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Ethics in Paranormal Tourism: The Barwon Ghost Girl Debacle

Barwon ghost girl image from GhostTheory
Barwon ghost girl image from GhostTheory

Okay, it’s been a world wind day of International Haunt Jaunts. As I promised in my first post today, our last stop is Down Under.

We’re there because of the photo at left, which was taken while on a ghost tour at Barwon Park mansion in Australia. I snagged a copy of the photo from Gary’s post about it on GhostTheory.

Last week there was a big hub bub about it. Rather than reinventing the wheel, I’ll just share a part of Gary’s post explaining it’s origins:

As the story goes, a group on a ghost hunting tour (as this story was released by Australian Ghost Adventures) was upstairs in a stable and someone sensed a presence. The photographer snapped several pictures before a shutdown of the camera occurred. After leaving the stables, the camera comes back to life and after review, they capture a picture of the ghost girl (above).

You should see all the comments it sparked on Gary’s post! Most agreed it was likely a fake and speculatd how it was done. But then another Gary, this time from the Australian Ghost Adventures company, commented that he believed the evidence hadn’t been tampered with.

Now, he never came right out and said it was proof of a ghost. He left it open and said, “The jury is still out on that one.” But he was definitely playing the “Could it be a ghost angle?” to maximum hype-ability. (Which of course his company stood to benefit from. You just can’t buy that kind of publicity!)

Anyway, it was one of the most entertaining threads of comments I’ve read in a long time. One person even swore he’d eat his socks if it turned out the photo wasn’t just some sort of painting!

Well, that same fellow ended up eating his socks –at least figuratively. He left an amusing comment about it on Gary’s follow up post about how the Barwon ghost girl photo was a hoax.

But what bothered me (and Gary alluded to it too) was how the tour company played it all out. As I mentioned above, the hype factor was so intense it spanned the globe! Here I am, a random blogger based out of Nashville, Tennessee, still talking about it days after the fact. Again, it bears repeating, you just can’t buy that kind of publicity!

But is it worth it in the end?

As Nathan pointed out in his comment on my Paranormal Cops post, he fears more ghost TV shows will only damage what there is of the fragile credibility that exists in the paranormal field.

I’m with him. Especially when you’ve got mega shows like Ghost Hunters faking footage.

Also, as Autumnforest pointed out in one of her recent posts, too many shows and too little evidence is eventually going to create an apathy effect –if it hasn’t already. Shoot, I know I already suffer from that.

The same thing will happen if those involved in paranormal tourism don’t take the ethics end of business seriously. It’ll lead to more “haunted or hype?” skepticism and eventually, rather than intriguing people and drawing customers in, it’s going to push them away.

Especially when stories are now surfacing that the tour company knew the woman in the photo was no ghost from the get go! If I had a paddle that’d stretch from here to Australia I’d spank them!

Courtney Mroch
Courtney Mroch, otherwise known as HJ's Ambassador of Dark and Paranormal Tourism, is an author, traveler, and ghost enthusiast. When she's not writing, jaunting, or planning her next trip, it's a safe bet you'll find her in one of three places: on a tennis court somewhere, on a yoga mat somewhere, or watching a horror movie somewhere. She currently resides in Nashville, Tennessee.

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19 thoughts on “Ethics in Paranormal Tourism: The Barwon Ghost Girl Debacle

  1. Nice article Courtney!

    I couldn’t agree with ya more on the fact that the ethics from these companies and their propagation of these kinds of hoax’s will only push the curious and intrigued away quicker than a ‘Ernest goes to…’ film!

    Sooner or later, the paranormal craze will reach it’s ineveitable conclusion in modern society, with only the ‘die-hards’ and the curious remaining. This is why these ghost tours will take any chance to captilize on any opportunity before the bottom falls out, same goes with TV shows…

  2. I always feel like a skeptic because I don’t really enjoy ghost hunting shows or trust haunted tour companies, but I don’t think I’m so skeptical about the ghosts as the living people associated with ghost stories. Stories like these are what ruins real stories for people. It’s a shame. Thanks for the post. I agree that like the golden age of spiritualism, this golden age of the paranormal will end too.

  3. Yes, not even a good hoax. It could have been so much better to seem believable, which would mean less of a photoshop quality and more translucency or perhaps fading in some areas. That being said, I understand the industry of ghosts believes it must put on a great “Come here–TAPS investigated” mentality, but in the long run, those buildngs tromped in by visitors shelling out cash every night to “hunt” ala “Eastern State Penn,” will begin to feel to the enthusiasts a lot like the contrived roped queues at Halloween Haunted attractions. A big turn off. If the industry wants to grow, it needs to take on what people truly want–mood and atmosphere. Sure, buy a building and turn it into a B&B that has a history as a Civil War hospital or a schoolhouse or church, but bring in the mood and feel of a good haunting with some awesome decorating, the proper backlighting, and bedtime scary stories by the fireplace with snifters of brandy. People want the creepy feel of being in a haunted place. I’ve gone to amazing haunted places with one or two other people and it was quite exciting and spinetingling, but most times I have to share the location with 20-50 other people flashing off cameras and talking, laughing, and generally hogging all the “good spots.” The industry is inundated. I’d pay someone to give me the mood and atmosphere and intimacy with ghosts I desperately want. That’s probably why my dream place to hit next is Heceda LIghthouse in Oregon. BTW, great post!

