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Cashew Lou's Yukon Annex

I've got Pop-Pop in the attic.

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In which Lou goes on and on and on about "Ghost Hunters"
Anyone who has talked to me for, oh, about fifteen seconds knows that I am a huge fan of paranormal study, and of the show Ghost Hunters. I recently decided to to a very detailed rundown of my thoughts on the show and its cast, so...um, here it is.

LJ-cut employed, because this sucker is long.

First, let's get acquainted with the people behind The Atlantic Paranormal Society, or TAPS, the paranormal investigation agency founded in 1990 in Warwick, Rhode Island.

Jason Hawes, alpha male and founder of TAPS. I should make it clear from the get-go that I respect the methodology Jason espoused, at least in the first few seasons: go in as a skeptic, and do your best to disprove any paranormal activity. Using technology as opposed to "gut feelings," he would only agree that a place was haunted if he had hard video or audio proof of the paranormal. I use this methodology myself (tooting my own horn here: I was ghost hunting eight years before Jason was), and it was refreshing to see a strictly scientific approach to the field, since so many shows in the genre like to resort to mediums "sensing a presence" and other such BS.

That said, Jason is kind of a bully. Setting aside the rumors and hearsay to that effect, it is apparent when you watch the shows themselves. His "my way or the highway" attitude, while realistic enough considering he is the boss, is often overwhelming and off-putting. If you rub him the wrong way, you can easily become an unperson in the Ghost Hunters universe; as a corporate entity, the personnel turnaround at TAPS is appalling. Personally, I think tossing back a beer or two with Jason would be enjoyable, but heaven help you if you got on his wrong side.

Grant Wilson, co-founder of TAPS, and the good cop to Jason Hawes' bad cop. Grant strives endlessly to be everyone's buddy; this exchange between him and Jason in the first season of Ghost Hunters sums their personalities up perfectly:

Grant: Why don't you show you have a sensitive side?
Jason: Why don't you show you have a rugged side?

Jason got Grant his job at Roto-Rooter and brought him into TAPS. Grant defers to Jason on pretty much every level, whether it involves personal conflict or analysis of evidence. Grant is unquestionably a nice guy, but at least on the show, we get to see almost nothing of his personality, as his time is spent tagging along in Jason's considerably more aggressive shadow.

Steve Gonsalves. Cop. Ghost Hunter. Arachnophobe. Steve is the technical manager and one of the chief investigators for TAPS, and is clearly the number three guy. As is true with pretty much any member of TAPS, I have seen on many internet forums that folks either love or hate this guy; there is no in-between. Some consider him misanthropic, smug and rude (such as when he told Donna Lacroix she "should have known better" in a situation that was not under her control); others see a get-the-job-done kind of guy. Personally, I think Steve is a decent enough person who, much like Grant, goes along with whatever Jason says or does. He's no dummy; he knows which side his bread is buttered on.

When Steve isn't ghost hunting or crapping his pants at the sight of anything with more than four legs, I think he is out contemplating having his skin expanded for the addition of more ink. It's almost morbidly fascinating to watch his tattoos spread over the seasons of the show.

Brian Harnois. Two words: Dude, run! To his credit, Brian embraced the ribbing he got for his freak-out-and-run-away episode at Eastern State Penitentiary; he even wore a hat with his catch phrase on it. One of the original members of TAPS, Brian is--again, if internet forums are any indication--the most-missed member of the team by the show's fans. The guy was undoubtedly devoted to TAPS, having had their logo tattooed on his arm.

Here's the thing, though: Brian was an unmitigated screw-up. Don't get me wrong; I am sure in reality he is a nice enough guy, the lovable goofball. But he lost equipment left and right and lied almost pathologically in any situation that reflected poorly on him. There are those who would say that Brian was viciously attacked for mistakes that Steve got away with, but I would argue that Steve owned his mistakes. Brian only sought to shift blame. Whatever the reason--and the powers that be behind the show remain tight-lipped on his departure (or anyone else's, for that matter)--Brian ain't there no mo'.

There is a valid argument that, in the editing of the show, we see an biased version of what takes place; invariably, it is going to be the version that favors Jason and Grant. Duly noted. But deep down I do believe Brian is just one of those guys who will perpetually have problems pulling his act together.

