This is the second lesson in your Introduction to Ghost Hunting course. (The first lesson was Ghost Hunting Preparations.)
In this second lesson, we’ll talk about finding good, haunted places. You’ll learn enough to get started as a ghost hunter.
How can you find haunted places? It may be easier than you think. Resources include ghost tours, friends, TV shows, websites, and local historical societies.
Let’s start with the easiest one that’s sure to produce results: ghost tours.
Ghost tours and events are a great way to get started.
Many ghost tours mix real history, urban legends, and impressive theatrics.
Look for tours that focus on actual ghost hunting.
History can be interesting, and drama can be fun, but – when you call for tickets – explain that you’re looking for a genuine ghostly experience. (Get their assurances about that.)
Most ghost tours focus on public places that you can visit on your own. Some give you access to privately owned locations, too.
Here’s a worksheet that may be helpful: Ghost Tours Evaluation Form.
Select a tour and go with a friend. (It’s always more fun to share the scares with someone you know.) During the tour, jot or record notes. Then – at another time, with friends – you can return to the best haunted, public sites.
After the tour, verify every story. Sometimes, only a few of their tales are true.
Case study: New Orleans’ LaLaurie Mansion
For example, in New Orleans French Quarter, tours pause at the infamous LaLaurie Mansion. Guides talk about the ghost of Madame Delphine LaLaurie. They describe her as a small, cruel French woman who spoke limited English with a heavy accent.
Then, guests hear – in lurid detail – about the ghost of a servant girl. According to that tale, the child leaped to her death from a specific window on the top floor of the home.
Some versions of the story describe how the child’s ghost got her revenge. She set fire to the mansion. Since – according to the stories – the sadistic Madame LaLaurie had chained her slaves inside the house, dozens of them died or were badly injured in that fire.
Before the ashes had cooled, Doctor and Madame LaLaurie fled back to France. They were practically chased out of town by New Orleans citizens wielding pitchforks and torches.
When the tour guide concludes that tale, tour guests dutifully take pictures of the third floor. They hope for ghost orbs or an apparition of the little servant girl.
But, the facts are very different.
The house had only two floors when Mme. Delphine Lalaurie lived there. The third was a later addition.
This means no servant – child or adult – threw herself out of the top floor window. It didn’t exist, then. (Many tour guides now say “she threw herself off the roof.”)
Delphine’s grandfather was an Irish immigrant. So, it’s possible – but unlikely – that she had a heavy French accent, as some tour guides suggest.
Also, right after the fire, newspapers reported that Mme. LaLaurie visited her slaves that had been hospitalized. She wanted to be sure they were okay. So, she and her husband weren’t run out of town as their house burned.
Does Mme. LaLaurie haunt the French Quarter? Maybe. But, she only lived in the LaLaurie mansion for a few years.
Where else to find Mme. LaLaurie’s ghost
If you want to see where she spent far more time, check the haunted site of her former home on Royal Street. When I was last there, it was an antiques shop just a few feet away from the delightfully haunted Brennan’s Restaurant.
Madame LaLaurie’s apparition appears in an upstairs window, after dark. (I’ve seen it.) I’ve also heard that she haunts the shop, downstairs, but I haven’t confirmed that story, personally.
Brennan’s is haunted by several ghosts. They include a chef on the first floor and, upstairs, the apparition of an old lady upstairs. (I’m not sure if she’s Madame LaLaurie, as well.)
Brennan’s also has a haunted portrait, a dramatic cold spot, and the ghost of a woman who only appears in mirrors. (Today, the restaurant also attracts celebrities, because it has some of the best food in New Orleans.)
The LaLaurie mansion tale is an extreme example of a ghost tour’s made-up story.
An important question about ghost tours
Many ghost tours portray real history at truly haunted locations. They’re great ways to identify public places you can investigate, later.
Always ask if the tour is based on real history, or if it’s mostly “just for fun.”
Perhaps ghost tours don’t interest you. That’s fine.
You may have other resources in your daily life. For example, your friends may know about local haunts.
Friends may be helpful
Your friends – and long-time residents of your community – may know places where you can go ghost hunting. Ask them.
Remember that some people are embarrassed to admit an interest in ghosts. Others may think it’s bad luck to talk about ghosts. A few may object on religious grounds.
Of course, it’s easiest to open the conversation at Halloween.
At other times of year, you could ask your friends if they’ve ever watched ghost hunting TV shows. You could break the ice by mentioning a popular (or once-popular) ghost TV show you’ve seen.
