The Ongoing Debate between Ghost Hunters and Scientists
It’s 2 a.m. and you are walking on a path with no lights or people, when suddenly, you hear a gentle crackling sound. What is your first thought? Could it be a deer stepping on the grass? The wind? Or could it possibly be something as inexplicable as a spirit?
If you think it could’ve been a spirit, you’re not alone; spiritual existence has grown to become much more widely accepted in the past several decades. According to research conducted by Pew Forum, 29 percent of Americans believe they have contacted with dead people or spirits. Chuck,* a student at Ithaca College, is one of them.
“I was eight years old, on a field trip [to Betsy Ross’ house],” he said. “It is a very old and small house. The class was standing at the room where the woman slept [on] a chair. I asked my mom why there was a woman crying on the chair. My mom told me there wasn’t.”
He later found out multiple reports of other people seeing the woman in the house on the Internet.
“I told [my mother] I thought it was a wax museum because there was also a man in uniform in the basement rolling bullets,” he added. It was later explained on an episode of Ghost Hunters that the man turned out to be the security guard who was shot there.
Similar experiences with ghosts are frequent, especially around historical places.
Benjamin Radford, deputy managing editor of Skeptical Inquirer, explained that the expectation for ghosts at these well-known, “haunted” places has led to more people believing they have seen ghosts.
“Most of the sites, including Gettysburg, offer various ghost tours, so the idea that ghosts may be lurking is not only well-known but actively promoted for profit,” he said. “Because ghosts often conform to people’s expectations, visitors to Gettysburg are much more likely to report seeing a Civil War soldier than a ghost hunter in Alaska. A lot of it has to do with suggestion and expectations.”
Bill Lenga, Ithaca College employee and experienced ghost hunter, said his most memorable experience was in Gettysburg.
“I could smell campfire, dead people and gunpowder, and I could hear thousands of people screaming,” he said. “It was like they were re-enacting the war scene for me.”
In addition to his experience, Lenga explained that his belief in ghosts is supported by not only experience but also science.
“Energy cannot be destroyed, and ghosts are energy,” he said. “If you try to find a wire in the wall, through using a math meter, it may only measure 1 to 2 milligauss of energy. But if you get up above 10 milligauss of energy, it’s not electrical.”
This explanation was not convincing enough for Radford, who explained that this claim isn’t rooted in science.
“Milligausses are very low levels of energy,” he said. “There is no evidence that ghosts emit, absorb, or influence energy, so high-tech devices claiming to detect ghosts have no basis in science.”
Although ghost hunters and scientists are playing a tug-of-war, it’s apparent that there is no way to determine which side is correct — until we, ourselves, are part of the afterlife.
* Names have been changed.
Kennis Ku is a junior art and cinema & photography major who you can call if there’s something strange in your neighborhood. Email her at lku1[at]ithaca.edu.
Five Haunted Places in Upstate New York
1. Beardslee Castle (Little Falls)
has been featured on Syfy’s Ghost Hunters as well as The History Channel’s Haunted Places, this replica Irish castle is supposedly home to the ghosts of Native Americans that died in an attempted siege on the castle’s munitions in the mid-1700s. Patrons have reported seeing strange lights (like a lantern) coming from the grounds, hearing voices, and an overall ominous presence.
2. Sampson Theatre (Penn Yan)
is a non-profit theatre with a paranormal presence. After an architect spotted an unexplainable, swirling mist on his pictures of the place, a second set of photos was taken and the ‘mist’ appeared again, leading some to believe there is supernatural reasoning behind the unexplainable silver wisps.
3. The Edge of Thyme (Candor)
proves that no region is complete without a quaint, yet haunted, bed-and-breakfast. Both owners and guests have heard footsteps that continue through locked doors and seen projections of a woman in a rocking chair in one of the guestrooms.
4. Miles Wine Cellars (Himrod)
is a house that was vacant for 50 years before current owner Doug Miles and his family bought it. The family reports hearing doors slam and seeing bubble-like orbs dart through the air. At the first the ghosts seemed territorial, but the Miles’ have adapted to their ghostly co-owners by creating a white wine label named ‘Ghost.’
5. The Haunt (Ithaca)
is not actually haunted, but go there sober and stay for more than an hour and chances are you’ll see something spine-chilling. Even if it’s just townies after dark.
– Catherine Fisher