Dave Tango. The newbie who done good. Dave was brought in from his own paranormal investigation group in New Jersey, and quickly became a full-fledged investigator with TAPS. Anyone who can keep smiling after having to wear a little girl's tiara during an early investigation and being offered $90 to eat a dead moth is all right in my book. Tango is unflappable, and a lovable doofus. I like Tango.

By the way, I learned something about Dave Tango in my research. Did you know he has Tourette's Syndrome? I sure didn't. Makes me respect the guy even more.

Donna Lacroix. Hoo boy. First read this, and then this. Formerly a researcher and investigator with TAPS, Donna is now easily, for better or for worse, the most outspoken former member of the team. The controversy that erupted after her ill-advised appearance on that internet radio show just wound up making nobody look good.

Critics of the show love to hold up Donna as Exhibit A against TAPS, and even fans of the show are bitterly divided as to who said what or did what to whom. It's a small-scale war that can have no winner; I feel sorry for all the parties involved. I would comment further, but I don't even know where to begin. Like the old saying goes, there are three sides to every argument: your side, my side and the truth. The full truth in this matter may never see the light of day.

Andy Andrews, former investigator and "debunker." In all honesty, something about Andy rubbed me the wrong way from the first time I saw him; it just seems to me that if you scratched his eager-little-puppy surface just a little, you would find an unbearable douche underneath. I mean, duct-taping a flashlight to your arm? Really? It's not very utilitarian, so is it designed to impress someone?

Andy had his own "Dude, run!" episode, except his was in a residence with the family witnessing his actions. He clutched his chest and started to dramatically hyperventilate when something caught him off-guard, and he was rightly called on the carpet for it by both Jason and Grant. There is a cardinal rule when ghost hunting in a private home, and that is: even if you encounter a demonic presence, walk away calmly--do not freak out the tenants. They have to live there, dummy!

Dustin Pari. Another young investigator. Likes to wear visors upside-down and backward. Uses half a gallon of hair product per episode.

Barry Fitzgerald, the Irish member of TAPS. I like Barry, but then again I am a sucker for a nice, authentic Irish brogue. I love hearing him say, "Oh oh oh we got troubles!" in his lovably nervous voice.

And the rest. Though there have been several other investigators and tech people involved in TAPS over the years, the ones I have listed have been the major players, in terms of longevity and/or drama. The others have, for the most part, been pretty much pleasant, competent, and bland (a notable exception being Brian Bell, who was almost cartoonishly incompetent). Rather than continuing with a drawn-out roll call, which could take forever, I would like to move on to my overall impressions of the show, and address issues that are important to both its fans and critics.

Methodology. When I discussed TAPS' methodology in my mini-bio of Jason Hawes above, I qualified it by saying he espoused his scientific proof-only methods only in the first few seasons. After that, it seems, he started allowing personal experiences and, heaven help us, orbs, as proof of a haunting. This is kind of sloppy and inconsistent.

Before I continue, I should let you all know that I realize Ghost Hunters is presented purely as entertainment. But it is Hawes himself who likes to proudly crow about his scientific method. Anyway, in some cases he allows personal experiences and only minimal video or audio evidence as proof of a haunting; yet in other cases, similar circumstances are presented as denial of paranormal activity. In later seasons of the show, I suspect he has become a little more lenient because his producers and network bosses are pressuring him to "find more ghosts." It is a shame he is acquiescing to their demands; much of what I respected about Ghost Hunters was their willingness to present cases in which they found nothing paranormal.

Again, tooting my own horn, but I have a more consistent method of ranking the paranormal activity in a location. It is a system based upon four criteria, each ranked from zero to ten:

Personal Experience: I do not discount personal experiences 100%. I do make sure the people who present their experiences to me are not "true believers" who insist on everything being proof of a haunting. Sometimes, you just aren't lucky enough to have a camera pointed at the right spot, or have a digital recorder running. I keep a notepad handy to document the time, location and any other details of personal experiences. A zero would be no personal experience; a ten would be a full-bodied apparition that vanished before I could get my friggin' camera ready.

Photographic Evidence: This refers to still film or digital photography. My ranking system is as follows:
Zero: No paranormal content in the image
One: An exceptionally bright or large orb or light anomaly
Two to Five: Unexplained mists or loosely-defined shadows or apparitions
Six to Ten: More clearly defined shadows or apparitions

Video Evidence: Imagery in motion, captured by video equipment. The criteria I use are the same as in Photographic Evidence.

