Some www observations

From surfing the web looking at ghost-related sites I've noticed a few frequent themes, memes or trends. Here are some of the common ones along with my own opinions about them:

1. The vast majority of schools, from elementary schools through college buildings and dorms, are claimed to be haunted. This is invariably said to be due to someone committing suicide or accidentally dying there (student, teacher or custodian) or a construction worker who fell while the school was being built, often to land in freshly-poured cement and the body left there.

The common theme about the causes of hauntings at these sites sounds to me more like urban legend than fact, and could be easily verified or debunked with some simple research into the site's history (old newspaper articles, for instance). Instead, most people just believe what they've been told. It's usually a case of older students passing the legend down to younger ones. If they believe that the school is haunted then anything unsusual that happens is attributed to the ghost, whether it be a door closing due to a draft, sounds made by the building expanding or contracting during temperature changes, an unusual (but not paranormally caused) shadow or whatever.

2. Almost every state east of the Mississippi has at least one "Crybaby Bridge". Ohio has several. In each case, the haunting is due to someone (usually the mother) murdering a baby by throwing it off of the bridge. Supposedly if you go to these bridges at around midnight you'll hear the baby crying, and in some cases if you taunt or bait the woman's ghost it'll appear.

Again, this cries of urban legend. Research into these sites may be more difficult as, especially in small towns or rural areas, an infanticide may be kept quiet and so not make the papers. Still, I can't imagine dozens of women around the country hurling their babies off bridges. Also, this sounds too similar to the La Llorona legend.

3. Probably a majority of "ghost hunts" consist of bored young people who decide to go to a cemetery or abandoned building at night on the spur of the moment. They trespass, break and enter, poke around, get scared and run away, then post their adventures on paranormal message boards.

This causes more and more sites to be closed to the more serious paranormal investigator groups, as property owners and/or authorities in charge wish to avoid opening themselves up to lawsuits. This activity is also very unsafe: people who don't survey a site ahead of time in daylight don't know the "lay of the land" and are liable to trip over something when running in a panic and hurt themselves (hence the possibility of lawsuits). Plus, many sites get a reputation for being "haunted" due to these panic attacks, attracting even more trespassers to the site. That's why many investigators prefer not to give specific site names and addresses in their reports.

4. Most old cemeteries, especially in isolated locations, have been vandalized (headstones broken or even stolen, litter and trash- usually beer cans- left all over), usually by bored local teenagers.

When we're young we feel like we're going to live forever. Thoughts of death and dying are usually the farthest things from our minds. Yet we're all going to die someday, and if ghosts exist as spirits of the dead then these kids are going to someday meet the people whose graves they've desecrated. Won't that be fun? Also old headstones are a form of local history just like old books and newspapers. Destroying them is like burning books: these stone-carved records of people's lives are no longer available. Besides, how would they feel if a bunch of people hung out on their grandmother's grave drinking beer and smashing up her headstone?

5. Many of these old isolated cemeteries are said to have "Satanic cults" practicing dark ceremonies at them, sacrificing animals and so on.

I think these are mainly unsubstantiated rumours and legends. At those sites where evidence of this has been found (such as black candle wax on headstones) I think it's probably just local young people messing around (teens playing at being Wiccans, for example) rather than actual organized cult activity. The idea of Satan-worshipers holding secret ceremonies makes for spooky reading, but I have to wonder just how widespread people think these cults are? It reminds me of the big day-care center witchhunts of the 1980s where children were said to have been ritually sexually abused by Satanic cults. Children were coerced by authorities into testifying that these things happened (being badgered and led by the authorities until the children broke down and said what the adults wanted to hear so as to be let alone). People's lives were ruined. Several were convicted and imprisoned. Finally, years later, the whole thing was found to be untrue. I don't think that we have actual "Satanic cults" all over the place any more than we had witches in the 1600s and 1700s.

6. Most paranormal investigators' web sites, including those of investigators who bill themselves as being "scientific", have a dark or black background with "spooky" themes and cartoon ghosts or skulls.

Teams need to think about who their intended audience is when they design their web sites, and what kind of first impression the site will make on visitors. If they wish to attract those who have a haunting and wish for them to investigate, or to show skeptics that they're serious about gathering scientific evidence to encourage the skeptics to enter and read their reports, these "spooky" themes are probably a turn-off as compared to a more neutral, businesslike appearance. To those with a haunting it makes the group look like amateurish thrill-seekers rather than serious investigators. To skeptics it makes the group look like credulous "true believers". If the group just wants to attract people who want to read their collection of spooky ghost stories, then the dark, ghosty themes are fine.

7. So many paranormal investigators' web sites have spelling and punctuation errors that it isn't even funny. Apostrophised plurals abound (like one site I saw yesterday that said "sky's" where they meant "skies"), and sometimes they use "were" and "where" interchangeably even in the same paragraph.

This may seem to be rather nitpicky to many of you but again, like the old saying goes, "you never get a second chance to make a first impression". If a group's webmaster can't be bothered to spell check and proofread his or her entries, I have to wonder what other things that team can't be bothered to do when researching and investigating a site. Web sites get cached in Google and in "the Wayback Machine" and so exist for practically forever. Content should be written as though you're writing a term paper, not just dashed out any old how in a slipshod manner.

8. Too many teams' investigation reports, as posted on line, omit such things as ambient weather conditions, the moon phase, solar and geomagnetic activity at the time, and their baseline measurements. Measurements made during an investigation only get mentioned if they're unusual, if even then. They may use thermometers, motion detectors, cameras, EMF meters, but they don't say what results were obtained. Many reports consist mainly of people's subjective feelings and impressions, whether or not they're psychics or sensitives, rather than objective evidence.

This isn't scientific. It isn't even really investigating. It's just stating one's own beliefs and opinions. These teams aren't adding anything to our knowledge about ghosts, spirits, the possibility of survival after physical death, or anything. All they're giving us are more anecdotal "there I wuz" stories. Traipsing around with meters and gadgets doesn't make an investigation "scientific" if the results obtained with these devices aren't analyzed and shared in the investigation reports.