You can learn a lot by attending a slumber party with fifty strangers. Especially if that slumber party takes place in an abandoned theater, and those strangers are professional ghost hunters.
To clarify, we have never been professionals. This was over a decade ago, when we were still looking for a Halloween event that could top bags of free chocolate and youth. It doesn’t exist. Armed with sleeping bags, cameras, digital recorders, flashlights, and a couple of friends–we embarked on a journey that was entertaining for all the wrong reasons.
At first we were afraid. We had read stories about the theater, and came equipped with the knowledge of its tragedies and hauntings. There was definitely comfort in numbers. The place was as dark and creepy as promised. There was no way any of us were going anywhere alone, even if there had been electricity. It was thrilling as we aimed our cameras at random shadows and took turns making each other stand in “cold spots.” We were jealous of all the other people who had brought high-tech equipment that could actually give a reading of those temperature changes. We found ourselves coveting their EMF meters and fancy ghost-detecting kits.
Around the second hour in, I found myself alone in a basement bathroom. All alone, in a dark stall with my flashlight. Why didn’t I just use the lobby restrooms? Because by hour number two I was desperate for some ghost action, even if it was imaginary. I no longer had any fear of the building, and I felt as if every horror movie I had ever seen was a lie. I was looking for the scariest room in the place. Here I was, a girl alone in a haunted basement bathroom, separated from the group, in complete darkness, in a room with mirrors. How could it not go wrong?
Disappointed, I found my friends and we wandered up to the mezzanine. There we happened upon a group of professionals from Pennsylvania interviewing an actual ghost. It wasn’t clear at first, mostly because of the complete darkness and the ghost’s invisibility. We figured it out when one of them yelled at us for blocking their shot. They had a light showing up when they looked through their camera, and, assuming it was a spirit–the team got right down to the typical interview questions. So we took our seats and enjoyed the show.
If you are unfamiliar with serious ghost hunting, you should know there are traditional questions you want to ask the deceased. The first and most obvious question is “Do you know you are dead?” This is a touchy subject for some spirits. Can you imagine wasting years in a dark theater just for someone to notice you, break the bad news, and then point you to the light over in the corner? Think of all the better places you could have gone if you had only known. Be prepared for poltergeist-level reactions.
Next comes a series of questions similar to what you might ask someone with a head injury. You want to make sure the ghost knows where they are, what year it is, and who currently occupies The White House. If they are wrong, correct them. Or snicker among yourselves.
Once you have established these basic facts, it’s time to move on to questions related to the ghost’s feelings. You know, like “Do you ever feel trapped, confused, or lost?” You also want to know if the ghost is angry, sad, or lonely. This type of questioning will help you to determine if they are a good ghost or a bad ghost.
Finally, you want to cover afterlife mysteries and general spirit taunting. This is the point where members of the group just took turns making us laugh with their ridiculous questions.
“Do you feel invisible?”
“Have you ever attacked anyone?”
“Can you see yourself in a mirror?”
“What’s your favorite color?
“What was it like the first time you walked through a wall?”
This went on for some time. The idea is to feel the ghost out, intensifying the questions gradually. The trouble is, this is a one-sided conversation. These experts are just hoping they will hear the ghost’s answers later when they play back the recording in their hotel room.
(I wonder how that turned out.)
While we saw no ghosts, that little mezzanine performance was the highlight of our evening. I’m sure that investigation team hated us. We didn’t even have matching shirts or professional cases for our equipment (or equipment). But we were polite and encouraging, and we didn’t deserve their eye rolls.
I enjoy the unknown as much as the next sucker willing to pay money to sleep in an abandoned building. Let’s not forget that we were there in the first place. I love how ghost lore and history go hand in hand, and I like thinking about the possibilities the unknown offers. I hoped they would hear something on their recordings. And not just us laughing.
I also know we see what we want to see, regardless of available information. Considering how little we understand about hauntings, people still manage to create rules for it. There are at least a dozen other theories that may be just as intriguing, but we get stuck in our “traditional” explanation of things. I don’t know why, but redefining a thing feels risky to us. We would rather continue being wrong than to get fooled again.
This can be true for everything, not just the paranormal. There are a billion topics we know almost nothing about, but we do know at least something about a lot of those things. Until someone gives us better information, that something is all we have to go on. We can’t be experts on everything. Our willingness to accept new information depends on how much we want to believe it. Or, it depends on who else believes it.
Some people are married to the fragments of information they pull from the back of their brains. In fact, they may even make a point to look for supporting information to back it up. They don’t want to be wrong–and they will find what they need to keep believing. You can always find fifty other people to agree with you and form a team of belief or disbelief. It could be the paranormal, politics, religion, ethics, or parenting advice.
It’s the reason we still have to explain that Asperger’s exists, ASD children don’t just need a good spanking, and that Rain Man is not an autism guide. There’s always an opposing argument somewhere, supported by various levels of research. Discipline, medication, vaccines, diet, education….we all make up our minds and stay put. Then we team up with others to form a mass that’s practically immovable.
Some topics have less impact than others. Something tells me those ghost hunters from Pennsylvania are still telling the story about the night they talked to a ghost in an Illinois theater. Maybe they have even identified the spirit from the theater’s history. Others will believe them, and may even use their story as evidence to back up their own experiences. I suppose it all comes down to our individual definition of evidence, and how much we want to believe it.