Eastern State Penitentiary with the Ghost Hunters

After writing so much about Eastern State Penitentiary, I went back to the first season of Ghost Hunters to watch their original investigation of the site. This is perhaps their most infamous, dare I say notorious episode. It’s been several years since I’ve seen it and I forgot that not only was it the episode where Brian comes running down the hall yelling his famous "Dude, Run!" line, but it’s also the episode where they capture a figure walking around in cell block 12.

In looking back it’s pretty clear they were trying to build drama and tension into the show since they weren’t sure the paranormal angle was going to stick. We have the petty bickering between Steve and Brian, as well as the drama of whether Sheri is going to stick around. There’s the trouble with Brian Bell and his oversleeping and abandoning his post of watching the monitors at Command Central. Plus, there’s the general trouble of just trying to get everything set up and knowing how to use their equipment.

But the big topper is how Jason is an arrogant ass to everyone he runs into. He’s pushy, rude, condescending and seems to want to pick a fight all the time. He’s even pushy with Grant, telling him what to do and how to deal with Brian Bell. Just to prove he’s got a pair, he spouts off to Brian Harnois, "Yeah, we want to talk with you, you got a problem with that?" It’s actually surprising the show made it out of the first season. What’s more surprising is that Jason could walk down those narrow halls with an ego that large.

On to more important things of Brian and a cameraman tearing down the hallway screaming, "Dude, Run!" after seeing something pass right in front of them. The odd thing is, the whole episode leading up to this event has been about keeping calm and not running when you see something. How strange for them to spend so much time talking about not running from ghosts and then all of a sudden that exact thing happens, as if on cue. They certainly wouldn’t have planned something like that would they? That’s just pure coincidence, right? When you do that sort of thing in a novel it’s called "foreshadowing" but this is "reality TV", there’s no script… Right? Right?

The next big piece of excitement is the apparition they catch while everyone is off at dinner. Supposedly when everyone has left the cell block and no one is paying attention or watching the monitors or making sure someone isn’t playing around an apparition appears on camera. Of course we’re all familiar with the footage which now looks like someone with a cape over their head, wearing jeans and tennis shoes walking toward the camera then turning to run away. Strangely, that’s exactly what Jason says it is. He says it looks like someone is playing a prank on them. But try as they might, this brain trust can’t seem to replicate what they saw. Apparently it’s too dark for Stumbling Brian to walk with a cape over his head and no one else thinks to try it for themselves. So obviously if Brian can’t do it, it must be paranormal. Since Jason thinks Brian is a incompetent boob, I’m surprised he even let him try. Considering his ego in this episode I’m surprised he let anyone do anything. Odd though, I figure he would have tested it out himself. Or had Grant do it.

What I find funny is that they’ve all but admitted how it was done. Jason comes right out and says it looks like a person with a cape over their head. He admits to seeing a pant leg. He admits no one was actually up there paying attention. He admits readily it looks like a prank. So is this one of those "wink, wink, nudge, nudge" moments, that if he completely dismisses the obvious then it has to be something else. The answer is so obvious we’d be stupid to believe it?

Looking back on this episode, the entire thing feels staged and rehearsed. The comments leading up to Brian running seem so contrived. Jason saying the whole apparition is a hoax, then slyly laughing it off seems downright bizarre. The forced drama with Brian Bell and Sheri was just stupid. And Jason picking fights with everyone is painful to watch. For not having a script they sure do seem to be putting a lot of things in place.

After watching this one again, I’m not entirely sure why I found this show appealing.


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Ghost Hunters International – Duran Sanatorium/Rose Hall – S02E13

Costa Rica – Duran Sanatorium

For the first part of the investigation, GHI heads down to Costa Rica to investigate the Duran Sanatorium. This location has gone through many changes, from tuberculosis hospital, to a mental ward, to a minimum security prison, to a maximum security prison. It’s certainly seen it’s fair share of troubled patients and ill deeds. Not to mention, many of these patients and prisoners were mistreated.

