Earlier this year I visited Woodchester Mansion for a midnight tour of the building and two things happened: I had a strange experience, and I realised I had pro-paranormal tourism leanings. This was a revelation that shocked a number of people and I promised that I would write about it in more details, so here I am.
Ghost Heritage: the good and the… not so good
When you visit somewhere like Woodchester Mansion the money from your pocket goes towards the upkeep of the building which, like many historical sites across the country, is owned and cared for by charitable trusts and/or people who volunteer their time.
Places like Woodchester Mansion need to raise a certain amount of cash to keep the building open and in a good condition. Old buildings have a habit of breaking and bits fall off – Woodchester mansion, for example, have got to raise something like £2million to fix some pillars that are holding part of the chapel roof up. With this in mind I think that paying to go on a ghost event at such a location is a positive thing because it’s a way in which the heritage of the building can be protected. I see it as no different than booking to go on a ghost walk or a ghost tour – many of which I’ve been on and enjoyed.
My experiences at places with Woodchester Mansion, Preston Manor and Longleat House are those of volunteers or staff members presenting an overview of the alleged ghost heritage of the location in a way that doesn’t misrepresent anything. It’s essentially tourism with the lights off.
If you’re a ghost hunting group it’s your choice what you spend your cash on, but personally I am 100% behind anyone who books to visit a heritage site because I know that their money is going to a good cause and good use.
As long as the person running the event doesn’t promote nonsense “ghost hunting” techniques and spread misinformation then I do not see this as a problematic situation. In fact, I applaud locations like Preston Manor in Brighton who consulted with me a few years ago about how to make their ghost events ethical experiences for everybody.
On the flip side of this there is another sort of paranormal tourism where the money goes from your pocket and into someone else’s pocket and, in my opinion, this is where things start to get a bit murky. Take 30 East Drive as an example here – they charge a huge amount of money to essentially visit a house that had activity in the 70s and the profit goes… where, exactly? Well, I know from experience that it goes directly into someone’s bank account but after that there is no trail.
When The Good Becomes… Not So Good
There are, of course, those heritage venues that conduct ghost events in completely the wrong manner. Many will hire the venue out to third party events companies who conduct themselves in an unethical manner and promote both non-scientific methods as well as claims that are utterly nonsense and potentially harmful.
When there is a profit to be made you should always question to what extent you are being sold something.
Spreading bad and false information is bad enough, but doing so when you don’t really believe in it yourself is manipulative and inexcusable. People who believe in paranormal ideas are often seen as a means of profit by these companies and it is within the best interest of the companies to create positive experiences – in their case, paranormal occurrences.
Back in 2005 I was the lead investigator of a ghost hunting group and even though the members of the group hadn’t paid to visit the location I felt a certain pressure for them to be impressed. I now suspect this probably had an effect on the way in which I personally perceived things that happened during our time at a location.
Swap those team members for paying members of the public and that pressure increases. I’m not suggesting that every paranormal events company fakes activity to meet the expectations of their customers (though I know some of them do), but these events cannot be considered actual investigations because there is a certain level of bias involved in the way in which things are processed.
Odd things that have a rational explanation are more likely to be chalked up as paranormal in nature on these events to keep people happy. If you are paying to attend a ghost event overnight you are not paying to attend a ghost investigation with proper controls and methodologies in place.
Ghost Tourism vs. Ghost Investigation
Attending an event run by such a company is not at all like being involved in a paranormal investigation – yet more often than not ghost hunting events are marketed as just that.
In 2009 I ran a ghost hunting event at a Victorian theatre with the intention of showing the customers the good and bad investigative methodologies you can use when investigating paranormal claims. I wanted them to experience an actual paranormal investigation but it just didn’t work because it wasn’t exciting. Why? A paranormal investigation is more than just a couple of hours spent at the location – it starts with careful consideration and drawing up a list of your initial thoughts. Maybe pulling a few books off of your shelf and looking for that chapter you think will be helpful, it’s talking to your peers who have experienced similar cases for advice – all before you’ve even stepped through the door. To try to sell such an experience to the public is impossible.
Which is why it’s absurd that many people who conduct these ghost events claim to be paranormal investigators.
Paranormal Tourism clearly has its good, bad and ugly aspects but while there is scope for harm there is also the opportunity to support the trusts who look after the heritage sites of our country. If you’re thinking of going on a ghost hunt I suggest working our where your money ends up and if it isn’t going towards the upkeep of a heritage site why not consider an alternative ghost related event that does help?