Then, ask if the person knows any haunted places nearby. (Ask if they’d like to explore a few haunted places with you.)
Websites can be great resources… or disappointing. Many websites simply copy from each other and never check the facts.
Older websites – from before 2004, when “Ghost Hunters” became popular – may be more reliable than sites created at the peak of the trend.
Websites related to TV shows can be one extreme or the other. Many are well-researched. Others are mostly fiction and hype. Double- and triple-check every ghost story.
(Later in this lesson, you’ll learn more about that research.)
For now, avoid rushing to a possibly haunted site based on just one or two recommendations.
The week before Halloween, almost every newspaper and news show runs a story related to a local, haunted place. You’ll have several opportunities to learn about haunted places.
Take notes. Then, ask your friends if they’ve seen or heard the story, and if it’s true.
Your friends may also remember other spooky locations. Or, they may know someone who lives in a haunted house.
If a public location seems credible, it’s okay to visit it with a friend, if the site is both convenient and safe, after dark.
Around Halloween, weekend afternoons may be the best time to visit. You might find other ghost hunters there, as well. If they’re chatty, they may recommend other local haunts. Take notes. (Also ask if they know any local ghost hunting groups and if those groups are good.)
More Halloween news stories
Every Halloween, reporters try to cover a new haunted location.
This means they reported on a different site last year, and the year before that, and so on.
A little research could turn up many local haunts.
Sometimes, magazines, newspapers, and news shows have online archives.
If not, your public library may have back issues of newspapers. Ask the reference librarian how to access them.
Also, ask if he or she knows anything about local ghost stories. (Generally, it’s best to call these folklore or legends.)
Look for local folklore books in libraries, as well. (Does your public library uses the Dewey Decimal System for nonfiction? If so, look around 398 for folklore and fairy tales from your region.)
Also browse regional history books from the late 19th century, when Spiritualism was popular. Often, those books include quirky references to local, haunted places. (For the Dewey Decimal System, check 917 and especially the 970s if you live in North America, and 914 and 941-942 if you’re in the U.K. or Ireland.)
Meanwhile, if you still can’t find back issues of local newspapers, visit the publications office. Many media offices keep copies of their own old issues.
While you’re there, ask to speak with their entertainment editor. He or she probably knows several local – and unreported – haunted locations. (Reporters keep notes, year-round, for future Halloween issues.)
Before you leave the newspaper office, share your contact information. You may be a useful resource for them when they’re writing next year’s Halloween stories.
Do you know a police officer or dispatcher? The police can be a great source of information. I’m not kidding. I’ve known several police officers who were avid ghost hunters.
The police know “annoying” and weird locations that generate too many calls. For example, some ghosts enjoy setting off security alarms. Those calls annoy the police, and they’ve already tried to debunk the cause.
Sometimes, police officers will talk about those locations and other eerie events. A few may tell you their own “ghost stories,” too.
For example, one New Hampshire police chief was eager to tell me about every cold spot he’d encountered. He even described an unusual hot spot he found in the nearby woods. (He believed that hot spots were probably evil energy.)
A few years later, in Texas, a police officer questioned my team and me during a cemetery investigation.
When he realized we were serious researchers, not thrill seekers, he cheerfully gave us a personal tour of two haunted cemeteries.
Do your best to remain on good terms with the police in every community. They can be among your best resources, and you may be able to solve some of their “weird phenomena” cases, as well.
Thanks to the recent popularity of ghost hunting, you’ll find many regional books about haunted places. Look for them in bookstores and in libraries.
Some of those books are very good. Others are awful. Most are somewhere in between.
Many “haunted places of _____” include the same old stories, but some of their information may be useful. Mostly, look for well-researched books that cover new ground, so to speak.
One of my favorites is Haunted Hikes of New Hampshire. It identifies off-the-beaten-path haunted sites in the Granite State, especially near hiking trails. (Many locations are near public campgrounds. So, you’d have ample opportunity for legal, late-night ghost investigations.)
Local ghost hunting groups
Sometimes, local ghost hunting groups discover great haunted sites. Go on a few investigations with them.
How can you find ghost hunting groups? Ask owners of local haunted sites like restaurants and hotels. Search online, too.
Some ghost hunting clubs are excellent. Others may be going through “growing pains.” That’s normal. Ghost hunting has waves of popularity.
Here’s the usual pattern: First, the ghost hunting group is organized. Everything seems fine for a while.
