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Who You Gonna Call?
By Brianna Duff
I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that when I think of ghost hunting, I think first of Scooby-doo and second of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. Though the Mystery Machine and its meddling kids always eased my mind as child because the ghosts were really just people in masks, I have always been more fascinated with that possessed marshmallow wreaking havoc in New York City, not to mention the famous three-some that brought him to justice. The ghost busters are overwhelmingly iconic to me, even though I wasn’t alive when the movie was first released in 1984. The ghost-hunting trio with those massive packs on their backs intrigued me, and of course, I am not the only one.
The Ghostbusters film is greatly identifiable for most people, which is probably why it is credited as being part of the surging obsession with ghost hunting that happened in the late eighties. It seems that the Ghostbusters anthem and the annihilated Marshmallow Man (and maybe even a few Scooby Snacks in-between) inspired an entire generation of ghoul-seekers and ghost-hunters wanting to do it themselves.
But ghost hunting doesn’t claim its roots in marshmallow men or mystery-seeking canines, no matter how much I may want it to. It’s actually ancient, dating back as far as 50 B.C. Apparently, there was a philosopher named Athenodorus who spent some time investigating a chain-rattling ghost in ancient Athens (imagine learning that in an ancient classics class). And then, a bit closer to this century, there was Frederich Nicolai in the late 1700s, who wrote an entire memoir about his ability to see phantoms and suggested leeching as the good way of overcoming this unusual malady.
These off-the-wall cases, though not often written about in history books, attest that people have always been obsessed with the spirits that may or may not still walk among us, restless and rattling chains for their own amusement. Ghost hunting has been around for years. It wasn’t until the mid-1800s, though, that it really turned into something of a sport and, in many ways, something of a science.
Around that time, nineteenth-century con artists discovered that they could rob sad, rich people of their money if they pretended to be able to speak to those sad, rich people’s recently deceased loved ones. This worked rather well until the scientific community put down their foot and created a means of debunking these frauds: parapsychology, a legitimate scientific field meant to sift through spiritual claims and reveal deception (sounds kind of like the Mystery Gang, doesn’t it?).
Parapsychology took off, developing into multiple societies and academic groups that began to fight back against the ghost craze. Most notable was the Ghost Club that boasted literary minds like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Lewis Carroll, as well as scientific minds, particularly Sir William Crooks, who helped discover the electron, and Sir Oliver Lodge, who Einstein credited as an influence on the development of his theory of relativity. These intellects worked to prove that spirits did not come back and indeed, wishing them to still be hanging around was a terrible waste of one’s money.
Parapsychology would have worked, too, if it wasn’t for Mina Crandon, aka Margery. She was a medium at the time who Houdini spent his whole life trying to prove as a fake. It was something he never succeeded in, and Margery became the first medium that scientists were forced to admit as legitimate. Margery helped turn the great scientific field of parapsychology into something called quasi-science. In other words, people stopped taking this whole ghost-hunting stuff seriously, or, at least, scientifically.
There were a number of famous ghost hunters that persisted despite this and would probably fit the bill of the stereotypical hunter, decked out in a tweed coat with a flash flight, notebook, and scientifically diligent eyes. Harry Price is given the title of being the first ghost hunter and is said to have discovered the “most haunted house in England” in the early stages of that quasi-science field. In the 60s and 70s, in another upheaval of popularity, ghost hunter Hans Holzer was famous for proving the Amityville Horror house a hoax and his contemporary in England, Peter Underwood, began publishing how-to books for interested novices.
And then, of course, came the famous Ghostbusters and other films like Sixth Sense, where seeing dead people was made hugely popular and, in many ways, cool. Soon to follow were television programs like Ghost Hunters in the U.S., which follows hosts Jason Harves and Grant Wilson, founders the Atlantic Paranormal Society, in their hunts for paranormal activity, as well as a similar spin-off called Most Haunted in Great Britain. Ghost hunting was suddenly all over television, and not just in the shape of cartoons or motion pictures; it was part of live-action reality shows. It was becoming something as legitimate as when it was first introduced.
Its surge in popularity might, in addition to the giant marshmallow, be thanks to it now being supremely high-tech: long gone are the days of the tweed coat and note books. Now ghost hunters are going out with EMF detectors, Geiger counters, infrared cameras, and closed-circuit surveillance systems. They are, in every appearance, scientific and pride themselves as such. Almost all of the 300 societies for ghost hunting that are now in existence across the U.S. and Great Britain even swear to not using Ouija boards, as they are severely looked down upon for being “unscientific.”
Ghost hunting has become, for all intents and purposes, a revival of those original scientific ideals. It’s come back to the Mystery Gang, seeking to know the truth, and the trio desiring to bring the marshmallow guy to rest. There are plenty of ghost hunters, professional and novice alike, working to discover the truth behind the supernatural. So, grab your EMF detector and your box of Scooby Snacks and let’s get to work.
I ain’t afraid of no ghost! Are you?