Tools for the modern ghost-hunter
Ghost hunting has a long and honourable history dating back to ancient times. One finds, for example, at least one talkative ghost in the tales of Ancient Egypt. And ghosts were common in Roman culture.
One of the earliest named English ghost hunters was the Elizabethan philosopher and rough contemporary of John Dee, Joseph Glanvill. He is considered by some to be the founder of psychical research.
Harry Price was one of the most famous (or infamous) 20th century ghost hunters. His account of the haunting of Borley Rectory in England (which he spent over a year investigating) is still deliciously creepy reading. He also took his ghost research very seriously, to the extent of fitting out a National Laboratory for Psychical Research. In the posthumous “Confessions of a Ghost Hunter”, he gives us a full description of the contents of his ghost-hunter’s kit as it stood in 1929:
My bag contained: pair of soft felt overshoes, steel measuring tape; screw-eyes, lead seals and sealing tool; white tape; tool-pad and nails; hank of flex, small electric bells, dry batteries and switches (for secret electrical contacts); camera, films and flash-bulbs; note-book, red, blue and black pencils; sketching block and case of drawing instruments; bandages, iodine and surgical adhesive tape; ball of string, stick of chalk, matches, electric torch and candle; flask of brandy; bowl of mercury to detect tremors in room or passage; cinematograph camera with electrical release. For a long stay in house with supply of electricity, I would take with me infrared filters, lamps, and ciné films sensitive to infra-red rays, so that I could photograph objects in almost complete darkness.
But now it’s the 21st century and anyone can get in on the act, with ghost detector apps available from iTunes. I tried out a couple while sitting in front of a bunch of computers and electronic devices in a 100-year-old house. Should find something, right?
The free “Paranormal EMF Scanner” spent about a minute displaying random numbers and moving EM sources (which appeared to be standing on the footpath outside) It then came back with moving green dots that converge on your position. The “EMF” translated to “SINGING:YOU’RE GOING TO DIE” in best paranormal investigators’ fashion. I think the review on the iTunes store said it all – “The people that made this app are so mean and don’t have a life so they try to ruin little kids lives and the little girl that sings the ” your gonna die” is so stupid and you can TOTALLY tell its recorded and you should really fire your self so someone doesn’t have to fire you so you idiots should stop trying to scare little kids!!!”.
Maybe my mistake was picking something from the Entertainment section of the App Store. Over in the Utilities section you can get a free EMF detector, and this picked up a steady 50 µTesla. Which is about what you would expect the Earth’s magnetic field to be at this latitude. Maybe we’re not haunted after all.
Unexplained Australia was a little skeptical too, saying: “In our experience at most places where paranormal activity has been reported some kind of unusual high EMF reading is recorded. These have been usually caused by man made electrical currents and devices.” I consulted with a handy electrical engineer on whether ghosts generate EMF. He confirmed that they would only show up on EMF if they were made of iron or possibly neodymium.
Perhaps there is something else that would work better. I found a website called GhostStop.com that trades in ghost hunting equipment. The fact that they have a whole section of the store dedicated to ghostbusters memorabilia makes me a little skeptical, but they have a few cool things. For $669.95 you can buy a Pro Ghost Hunting Kit, with a camcorder, full-spectrum light, EMF meter and thermometer, an audio recorder and a flashlight. I think, though, your ghost hunter kit is incomplete without the ubiquitous infrared camera. Even Harry Price needed infra-red. How else are you going to get the ghostly green images that are emblematic of the modern ghost hunt? And if you wanted to be really cool (or warm), you could add a thermal imaging camera for as little as $1,999.
I can’t wait to get started. Anyone know any cool haunted houses? I would try the Alkimos, but my scuba skills are a little rusty.
- “Joseph Glanvill.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 14 Apr. 2013. <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/234809/Joseph-Glanvill>.
- Maspero, Gaston – Popular Stories of Ancient Egypt, NEW YORK: G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS, LONDON: H. GREVEL & CO., 1915
- “Lemures and Larvae,” by George Thaniel, The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 94. No. 2 (Summer 1973), pp. 182-187.
- Project Gutenberg’s Historic Ghosts and Ghost Hunters, by H. Addington Bruce, Moffat, Yard & Company 1908
- Price, Harry – Confessions of a Ghost Hunter, Causeway Books, 1974.
- Stirling, A.M.W. – Ghosts Vivisected: An impartial inquiry into their manners, habits, mentality, motives and physical construction, Robert Hale Limited, 1957.
- Underwood, Peter – No Common Task: The Autobiography of a Ghost Hunter, Harrap Limited, 1983.