About the Guest Author:
Don E. Smith Jr.
Don Smith is a freelance writer from New Jersey. He enjoys writing for numerous websites and for comic book companies. When not writing for one of these outlets, Don is a published author with two books under his belt: HAWTHORNE from Arcadia Publishing and the upcoming GOFFLE ROAD MURDERS from History Press.
“I had a fan say to me, ‘You go where people run’,” said Linda Zimmermann, author of the popular “Ghost Investigator” series and this fan is correct. Where most people feel the goosebumps and the hair stand up on the back of the neck and make a quick exit, Zimmermann will use it as a “spidey sense” to push on in the name of science and a good story.
After she told me that story, I was reminded that about a year ago, I was listening to an internet radio show (I honestly forgot which one it was) where the host, also a ghost hunter (used here as a generic term), discussed the Holocaust Museum in Washington , D.C. having received two railroad cars. These two cars were used in transporting Jews to the Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz .
The host said there had been rumors of museum workers hearing unexplained sounds, as well as voices and all sorts of other unusual noises in and around the two railroad cars. “Wouldn’t it be great if we could set up cameras and recording devices and spend the night in the Holocaust Museum?” said the host.
When she said it, she said it with such glee and excitement that it caused three physical responses in me: goosebumps, the hair on the back of my neck stood up and an unnamed feeling in my stomach manifested.
She proceeded to discuss how workers at Ground Zero in Manhattan also encountered the unexplained. Considering it is the site of the collapse of the World Trade Center Twin Towers and thousands of innocent people died in one tremendous act of cowardly evil, it would make sense.
The host again said she would love to set up instruments and spend the night at Ground Zero and she said it with the same sense of excitement as a kid on Christmas morning. When she said that, I had another round of the same physical responses: goosebumps, the hair on the back of my neck stood up, and this time I was able to give a name to the feeling in my stomach – revulsion.
And this led me to ask several questions regarding ghost hunting:
- First, are there any places ghost hunters should just stay away from, like the Holocaust Museum or Ground Zero in Manhattan?
- Second, if that be the case, what about places like Gettysburg? It was the site of one of the hardest battles in the American Civil War?
- Third, would staying away from such places be cowardly?
To expand on the third question, let’s consider parapsychology is still in its early days as a science, like the early days of aviation, many amateur airplane engineers tried out different designs for flying machines. I remember seeing old footage taken in the early 20th century of a bicyclist with glider wings and a tail attached trying to fly, as well as a multi-leveled winged airplane (in the same style of the bi-winged airplane) collapsing as soon as it left the hangar.
If amateur parapsychologists stayed away from the Holocaust Museum or Ground Zero in Manhattan would that be equivalent of Wilbur and Orville Wright saying, “No thanks. If God meant for us to fly, he would have given us wings”?
It was then I asked Zimmermann her thoughts on the subject, with 15 years as the Ghost Investigator and over 20 books to her name, she seemed the first logical choice for me.
“I think parapsychology is in its infancy and science goes through growing pains,” said Zimmermann. “Take a look at the field of chemistry, it had to go through its growing pains to earn its place as a respected science.”
Zimmermann said she only goes into homes and buildings when asked.
“Many of the hauntings I investigate are in private homes and, I believe, are the spirits of former residents,” said Zimmermann. “But, I am invited into the homes by the current occupants, which is very important.”
Regarding a place Ground Zero, Zimmermann said that her living near New York City would make an investigation difficult.
“If I had to investigate there, because of what happened at the World Trade Center, it would be very upsetting,” she said. “So many lives were lost and it was so close to my home, physically and personally. Even ten years after the fact, something like that is just too recent and too raw. People need the space that comes with time.”
Seeking still another opinion on this subject, I contacted Ellen “Sprout” Dvorak of the Peace River Ghost Trackers based in Port Charlotte, Florida.
Dvorak said that Ground Zero is considered “hallowed” and it should be respected. “With September 11th, we are talking about 3,000 Americans souls that hallowed that ground,” said Dvorak. “Appropriateness of what happens on that ground has been discussed recently over the mosque that may or may not be built on the ground.”
Dvorak said that while it was clearly a political issue, it means that ghost hunting is still just too soon for everyone.
“Tempers and emotions are still high,” said Dvorak.
Going back to Zimmermann’s point about the “the space that comes with time” it led me to ask about the Battle of Gettysburg.
“With Gettysburg, almost 150 years have passed,” said Zimmermann. “The soldiers who fought in that battle, as well as their immediate relatives, have all passed on. There is no one left alive who could be exploited.
“But consider, Gettysburg was one of the deciding battles from the Civil War. As much as I have written on ghosts, I have written about Civil War history, and the men who died at Gettysburg helped hold the Union together.
“If that battle had gone another way, the country we know as the United States, today, would have been two different countries and for that alone, the dead on that battlefield, deserve our respect.” Zimmermann explained respect is the key.
“I have surfed the internet and I have found stories and footage of amateur spirit chasers acting in absolutely aggressive ways and the chasers will fully disclose names and locations,” said Zimmermann. “This is why, I approach each case differently. “For instance, when I visit the homes where ghost happenings, well, happen, I am sensitive to the relatives who are still alive.”
“There were many cases that if I revealed the real names, someone would or could be hurt,” said Zimmermann. “I still want to tell the
story because that is important, but not at the cost of the well being of the living.
“That is why when people call me, I make sure to build up a level of trust, because, like I said, when I see other hunters acting in an irritating manner and upsetting people, it is sad.”
As the cliche goes, it takes one bad apple in the bunch…
Dvorak said that much of the increase in interest in ghost hunting falls on reality television.
“This new crop of parapsychology groups use reality television shows as mentors and that is proving harmful to the industry,” said Dvorak.
According to Dvorak, her group the Peace River Ghost Trackers, which include teammates Scott Walker, Lori Chapman, Tom and Toni Land and Craig Datema, have had to clean up many a mess left by fans of televisions who are out “thrillseeking.”
We had one family contact us who were being terrorized by something supernatural,” said Dvorak. “They searched on line and found our site and found they could trust us.
“We went to their house and set up an investigation and helped out. However, after we left, other ghost groups sought out the family and harassed them to set up an investigation.”
Dvorak summed it up.
“That is just unethical,” she said.
Zimmermann said that the actions of the “thrillseekers” have ruined it for other investigators.
“Because some hunters, chasers and wannabe parapsychologists were so disrespectful, some historic sites are closed to ghost hunters,” said Zimmerman. “These people end up ruining it for us, and that is why respect for the people who died is so important.
I then asked her, “What if a tape recorder, a photographer or some other recording device records an unexplained occurrence at one of these relatively recent tragedies? Should the reading or photo be thrown out? Wouldn’t it be exploiting the tragedy?”
“Well, let me start with a Holocaust related subject,” answered Zimmermann. “After the second World War, the United States and the Soviet Union used former Nazi scientists. In fact, the V2 rocket was built on Jewish slave labor.”
She added, “I think we should use the information if only for the reason that these people would not have died in vain and we can use information for a greater good.”
Adding another facet to the topic, Zimmermann explained that exploring the “unexplained” can be tense and it helps to have a sense of humor.
“Let’s face it, being in a dark room with a recorder and something unseen is just not something people do normally,” said Zimmermann. “I mean a sense of humor helps at times like that. A quick quip, a sly remark there but nothing over the top insulting, because we are not 100 sure percent what is there. I am sure the horse is now glue on this
point, but respect is the key to this.”
After speaking with Zimmermann and Dvork, I contacted a third paranormal enthusiast, Joe Wright with Paranormal Scene Investigators, which is found at ParanormalSceneInvestigators.com, and discussed with him what I heard on that internet radio show.
“My first response to that, we should never take pleasure in other’s sorrow,” said Wright. “That is just sad and tacky.”
“We had been invited to investigate a firehouse that had been the home several firefighters that had been killed in a fire in Shelby, North Carolina , back in the 1970s,” said Wright. “We refused because we did not feel it would be respectful to the family members that were still alive.”
He explained that if in the year 2070 the next generation of Paranormal Scene Investigators are invited take a look at the fire house in Shelby, he saw no harm in that.
“As the investigators treat and act in the respectful manner it deserves because I do not condone with provoking entities,” said Wright.
Not only that, he added another point to the whole discussion.
“I have written and given talks that, unless you are invited, you cannot go into a haunted structure with ‘both barrels blazing’,” said Wright. “You don’t know what kind of energy is in place or it could be positively or negatively charged. You don’t know if you are dealing with a demon or a benevolent spirit.”
He continued and said “you don’t know if you are going to go into a home and stir up a bunch of crap that would not have remained dormant had it not been for your involvement. We don’t know as much as we think we do.”
Wright shared another story proving this point.
“Here in North Carolina, we have a beautiful plantation called the Green River Plantation,” said Wright in a telephone interview. “And every year around New Year’s Day, the back door will unlatch on its own and open. And the homeowners were not at all bothered by it. They figured it was Rebecca, the ghost of a former resident, just reminding
them she was there like she has every year.”
But Wright said that does not happen anymore.
“Every year, the owners open the home up so people can tour the grounds and the like. Well this one ‘well meaning’ strayed away from the group and she found herself by the back door. The tourist had prayer beads, prayed and chanted asking Rebecca to go into another realm. And since that happened, the door never opened again and they can’t open the door now.
“I mean along with what has been discussed, unless we have been invited, who are we to presume that we can drive an entity from their home and cast them into another plane of existence?” asked Wright. “For all we know she could be in some other realm of torment and not necessarily in a happier place.”
Dvorak agreed with Wright. “What is funny about many of the shows is they show the supernatural hunters come in, stir up the spirits and then leave,” said Dvorak. “They end up leaving these poor families worse off then when they came in.”
Dvorak said too many ghost groups are formed just for the fun of it, and not for the real science of it, or to help people. But along with this, Dvorak, along with what Wright and Zimmermann said – no places should be off limits, but respect and the passage of time are the keys and with that more and more ghost hunters will find restrictions from visiting places, where the normal person will dare not tread.
Don E. Smith Jr.
Comic book and freelance writer & author