Then, disagreements occur, or an unqualified person tries to take charge.
After a heated exchange, the team splits into rival groups. Both try to grab the limelight. It becomes more about fame than research.
At the other extreme, some groups are a few friends who casually visit haunted sites. They enjoy a “good scare.”
Afterwards, the group goes to a restaurant, pub, or someone’s house. They spend the rest of the evening laughing about the experience.
If your ghost hunting goal is about fun or social reasons, join that kind of group. As long as they visit popular and benign haunts, you’re certain to enjoy the experience.
In other words: keep your own ghost hunting goals in mind.
If you are interested in serious paranormal research, look for any group that is widely praised. It’s best if they been researching for at least two years. Another plus: if team members include a good balance of skeptics and believers, and everyone gets along.
Go on three or four investigations with them. Don’t commit to anything. Weight the pros & cons of joining a team, before making any decisions.
In later lessons, I’ll talk more about evaluating ghost hunting groups, or forming your own team.
Local historical societies
Almost every community has a historical group or society of some kind. Many turn up their noses at the suggestion of ghost hunting. Others seem to relish the topic. You won’t know until you ask.
Some of my most interesting investigations started with a historian who was a “folklore expert.”
He liked how I talked about ghost hunting. For me, it’s a personal encounter with real history.
After that, he introduced me to several people. They opened their homes to my team, so we could investigate their ghosts.
The creepy feeling
Many of my team’s best discoveries started with someone saying a place “felt haunted” when he or she passed by.
We had no other reasons to visit those locations.
Often, those sites weren’t haunted. Maybe the place had a history. Perhaps visual cues created a feeling of dread, that’s all.
Each site may have seemed disturbing at first glance, but – when we did some research – it wasn’t ghostly.
Several other sites that seemed a little odd – or even chilling – were haunted. Every one of them had a weird history, too.
So, once you’ve exhausted all known haunts, investigate places that – for no clear reason – have always given you a chill.
Also, here are some PDFs that may help you find more haunted sites.
Evaluating haunted sites
Even when a ghost story seems reliable, fact-check it.
Here’s what I recommend:
During the day, visit the site with a friend. See what’s there. Check the most likely spots for unusual EMF. (To keep a low profile I usually use a hiking compass. It can react to high EMF, and passersby rarely notice hikers.)
In some locations, it also helps to have a good excuse for being there.
For example, in a haunted cemetery, say you’re there to see a famous grave. You can identify this kind of grave ahead of time by using a website like FindAGrave.com. (Besides, many of those graves – or plots near them – are actually haunted.)
See how the location feels. Look for nearby landmarks, especially historical markers or places of note.
Here’s a rare marker that tells a ghost story. (You can read more at my article, Elva Zona Heaster’s Ghostly Testimony.)
If the haunted site has a staff or a maintenance crew, they may be more receptive to ghost hunters. Ask if they’ve had odd experiences at the site, or know anyone who has.
History may hold clues
If the site seems promising, check its history. Look for possible names for the ghost, as well as his or her reasons for haunting.
At the very least, the past should suggest reasons for residual energy hauntings.
Here are a few resources to help you research the site and its ghost (or ghosts).
>> If the site was the scene of a tragedy, look for old records – newspapers reports and local history books – that mention it.
Be sure it happened at the place that’s supposed to be haunted. (Street names change. Highways can be moved. Use old maps to verify the location, if you’re not sure.)
>> If the ghost has a name, be sure he or she actually existed.
Local records should include the family’s surname around the time the ghost supposedly lived there. You can check old phone books, city directories, newspapers, court documents, vital records, census records, and so on.
For surnames, I start with family histories, online. Some websites focus on individual family names. They can be very useful.
Many large genealogy sites allow you to search on “sounds like” names, in case the name had different spellings.
(That’s helpful if the ghost’s surname was something like Maguire, which can also be spelled McGuire or MacGuire. Or, Maloney could be Moloney, Mulloney, and so on.)
If the ghost lived more than 100 years ago, be especially careful about alternate spellings. (Through the 19th century, people were less strict about surname spellings.)
For example, at least two websites describe a York (Maine, USA) ghost named Mary Miller Jason. That name was an error in a regional ghost book. According to her gravestone, her name was actually Mary Nasson. (In some historical records, her surname is spelled Nason. Maybe the Jason error came from that.)
Visit local historical society and ask them about the location or people in the ghost stories.
