Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Quality Over Quantity in Paranormal Investigation

People are always asking, "What is the one piece of advice you'd give to new investigators or people wanting to get into the field of paranormal investigation?"  My standard, go-to answer in the past has always been to never stop learning.  I am a HUGE supporter of higher education in the paranormal field and feel that no matter how seasoned an investigator, there is always so much that can still be learned.

I still feel that way, but the more I think about it and the more I interact with groups out there, I've redefined my answer to be a little more all-encompassing.  Now, my answer to that question is...

Quality over Quantity!

This really applies to ALL aspects of the paranormal investigation/ghost hunting process, but I've broken down some of the key areas where this concept is essential.

1. Strive for Quality Evidence--You want to collect evidence that will hold up to peer review and scientific scrutiny.  You might have hundreds of photos or EVPs that you believe are proof of the paranormal, but if they cannot hold up to analysis, they're essentially worthless. This is an area where the education component does play a big role.  Educate yourself on the many, many false positives that can occur within these and other mediums, and how to spot them.  Learn how to eliminate or reduce variables that can negatively impact the integrity of your evidence.  Where applicable, try to correlate evidence---a drop in temperature might be easily dismissed, but a drop in temperature combined with a spike in EMF might be worth further consideration.

2. Invest in Quality Equipment--You don't have to have all the new toys out there.  In fact, its generally accepted in the paranormal community that many of the gadgets specifically marketed to the ghost hunting field simply don't work.  Instead of spending all your money on devices that operate on conjecture only, invest the bulk of your budget in good, quality basics.  A high-end camera, DVR system, and voice recorder are my top picks for most important gear...and then from there, you can research and consider some of the more interesting gadgets available.  Just remember, even high-end, quality equipment is only as good as the operator.  Learn the ins and outs of your devices, their limitations, how they work, how to properly interpret their data, and anything that can cause false positives.

3. Develop a Core Group of Dedicated and Committed Team Members--It might be awesome to have a huge family group covering multiple states, or having multiple members for your own state as a part of your team.  However, you have to be careful that each and every one of those members is representing your organization with the utmost professionalism and with a shared sense of ethics.  A team is only as strong as its weakest member, and if there's even one bad apple, it can affect the whole system negatively.  Get to know your team and extended paranormal family well.  Also, all team members must be responsible, trustworthy, committed, dedicated, and open-minded.  It's great to have plenty of team members, even in smaller groups, but make sure they are there and ready to work when necessary.  This includes being available for ALL group functions and knowledgeable on a variety of investigative topics.  A few really good investigators are worth way more than a dozen who are in it only for the occasional thrill.

4. Give Each Investigation the Time and Effort it Deserves--To me, this is the most important aspect.  I've seen so many teams that truly were weekend warriors; they would investigate 1-2 locations every week, for many weeks straight.  After a short time, they would simply disappear, most likely because they had just burned themselves out.  Other than simply burning themselves out, I have no idea how these people effectively made time for the entire investigation process, plus hold down a job and spend time with their families!

Spending a couple of hours in a cemetery taking pictures is not an investigation.  Visiting an historic location during normal business hours with the general public does not constitute an investigation.  While these types of activities might be a great way to test new equipment and get a little experience, they technically aren't investigations. What constitutes an investigation is really dedicating the time and effort to fully research the location, document potential paranormal activity, explore natural explanations, analyze evidence, try to recreate evidence and submit it for deeper scrutiny and review, and present that evidence which cannot be accounted for.  For many investigations, there's also an after-care component, as we work with our clients on how to best handle and monitor their situation.  And, for me, many investigations are never really complete--there's always more things that can be learned about a location historically, more theories that can be applied and tested, and more potential evidence to be collected.  Don't sell yourself or your clients short---treat each investigation and/or location as a top priority.  Your website may not be as full, but you'll make up for it in quality.

Friday, April 18, 2014

A Phantom Procession in Marion County

Samuel Linn's Cabin, from Pleasant Valley website
There are a LOT of ghost stories from the Marion County area around Vinegar Hill!

It was a tough decision to pick which one to focus on for today's blog, but I was particularly struck with an old tale that was first recorded around 1959 and then made its print debut within the pages of Ruth Ann Musick's The Telltale Lilac Bush.  The tale was re-hashed in A Guide to Haunted West Virginia, with some added details, yet unfortunately, this is one story that is still largely unverified.  I've taken this wonderful piece of local folklore and tried to add as much historical documentation as possible to bring it to life.

This is the tale of how Kettle's Run got its name.

