Ghost hunting, what comes to mind? Perhaps images of ghost hunters searching for the unknown? Or possiblys even a movie, such as Ghostbusters?
For 24 year old Amber Wagner, these images are far from reality. A waitress by day and a paranormal investigator by night, she investigates the unknown.
Most often, she investigates reported hauntings at residential locations. Other times, she will investigate a public location.
Each investigation is a request. Some of these requests come from other investigative groups wanting a second opinion at a location. But mainly, the requests come from homeowners needing assistance with ghostly activity.
When she is not working as a waitress or busy with the paranormal, she can be found attending and volunteering at her church. She also is gifted at writing poetry. Wagner is also fluent in sign language. Born with a hearing deficit, she is very active in the deaf community. She aspires to be a psychologist.
Helping others is Wagner’s passion. Paranormal investigation gives her the chance to do so. Entering each investigation objectively, her ultimate goal is to help those affected by proposed activity.
Helping others is the primary goal of a paranormal investigator, according to Wagner.
Unlike a ghost hunter who seeks paranormal for a thrill, or a ghost story to pass on, investigators feel as though they have a purpose. They are professional, and take their role very seriously.
Beside helping others, an additional goal as a paranormal instigator is to try and disprove, or debunk, the existence of reported paranormal activity. If, and only if,Wagner is unable to explain phenomena logically, then opens up possibilities for paranormal explanations. In other words, she does not go looking for paranormal activity, but seeks the truth. Even if the truth means that no paranormal activity exists.
Smiling frequently and unusually funny, Wagner is a pleasure to be around. She laughed, paused, then assured me that she is fully aware of the misconceptions that surround paranormal investigators like herself. She has dealt with these misconceptions personally. “People have said really mean things to me. I’ve been made fun of and called stupid. They think I’m making this stuff up.” Rolling her eyes she adds, “I’ve heard it all.”
A paranormal investigator that does not seek paranormal activity may seem a bit counter intuitive to most. She sipped tea and smiled at my puzzled look. Then assured me that paranormal investigators, unlike ghost hunters, need to “ look for everyday answers, before claiming something to be paranormal.” She continued to confide that paranormal investigators like her “want to maintain credibility”.
Wagner mentions that investigators will not be very credible if they are fabricating paranormal activity to boost their reputation. Investigators have to be careful to avoid taking “someone’s word for it without gathering proof.” Typically, this is a homeowner experiencing activity. But they must always think “normal before paranormal”. Wagner gives a thumbs up then laughs. “Normal before paranormal is always a good rule of thumb.”
Starting at a young age, Wagner began to experience activity that could not be explained by natural causes. At age 14 she witnessed a glass lamp fly off a dresser and smash into a wall. During this time, she and her friends were playing with a Ouija board.
Wagner, by the way, does not recommend Ouija boards. She mentions they can summon activity from negative entities. These entities are most often spirits with ill will. After the lamp incident, the was intrigued to find out more. Fueled by the desire to know more about what she witnessed, her love for the paranormal was born.
Lisa Shank-Wilkinson, like Wagner, had her first experience of paranormal activity at a young age. She mentions. “I see spirits every day since I have been 9 years old.” Shank-Wilkinson, a 49 year old mother is very familiar with the paranormal. Stemming from her experience as a child, she has found a passion in paranormal investigation as an adult. Like Wagner, she wants to gain knowledge and understanding about what she experienced as a child.
Stemming from her early paranormal encounters, Shank-Wilkinson continues to investigate high profile locations. She has investigated the well-known Trans Allegheny asylum in West Virginia and has upcoming plans to investigate the famous Waverly Hills Sanatorium. The Waverly Hills Sanatorium, according to its website has been dubbed “One of the scariest places on earth”. This is certainly not a place for those afraid of the unknown.
But Shank-Wilkinson would not be looking forward to her upcoming investigation if it weren’t for those who started it all.
The roots of paranormal investigation began with a team coined, The Ghost Club. Started in 1862, it remains in existence today. According to The Ghost Club, “The Ghost Club is the oldest organization in the world associated with psychical research”. The site also mentions that past members have included prominent figures such as the English writer Charles Dickens, author of Oliver Twist, and skeptic/magician Harry Price. Other websites have included the psychologist Sigmund Freud, and the writer and physician Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as members too.
Price, like Wagner and Shank-Wilkinson, had his first paranormal experience as a young boy. An excerpt taken from Harry Price shows this correlation in age, “His first experiences of psychic activity occurred when he was only 15”. The text continues to mentions that Price himself recalls a night in which he had his first investigation. He experienced a number of things that were unexplainable. He attributed them to ghosts, or other paranormal entities. Thus, these “experience set Harry Price on a path which would dictate his whole life”. Like Wagner and Shank-Wilkinson, a paranormal experience at a young age still shapes who they are today.