  4. First, thanks for linking 🙂

    Now – I love paranormal tv shows, they’re entertaining. Not really these new shows, but old ones – Most Haunted or first 2 seasons Ghost Hunters. They provide me a way to relax while still sitting deep in the paranormal. But beside this, I see no real value in any tv show.

    Let’s say this openly – it’s all about money. If you can’t get a real proof for ghosts in visited location, you have to fake it, so the company behind the show will agree for next season, which means more money. Generally, big guys pretend that they doesn’t know about show makes to fake proofs, but in reality, they accept it fully. That’s how all of this looks like and trust me, whenever a group of passionate people get together to make a documentary, in few months they will think only about money.

    And this is how things look with faking proofs outside tv shows, like in many paranormal investigations groups we can easily find people who will do just about anything in order to get more exposure – everyone wants to get popular. People who want just to do stuff will stick with real research (like Dean Radin), or they will operate “in shadow”, where they can do their job…

  5. Hi Gary! Thanks for the compliment, but it was YOUR nice articles that sparked this one! So thank YOU!

    Loved your “Ernest Goes to…” reference. LOL! And I like your observation about how what goes up must come down (which the others agreed with and which I do too), but it also made me wonder something I hadn’t yet…will these kind of faked antics be what ushers in that end? What happened with the spiritualism movement? (I think religion and politics both influenced that end if my history memory’s functioning right, but did all the shysters also have something to do with that???)

    Jessica: I LOVED your observation about you’re not so much skeptical of the ghosts as the people associated with the stories. BRILLIANTLY put! I’m with you. And you’re lucky you didn’t get sucked into all the paranormal TV shows. I watch WAY too much TV.

    Nathan: You are welcome! Thanks for stopping back by and leaving yet another awesome comment. Your money/fame observations are right on the mark. As was your “operating in the shadows” remark. But boy do I have a story I’ll post later today I think you’ll get a kick out of!

    And I’m not familiar with Dean Radin…I’ll have to check him out. That speaks volumes that you’re recommending him as a real researcher.

    Oh, and it’s so funny you mention GH’s 1st 2 seasons. Holy crumb is that a benchmark. Every GH fan I know prefaces their interest in GH that same way! I’m mentioning that, because I think the way you worded your comment sparked another story idea for me…

  6. Dean Radin is an author of two great books that discuss psychic phenomena (and more ‘classic’ things like hauntings): Entangled Minds and The Conscious Universe. Both are based on his long scientific research, I really recommend these books, even if you’re not really interested in psychic stuff, Radin’s approach teaches us that even science can be applied to the unexplained.

  7. Oh geez…glad I went to my dashboard. I don’t know why my thing likes to think your SPAM, Autumnforest, but it put you there again. Un-spammed you so here you are and now I can reply to your comment. I wasn’t leaving you out!

    Actually, I’m glad I just now unlocked your comment because I was talking to Brooke of Scared last night and she brought up ESP as an example of a paranormal tourism hot spot getting greedy. I love your observations about what it is that would draw people in…yes, yes, yes that’s what I’m searching for on my Haunt Jaunts! Places that provide exactly what you pointed out. As usual, very insightful and thoughtful comments. Thanks for leaving them! (I’ll try to get that Spam problem fixed. ARGH!)

  8. I really liked this article. It is sorely needed in this ghost hunting business. You know, when you get mysterious pictures… we all hold our opinion and its OK. I enjoy the mysteries…the synchonicities… but not taking advantage, or making a more of something that is really there. Thanks.

  9. Courtney, I don’t think episodes such as this one will usher in the end of the paranormal craze, people are generally understanding of situations such as this one. The modern ‘Paranormal Movement’ was really sparked into it’s current state by the likes of Ghost Hunters (paranormal state too…unfortunately), and it’ll continue to be stronger than it was due to accessability to the internet for society, but sooner or later the craze will die down. More than likely the lack of interesting paranormal TV programming (or the inundation of horrible paranormal programming) will usher in the end of the craze.

  10. Ah, I see your point, Gary. I can definitely see how that’ll affect the end before unethical tour companies. I’m glad you stopped back by to share your opinion on that. (And Paranormal State…ick. I’m 100% with you on that one!)

  11. Hi MarZel! THANKS so much for your comment. I agree exactly with what you had to say. I think many of us feel this same way too. And I feel the flickering of another post idea coming on based on your comments. So THANKS for that too!

  12. I appreciate this posting; I think you cover some of the issues very well. I’m trying to write a paranormal romance book (yeah, yeah, I know, cheesy, right?), and something I’m having my main character deal with is her dislike of paranormal tourism. Not for the idea of some companies faking occurrences or enhancing spookiness (although that is some of it), but more for the question of a constant stream of tourists being a disturbance to whatever spirits may remain in a location. I know there has to be information/commentary on that side of things somewhere, but I haven’t come across much, if anything.

  13. That’s not cheesy at all. It’s a good conflict generator. I have a romance underway using kind of the same thing to create conflict between the main characters. I’m surprised you haven’t come across more about that. There are definitely instances of people being upset that tourists are disrupting sacred resting places. I sure wish you luck in your story. Let me know when it’s out.

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