Around the time of the Civil War, a log cabin in Benton's Ferry was used as a stop on the Underground Railroad.  The home, known as "The Log", was said to be about a half a mile up from where the old Benton's Ferry Bridge crossed the river, right near the base of Vinegar Hill.  Abolitionists brought escaping slaves to the cabin to await safe passage across the river and onward north to freedom.  However, one evening, raiders were waiting.

A dozen slaves were murdered and their decapitated heads were thrown into a large kettle, which was then placed by the river's edge as a warning to the family who owned The Log.  The family, however, refused to let the threat scare them into submission, and in an act of defiance, took the kettle containing the grisly remains across the river and gave them a Christian burial in the Linn Cemetery.

According to the folklore, the slaves never found rest.  Twelve pairs of glowing lights, said to be the eyes of the slaves searching for freedom...and their heads...were observed by the people of Benton's Ferry leaving Linn Cemetery in a row.  The lights were seen crossing the river, then proceeding up the road toward Vinegar Hill.  A mournful chant was said to accompany the phantom procession.
Linn Cemetery by Gia Hays

What is interesting is that the lights, although described as very bright, could only been seen from a certain window in The Log.  At the original time of the story's publication, it was noted that this house WAS still standing, yet certain renovations had changed the placement of the window, thus putting a halt to anymore sightings of the ghostly lights.

So, is there any truth to this story?

I haven't been able to verify a ton, but I did find some interesting details.  Although the names Kettle Run and Copper Hollow (the road past Linn Cemetery) are no longer in use, there's definitely some historical precedence that lends at least a little to the folklore.

Samuel Linn was born in Hampshire County in 1789.  It 1835, he and his wife Anza moved to the area around Benton's Ferry.  Before the Benton's Ferry bridge was built, a man named Asa Bee established a ferry across the river at this location, linking to the community of Kingmont.  It went through a number of operators before the Benton family took over, so when the post office was established in 1836, the area was called Benton's Ferry.

That same year, Samuel Linn finished building his log cabin, and he and his wife settled in and raised their nine children in the new home.  Samuel Linn unfortunately passed away in 1852 and was buried on a section of the family's land.  Anza had specifically picked out a nice location by a pine tree to lay her husband to rest.  Samuel is considered the first burial in the newly established Linn Cemetery, which is still a thriving burial ground today, yet that might not be entirely accurate.  Samuel was buried in August--but Thomas Westley was buried the same year in MAY.

Samuel Linn tombstone by Jeff Custer

In any event, the cemetery and former homestead of the Linn family are now incorporated into the city of Pleasant Valley.  In 1995, the smaller communities of Benton's Ferry, Kingmont, Millersville and Pleasant Valley incorporated into one larger municipality.  And, according to that municipality's website, Samuel Linn's cabin is still standing and is owned by Robert Ice.

I can't guarantee that Samuel's cabin is the same cabin known in the story as The Log, nor can I verify that the family in the story is the Linns, and not another local family.  However, I think there's a good chance, based on the location of the cabin in relation to the cemetery.  Also, skimming through the Linn family, the fact that this family was a very honest and fair group who always did the right thing, kept popping up.  I didn't see any mention of service in the Civil War for either side, however. If you have any information on this story, I'd love to hear it!

Links and Sources
Linn Cemetery on Find-a-Grave
Pleasant Valley History
Linn Genealogy
A Guide to Haunted West Virginia by Walter Gavenda and Michael Shoemaker
The Telltale Lilac Bush by Ruth Ann Musick

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Ghosts of the Cedar Grove Inn, MS

It's somewhat bittersweet; the first round of Haunted America is almost at an end.  Just two more states remain after today's blog about a beautiful and extremely historic southern B&B in Vicksburg, Mississippi.

That bed and breakfast is known as Cedar Grove and was once the main house on the plantation of the same name. It was built by John Alexander Klein, a local planter and businessman who dabbled in many areas of commerce.

 Construction on Cedar Grove began in 1840, shortly after John met a young lady named Elizabeth Day who was visiting New Orleans with her parents.  Elizabeth was a mere 14 years old at the time, but following her 16th birthday, the couple was married.  An extended European honeymoon allowed the couple a chance to purchase plenty of furnishings for their new home while construction continued in their absence.  When they returned, they lived briefly in a nearby guest house until the elaborate home was in livable condition.  Still, construction wasn't completely finished until 1852.

The couple were able to spend only a decade enjoying their new home before the outbreak of the Civil War turned life upside down for them and many other southern families.  A skirmish left a cannon ball embedded in the wall of Cedar Grove, which can still be viewed today, but luckily the home was saved by its use as a Union Hospital.