Setting Price apart from ghost hunters is the way he debunked proposed paranormal activity.
According to his biography , he enjoyed challenging those who made claims of paranormal activity. This even included photographers.
In his most famous example, Price shot to fame when his skepticism lead to credibility. According to the text, Harry wanted to investigate the reports that a photographer was capturing spirits alongside family members.
Families would pay William Hope, known as The Spirit Photographer, for pictures with their deceased loved ones. Astonishingly, Hope, would capture the spirits each time.
When the picture was developed a ghostly image would appear. floating in mid-air, an apparition would appear suspended above the family. Customers were elated! The Spirit Photographer seemed to capture what the eye couldn’t. But did he really? Price was very skeptical.
Like a true investigator, Price decided to find out if the Spirit Photographer truly could capture ghostly entities for himself. Not taking other’s word for it, he shed light on this mystery. “Price uncovered William Hope as a fraud and he succeeded in doing so by secretly switching Hope’s photographic plates with some of his own which revealed that all along Hope had been using pre-prepared plates with images of spirits on them.” After this incident, Price’s reputation grew. He was launched into fame in the paranormal community.
Price has since set the standard for paranormal investigators of this day. Skepticism, objectivity, and credibility are the cornerstones of investigating, according to Wagner. Price upheld all three.
Price spent his life doing the same type of work. The text continues, “However this was not the main body of Price’s work and uncovering frauds was merely part of a much broader investigation.” Although uncovering frauds, such as The Spirit Photographer shot him to fame, Price was a true investigator at heart. He spent most of his time investigating reported activity. Just like Wagner and Shank-Wilkinson do. Price paved the way for modern day investigators. He set the standard of objective investigation.
As Shank-Wilkinson writes, “A paranormal investigator tries to prove that a place may not be haunted by science and research.” Wagner mentions it a slightly different way,“A paranormal investigator looks objectively and tries to debunk, before claiming anything to be paranormal.” Wagner mentions that it’s best to look for everyday answers.
What exactly is an investigation? When Wagner was prompted this question she took another sip of her sweet cinnamon tea.She looked at me for a second with an inquisitive look before saying, “It depends on the investigator’s intent, and what the goals of the investigation are. But it starts with research.” She continues that research is very important to an investigation.
Researching properties and previous owners of homes and building is a must. She assures that knowing the history of a property and the land is paramount. If activity is found on an investigation, knowing the history could possibly help to provide an explanation for the homeowner.
For example, Wagner mentions a time when she was on an investigation and heard drumming noises. To her, these noises sounded like ceremonial Indian type drums . After debunking the noise for someone playing music she knew an explanation had to be found. Upon further researching the property, she uncovered that the site of the drumming noises is located upon an Indian burial ground. Knowing this information, she then was able to research which tribe it may have been and listen to their traditional music. All of these subsequent findings are because she researched the property and the land. This adds a piece of credibility to the puzzle.
Wagner mentions that anyone is able to find these records at libraries and other public platforms. “Interview the person who is reporting paranormal activity then research all you can”, says Wagner. These are the first steps to a successful investigation.
These steps to an investigation are also mentioned by Long Island Paranormal Investigators otherwise known as L.I.P.I. When explaining their methods of investigation they write, “The first step is to perform an initial interview with you and any other persons involved (such as other family members, whether or not they too have experienced the paranormal activity). The interview is best conducted at the location to be investigated”. The importance of the initial interview is to gain as much information as possible, so research can be conducted. It is paramount that paranormal investigators have an idea what they are facing at an actual investigation.
Once an ample amount of history has been recorded of the property in question, it is time to align the proposed activity with possibilities from the past. Wagner confirms that sometimes known events at locations can attribute to activity. Armed with this information, it is time for the actual investigation.
The investigation involves setting up equipment, collecting data, and actively investigating. Wagner mentions, “The team of investigators usually involves a tech manager who oversees the technical equipment set up, and take down.” The tech manager is also responsible for safely bringing the equipment to and from the site. Many teams have appointed specific tech managers. The reason being, the equipment list is vast, and someone has to know how to operate the equipment well. After all, obtaining solid evidence to help their clients is every paranormal investigator’s dream.
To obtain evidence, there are many different ways and tools to use. According to Wagner some of these tools include cameras, video cameras, thermometers, EMF (electromagnetic field) detectors, and voice recorders for capturing EVPs. EVP is an abbreviation for Electronic Voice Phenomena. Wagner mentions these tools are just the basics.