Audio Evidence: Aural evidence captured by analog or digital recorders, or by microphones on video equipment. Here, my zero-to-ten criteria are based upon the presence of unexplained sounds and their length, volume and clarity (i.e: can clear words be understood). Additionally, I count more points if the voices interact with the investigators.

Ultimately, I tot up all the points before making my final decision as to whether a location is haunted or not. I don't go strictly by the zero-to-forty totals, simply because a strong ten in any category is likely proof, whereas four scores of three in all categories likely wouldn't be. It isn't a perfect system, but it is one that has served me well.

The Real Deal. Let me start this section by stating the obvious: any and all evidence presented on Ghost Hunters can easily be faked. Any and all evidence in any paranormal investigation can easily be faked. It's the frustrating truth that plagues all of us who take ghost hunting seriously, because there are so many fakers and charlatans out there who gleefully and willingly fake their evidence of ghosts. Any evidence presented has to be taken with a grain of salt, starting with: Do I trust the person or persons showing me the proof? There is a leap of faith involved; you must consider the source at all times.

That being said, I do not know Jason Hawes or Grant Wilson personally, nor any of the other members or former members of TAPS. I have never met them. Therefore, here is where I enter the most subjective section of my essay. Here is where I must go by my gut feelings alone, peppered with my almost thirty years of ghost-hunting experience.

Do I believe Ghost Hunters has presented any genuine evidence of the paranormal? Yes, I do. The footage they got at the St. Augustine Lighthouse still sends chills up my spine, for example. The EVPs captured at the Mt. Washington Hotel were both lengthy and interactive; I am impressed by them. The EVP and very solid shadow figure captured in the residence where the deceased sister's ashes were kept were convincing to me. The investigations at the Stanley Hotel, with the opening and closing closet door, breaking glass, and shifting table and chairs, ring true to me, as well.

Then there is the case of sound man Frank DeAngelis at the armory in New Bedford, Massachusetts. He was visibly accosted and knocked down by something unseen in that episode, and was fully freaked out by the experience. His tearful and terrified reaction to the incident, though it could be easily faked, strikes me as genuine. Faking something that results in the mental and physical undoing of a crew member also strikes me as unconscionable--and I don't think that was the case.

I feel to this day that TAPS has collected and presented genuine evidence of paranormal activity; it's why I still remain a fan of the show. That said, though, I think pressure from the SyFy Network and the creators of the show has led those involved to...shall we say, augment the experience. On to my next point.

Faking It. Do I believe Ghost Hunters has ever shown faked or misrepresented evidence as the real deal? Again: yes, I do. I don't believe any of this is done with malicious intent; after all, it is presented as entertainment. But especially in the later seasons, the push to "show us the ghosts" at any cost seems evident.

Let's talk about some of the equipment used, for starters. Temperature probes are extremely easy to be mis-aimed or misinterpreted. TAPS is able to afford a thermal camera system, which is much more reliable for tracking down and documenting cold and hot spots. My advice? Ditch the temperature probes.

Likewise, ditch the flashlights that have been turned on and unscrewed just enough to make it "easier" for the spirits to turn them on and off. Come on, guys; you are just inviting charges of faked evidence with those.

The K2 meter "evidence" they have presented just seems...I don't know, hokey. The K2 meter is essentially just a modified EMF (electromagnetic field) detector--which, by the way, is an essential piece of equipment, especially for disproving paranormal activity. But the way TAPS uses the K2 meter--as kind of a space-age Ouija board--just seems a little silly to me, a little too much of a leap of faith.

Here is an example that is confusing to me, because TAPS already had some pretty good evidence in the case in question. When they investigated the house built near the site of the Sharon Tate and Jay Sebring murders at the hands of the Manson Family in Los Angeles, they got some amazing EVPs; one, I suspect, could even be a residual scream from the murders themselves. But they then presented a K2 question-and-answer session, supposedly identifying the spirits of Tate and Sebring. Again, it's my gut feeling, but the K2 evidence strikes me as pushing it a bit. Why introduce that shaky evidence when you have solid and chilling EVPs as proof? I am still scratching my head over that one.

Then there is the investigation at Fort Delaware. Grant's jacket collar is tugged down visibly three times. A white-hot debate erupted practically the second this aired, and there is video analysis a-plenty showing frame-by-frame how Grant likely tugged it down himself. I am not even going to weigh in on this; my internal jury is still out on that one. But in the same episode, a very loud voice yells at Jason, saying, "You're not supposed to be here!" To me, that sounded piped in or dubbed in post-production. A shame, really, since in an earlier investigation at the same place, they got the sound of a cannon shot on multiple recorders that I believe was real.