First thing to note: Perhaps Paul could find a big boy shirt with sleeves on it to wear? Maybe this is the macho Costa Rican biker look, but it looks so tacky visiting a client dressed like that. I guess he was trying to show off his tattoos. Remember, you can’t be a true ghost hunter without them.

Not much happens during this investigation, but shock of shocks, the team actually does some debunking. Apparently the clothes line is mistaken for ghostly apparitions. The movement of the clothes can cause odd flickers and shadows in the room.

The investigation is pretty quiet, but at the reveal Robb and Barry spring some new evidence on the client. They have a picture of a blob in the window of the Administration building. For heaven’s sake, that could be a moth, a bird, a flicker of light or a flying squirrel. Ok, maybe not a flying squirrel, but it’s hardly gripping evidence of the paranormal.

The next photo is one featuring a blob out in the courtyard. Yes, there is something in the photo; a shapeless white, fuzzy, streak. It could be something paranormal, but it could just as easily be a bad reflection, the camera picking up the flash or even humidity. It’s interesting, but to say it’s paranormal is quite a reach.

But reach they do…

And finally they have the picture of a little girl sitting the steps. If you really want to stretch your imagination you can almost, sort of, maybe, create an outline of a little girl. It looks more like wishful thinking to me.

It should come as no surprise they say the place is haunted.

Jamaica – Rose Hall Great House

Next up is the Rose Hall Great House. Annie Hall, the "White Witch", practiced voodoo and apparently treated her slaves quite badly. She is also believed to have cast spells on them. Annie is also noted as killing her husband with arsenic.

First thing to note here is the sheer volume of noise coming from the jungle. You can barely hear them during their little side interviews and while they’re walking around. No EVPs for this location, which to me, makes the outcome somewhat interesting. She sounds like the sort who would stick around and raise some Cain.

Once again, I’m in shock as GHI kicks in the debunking gear! They debunk the idea of people capturing Annie sitting on her bed as people capturing their own flash. They also debunk the idea of people capturing Annie in the mirror. Kathy (the client) is skeptical so Robb does a live demo. He even goes so far as to show the image in the "evidence" photo was of a vase on the shelf (Bad camera angles will get you every time!). Finally they uncover the rattling bottles as a giant rat roaming around. I haven’t seen them do this much debunking the entire season! Robb was on fire! As an aside, I hope the Health Department wasn’t watching that bit with the rat.

It almost comes across that when Robb and team can’t be persuaded by bangs, pops and those damnable EMF meters they can really get to the root of the paranormal. They dismiss Rose Hall as being haunted, but Kathy doesn’t agree. She still clings to the idea the place is haunted.

So is this the last episode for the season? Why was it so short? Last season GHI belted out 23 episodes. For this season they bailed out at lucky number 13. They had such a huge break I figured a whole lot more episodes were coming. Do they not want to compete with Ghost Hunters and the new season or is there something else going on here? Are we going to see a lineup change on Ghost Hunters?

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American Paranormal – Eastern State Penitentiary – Part II

So where does all this leave us?

I fully admit that their findings don’t explain away paranormal activity for all people in all situations. However they bring up some very interesting questions and bring to light some serious shortcomings with how paranormal investigations are conducted.

Obviously, far too many investigators rely on the EMF detector to prove the existence of spirits and as we’ve seen that’s unreliable at best. Far too many things can effect those readings. Shutting off the lights will have no impact. Even if a location has no power the very equipment an investigator uses can give false positives. It’s not the absolute discovery tool it’s being made out to be. If anything, it’s results should be taken with a grain of salt. Personally, I think investigators need to ditch the EMF and that stupid K2 meter. They are nothing but faux-science that barely have root in the real world. As we’ve seen, to continue saying a spirit can be detected by such a device is proving to be completely inaccurate.

