I’ve been on a bit of an interviewing binge lately and my next victim –er, I mean subject— is Michael J. Varhola, author of Ghosthunting Virginia and, his latest release, Ghosthunting Maryland. Both books are part of America’s Haunted Road Trip’s series of travel guides.
I knew of Mr. Varhola and his books, but I hadn’t even dared consider contacting him until (a) I realized, after contacting other authors, that they’re usually more than happy to answer a few questions, and (b) he was the first person to friend me on America’s Haunted Road Trip’s social networking site. I figured he surely must be approachable so I worked up my nerve and asked if he’d care to be interviewed for my humble blog. Obviously he said yes so here we go…
COURTNEY MROCH: How did you get interested in ghost hunting?
MICHAEL J. VARHOLA: Let me start by saying that I have been interested in the paranormal for as long as I can remember… Today, “ghosthunting” is seen as an independent pursuit unto itself, but I really see it as just one element of a much broader subject. So I have been publicly active as a “ghosthunter” for a couple of years now, when Clerisy Press asked me to write “Ghosthunting Virginia,” but have had a wider involvement with the paranormal for about 30 years. We used to use phrases like “communing with the spirits” when we investigated purportedly haunted sites like those associated with H.P. Lovecraft in Rhode Island or the catacombs in Paris. And “communing” and “detecting” are generally much closer than “hunting” to what I do anyway.
CM: Let me ask you a little about your newest book: what’s the creepiest place you feature in your book?
MJV: Without a doubt it is the site of the “Exorcist House” in Mount Rainier, Maryland, just across the line from the District of Columbia. A friend of mine, the editor of the pop culture magazine “Brutarian,” was actually cursed by something at this site, and that is the subject of what turned out to be the longest chapter in “Ghosthunting Maryland.” And when I interviewed him at the site, I ended up with disembodied voices on the recording. I get a shiver up the back of my neck every time I think of the place and, for my own part, would not go back to it lightly.
CM: That’s one place I don’t think I could ever Haunt Jaunt to at all, because that’s one movie I still can’t watch by myself to this day. Thank you for sharing that one. How about something tamer…What about Spooky Stays or Eerie Eateries and Pubs? Do you feature any of those in your book?
MJV: Yes! That is the sort of thing I always like to keep an eye out for. We actually have an entire chapter, for example, devoted to the Fells Point neighborhood of Baltimore, which is full of haunted bars and restaurants. And a friend of mine and I stayed at a very nice B&B in Cambridge, Maryland, called the Mill Street Inn that I am pretty sure is haunted, but its owners are relatively new and have not verified all the lore about it yet. And there is actually even more of that sort of thing in “Ghosthunting Virginia,” which includes two haunted inns — including the wonderful Fuller House Inn in Winchester, Virginia— a number of haunted eateries, and even a haunted theatre.
CM: Hm, that Mill Street Inn sounds like one to watch. I’ll be curious to see if it starts churning up any ghost stories. What about those Haunt Jaunting to Maryland…what would you recommend as your top Haunt Jaunt destinations?
MJV: That is a very tough question, and not necessarily fair to any sites I don’t include in the answer … I will try to be as fair as possible, however, and list one place from each of the six regions into which we divide Maryland. They are Westminster Hall and Burying Ground, where Edgar Allan Poe is buried, in Baltimore; Ellicott City in Central Maryland; Furnace Town on the Eastern Shore; the Surratt House in the National Capital Region; Point Lookout in Southern Maryland; and Gabriel’s Inn in Western Maryland.
CM: That was an extremely fair way to answer. Sorry about unintentionally putting you on the spot! Okay, this one’s kind of just for fun: Do you watch any of the ghost hunting shows on TV, such as Ghost Hunters, GHI, Ghost Adventures, etc? If so, do you have (a) a favorite series, (b) a favorite episode, and (c) any places you’d like to personally investigate after watching any certain episode(s)?
MJV: I don’t generally watch ghosthunting shows. I do try to watch one once in awhile on principle but, for a number of reasons, I really don’t like them very much. One reason is the mean-spirited attitudes and practices, such as ghost-baiting, that the “investigators” adopt in some of the shows, especially that wretched “Most Haunted.” Another is the know-it-all attitude of many of the investigators, which, unfortunately, trickles down to a lot of local ghosthunting groups, who get the idea that there is only one way to pursue ghosthunting, and that the subjects of their favorite shows are the arbiters of that. I get so damned tired, for example, of hearing “orbs are not evidence of haunting,” knowing full well that the person saying it is just uncritically regurgitating something they heard on “Ghost Hunters.”
CM: I’m not a fan of ghost-baiting myself. And taunting in general (be it to a ghost or person) always makes me uncomfortable. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on ghosts in the media! Let’s get back to talking books. What’s your next project? Any more Ghosthunting books coming out?
MJV: Yes, I am in the process of working on “Ghosthunting Washington, D.C.,” which will actually thematically link a number of the sites I covered in both “Ghosthunting Virginia” and “Ghosthunting Maryland.” Beyond that, I am active on the America’s Haunted Road Trip social networking site, am in the process of a big expansion for my Skirmisher Publishing LLC, and am always facing a deadline for the newspaper! And, of course, I am currently gearing up for the “Ghosthunting Maryland” book release tour and will be staying busy with that through at least Halloween.
CM: Holy guacamole, you’re a busy man! Which makes me even more thankful you took the time to answer my questions and share so much great info. Very much obliged and I wish you continued success with all of your projects!
ABOUT MICHAEL VARHOLA
Mr. Varhola is the assistant editor of a weekly newspaper in south Texas called “The Hilltop Reporter.” He’s also a general-purpose freelance writer and editor, and runs a game publishing company called Skirmisher Publishing LLC.
OTHER BOOKS BY MICHAEL VARHOLA