Having a ghost can be profitable. Most people know that since the rise in the popularity of ghost hunting television shows and similar brands, the notion of being haunted can be quite a lucrative bonus for any business or organisation. From running ghost tours and over-night ghost hunting events, to selling and featuring in ghost merchandise and Folklore books, it can all help to balance the books. I used to be of the opinion that it was wrong to cash in on alleged hauntings that had no evidence to back them up – as though anyone who did so was being intellectually dishonest, but in recent years I have changed my mind quite a bit.
There will, of course, be occasions where a reputedly haunted venue will cross the line when it comes to the ‘being haunted’ game. False evidence, hoaxes and allowing credulous ghost hunters to tell ridiculous stories of what they’ve found. When that happens then those locations ought to expect people to criticise them for it, they’re opening themselves up to it. I remember my encounter in 2007 with the landlord of Wiltshire’s allegedly ‘most haunted’ pub (one of many) who tried to con me and my fellow investigators into thinking he had a poltergeist by throwing a glass tumbler across an empty room and then hiding behind the door in the hope that we wouldn’t find him, and I think that venues that try to con people into thinking they’re haunted deserve to have their trickery and dishonesty exposed.
Yet these charlatans are not an example of every location to peddle a ghost story and I think to treat everyone with the same level of skepticism is quite unfair. Last year I spoke for the Brighton Skeptics in the Pub group, and during my visit to Brighton they arranged a private tour for me of the nearby Preston Manor which features heavily within British ghost folklore. The woman who led me around the venue is the same person that deals with the ghost tours and the overnight ghost hunting events, and I was pleasantly surprised when she sat me and the friend accompanying me down before the tour for a cup of tea and a chat about the ethics of being a haunted venue.
Yes. She’d worked out for herself that harm could come from hosting ghost hunting events at the venue, and she wanted to limit it as much as she could and sought my opinion. I emailed her a rough code of ethics a ghost hunting team might use, and she signed up as a member of the Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena (ASSAP) who run workshops on investigating the paranormal in an ethical manner. Here was a venue using their haunted heritage to their benefit without tricking anybody, while also being very careful about how they went about it. Other venues who use being haunted to their advantage often have rules in place about who can and cannot take part in ghost hunting events, and although staff or residents may have had experiences that convince them that the location is haunted I have often had pleasant experiences where the location didn’t attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of participants and, although they may not have agreed with my skeptical opinion, were fair and friendly.
I guess it can be easy to think that anyone cheekily suggesting a ghost story might be true is an enemy of reason and to question their motives, but I prefer to keep my scrutiny for those who mislead people rather than those who might genuinely believe they’ve got a ghost, or those who are harmlessly letting a ghost folklore story live a little. There’s something quite charming about locations who are enthusiastic about their ghosts. Fear not though, if they ever start lying, I’ll join you in your criticisms.