Ghost Hunting 101

By Shannon Baker | E-Mail

Who Ya Gonna Call (and What Will They Do?)

So, you think you might have a ghost? Do you hear strange noises at night, creaking footsteps on the stairs and experience cold spots throughout the house? More people than you would think experience these phenomena; next time you’re at a party ask how many people have encountered a ghost. If your experience is anything like mine you will find that nearly half of the guests will have some story to tell, whether they are skeptics or not.

When people think of ghosts they often think of atmospheric English castles haunted by noblewomen who met their end jumping from a parapet. Many people don’t think about the methodology behind tracking ghosts and attempts to discover physical reasons for the phenomenon of haunting. There are many groups devoted to this branch of parapsychology, for instance The International Ghost Hunters Society, a wide-ranging group whose founders have acted as consultants on many mainstream television programs about ghosts on channels such as TLC, A&E, and CNN ( There are localized organizations as well, such as The Philadelphia Ghost Hunters Alliance and the South Jersey Ghost Research (SJGR) group, who serve the Delaware Valley area and New York City. There are links to other local groups around the country on the SJGR website and advice on how to choose a group to investigate a haunting (

Suspecting that you cohabitate with a spirit from beyond can be disconcerting.Skeptic magazine offers this simple test to see if you’ve really got a ghost or if it’s just your roommate playing tricks: Play CSI and fingerprint the area where the activity occurs, especially if that activity is physical, like the breaking of dishes or the throwing of objects. Fingerprint your suspects (perhaps your kid sister?) and use clear tape and talcum powder to dust the area. If fingerprints appear, it’s probably human and if you can track down the prankster, all the better to put your mind at ease. If not, however, it may be time to call in the pros. Most legitimate research groups will advise you not to investigate a haunting without researching the proper methods first, and since many groups provide their services free of charge it wouldn’t be a bad idea to give a call to your nearest organization.

Some people are perfectly comfortable with their ghosts, others are curious and some are just plain disturbed and want to live in un-haunted peace. Once you’ve gotten in contact with a ghost research group several things can happen. To begin with, you will most likely be interviewed about your experiences in the house or building and asked if you know anything about its history; a little research can go a long way in figuring out who the errant spirit may be. Some groups employ psychics to “feel out” the atmosphere in the house to determine the source of the haunting before they employ more scientifically accepted methods. Other groups adamantly decry the use of psychics as invalid and unscientific.

There is no one type of equipment or experiment that can single-handedly prove the existence of a ghost (and, keep in mind, the skeptical view is that you can never prove the existence of a ghost because they just plain don’t exist). Ghost hunters use a variety of equipment, from 35mm and digital cameras to EVP recording devices to catch the “voices” of the dead and thermal scanners to detect cold spots. Common investigative equipment is:

Cameras: digital cameras or 35mm cameras will work, however, investigative groups usually give fair warning that you must be skilled enough to be able to spot natural phenomenon that can appear supernatural in a photo (such as dust particles, rain, condensation, etc.). The Int’l Ghost Hunters Society offers a CD-ROM for purchase that shows examples of explainable and unexplainable images in pictures, but you can probably get similar information free from the Web if you do a little searching. It is rare to get a picture of a ghostly figure that cannot be explained by some sort of natural phenomenon and photographs alone cannot stand as proof without other evidence. Orbs appearing in photos are more common than actual apparitions, however, there are many orb photos that can be explained by natural phenomena. Philadelphia Ghost Hunters Alliance has a brief article explaining orbs in photographs ( and a detailed article by Troy Taylor titled “The Trouble with Orbs” can be found at

Recording devices: any recording device, digital or analog, will do. Recordings can pick up electronic voice phenomena (EVP), which are the traces of sounds supposedly made by spirits.

Thermal scanners: Ghosts classically leave cold spots in rooms and thermal scanners are used to spot these anomalies.

Video cameras: Video cameras can be handheld by an investigator to capture any interesting images or one or more video cameras can be placed around a room or building for constant monitoring, such as June Houston’s online ghost cam. This is a famous one which apparently has been hacked recently, since I got this message when I tried to go to her site “Int3rc3pt0r Brazilian Team – Leticia te amo minha linda – Legalize ja eu quero fuma sem me preucupa.” Another ghost cam site is Ghost Watch at ( which offers a detailed history of the haunting of an Irish mill as well as the opportunity to do some surveillance yourself.

Motion detectors: Unexpected movement can be monitored with motion detectors to prove that something is moving around in that empty room.

These items are used during a series of experiments and observations in the reportedly haunted location with researchers taking measurements of temperatures and sounds and notes about what occurs around them. Once this data is gathered the researchers will use their knowledge and experience to generate a theory about your haunting. This is why any credible paranormal research group will tell you that you ought to do some serious research about ghosts and haunting phenomenon before you take any action on your own. Just because you use the equipment listed above and gather data doesn’t make it meaningful if you have no knowledge against which to apply it.

After a spirit presence has been determined the next question is “What happens to the ghost?” This answer will vary, depending on individual philosophy. The majority of serious researchers will tell you not to be afraid, that your fear of the ghost is unfounded and you are unlikely to be harmed (unless, of course, you are experiencing poltergeist activity, which is a completely different story). Ghosts are thought to be souls caught between two worlds, tied to this plane by unfinished business or by strong emotion at the time of death. Some people believe that we should try to become comfortable with the existence of ghosts while others feel that the living are morally obligated to free the spirits we encounter from their bondage.

Writers and researchers such as Hans Holzer and David J. Pitkin advise talking to the spirits in order to try to help them realize that their business is finished and they must move on. David Pitkin says in his introduction to Ghosts of the Northeast, “In this time of cataclysms and disasters, it behooves all people who espouse brotherhood, and who claim to walk the spiritual path, to do everything possible to assist those beings who find the passage from life to Light difficult. We are not freed from Golden Rule obligations by death.”

The key element in all of this information is learning. In order to come to terms with a haunting, we need to learn more about ghosts, the people and the methods behind ghost research and more about the theories that attempt to explain haunting. If you are interested in learning more, please explore the sources and further reading at the end of this article.


GHOST OR HOAX? (1999). Skeptic, 7(3), 101.

Holzer, H. (2003). Hans Holzer’s the supernatural: Explaining the unexplained. New  Jersey: New Page Books.

International Ghost Hunters Society (2005). Retrieved February 19, 2005 from International Ghost Hunters Society on the World Wide Web:

Philadelphia Ghost Hunters Alliance (2005). Retrieved February 25, 2005 from Philadelphia Ghost Hunters Alliance on the World Wide Web:

Pitkin, D. (2002). Ghosts of the Northeast. New York: Aurora Publications.

South Jersey Ghost Research (2005). Retrieved February 19, 2005 from South Jersey Ghost Research on the World Wide Web:

Taylor, T. (2004). The trouble with orbs. Retrieved February 21, 2005 from Ghosts of the Prairie on the World Wide Web:


Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (2005). Retrieved February 23, 2005 from Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal on the World Wide Web:

Holzer, H. (1976). Great British Ghost Hunt. New York: Harper & Row.

International Ghost Hunters Society (2005). Educational articles about ghosts. Retrieved February 21, 2005 from International Ghost Hunters Society on the World Wide Web: