This is a guest blog by William Collins. If you like this story and are on Twitter, let him know by sending him a Tweet via @Thor_2000.
I’ve been reading and researching haunted houses ever since I was eight years old. While most paranormal researchers became involved in the subject over a paranormal incident in their lives, as Jason Hawes, Grant Wilson and the Klinge Brothers will avow to, my involvement into the paranormal was born out of a fascination of horror movies and the writings of Poe, Dickens and Irving.
I took it on clean faith that such incidents as ghosts and voices in the night do actually occur and can actually exist. After all, if we take the claims of the skeptics that ghosts don’t exist, then three-quarters of the world population in the last three hundred years should be locked away from society for being inveterate liars, consummate con-artists and people of diminished intelligence unable to recognize mists of smoke or correctly identify sounds within an ordinary house creaking and settling on its foundation.
I’ve had insomnia more than a few times. I can tell the difference between my dog hitting the wall as he scratches his leg from footsteps and the sight of odd shadows from a presence; yet, skeptics have the ego and pomposity to convince me that thousands of people are so simple-minded to not know what the heck they are looking at in front of them. I would rather believe that the witnesses of unusual activity are just as intelligent as the skeptic or snob who denies them the honor of telling the truth.
I do however consider myself a paranormal purist; I prefer to keep haunted houses apart from what is quickly becoming lumped together as the paranormal apart from spirit visitations – that is the appearance of a loved one that makes an appearance before moving on another level of existence.
When I pick up a book about ghost stories, I don’t want to find cases obviously about reincarnation or a person’s possible clairvoyant feelings about eminent danger in a location. In some locations, portents of death are described; shadows, birds or horses that appear predicting death.
A true haunted house or location should have certain perimeters to be considered haunted by ghosts or place memories. I also consider myself a bit of a paranormal historian. Since the Early Eighties, I’ve been trying to keep a personal database for haunted houses across the world. Upon every airing of “Ghost Hunters,” “Ghost Lab” or “Ghost Adventures,” I’m quickly reaching for my notebook to keep a reference and description of the location. Even a TV series as “Destination Truth,” “Dirty Jobs” or “The Smoking Gun” has provided me with a few locations. Biography Channel keeps me busy with Paranormal Saturdays; “Haunted History,” “My Ghost Story,” “Ghostly Encounters” and “Celebrity Ghost Stories” prove we will never have enough TV shows on the paranormal to truly document the vast number of the popular and obscure locations which ghosts are said to inhabit.
Unfortunately, instead of just adding a few locations a day, I’ve developed notebooks of notes that will take me two more generations to add to the master list. (Whoops?) Why do I do this? Because I’ve always believed in the possibility of a haunted location database, but such as task as I’m about to reveal has been more than, dare I say it, insurmountable.
Like a lot of haunted house websites, my template for this undertaking has been the “Haunted House by Location” lists from The Shadowlands Website. Unfortunately, it is not that hard to peruse any other site’s list and discover whether it is lifted from their lists. The typos are intact, the same errors recur, the wording is exact and the same haphazard attention to details is there. My only variant to the Shadowlands material is “clarification,” “updating” and “research.”
With all due respect to the creators of the site, I’ve never been able to understand why they include descriptions with typos, missing info and often long rambling soliloquies that add nothing to the description. My version of their material is more to the point. I don’t need to know someone’s opinions, I can rewrite the same profile for one location to fewer words and I can add or correct historical details that that are erroneous or were just entirely omitted. The following are just a few of the problems I’ve encountered from converting the Shadowlands descriptions and the research of other ghost hunting websites into coherence.
==Modern Geography vs. Older Geography==
The problem I have with locating haunted locations in England is that the boundaries and county lines in Britain have apparently been changed and revised just within the last hundred years. For example: former Westmoreland County has vanished into Cumbria County, Greater Manchester and Merseyside Counties were taken out of parts from Lancashire County, Middlesex County is now Greater London, Avon County was once part of Somerset County, Sussex County has been split into East and West, Tyne and Wear was once parts of Northumberland and Durham (and probably is again for all I know), Cleveland County was once part of Durham, and Yorkshire County is now North, South and West Yorkshire.
