That San Antonio Railway Tracks Video…

san antonio ghost tracks

Quite often old ghost-related photos, testimonies or videos do the rounds on social media sites, gaining attention and traction despite being long debunked and explained away. Oddly the rational explanations don’t follow around so quickly or at all. For all the good the internet does one of the downsides is the way in which it allows myth to persist (much like other forms of exchanging information that pre-date it.)

A video I’ve seen being shared around a lot in the last week or so is the video from about three years ago of a group of people in two cars driving onto the “haunted” railway tracks in San Antonio, Texas which I’ve shared above. This is just one of hundreds of videos of people doing this but this one is proving popular on Facebook right now. In this particular one two groups of people cover their cars with white powder and drive onto the tracks. The legend is that in the 1930s or 1940s a school bus was driving its way down the road and toward the intersection when it stalled on the tracks. A train smashed into the bus, killing twenty six children and the bus driver. However, the accident never actually happened in San Antonio but in Salt Lake City in Utah instead, but that doesn’t stop people from parking on the tracks and turning their engine off to see if the car will be pushed off of the tracks by the spirits of the people from the bus. The legend says that you won’t see them but you will see their hand prints on the car.

In the video they do find hand prints on their cards upon inspection… but they were likely to have been there before. When the powder was applied it probably just formed on top of the grease and dirt from hands previously placed on the car. Forensic investigators use similar tactics to find finger and hand prints in crime scenes but that doesn’t seem to occur to these folk. In fact, there’s even a child with the group and if you watch as they apply the powder to the second car that crosses the tracks you can see one of the men in the group patting their hand across the top of the car. He’s doing this to spread the powder, but I bet it left prints even if he didn’t think it did. Here’s a tip: If you’re putting powder on something to detect hand prints, don’t put your hand in the powder.

pat the car

As you can imagine people routinely drive onto the tracks and turn their engines off to see if the legend will come true for them which it sometimes does… but there’s a reason for that and we know what it is thanks to rational inquiry. The show Is It Real? found that there’s actually a two-foot incline in the road leading up to the tracks, you can see it being investigated in the video below along with the other elements of the legend:

Despite this people still drive onto the tracks, turn their engines off and wait, convincing themselves it is forces other than those of nature responsible for their cars moving. Kinda stupid really. If your default reaction to these sorts of legends isn’t skepticism then this is surely proof that you’re opening yourself up to all sorts of misinformation.

Christine Hamlett’s Pendle Witch Photo: So Wrong It Hurts…

pendle photo

I have a bit of a thing about the Pendle Witch Trials mainly because one of our family legends is that we have some very distant family link with one of the witches and, as a result, I have grown up with their story – it being my first taste of brutal injustice. One of my favourite stories comes from my mum who grew up in Nelson and could see Pendle Hill from her childhood home. As a child she was told stories that you could see the witches flying around the hill on their brooms on Halloween and one evening she was apprehensively looking at the hill through a window with this story in her mind when suddenly some birds flew past the window and sent her running terrified!

In early October various news outlets including The Mirror and The Daily Star wrote about a photo that a self-confessed psychic took that she claims shows the ghost of Jennet Device. Or Jennet Preston – the papers can’t quite decide which Jennet it’s supposed to be. I don’t often read paranormal related news items of this nature ever since I stopped creating the Weakly Ghost Bulletin for this blog. However because I’m soon to be creating The Spooktator I’ve started to read them again and this particular news report got so much wrong that it staggered me when I read it – so much so that I’ve simply got to write about it here and couldn’t wait until November 4th (when we broadcast our first live episode) to report on it.

The woman who took the photo, Christine Hamlett, has appeared on this blog before in Weakly Ghost Bulletin #4 after she claimed she had taken a photo of Slenderman in Cannock Chase and, before that, a “Black Eyed Kid” in the same area. Rubbish ghost photos of bad quality are her thing apparently.

The Daily Star reports that Hamlett is convinced her photo shows the ghost of Jennet Device, ‘She believes she saw nine-year-old Jennet Device, one of the ‘witches’ who was hanged in the famous 1612 trials.’

It isn’t just rubbish photos that are her thing because her information here is completely incorrect. Less than impressive for someone who claims to talk to the dead…

Jennet Device was nine-years-old at the time of the infamous Lancashire witch trials but she played a key role in the prosecution of the people of who were accused of witchcraft in 1612 and would become known as “The Pendle Witches.” Jennet Device may have eventually been tried and hanged as a witch at a later date because a woman of that name was listed in a group of twenty people tried for Witchcraft at Lancaster Assizes on 24 March 1634 but if that was the same person she would not have been nine when she died. She certainly was not tried as a witch in 1612. Jennet Preston was though, but she was not nine-years old.