There are others. At the Copper Queen Hotel, we are shown video of Grant's bed sheets being pulled up, exposing his foot. We cannot see his hands, or even if he is asleep at the time, which is the claim. I am not saying it was faked, but it was something that could too easily be faked, especially in an investigation where there was no other evidence. Personally, I am more impressed by the shifting chair in Race Rock Lighthouse and the rotating picture frame in the Cashtown Inn; less likelihood of human contamination and fakery in those cases, in my opinion.

So, if there has been faked evidence, one may well ask, why hasn't anyone talked? Well, as noted above, Donna Lacroix did talk, and even though she only hinted at the possibility of faking and staging, a whirlwind of negative publicity surrounded every single person involved. In short, those who may know of outright fakery may not want to call that kind of nonsense down upon their own heads. Additionally, cameramen and sound men are not millionaires. If, when they sign their contracts for their services on Ghost Hunters, there very well may be a clause included about keeping their fool mouths shut. And guess what? If I face the possibility of being sued by a cable network, I'm gonna keep my fool mouth shut. I am not hinting at a conspiracy here; I am just playing devil's advocate on this point.

My Final Analysis. You see the word "final" in there, and you are saying, "Yay! Lou's gonna shut up soon!" Yup, I am. But you read this far, dincha?

Ultimately, I still like Ghost Hunters, and will continue to watch it. I look at the alternatives--wailing, bogus British psychics and musclebound drama queens locking themselves into haunted locations for the night--and TAPS still has the best show going in the genre. My recommendation to folks out there would be to do as I do: tune in with a skeptical eye, and sort out the evidence to your own satisfaction in your own mind. Those of us who are paranormal investigators know that our own evidence is going to be received in the exact same way.

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(Deleted comment)
The equipment I use is pretty bare-bones, especially compared to TAPS; maybe someday if I get a network and corporate sponsor to pony up the bucks that will change. I generally take along a digital camera, digital recorder, EMF detector and a notepad to take copious notes. I also have a "spider eyes" light set that straps to my head for easy hands-free illumination. On my wish list are a nice hi-def video camera, maybe an infrared camera or two, and a thermal imaging camera--but those require the big bucks.

As far as where I have investigated, it has mostly been residences, cemeteries and that sort of thing. I much prefer investigating in a group of four or less, since you run the risk of stepping on one another's toes and contaminating evidence if the group becomes too large.

Britt strikes me as a nice guy; it seems to me the nicest folks they have investigating with them are people they have imported from other groups. :)

As I said, Ghost Hunters goes down best with a grain of salt--but they are still the best and most believable show when compared side-by-side with all the copycats out there.

I actually really loved the show in the first few seasons. A friend turn me on to it then my mate and I was hooked. But later on, it just became desperate. There was too much "What was that?!" only to find it was nothing. I really blame scifi for it. They were pushing too hard. I also REALLY hated how they made it seem of not tell you something BIG is in store for the next episode. Like one of the TAPS members going to the hospital... yeah, because his son broke his arm. So it wasn't a lie, but a twisted truth. I think that was the final straw and I stopped watching. It was too much. I think at the roots it was a good idea but the bigwigs got greedy.

Yeah, the whole "What was that?" and then fading into commercial sort of tease is annoying, but I don't fault TAPS for that; it's just good TV. They want you super-glued to your seat, and they don't want you channel-surfing or, heaven forbid, missing any of the commercials their sponsors pay for. As for the "on the next episode of Ghost Hunters" teases...more of the same; they want you coming back.

What really burns me, though, is even the possibility that they may be faking evidence. That is, after all, the very heart of their program. If it ever does come out conclusively that they have been doing so--and I feel they are under pressure to present evidence more and more these days--their loyal following will simply give them the finger.

Musclebound drama queens? I am intrigued! Which show is this that you are referring to? :9

It's called Ghost Adventures, and it airs on the Travel Channel. In no way, shape or form do I endorse this garbage.

Ooh, he IS a beefy one isn't he? Though I suppose it doesn't bode well if even you and Sylvan can't stand him, even with the buffness to entertain you...!

*le sigh*

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