The family was also able to hide much of their fortune in plain view, within a secret compartment in a piece of parlor furniture...yet times were not all happy for the Kleins.  One of the sons was killed in a accident on the back stairs when he dropped the gun he was carrying and it discharged.  A young daughter died of presumably natural causes on the second floor, and two infants were also lost.

With the amount of death and tragedy this home has seen over a period of close to 200 years, its easy to see how its gained a haunted reputation.  John Klein is said to still be lording over his former residence and will make his presence known by the smell of pipe tobacco near the Gentleman's Parlour.  Elizabeth has been seen walking down the front staircase and throughout the house, seemingly going about her normal routine.

The little girl who died upstairs has been seen looking sad and confused, wandering the staircase, and has been heard playing and giggling throughout the house.  The sound of babies crying has also been witnessed.  In more recent sightings, housekeeping staff have reported that they will make a bed, then come back to find it indented, as if someone unseen were lying there. Disembodied footsteps are heard on the back staircase where the teenage son died. And, of course, there are Civil War soldiers, presumably those souls who passed away when the home was used as a hospital, seen wandering the home and grounds.

Today the home is a huge and elegant bed and breakfast owned by Colleen Small.  It has grown exponentially since Buzz Harper first opened a 2-room B&B there in 1980. But, despite all these changes, it seems as if life goes on for the Klein Family, who are still presiding over their home.

Bonus Fright:  Nearby is another B&B known as Annabelle.  Annabelle was built in 1868 by John Klein for his son, Madison Conrad Klein, on the original plantation land.  Today, this location is also said to be haunted.  A one-legged Confederate soldier has been seen in what was formerly known as the Dixie Room!

Cedar Grove Inn Website

Haunted Houses of Vicksburg

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Creepy in the Window

I love Reddit; someone posted my article about the Mountain Octopus on there and it brought in a HUGE amount of traffic to my blog!  But, there's a dark side to everything...and sometimes people use this awesome social networking site for ::gasp:: EVIL!  Hehe, well, maybe not evil, but a lot of misinformation comes out of there, either intentionally or unintentionally.

One such example is the rather creepy photo above.

Aaaugh!  I don't know what's creepier...the childlike doll, or the doll-like child?  What about the slightly off-kilter perspective?  And then, once you're adequately creeped out by all those elements, you notice the face in the window, which is eerily reflected in the mirror. Is it an alien?  Is it a serial killer wearing a mask?  Is it a ghost?  WTF is it!?

 Like many similar photographs, this one is being passed around in paranormal-themed Facebook groups.  And, in nearly all of them, this is being represented as a REAL photograph, with plenty of commentators eager to support that claim without anything to back up those opinions.  There were a few dissenters, but their opinions were largely ignored or dismissed and without any type of documentation to back up THEIR opinion, it was one camp's word against the other.

Lucky for us, someone finally DID take the time to track down the origins of this photo and not surprisingly, was able to prove that it is NOT paranormal.

The author of the wonderful blog, Skeptic's Boot, who also runs the Facebook page, The Rational Paranormal, recently posted his findings after conducting a simple Google Images search for the photograph in question. What that search led to was a thread listed under Reddit's "Creepy" subreddit.  Reddit user "tiffyyffit" submitted a photograph with a request for other users to help her "make a creepy in the window."

Several members met the challenge, but it was the image created by "phubans" that essentially "won," meaning, that's the image that was hoarked and passed around the web.  The Skeptic's Boot has provided a screenshot and a link to the original thread, where it clearly shows "tiffyyffit" posting the original photo (sans creepy faces), asking for help, and other members submitting their creations.  Personally, I prefer the subtlety of "MikeyBakes" creation much better, but that's just me!  Check out the link below to check them all out and see a photograph of the original, unaltered image.  And a huge thank you and shout out to the Skeptic's Boot for his work in making the paranormal field a little more intelligent!  Go check out the blog and give his Facebook page a LIKE!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Book Review: The Travellers' Guide to Hell

Title: The Travellers' Guide to Hell
Authors: Dana Facaros and Michael Pauls
Published: Tinselhouse (2014)
Amazon Kindle Purchase Info

The Travellers' Guide to Hell, by Dana Facaros and Michael Pauls is available as of right now as a FREE Kindle download from Amazon, so if you're interested, jump on it now!  And I definitely suggest you do!  I absolutely loved this book, despite it not being exactly what I thought it was going to be...

It's advertised as being a fun little travel guide formatted book, taking you down through the depths of Hell itself.  I was expecting something very humorous and honestly, something that was probably going to be poorly written and not very factual.  However, I found just the opposite--almost.