If Jennet Device was hanged as a witch in adulthood she would not have been buried in what the papers refer to “the infamous Pendle graveyard” which is actually called Newchurch-in-Pendle graveyard as Pendle is a borough and not a hamlet, village or town, despite the Daily Star reporting that ‘the Lancashire town is in the top 10 spookiest places to live in the UK.’ Such a bastion of quality reporting…

In fact, the confusion here has probably arisen due to a local myth that Alice Nutter is buried up against the South wall of the church. Good old Wikipedia reports ‘The “eye of God” is built into the west side of the tower. To the east of the porch, up against the south wall, is the grave of a member of the Nutter family (carved with a skull and crossbones). Local legend has it that it’s the last resting place of Alice Nutter, one of the famous Pendle witches. However, executed witches were not normally buried in consecrated ground, and the skull and crossbones is a common memento mori device used to remind onlookers of their own mortality. So it can be fairly confidently asserted that the legend is in fact a myth.’

This came to mind when I read Hamlett’s claims because when I was a little girl I was told “some people say the eye of God was put on the church to keep watch over the witches who were buried outside of the graveyard.” No wonder I would grow up to be interested in the supernatural…

All in all Christine Hamlett would do well to google stuff before going to the newspapers. It’s embarrassing to get this sort of detail incorrect, but to do so when also claiming to have supernatural insight and the ability to photograph and communicate with the dead? Utter fail.

Hamlett said: “I invite the spirits to reveal themselves to me and take the photographs. My friends call me the psychic paparazzi.”

Yes, I bet they do…

How To Prove A Skeptic Wrong

wrong graphic

I am a skeptic and, believe it or not, underneath these scales that I wear as a skin I am a human being and human beings are typically silly creatures. We’ve got these things called confirmation biases and our brains confuse us into seeing meaning where there is none and as a result we make decisions and claims that are irrational or illogical. When we try to be rational about things as skeptics often do, we are working against our instincts and sometimes (believe it or not) people who identify as skeptics get things… wrong.

I am one of those skeptics who writes a blog. Often referred to as the “scum of the earth”, us bloggers tend to share our skeptical thoughts and opinions in written words on our carefully crafted spaces on the internet. See these colours on this page? I paid my money so that this writing is displayed in a way that I hope is pleasing to your eye and I try to make this website accessible to all people. I care about my blog space because I care about my readers and because I care about my readers I take seriously suggestions that I am incorrect about things, and if I accept the reasoning behind such a suggestion (or accusation because some people know nothing about tone) I will hold my scaly human hands up and say “oh shit, I was wrong”. Why? Well, because being a skeptic means having an open mind ‘but not so open that your brains fall out’ (Carl Sagan) and an open mind means that you will accept new information as it becomes available and change your opinion based upon the quality of that information.

So, really, when it comes down to it, it’s actually really very easy to prove a skeptic wrong because all you have to do is provide the evidence and, if they are really a skeptic (or a sceptic) they’ll accept it and change their minds and then you can all have a cup of tea and move on.

Of course, there are other ways in which you can try to prove a skeptic wrong that are less effective. As a skeptic blogger of quite some experience of this I have created an easy-to-follow guide below. You are welcome.

WAYS IN WHICH YOU WILL NOT PROVE ME WRONG

– being abusive
– writing sentences IN partial CAPITALISATION without realising you can use HTML coding in the comment section to make font bold (the code is <strong></strong> fyi)
– calling me names (often rude or sweary)
– pointing out my age
– pointing out my gender
– pointing out that I am British
– pretending you have lawyer and are going to sue me for defamation or slander or libel or some other law you know nothing about
– libelling me
– harassing me online
– threatening me
– threatening my friends
– threatening my relatives
– mocking my appearance
– phoning up my employers and trying to get me sacked
– mistaking me for someone who can be intimidated easily

WAYS IN WHICH YOU CAN PROVE ME WRONG

-Showing me evidence that I am wrong

Toowoomba Ghost Chasers: Turning Your Shitty Ghosts Into Clickbait

toowoomba composit

If you don’t carefully manage the paranormal-themed pages you ‘like’ on Facebook you could end up with a constant stream of rubbish ghost photos in your feed that anyone with an ounce of sense would recognise to be faked, photographic artefacts, camera faults, or misidentified objects within the photo causing illusions. Just five minutes spent on the Toowoomba Ghost Chasers Facebook page will provide you with enough of these to last you a lifetime.

Over a month ago I contacted the Toowoomba Ghost Chasers [TCG] to ask them what the deal was regarding the huge amount of alleged paranormal evidence they present to international news outlets on a regular basis (like here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here…), despite at first seeming keen to speak to me they didn’t respond to any of my follow up emails trying to arrange a chat. This is disappointing because it means that I am still unable to work out if they really think every single photo and video they present as evidence is evidence, or if they’re just churning out crap to attract as much attention as possible.

