The Worst Ghosts of 2015

hampton court

It has been an entire year since I correctly predicted that Slenderman would be seen in the UK in my ‘Worst Ghosts of 2014’ round up. In that year I created a feature on this blog called The Weakly Ghost Bulletin which morphed into The Spooktator Podcast which examines ghost related headlines on a monthly basis. It’s been busy…

…so, without further ado here are the 5 Worst Ghosts of 2015!

#5 The Ohio Ghost that was literally crap

figure outside Ohio mall

In May, Examiner reported that a woman called Tonya Nester was taking photos of the closed down Randall Park Mall in Ohio and a friend noticed something odd in one of the photos that was quickly concluded to be a ghost.

‘What exactly is the angelic figure in the photo?’ asked Examiner reporter John Albrecht. Well, John, bird crap is what it is.

The photo was taken through a car window, dirt tracks left from rain visible, and the white smudge being called a ghost or angelic is bird poo.

#4 That Samurai Ghost that photobombed a little girl

Samurai-Ghost (2)

In April some people lost their composure over a photo that it is claimed shows a pair of ghostly legs behind a little girl who was on holiday with her family. Taken on a smart phone, the childs father claimed nobody was standing behind her at the time the photo was taken. This, it turns out, is not true.

japan policeDon Cake worked out that it was a guard standing a slight distance away from the child and emailed the Fortean Times (FT332, p. 76) to tell them that the beach in the photograph is a short distance from the Summer palace of the Emperor of Japan, which is well guarded by officers who wear the uniform (pictured), which resembles the legs of the so-called ghost. If you look carefully you can even see part of the light blue shirt beneath the childs left elbow.

 

#3 The grey lady of Hampton Court that was actually… not

hampton court

Many people claimed that this photo taken by 12-year-old Holly Hampsheir in February shows the ghost of Dame Sybil Penn (aka the gray lady of Hampton Court) and that the apparition is wearing period clothing which is interesting because it totally isn’t.

It is, in fact, a panoramic photo that went wrong and what we’re seeing are the distorted features of a fleshy (an alive human.) This is explained by Mick West in more detail here, where he also replicated the photo. West said ‘it’s just the result of taking a panoramic photo in low light on the iPhone. Panoramic photos are done by holding the camera up, and panning from left to right. The camera takes lots of photos and then stitches them together … but because it takes a while to take all the images, if something moves while you are taking the panorama, then it will get distorted.’

#2 That eight-foot-tall Ghost 

Although this photo technically dates back to pre-Christmas 2014 it wasn’t until 2015 that it came to the attention of the media which is why it has been included here. It was taken by teacher Debbie Monteforte and a family friend said “The family insists there was no one standing behind them and there was no place to hang a coat. Even if there was someone standing there, they would have to be 8ft tall to appear like that. It’s beyond spooky.”

However, in Weakly Ghost Bulletin #4 I explained how a quick look around on Google Image Search revealed another photograph taken in the same area of the pub that showed that perhaps a person standing in that position wouldn’t have been 8-foot-tall after all.

Kings Arms Ghost Comparison

#1  Slenderman. Obviously.

It feels right that we finish with the story I opened with. I am awarding the #1 spot on this list to two people: Lee Brickley and Christine Hamlett.

In January 2015 Brickley (who has previously made the #1 spot on this list) generated bizarre headlines by claiming that Slenderman had been seen by many people in the Cannock Chase area. He also made the observation that throughout history people have reported seeing tall creatures and spirits which led him to declare that Slenderman wasn’t created online.

What a genius.

He’s wrong, of course. The fictional creature called Slenderman is an internet creation that probably takes inspiration from real-like folklore. I wrote about this in more detail in a blog post called The Evolution of Ghosts and Monsters in which I point out that ‘many in the Cannock Chase area reported that they saw the so-called Slenderman entity while experiencing sleep paralysis, but if they lived in a different part of the world they might perhaps report that they saw a Grey- an alien considered synonymous with E.T. encounters -rather than a spirit or monster.’

