by Tony Harrington
More disheartening than someone going rogue is the moment you realize that your team is composed of individuals who may not completely have the investigation process down to a science. Teamwork should be dynamic, yes, but it should also run like a well-oiled machine with all parts contributing to the greater good.
It is bad enough that we are being scrutinized by a public raised on schlock programming that glorifies our field in an unrealistic light; it makes matters worse when we fail to measure up to a client’s expectations. It makes us seem unprofessional, uneducated, and disingenuous.
There are some key factors we have to remember when entering a private residence or place of business to conduct a paranormal investigation. Let’s cover the basics now:
Above all Else, We Are Guests
We were invited by the home/business owner to investigate their claims of paranormal activity. We are a guest and should conduct ourselves with decorum. An invitation to investigate is not an invitation to snoop.
A locked door is a locked door. The home/business owner has locked it for a reason. Prior to an investigation you should clarify with the proprietor/owner what is off-limits and what the protocol is for encountering a locked door. Do not assume that everything is open to you.
On one investigation we encountered a door that just wouldn’t budge. The owner of the residence told us that we had free rein, clearly they were unaware the door would not open or had been locked. The door in question led to a basement/foundation. We tried to open it and moved on, one investigator apparently did not get the memo and located a shovel and used it to pry the door open. This was not Standard Operating Procedure and luckily, when we reported the incident to the homeowner they were fine with it as the house was already in some level of disrepair. That does not excuse the action taken by an allegedly professional person taking it upon themselves to damage property to overcome an obstacle of a locked door.
Additionally, if a business owner asks you not to touch certain things, respect that. Museum displays should not tampered with just because you are there after hours with the lights out.
Execute the very best of judgment and treat the property with respect. Word will quickly get out if you are destructive and you put the entire organization at risk for litigation if we cause a financial loss by damaging personal property.
Know What to Say and To Whom
This is a big one, and a lot of people break this rule especially when home/business owners want to be present during the investigation. I have broken the rule myself on an occasion or two in a moment of excitement.
The bottom line is this; the homeowner is looking for validation of the things they allegedly experience. This aspect should be done ONLY at the conclusion of evidence review and when the final report is delivered. Validating their claims on the spot is just poor business practice. As an investigator we are in a collection role where it is our job to collect evidentiary support of claims of paranormal activity.
If you are on an investigation and the owner is present and you feel something touch you, do not say out loud “Something just touched me!” If you see a shape or shadow figure or an apparition, do not announce this to the homeowner. Write it down, pull the team leader aside and let them know. Unless it can be proven with hard evidence then it did not happen. End of story and not up for debate. A personal experience is not proof and is not factored into determining if a place is haunted or not. Announcing your personal experiences out loud while an owner is present is setting false expectations. They will commit your experience to mind and when we come back with a final report that discredits a haunting they will bring that up and we are left in an awkward position.
On one recent investigation on which I was a team leader, one of the investigators kept mentioning they were seeing apparitions, shadow figures, feeling something touch them and experiencing phantom smells and every other kind of paranormal activity known to man. The homeowner was co-signing on everything the investigator was saying. “Yup, I feel it too!”
At the end of it all, there was no supporting evidence to prove the presence of paranormal activity. When I notified the homeowner of this she kept saying, “But that one person saw everything!” Well, they saw something, but it could have been anything and the fact that no one else in the group experienced these things should have been proof enough to the homeowner. It wasn’t and as a result, the reveal was a difficult one. The homeowner is convinced that she and the investigator are right and the rest of the team, including the final report is incorrect. One person’s actions discredited the entire team.
Know What You Are Talking About
There is more to being an investigator on a team than just showing up with some equipment. Your knowledge of the paranormal should not be limited to what you see on TV. Anyone can quote Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson from TAPS, but it is better to know what it is you are talking about. Research everything you can about the field. The team should be made up of people with a vast and strong knowledge base. Education should be constant and ongoing. You can’t make up what you think clients want to hear. If you make a mistake and the client knows something you don’t you have lost credibility with that client.
Know your history and the history of the area. Here in Arkansas, a lot of homeowners know one major thing about the area. They know that their grounds may very well have been a path on the Trail of Tears. You would be surprised at the number of homeowners who feel that their home is haunted by Native American Indians. Even more shocking is hearing investigators offer this up as a suggestion with reckless abandon when the investigation site sits nowhere near the historic “trails”.
Claiming that a site is part of the Underground Railroad and haunted by the ghosts of slaves is another big one for Arkansas. The truth is, the Underground Railroad was never put to map, there is no documentation out there indicating what sites were part of the journey. Why would anyone risk capture by revealing safe houses and homes of sympathizers? They wouldn’t, which makes claims of “This house was part of the Underground Railroad” immediately suspect. And we as a team should not be offering up this suggestion to anyone.
Just know what you are talking about before answering a question about paranormal activity, historical information, or providing details on any range of topics of which you are uncertain. There is nothing wrong with not knowing an answer; there is everything wrong with making one up.
Have sources from which to draw. Know about historical cases that are relevant to your current investigation and be able to discuss them with the homeowner/business owner.
Have Equipment and Know How it Works
Part of being an investigator is having something to contribute to the team. Equipment isn’t cheap but there are must-have items. A digital camera, a digital voice recorder, a flashlight, pen, and notepad is a great primer for any new ghost hunter. Save up and get the fancy stuff later.
Other items you should consider over time:
Thermometer that measures the air temperature
Camcorder (Preferably one that records to a hard drive for easy transfer to a computer), one that has the ability to see in the dark via IR source would be of great use.
EMF Detector. It doesn’t have to be fancy and it does not have to be a K-II meter, a simple meter will suffice.
You can be loaded up on equipment but it doesn’t do you any good if you don’t know how to use it. Sitting around asking a ghost to light up your K-II meter is cute, but if you don’t know what baseline readings are and how to use the EMF detectors to attain them, then perhaps you need to spend more time reading and less time buying equipment outside of your scope of understanding.
Make sure you understand what the equipment measures and that you can explain how it works if a client asks you.
…Don’t Say Anything at All
Sometimes you just aren’t smart enough to contribute to a conversation. This is not meant to be rude, but adding your two cents when you have no idea what you are talking about can instantly diminish your credibility. On an investigation one time the following conversation transpired:
Homeowner: I think it is attached to me. Have you ever heard of instances where ghosts are attached to a family or something?
Team Leader: Several cases come to mind. The Doris Bither case of Culver City, California. A woman was raped and beaten by something she couldn’t see…allegedly.
Uninformed Investigator: Scientists ended up freezing the demon in a lab designed to look like the woman’s house.
Homeowner: Oh my god! Really?
Team Leader: (To investigator) What?
Homeowner: Is that possible? Freezing a demon?
Team Leader: No. It’s n…
Uninformed Investigator: (Interrupting) Of course it is. I saw that movie, “The Entity” and that is what happened. It even said “Based on a True Story”.
Team Leader: (To investigator) You are a moron.
There is so much more that needs to be said about how to conduct yourself on an investigation, but I want to know what other people think needs to be discussed. What are your pet peeves with working on a team? What have you seen in the way of poor investigation skills that make you clench your jaw? Share your experiences with us so that others may learn from the mistakes of those less fortunate.