I’m starting to think it is the latter. TCG use material sent to them by other Facebook users on an alarmingly regular basis, and they often strip photos from ghost-related media items not related to them to use gain ‘likes’ on their Facebook page without posting the source. Naturally the question I wanted to know the answer to was why they felt the need to do this and why they reach out to the media so often – something that sets them apart from your usual paranormal-focussed Facebook page. If you see an irrational media story about a ghost then there’s a really, really good chance that it can be traced back to TGC. When I produced the Weakly Ghost Bulletin feature on this blog for a while I noticed that more and more of the media stories about “ghost evidence” that I was writing about could be traced back to their Facebook page and I wanted to know what inspired them in their attempt to dominate paranormal headlines.

I wanted to ask them how they study the photos and videos they’re sent to determine possible other causes, whether they’re hoaxes and so on, but then I realised that this was a stupid line of questioning because they clearly don’t ask themselves any of these questions before posting material to their page.

I also wanted to know why the stories they present to the media often contain misinformation about how they obtained the material in the first place. As Joe Simiana noted, although Kylie Samuels of TGC stated in the media that a particular video was sent to them anonymously, what was written on their Facebook page showed a very different story – they had met the person who provided them with the video… a video which was actually hoaxed.


So what gives? Why try to distance yourself from a hoaxed video by claiming the source was anonymous when you’ve actually met them? Is it so that when it is discovered to be a hoaxed video you can use that distance as a defence? If you used a hoaxed video as a springboard into the limelight there would be some questionable ethics at play, after all, but I don’t know the answer to any of these because the TCG would not respond to any of my emails, and so I can only speculate (but I know what my gut instinct is telling me.)

It would be easy to posit that the TGC are simply doing this to drum up interest in their ghost tours and events and I believe this to be true to a point, but I also believe that a lot of this behaviour is done for attention because there’s only a fraction of the 34,000+ people who’ve ‘liked’ their Facebook page that could be customers for their events. The Toowoomba Ghost Chasers aren’t the first amateur ghost hunters who get off on the feeling of notoriety that sharing every spooky photo that comes their way will bring them and they won’t be the last, but the sheer amount of bullshit they churn out certainly sets them apart from others I’ve encountered.

The internet is where ghosts go to die and it’s people like the Toowoomba Ghost Chasers who kill them and turn them into clickbait. TCG, like the others who have come before them (Don Philips, Steve Huff, Erica Gregory and more) work against those studying paranormal experiences to discover their true causes, they are enemies of reason and logic, and it’s all a bit desperate and sad really.

The murder of Debbie Constantino & the distasteful reaction of the “Paranormal Community”

debbie

News broke yesterday that Mark and Debbie Constantino and a third unidentified man are dead after Mark Constantino killed Debby, her male roommate, and then himself. The Constantinos were known within the US ghost hunting community and were advocates of Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP) which is the incorrect belief that voices of the dead can be captured on recording devices.

This domestic violence murder-suicide has sparked an interesting reaction in some parts of the wider online paranormal community and I was extremely disappointed to learn that Steve Huff (who has featured on this blog before) was already declaring the fact that he intended to try and communicate with Debbie Constantino through EVP and Ghostbox because he claims that the best time for communicating with the dead is within 24 hours after death. His claim has made some people quite angry and the ‘Exposing Paranormal Posers’ Facebook page posted the below image with this message:

‘…To publicly exclaim he is going to try to capitalize the murder of Debbie Constantino, when her body has not even been cold, to say he is going to try to “capture” her “EVP” is ghoulish. Huff, you are exposed, and should be run out on a rail out of the paranormal community. You are a total piece of shit. And we at EPP have been getting reports on this pile of feces, and now we should have something soon. Share this far and wide. Steve Huff is a joke, and he must be run out of the paranormal field.’

Steve Huff graphic

Nobody is in a position from which they can dictate who is and is not part of a community, or who can and cannot participate in paranormal research no matter how far-fetched, irrational, or “ghoulish” the claims being made are. However, I have an idea, and it may be a radical one… but if we are going to start kicking people out of the so-called community perhaps we can first start by rejecting from it the men who would murder a woman and a man because said woman might be romantically involved with someone who isn’t him? Or perhaps we could start by rejecting men who send lewd, unsolicited messages to women they do not know? Perhaps we could take a stand against men in the community who harass women they do not agree with because being debated is an affront to their masculinity?

Just throwing it out there.

1 in 4 women (24.3%) and 1 in 7 men (13.8%) aged 18 and older[1] in the United States- where this murder-suicide took place -have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime, and the majority of female victims of intimate partner violence were previously victimized by the same offender. [2] We know that Debbie fits this bracket because in in August Mark Constantino was charged with kidnapping, domestic battery by strangulation, and domestic battery against Debbie.[3]

So, the question is… do we care more about our own sensitivities than we do the fact that people within the paranormal “community” are suffering the same? Debbie Constantino and her roommate should be (and are) more than just statistics, they should be a catalyst that makes us say “this is not acceptable within our community or outside of our community.”

Or we could just spend our time getting angry at people we think are being distasteful and making memes for Facebook clicks…

[1] http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/nisvs_report2010-a.pdf
[2] http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/ipv9310.pdf
[3] http://deadline.com/2015/09/ghost-adventures-guest-stars-dead-1201547175/