But, as I explained earlier, some historical societies are uncomfortable around ghost hunters. Historians can feel protective of local landmarks, too. They worry – unfortunately, with good reason – about vandalism.
It may be best to say that you’re researching local folklore. (It will help if you already some regional history, and don’t look too suspicious.)
Genealogical libraries can be useful
If the town has a genealogical library, visit it. It may be a dedicated room in the public library.
If your community has an LDS Family History center, that resource is usually free and open to the public.
(Most will not try to convert you to the Mormon religion. If the subject comes up, it’s okay to say – firmly – that you’re not interested. Usually, they’ll shift their focus to helping you find the historical records you’re looking for. Also, they’re unlikely to flinch if you mention ghost hunting. They can be quirky like that.)
Keep in mind: Even if the name in the ghost stories is wrong, the site may still be haunted.
For example, I’ve found no record of a slave named “Chloe” at the famous Myrtles Plantation in Louisiana. The children she supposedly poisoned…? They lived to be adults and at least one had a family.
Despite that, I have no doubt that the Myrtles Plantation is profoundly (and weirdly) haunted.
Still, it’s very helpful when you can confirm the roots of a ghost story. It can also put your research – such as things said in EVP – into a context that makes sense.
Also, anytime you are in a library that has old records, look for vintage maps featuring the location that interests you. Those maps can be excellent resources, and show you what else was in the neighborhood. It may have had a bearing on whatever caused the haunting.
Or, you may stumble onto a haunted site you didn’t know about.
For example, when researching ghosts in Tyngsborough, Massachusetts, a couple of us found a rare, 19th-century map. It actually included a note – and an arrow – indicating “the haunted house.”
Until then, we’d never heard about ghosts at that location. We immediately added it to our research list.
In this lesson, you’ve learned several ways to find locations to investigate.
You’ve also learned how to research local ghost stories to separate fact from fiction.
Some stories may be urban legends. You’ll find historical foundations for others. Yet others may have no obvious history, but the ghosts are still real.
Try to find as much related history as you can. When you know what really happened at a site, you’ll know what to look for, and who the ghosts may be.
For example, if you have a psychic sense of smell, you may notice a smoke odor in a location that’s haunted because of a fire. (I’ll talk about types of manifestations – and perceptions – in a future course.)
Mostly, it can save time if you know exactly where a tragedy occurred. You can focus your initial investigation there.
Also, if you investigate on related dates, such as the anniversary of the tragedy, your research may be more productive.
Also, I’ve had good results investigating on the birthday of the most likely ghost.
I’m not sure if the ghost is waiting for someone to wish him a happy birthday, or what.
But, it’s the kind of anniversary that triggers ghostly activity.
Is it helpful to sing “Happy Birthday to You” to the ghost? Maybe. That song wasn’t popularized until the early 20th century. Your 19th century ghost may not have a clue what (or why) you’re singing.
But, perhaps he (or she) will appreciate being remember and react. I suppose it’s worth a try.
In this video, you’ll learn more tips about when to go ghost hunting.
Finding a haunted site is vital, but it’s just the first step to a successful ghost hunt.
In the next lesson, you’ll learn some of the best ghost hunting tools and practices.
Lesson Two – recommended steps
1) Identify two or three possibly haunted places near your home, school, or workplace.
2) Keep a list of potential investigation sites. You may not use all of them, now, but this list may be useful later.
3) Select one location. Learn as much as you can about the site. Look for its history and evidence of ghost stories.
Search online, and visit at least one off-line resource (historical society, public library) to find additional information that may support – or debunk – the site’s stories.
4) With a friend or two, visit the location in the daytime. Is there physical evidence to support the ghost stories? That could be anything from a historical marker to a “creepy feeling.”
5) Locate at least one ghost hunting group in your area. Search online, using the name of your city or town, plus the word “ghosts.” If that doesn’t work, try your county name, or the name of your state or region.
6) If you don’t find a local group – or if none of them are right for you – start asking friends if they’re interested in ghost hunting.
7) If you have enough people – and collective expertise – try an informal ghost hunt. Choose a well-known haunted site that’s open to the public). Visit it shortly before dusk and see if anything ghostly happens. (You’ll probably investigate the same location you visited in step four, above.)
Here’s some information that may improve your ghost hunting results: Investigating Haunted Places – Basic Checklist.
These experiences may be enough to satisfy your curiosity about ghosts.
If you decide to continue, you’ll learn more in the next lesson, Take Your Next Step.