It didn’t stop there though. Enter Christine Hamlett…

Hamlett, a self-proclaimed spirit medium, claimed to have caught Slenderman on camera.

Alleged photo of Slenderman
Alleged photo of Slenderman

This is quite amusing because Hamlett also claimed to have caught a Black Eyed Child on camera when Brickley made the headlines in October 2014 with claims that Black Eyed Kids were prowling in Cannock Chase (you can read more about that on my blog here)

not slenderman
Alleged photo of Black Eyed Child ghost…
More recently Hamlett made headlines with claims that she caught the ghost of one of the Pendle Witches on camera, but her claims were shown to be historically inaccurate. You can read my breakdown of the Pendle Witch claims here.

So there we have what I consider to be the 5 Worst Ghosts of 2015 – a whole range of bizarre claims that, encouragingly, were investigated and explained by rational researchers.

You can check out previous years Worst Ghosts showcases here, and throughout 2016 I will examine ghost related headlines on a monthly basis on The Spooktator podcast. Be sure to subscribe on Soundcloud or iTunes!

 

Is This The Halloween Generation Of Ghost Research?

black eyed kids

TScience, you're doing it wronghe traditional approach to ghost research is long dead and here to replace it is the Halloween Generation; They’re always on the look out for the next opportunity to both indulgence their sense of being at one with themselves and their addiction to hedonistic thrill seeking. Overnight stays at haunted “mental asylums” and the plethora of the “Most haunted” places in the land, piles of ghost photos that show nothing of importance, gruesome looking puppets that it’s claimed are haunted by demons, theatrical claims of being attacked by demonic entities, endless lists of modern technology that both seek and disprove the existence of spooks while actually accomplishing neither, mirror scrying (with both regular and black mirrors), seances, working with psychics and spirit mediums, dowsin- wait. No. Those are traditional methods that can be traced right back to our Victorian and Edwardian ancestors. So what has changed?

In his delightful book A Natural History of Ghosts Roger Clarke writes that ‘watching a TV show like TAPS, with its extraordinary emphasis on detecting and surveillance technology, modern American ghost-belief is a mixture of Dan Aykroyd’s Ghostbusters, English Jacobean Protestant theology and a Halloween whizz or Irish Catholic and pagan tradition.’ 

Quite.

It’s tempting to look about today (both in America, the UK or elsewhere) and complain that the modern world of ghost research has lost the plot, that those seeking fame and fortune dominate the field, that dodgy methodologies and personalities claim all of the headlines and attention, and that people are being stupid with their ill-supported conclusions. In the next breath many then point out that they wish they could travel back in time to a world where ghost research was honourable, decent, respected… but that’s a world that did not exist.

We ghost researchers of today are all cut from the same cloth of our predecessors and their predecessors, and the future generations of ghost researchers will also be cut of this cloth, and those that follow them and so on and so forth. Our influenced as far reaching and muddled and sometimes hard to distinguish.

If recent surveys are to be believed more and more people believe in ghosts, but did society ever stop believing? I find it hard to believe that there was a sudden dip in ghost believers between the end of World War 2 and today. That seems odd. I would posit that we’ve always been a national of believers in ghosts and in a world that seems to be becoming less and less religious ghosts have become less taboo, and so has believing in them.

And although it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that the ghost stories from our ancestors would be thought of as dull and boring by today’s standards they’re actually as popular as ever, not to forget that the BBC have long breathed life into the ghosts that were born from the mind of M R James (more recently with the help of Mark Gatiss.) The adult generations of today grew up with stories of friendly ghosts – Casper, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), Rent-a-Ghost, Nearly Headless Nick… is it any wonder that ghosts are as popular as ever? Is it any surprise that the traditional and modern seen to entwine to create the modern idea of what ghosts are and do?