In Europe, it’s even worse. Two World Wars have eliminated cities and towns that once existed unerringly since the Middle Ages, and there are some locations I don’t even know where to start looking for. In the Middle Ages, an Austrian noble named Johannes Rathenau created a few ghosts when he slaughtered the residents of Schloss Altebar of Bavaria, but how far into Germany or neighboring Austria should one look to find the castle? I don’t have the answer. The location is lost.
What is it with amateur ghost hunters that they cannot recall such simple details like the names of cities or states? Why do they have to place haunted sites in “the brush lands of Texas,” “in the English countryside” or “Western Africa?” There’s a haunted location known as the Haggerty Mansion in Pennsylvania, but just where in the state is a mystery. Crowley Hall of Britain is located in the mysterious town known as “Northern England,” wherever that is. In Jackson County, North Carolina, there is a an elementary school haunted by the ghosts of children who were killed when the boiler exploded, but yet, I have no inkling of which of the hundred or so elementary schools in any of the dozens of towns in the county I should go looking for the so-called school.
On May 1, 1897, sausage magnate Adolph Luetgert murdered and dismembered his wife, Louisa, at his sausage factory. Police found her two gold rings in the potash vat in the factory where it was believed her remains were tossed. Her ghost supposedly wanders the location as well as her family home, but the problem is that the locations were once moved from Chicago to New York City. A spectral locomotive near St. Louis in Canada’s Manitoba province has been misplaced in St. Louis, Missouri. Again, what is the problem with geography?
The book, “Volunteer Ghosts” (PublishAmerica), lists and describes three haunted churches around Knoxville, Tennessee. The only thing different is the type of activity; who wants to bet that they are possibly all the same church? For that matter, the mansion known as Hickory Hill and the Old Slave House in Illinois has been placed in Harrisburg and Junction near Harrisburg. Some websites describe the location separately using both names with both towns. The Old Winchester House known as Cragfont in Castalian Springs near Gallatin, Tennessee has likewise been described variously with a variance of some combination of those names.
Why is it that locations as over-hyped in the media as Eastern State Penitentiary or Moss Beach Distillery can get brief description blurbs on some sites, but forgotten tuberculosis sanitariums confused as sanitariums in little known towns can get long rambling descriptions on the architecture and lay-out, how hard it is to get to and who was with them, but the only paranormal reference is “it was spooky.”
Who are the people giving these descriptions? Grammar school dropouts? Why describe the ghost of a single grave but omit the cemetery where you can find it? Why tell the story of an evil spirit in a patch of woods but not identify the location. I’ve collected locations from television shows as diverse as “That’s Incredible” from the Seventies, “Sightings” in the Eighties, “Haunted Lives” and “Scariest Places On Earth” in the Nineties and “Celebrity Ghost Stories” on the modern Biography Channel, and one of the most frustrating things is to get an excellent description of the haunted house but no location, or a location but an incomplete description of the haunting.
Not identifying the identity of ghost is reasonable, but omitting something the location completely? I can understand wanting to not disclose a location for rights of privacy and to avoid sight-seers and vandals (the new owners of the Old DeFeo House in Amityville will attest to that), but sometimes the description is so incomplete that it’s not even enough to call it an urban legend, like Grayson Manor in Tennessee whose location I tracked down using ancestry sites. Take for example Brinkley College in Memphis haunted by the ghost of Lizzie Davis. Despite the popularity of the ghost as a local Memphis legend, I can find no historical record or even a first name for her father, Civil War Colonel Davis. I don’t even know if the name is “Davis” or “Davies.”
Also, why list a location as within a county but not the city? I have to ask: how many times has the Klinge Brothers or TAPS arrived in a county and still been able to find the location they were sent to investigate? Why describe the ghosts of children at a location and omit if it is a school or private home? This is the kind of stuff I run into in trying to create a haunted house database.
Bottom line: there is no chance for a truly definitive haunted house database as long as people confuse haunted locations with mystical pagan sites and neglect to provide accurate decent locations.