This is still a comical look at Hell, from its history to its geography to its inhabitants and literally everything else you could think of.  However, its a very well-written and well-researched comprehensive, and even scholarly, look at the perceptions of Hell.  The idea of Hell is explored across history and across different cultures, bringing in references from a variety of literary and uh, "first-hand" accounts.  It actually loses a little bit of the actual "travel guide" formatting, but that fact is quickly forgotten, thanks to all the awesome information crammed into this book.  I especially found the information on the Chinese version of Hell and Gilligan's Island as an allegory of Hell, to be especially head's up:  I might be blogging about those later on!

And, like all the other books I review here, this is a title that I do recommend for paranormal researchers.  So many times we hear that religion has absolutely no place in paranormal research...and that's true, but only to a point.  We cannot allow our own faith or belief system to interfere with an objective and scientific study of the truth.

 However, for those groups and individuals working directly with clients, its crucial to have an understanding of how different religions and different cultures view the afterlife, and that includes opinions and even the mythology of what we know as Hell in order to relate to those clients and give them the best possible investigation possible based on their needs.  If you have to learn about Hell, then it makes sense to have a little fun with it, and get a comprehensive cross-culture view all in one FREE ebook!

A Giant in Nitro, WV

Happy April, everyone!  It's been a few days since I did a blog in homage to the many unique sideshow performers and human oddities out there, but I wanted to do one last one, this one featuring an individual with direct ties to right here in West Virginia!

Robert Pershing Wadlow wasn't born here in the tri-state.  He was born February 22, 1918 in Alton Illinois.  Weighing in at 8 lbs, 6 oz and normal length at birth, Robert seemed like a normal, healthy baby...the first son born to Addie and Harold Wadlow.  However, by the time Robert was 6 months old, he already weighed in at 30lbs.

By the time Robert was an adult, he reached a weight of 490lbs...and a staggering height of 8 feet, 11.1 inches tall.  His condition was blamed on an overactive pituitary gland, a condition that today can be easily remedied by doctors.  But, at the time, it was incurable and would thrust young Robert into the public eye.  As of this writing, Robert still holds the Guinness World record for not only being the World's Tallest Man, but also for being the world's tallest Boy Scout!

Being that size put a lot of physical strain on Robert's body, however, most notably in the fact that he had to wear braces to help him walk.  It would be these braces that would kill him.

In early July of 1940, Robert was in Michigan for an Independence Day appearance at the National Forest Festival.  Not only did Robert have to wear braces, but he had very little feeling in his lower extremities, and didn't realize until it was too late that one of his ill-fitting braces had rubbed a blister on his foot.  The infection spread to his bloodstream, and Robert died in a Michigan hotel on July 15th.  He was only 22 years old.

His body was brought home to Illinois and he was laid to rest at Oakwood Cemetery.  His parents had most of his clothes and personal effects destroyed because they didn't want collectors selling their son's items as "freak memorabilia."  However, Robert Wadlow has still remained an air of intrigue.  The "Gentle Giant" is still loved and respected, and what memorabilia, such as photos, that survived are displayed at a local museum with taste and respect.  There is also a statue of Robert, located in front of a local dental school.

So what does all of this have to do with Robert and West Virginia?

It's not well known, but Robert Pershing Wadlow actually LIVED right here in West Virginia, in the town of Nitro!  Robert's father, Harold, worked for an Illinois company that fabricated steel tanks.  During the construction of Nitro, the government signed a contract with Harold's company to have a number of tanks constructed in the new community.  Harold was appointed to come to West Virginia to oversee and manage the project.

Shortly after Harold had settled, Addie and baby Robert (whose middle name comes from the WWI general, General Pershing) joined him here in the Kanawha Valley.  The work was completed by November and by then, the war had come to a close anyway, so the Wadlows packed up and moved back to Alton, well before Robert's first birthday.

More info on Robert
Robert Wadlow bio from Alton Web
The Tallest Man

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Japanese Ubume

Today's blog serves two purposes:

1. I wanted to add a "U" word to my Paranormal Dictionary page.

2. I've been interested for awhile in creating some infographics.  Infographics are a handy way to quickly share information on Facebook, especially since Facebook isn't keen on outside links.  It's also a handy way to present little chunks of information that don't have enough substance to really warrant a whole blog post.

I'm not 100% thrilled with this specific design, but I'm still experimenting with EASY ways to create graphics using the tools I have and also make them unique in a sea of all the others out there already.  Obviously I'll need to tweak the text and perhaps switch up the background depending on the photo(s) I use, but I'm okay with this as a first try that took just a few minutes to put together.  Let me know what you think in the comments below!