The only thing that has really changed is the way that we live now. Gone are the crossroads ghosts wailing a warning to passengers on the road and here to replace them are the Road Traffic Collision hot-spot apparitions. It isn’t often one hears of sightings of ghostly horse drawn carriages, but stories of people hitting people with their cars who had seconds before appeared from nowhere in the road are plentiful. An otherworldly reminder to be careful. 

It isn’t the ghosts that change, it isn’t the ghost researchers that change and it isn’t the ghost eye-witness who changes… it’s society.

Today we can talk to people from all around the world in real-time. We can share with them our experiences and our thoughts and, much like our societies, our ghost cultures have become multicultural. I’ve written before about Asian ghosts who seen on countryside tracks, creatures with fictional-internet origin that seen in the Midlands, beings with American folkloric roots haunting British families in their homes as they sleep.

If our ancestors had the internet their ghost stories would have been much the same as ours. If they had live television I think they’d watch a “live Exorcism” being broadcast (as you can this halloween), I think Harry Price would have been on This Morning with Holly and Phil on a regular basis…

‘…but today you have estate agents cashing in on haunted houses‘ you might argue, ‘so many places claim to be haunted to draw in customers‘ you might complain, and you’re right, but this isn’t new either and isn’t going to away any time soon. The “most haunted” brag pre-dates Yvette Fielding and her television crew, it pre-dates Harry Price and his “Most Haunted House” and it will continue to exist because ghosts are a human by-product and humans are going to be around for a very long time. Our frustrations with the modern world of ghost research are not new problems, the Halloween Generation has always existed, it’s never going away… it just has Twitter now.

#GhostsArentJustForHalloween #ISeeDeadPeople

Skepkon Presentation: A Skeptics Guide to Ghost Hunting

skepkon still shot

Earlier this year I travelled to Frankfurt to deliver my talk ‘A Skeptics Guide To Ghost Hunting’ at Skepkon which took place at Goethe University Frankfurt (an amazing place). The talk was filmed and the is now available to view online.

There were some technical glitches as a cable that connected the laptop to the projector wasn’t working as it had previously been and I can only assume this was paranormal forces at work. At 23 minutes in you will actually see a ghost vandalise the stage.

As the video has been made public I’d like to take this chance to thank the lovely people at Skepkon for the invitation to speak – in particular Jochen who was kneeling on the floor physically holding the faulty cable in place throughout the whole of my talk.

Notes:

The “stiched together picture” method I spoke of referred to panoramic photos but I could not recall the name at the moment of the talk.

In the talk I say that 99% of photos and videos can be explained as caused by the Orb Zone effect that I demonstrate but should have said ‘a large number of’ instead.

After this talk I spoke to someone about the cash register incident with the Birmingham Skeptics and it seems I had an embellished memory of what had happened. Nobody screamed and there was no money in the till. I totally remember it differently which is just weird!

I also state that “immigration is not the cause” of ghosts from other cultures being reported more regularly in the UK and meant this in the context of a joke about ghost immigration. People coming to live in the UK from other cultures bring with them traditional beliefs and folklore that certainly will contribute to the way in which people describe ghost experiences.

Being The Token Skeptic: My Experience On BBC Radio West Midlands

Blah, Blah, Blah, 2008, oil on canvas, 18 x 24 inches

I got a phone call this morning from BBC Radio West Midlands asking if I would go on their show to discuss the sense of presence research that has recently made the headlines again. I agreed because there were a few interesting points I was hoping to make about the research.

Firstly, the researchers are not suggesting that their findings can explain all ghost experiences as the media are falsely claiming, and secondly the research does suggest that we can’t trust our initial impressions of weird experiences we have because we are open to influences that we’re not always aware of.

Instead, the limited time I spent on the phone with the studio was spent defending my skeptical position and having to explain how a recently bereaved man wasn’t hearing messages from his dead wife and how another guest on the air hadn’t seen ghosts when she was a child and how you can’t rely on eye-witness testimony as fact. Something the presenter kept insisting was okay to do.

