, or mist but yet actually go through walls. If a ghost is made of electrons, atoms and energy it can’t go through walls due to the repulsion factor of electrons. Dr. Dan Hooper of the FERMILAB Theoretical Astrophysics group is brought in to offer some ideas.

So what are they made up of? Well, how about neutrinos? Neutrinos or "ghost particles" can pass through walls, but the problem is, you can’t see them. They wouldn’t show up as a vapor or mist. So now there is the debate as to how ghosts appear and if they do appear, they can’t walk through walls. You have a Catch-22 of ghost appearing, then walking through walls. Kind of throws a wrench into how investigators see apparitions. Plus it also causes problems for the whole "residual haunting" where ghosts walk through walls after construction since that wall didn’t exist in their time.

Next up is the actual environment itself. Why does Eastern State Penitentiary produce so many reports of the paranormal? Are there hidden rides and candy we’re not aware of? The building itself may hold the answer. The experiment with infrasound was quite interesting. Sound engineers Bob Berens and Steve Africk believe that certain frequencies can create certain moods and certain feelings. The phenomenon is known as infrasound and the idea has been around since 2003.

They believe that very low frequencies of 19Hz may be causing "paranormal" behavior. It’s lower than the ear can hear, but the body can feel and react to it. Such a low frequency can cause nausea, dizziness, depression, feelings of anger and frustration and disorientation. Not only does it have an impact on your mood but it can effect your vision. This low frequency can actually cause the eyeball to shake. Are you seeing things out of the corner of your eye? There might be a reason for that.

Which leads to the next experiment. Dr. Houran leads the group into two cells. One cell is unchanged, while the other has a sound machine pushing out tones of 19Hz onto the investigators. Both groups say they feel sadness, depression, dread and feel sick when they’re in the infrasound cell. As soon as they leave, the feelings pass. Even the skeptics say the room feels heavy, they feel sad, and don’t like being in the cell. Certainly sounds like a ghostly experience doesn’t it? Even Dr. Houran says he feels strange, almost depressed, as he’s near the machine and he knows its there.

The final part of the investigation is to turn on all their data collection devices and leave the building. They don’t walk around calling for spirits, or demanding the spirits come out and make their presence known. They let the equipment capture all the sounds, noises and energy of the building itself.

What they discover is pretty interesting. It rains that night and causes audio frequencies of 19Hz to be generated. This would in essence cause oppressive feelings. The very nature of the building and the environment can create circumstances for people to have paranormal experiences.

The water also accounts for unexplained cold spots. With all the equipment running, they don’t capture any anomalies, energy spikes, ghostly figures, phantom cold spots or anything else that could be considered paranormal. Does that completely discount all paranormal activity at Eastern State? It explains what happened on a single night, but really opens the doors to a slew of questions, that so far those in the paranormal field seem to be ignoring.

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