5 Things I Learned as a Ghost Hunter (TV Won't Show You)

You're probably aware of the bafflingly popular "reality show about ghost hunters" genre. These, uh, paragons of journalistic excellence make the field of paranormal investigation seem like a cross between Scooby-Doo and True Detective, only with a drunk handling the lighting. But the guys on TV are doing it to entertain you; they're going to find something creepy, no matter where they "investigate," because otherwise there's no episode.

There are, however, paranormal investigators who try to take a serious approach to it. But trust us, that isn't easy. We're Clint and Jessica Harris, a pair of paranormal investigators with more than a decade of experience, and here's what you probably didn't know about the world of ghost hunting:

#5. Yes, We Believe in the Work (and That Is Insanely Frustrating)

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First of all, despite what you probably think from all of the ghost hunter reality shows and supposedly "based on a true story" horror movies, not everyone is doing this job looking to cash in with Hollywood. For most of us, there's no money in it, and we don't charge for our services (beware anyone who does). On top of that, equipment is expensive, and the vast majority of it isn't even designed to be used for the work you're using it for anyway.

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"Welcome to Radio Shack, are you in the market for a ghost camera today?"

And, obviously, nearly everything you record and review turns out to be a whole lot of nothing. For example, we record EVP (electronic voice phenomena -- purported messages from the beyond hiding in the "noise" of an electronic recording), and you'll occasionally get something cool. For example, this EVP kind of sounds like an old man with the voice of a heavy smoker saying, "She's sleeping here now," and it was captured near a fresh, unmarked grave that turned out to be for a newly buried young girl:

That's the kind of shit that keeps you going. Still, at best, the work you do is considered a hobbyist's stab at scientific research -- some bastard child of soft and hard science, flirting with physics, psychology, folklore, historical research, and urban exploration. And good luck convincing a scientist that your evidence is valid, much less the evidence of other teams, since nobody's tools, methods, motives, or practices are standardized.

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This isn't even factoring in metric ghost measurements from outside the U.S.

So why do we do it? Well, investigators come from all walks of life, with various levels of education and professional expertise. Many get started because of a personal experience they can't explain, or are simply looking for answers to age-old questions. And most of us do believe in paranormal occurrences based on the occasional freaky stuff we run across. But to get the cool stuff, you have to sift through countless hours of nothing and deal with people who can make this hobby a nightmare. For example ...

#4. Psychics and Mediums Are Terrifying (Because They're Insane)

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We're not psychics, and we don't claim to be able to summon the dead or perform any other kind of magic. Many of our clients, however, do think they have a connection to the spirit world. And sometimes these are people with problems that go deeper than hearing their dead granny shuffling around in her housecoat at night. On our intake questionnaire, we ask clients to volunteer information that might be helpful to the investigation (and our safety), such as "Are you taking any medications?" The response was sometimes a list of anti-psychotics that read like the formulary for Arkham Asylum.

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"So ... somehow you have menopausal depression."

The worst psychics were the ones who spent the entire visit channeling spirits, always connecting with some demonic "angry male" lurking in the basement, or any other triggery nightmare fuel for someone who might be popping haloperidol like M&Ms. One psychic in particular spent the whole time claiming she was being touched in a sexual manner and would respond either with flirtation or by shouting down her invisible attacker and folding into the fetal position.

Then you get the professional psychics who get called in along with us to try to talk to the "spirit." Get more than one of them in a room (like if the client also claims to be psychic) and they start competing with each other. It's like a rap battle, only all the "bitches" and "yo mama" snaps are replaced with "suicide" and "so many bodies buried in the yard ..." The end result (weirdly often) is Angry Male being told to leave and the trapped little ghost girl (always named Sarah) being told to go into the light. One psychic once insisted she sensed a spirit outside the back door of the kitchen inside one of the trash cans, like some sort of phantasmal Oscar the Grouch.

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"Tell them to stop Grover ... while they can ..."

In spite of our best efforts at damage control, by the time the psychics were holding cleansing vigils and busting out the White Light, the clients either had gone into the depths of a fear spiral or were so eager to see a resolution to the drama that they could hardly wait to see what we found. At the "reveal" where we go over our recordings, they would usually be crushed by the monumental lack of any paranormal evidence whatsoever. No EVPs, no video, nothing.

So if you're a homeowner who thinks you have spirits roaming the halls, who are you going to listen to: the psychic with an awesome, harrowing tale of tortured spirits and murdered children, or the team of academics with recording equipment saying, "If there's something here, we aren't detecting it"? So now you're starting to see the problem ...

#3. Businesses Love to Pretend to Be Haunted

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The Stanley Hotel in Colorado has become a flagship of paranormal studies in the U.S. Before interest in ghost hunting became popular, it was just a big-ass creepy building on the hill outside town. Now it's a major tourist destination, and you can bet your Ecto Containment Units that being widely viewed as "crazy haunted" is great for business. It didn't take long for other business owners to realize that being host to a "ghost" was worth significantly more than its non-weight in gold.

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"Booyah."

Unlike private-residence cases (which tend to require that our presence be kept on the down low), businesses turn investigations into events to draw customers, which is like trying to collect data during a frat party. So, for instance, the Stanley Hotel offers a five-hour ghost tour to its visitors for $50. People don't pay that kind of money to walk around sober. It is hard enough to find evidence in a quiet building, after hours, but it's nearly impossible to find anything while leading a pack of liquored-up assholes that won't stop warbling quotes from Ghostbusters.

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Everything was fine until dickless here.

While most businesses won't go out of their way to rig up a fake haunting to get publicity, they're all too happy to attribute the results of shitty maintenance to "ghosts, man." In a hotel with dozens of rooms, there will be a lot of weird shit happening due to water pressure, temperature changes, leaks, electricity, drafts, smells, and noises. Rather than admit that you probably need to renovate, you can continue to fill vacancies by attributing these phenomena to the lost spirits of murdered brides and dead children at play. It's the perfect crime! At least until Congress gets off its collective butt and passes the Ghost Fraud Act.

And, even worse ...

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