It’s totally unethical to deal with the recently bereaved and it was unfair of BBC Radio West Midlands to ask me to debunk that persons experiences of messages from his deceased wife. The time I could have spent giving some perspective to the research was instead spent pointing out the huge logical flaws in the testimony of the other guest who couldn’t decide if she was a Christian who doesn’t believe in ghosts or whether she had seen ghosts.

It was a complete waste of my time, but why am I surprised? What was I expecting.

It feels as though the media purposefully misrepresent scientific research to arouse hatred and suspicion from the general public. In this case the media are telling people “these scientists say that your ghost experiences can be explained by what they’ve done in this lab” and the response to this is “they can’t explain to me the profound experiences I have had!” and that’s right, they can’t… but they’re not claiming to have done this.

By misreporting the actual research the media are setting the scientists and scientific researchers like me on the back foot, a position from which we can’t engage people about the actual research and what it means in the context of paranormal experiences without having to talk about the individual claims of each person who has come forward with the story of a weird experience they’ve had.

It makes me feel like I’m a conspiracy theorist when I say this, but it feels as though this is intentional on the part of the media and I think it’s irresponsible. To encourage people to share their testimony is fine because people do have weird experiences, but to do so in the context of promoting a distrust of science and while making it nearly impossible for those with the knowledge of this research and what it means to actually talk about this is completely unfair and it insults the intelligence of both the listeners and those who are sharing their experiences.

This research is real and it’s extremely interesting but the media are misrepresenting it to make for better radio. I wish I had pointed this out on air and I vow that every time I encounter this behaviour going forwards I will call it out. I hope that others will do so too. If you misrepresent scientific research as an easy way to meet audience quotas invite this token skeptic onto your show at your own risk.

Weakly Ghost Bulletin #11

WEAKLY GHOST BULLETIN HEADER

imageI am proud to bring you the Weakly Ghost Bulletin #11 on the award winning Hayley Is  a Ghost blog after being awarded the Best Skeptic Blog award at the Ockham’s Awards by The Skeptic Mag at QEDcon this weekend.

Thank you to everyone who nominated me, who reads my blog and shares whats i write. Thank you to those who comment on my blog and those who might not agree with what I write but engage anyway.

Thank you also to the judges from The Skeptic for making the decision.

I have been blogging since 2007 and on this blog since 2010 and it means a lot that so many people seem to enjoy what I write.


 Ghost ‘photobombs’ happy couple in Wedding photo

Kevin-and-Christiana-Dennis

The Mirror particularly seems to love ghosts. In this story it is claimed that the photo above shows a ghost photobombing Kevin and Christina Denis on their wedding day. Sure looks just like a guest sneakily getting into shot, you can see other people are clearly behind them in this photo when you look to the left of Christina. Unless that’s supposed to be a ghost too? Oooh…

Dismembered Samurai Ghost Photobombed Little Girl

Samurai-Ghost

Photobombing ghosts seems to be a trend this week. This photo allegedly shows the ghost of a Samurai “photobombing” the young girl, and at first we couldn’t make it out and thought they meant the bent-over guy in the background, but then  someone put a red circle around it and we spotted it (how embarrassing).

Samurai-Ghost (2)

This is probably just someone stood behind the girl that the dad forgot was in shot or didn’t notice because he was too busy taking the photo. If you look closely you can see part of a pale blue t-shirt next to the girls elbow and it appears the person behind the girl has black shoes and dark trousers on too, details that become really clear when you zoom in on the original photo. Strangely this photo has been around for months and yet has only just made the news.

spotted by: Ash Pryce

Ghost caught on camera at Loftus Hall

Loftus Hall

According to the Loftus Hall Twitter account the above photo shows ‘the latest ghost photo’ from the Hall to have been caught on camera. Where? No seriously… where? Judging by their website I’m quite sure that Loftus Hall would tell you that everything in the above photo is a ghost – building included.

That concludes the Weakly Ghost Bulletin #11.