America’s Most Haunted: The Secrets of Famous Paranormal Places
By Theresa Argie and Eric Olsen (2014)
I categorize America’s Most Haunted as a paranormal true believer’s travel guide to “must see” places that are totally overhyped and banking on any paranormal popularity they can get. The authors count down ten locations that they have researched. There is no introduction to the book so it is not clear how or why they picked these ten, but according to their accounts and those of several contributors familiar with the sites, these are “tried and true” places for paranormal activity.
The book also has no table of contents, index OR references. No references means I can not care less about the stories inside – they are worthless as nonfiction, OK as entertainment. In that respect, the stories succeed because they are entertaining but they are often absurd in what we are asked to accept as true. The book is far more well-written than typical local ghost story collections. However, being well crafted does not make the stories any more reliable.
I have a fundamental problem with “stories”. As a collection of anecdotes, the reader has no way to assess if they are verifiable or accurate to any degree. Yet, people make serious assumptions from stories. No doubt many readers will swallow these outrageous stories of “it happened to me” without a critical thought.
One gigantic red flag is the frequent mention of TV para-celebs. Argie seems greatly influenced by paranormal television shows like Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures. She was a participant on the show Paranormal Challenge and calls herself “The Haunted Housewife”. Each of the chapters for each location describe Theresa’s visit and findings. She describes how she falls ill or feels strange at the sites and sometimes becomes physically sick. Though she blames this on the evil paranormal energy, it seems a bit obvious that she may be psyching herself out with expectation or priming and making herself sick. This is common and it’s well established that it happens. Paranormal entities have not even been determined to exist let alone cause such symptoms. She also accepts that some particular ghosts don’t like her, that she connects with them as they fill her with overwhelming feelings, and even mention her by name in EVP sessions. Such investment in belief does not make for a reliable witness.
To accept the premise of this book, you must accept the reality of ghosts, spirits, hauntings, demons, evil entities, shadow people, psychic intuition, dowsing, direct communication between entities and people, and a whole slew of unsupported, rather nonsensical paranormal “theories”. I must put theories in quotes because the term is used in the very loose sense, not in the scientific sense of a tested model to fit evidence. Granted, in today’s “paranormal is normal” culture, many do believe more on faith and because of their interpretation of personal experiences influenced by our spirit-friendly culture.
Several “matter of fact” statements irk me because I do not subscribe to those aforementioned premises. The investigators, Theresa and her partner Cathi, apparently get astoundingly clear, immediate, and direct responses from the spirits in their EVP sessions. The responses make perfect sense and fit in with the circumstances or questions asked. That’s amazing! We are asked to accept these communications occurred just as they described. It’s a colossal effort to do so. I suggest that Argie and fellow investigators find a psychologist or sound technician to accompany them and conduct an actual controlled experiment in ghost communication. I suspect there is more than ghost banter going on here. A collection of anecdotes is not evidence.
I’ve followed paranormal research actively for more than 20 years and have examined the history of scientific involvement in such subjects. The evidence is just not there to substantiate a “vortex” on the Queen Mary ship or that the Ovilus and ghost box are spirit communication devices. I don’t accept that Jason and Grant (Ghost Hunters) and Zak Bagans (Ghost Adventures) are actual investigators of anything but that they simply make TV shows and think very highly of themselves for doing so. And, I don’t accept that the tales of incidents that supposedly occurred at these locations are paranormal. The so-called evidence goes unverified and is without independent corroboration.
The Stanley hotel, they write, is “really really haunted”. Why? Because many people tell stories. If this is such a hotbed of activities, why can’t we bring in a team of scientists to study the place and finally get some sound evidence on spooks? Because it’s subjective.
The possible explanation for why paranormal activity is so prevalent at the Stanley is cited as the piezoelectric effect – “energy created [by the crystal structure in the bedrock] can draw, amplify and even generate paranormal activity”. The Stanley sits on a “superconductive, supercharged natural battery”. That’s a testable claim that should have backing through established geologic knowledge. Have geologists ever documented this super, natural, supernatural zone of weird activity? No, it’s trumped-up nonsense. But a reader who has little scientific background will be impressed by the mention of such sciencey-sounding concepts and the dropping of the name of a Nobel prize-winning physicist Dr. Brian Josephson who is interested in fringe topics. Where are the references to such citations? There are none.
Along with no geologists, psychologists, not even parapsychologists or any scientists at all referenced for the locations, there are some zingers in the book that render it ridiculous:
“The word of a psychic is proof enough for many, and the sightings of Zeke [a child for which there is no historical record] over the years seem to support the claims.” (page 271)
The authors are suggesting that we call it a haunting because a psychic has confirmed the sightings of other people who say it’s a haunting without ANY concrete evidence at all. Sorry. I’m not that gullible.
There is nothing wrong with using the haunting appeal of your location to bolster tourism. This is clearly being done in all the locations mentioned in this book. However, you cross into a grey area of deception when you portray the stories of ghosts and hauntings as genuine and their related history as fact. In several locations in the book, the authors state that they have not found historical evidence to support these allegations, yet go on to describe the experiences there in terms of the supposed murder event or the personality of deceased victim(s).
No references, no sound evidence, just more wild stories and groping with gadgets in the dark, talking into empty space, imagining shadows and mists and connecting empathetically with imaginary entities in the void. It will be a hit with the ghost crowd and will increase paranormal tourism to the listed locations. It continues the parade of poor scholarship of popular paranormal literature.