The results also show that the power of suggestion is a consuming force. People can easily convince themselves of paranormal activity, regardless of whether it truly exists or not. If you believe you’re in a haunted location or someone tells you paranormal activity is taking place you can create all sorts of experiences that may not be real. The mind can subconsciously generate sights, sounds and smells to give support to those beliefs. We’ve obviously seen the power of suggestion at work. Ryan is convinced a place is haunted even before he shows up. He doesn’t need evidence to support that claim, he just feels it. The more compelling the stories are about a location the more the Ghost Hunters try to support those claims even when the evidence is lacking. Everyone says the Stanley Hotel is haunted or Eastern State is haunted, so why would they go against the grain and say it isn’t? They hear what they want to hear in the evidence to make it real. This is the very reason we have urban legends. Stories just build and build.

And obviously the Ghost Adventures team feels a place is haunted, that’s why they chose it. They have it built up in their minds that they are battling the spirits, that dark energy is surrounding them and that they will taunt and mess with the spirits until they get evidence of their presence. When you go into a place with that mindset every bump, creak, bang, noise, car light, and reflection is a sure sign of the paranormal. When you’re that convinced of something, actual evidence isn’t really necessary. Your personal experiences are all you need.

This is perhaps the biggest problem with investigations, the personal experience. Investigators convince themselves something is going to happen and then they get caught up in it. Every noise feeds into the experience and heightens the senses and soon it doesn’t matter what’s really going on, the personal experience becomes the reality. I mean seriously, have you seen Ghost Adventures actually dismiss or debunk anything? They are so wound up as soon as they enter the building no matter what happens they’re going to have a paranormal experience.

I believe American Paranormal also shows the fatal flaw in how investigators work. Why doesn’t Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures and even Paranormal State leave their equipment running overnight with no one in the building so they can "get a feel for a place" and tell what noises are normal? Wouldn’t it be exceedingly useful to know which noises they could safely ignore and which ones to pay attention to? How interesting it would be to record a train at 3:00am or a truck rolling by at 12:30, that causes dishes to rattle or headlights to reflect off mirrors or beds to vibrate. Or they could listen to the sounds of all those animals scratching at the walls or crawling around in the attic. The fact that none of these groups do anything like this is a huge oversight and shows they aren’t applying a scientific method to what they do. Once again, the Ghost Hunters aren’t scientists.

And what about all those claims that lightning and thunderstorms can help the paranormal manifest? There may be some truth to that, but not in the way most investigators think. It can help "stir up the paranormal" because of the frequencies the pounding rain and rolling thunder give off. That low rumble could create the infrasound effect which can make you see things and experience phenomenon that really aren’t there. There’s a reason a ghost story sounds even creepier on a dark and stormy night!

Overall this was an extremely interesting show that brought to light dozens of potential fallacies on how investigations are conducted. The EMF meter is bunk, paranormal groups need to actually record an empty location before they investigate it, the power of suggestion can make you experience things that aren’t actually there and that a lot of ghost hunting theories fly in the face of known physics. Does this episode debunk every paranormal claim out there? Certainly not, but when you take the information from Ph.D. scientists and compare it with the science from a couple of plumbers or a trio of documentary film makers or even a college Journalism student it does make you question some of the results the investigators come up with.


Infrasound – The Ghost in the Machine

Research by Vic Tandy, a lecturer at Coventry University, suggested that the frequency 19 Hz was responsible for many ghost sightings. He was working late one night alone in a supposedly haunted laboratory at Warwick, when he felt very anxious and could detect a grey blob out of the corner of his eye. When he turned to face it, there was nothing.

The following day, he was working on his fencing foil, with the handle held in a vice. Although there was nothing touching it, the blade started to vibrate wildly. Further investigation led him to discover that the extraction fan was emitting a frequency of 18.98 Hz, very close to the resonant frequency of the eye (given as 18 Hz in NASA Technical Report 19770013810). This was why he saw a ghostly figure — it was an optical illusion caused by his eyeballs resonating.

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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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