EMF according to Wagner, is the measure of electromagnetic field. Ghoststop writes “ EMF meters measure fluctuations in electromagnetic fields. Theories in the paranormal field suggest that ghosts have the ability to manipulate these fields. An EMF meter is a staple piece of equipment.” As Wagner said, this is a necessity.
Wagner mentions that an EMF meter will cost about $60.00 and a digital voice recorder about $30.00. Her favorite EMF detector is the KII meter. This meter is easy to read and lights up in accordance with high EMF reading. Having a light up meter is important due to investigating in the dark. The lights go from green to red to signal an increase in EMF activity.
Wagner mentions to check out Ghoststop. It is a highly regarded website devoted to paranormal investigative equipment. One scroll through their page and it’s easy to see there are a plethora of tools available to the paranormal Investigator. The tools range from the basics that Amber mentioned, to the advanced, such as a grid scope, a ghost box, and a Boo Buddy trigger doll.
The Boo Buddy Trigger Doll looks like a teddy bear stuffed animal.The doll detects EMF. When high EMF is detected it prompts EVP questions to fire.Red lights flash across the dolls arms when high emf is present. When EVP questions are prompted, hopefully the bear will record a voice from beyond. Chris comments on the product, “Owning my own paranormal group and in the field for over 13 years that’s exactly what we need – more tools to help validate our findings”. Tools are just that, tools to collect evidence. Not proof of paranormal activity.
Wagner cautions that all of these tools need to be taken with a grain of salt. A high EMF reading may not always signal paranormal activity. EMF is emitted from electrical boxes and can “make a person feel very paranoid, like something is watching them.” Electrical boxes are commonly found in basements.Additionally, Investigators also commonly find that basements are a source of proposed activity. She mentions, there is quite a correlation.
Chesterfield Paranormal Research concurs. “If one experiences paranoia, have goose bumps or feel that someone is watching him and the EMF levels are 8 mG(milli-Gauss) or greater, the property owner should have a licensed electrician check structure in question.” They continue , “Chronic exposure to more than 2.5 mG is inadvisable. Chances are if EMF levels are lowered or eliminated, the “creeped out” feelings and heaviness may subside as well.” Reiterating what Wagner mentioned, high EMF readings can give a false positive sense that paranormal activity is happening.
An additional piece of standard investigative equipment is a voice recorder. It is common for a team to have multiple digital voice recorders in their toolbox.
A voice recorder captures what is known as an Electronic Voice Phenomena. EVP’s are widely accepted in the community as voices from beyond, voices from paranormal entities, notes Wagner. While there are many theories behind the actual nature of EVPs, “The sounds are from spirits who are attempting to contact the physical world; some EVPs are claimed to be answers to questions posed by the recorder.” Writes Paranormal Investigator.
During an investigation, a question and answer type format will take place. One way to coax the paranormal entities to communicate with an investigator is to ask the entity questions. If the entity answers, the voice recorder will record the audio. The caveat to this is the investigator will not hear the response. So during the question period, the investigator must continue asking questions even if it is unknown if anything, or anyone is answering. It is not until data analysis that an investigator will hear any correspondence.
Wagner mentions that EVPs are normally very quiet in nature. One must account for any unusual noises they make on accident by naming the noise, so it is not deemed paranormal during analysis.
For example, Paranormal Investigator writes, “If anyone makes an unusual noise, he should clearly state to the recorder his name and the type of sound, e.g., that was Robert and the floor squeaking. Try to eliminate multiple conversations as this complicates listening for EVPs during playback.” The article continues with more pointers, such as, “Conduct 30 minute question and answer sessions where everyone at the investigation site is in the same place. Questions are asked one at a time with an appropriate period between questions to allow for the spirits to answer.” These are general EVP tips stated by Paranoramal Investigators. Wagner concurs.
To listen to a proposed EVP here’s a clip Wagner and her team caught one balmy summer night. During this particular investigation, Wagner and her team were investigating an entity who had scratched an investigator on a prior investigation. Fearing for their own safety, they left the site that day. During this night, upon returning, they wanted to confront the entity to see if they could get an answer to why it had hurt one of the investigators. Click here to listen to the EVP captured at the undisclosed location of the demonic type entity. At 24 seconds see what you think the entity said. Wagner asks, “do you want to hurt us?” The voice replies, “yes I do.” A growling noise is then heard.
Wagner mentions that while analyzing evidence, no one speaks to each other. If an investigator finds an EVP, they are not to tell anyone until someone else has listened to it as well. This is to prevent “planting a seed in someone’s mind of what the phrase could be. Once one person hears what the phrase may be, all of a sudden everyone can hear that same phrase.”
Wagner explains there are many different types of haunts that an investigator may encounter during their investigation. Two of the most common haunts they may encounter are a residual haunt, or an intelligent haunt. Some of the less common are known as poltergeist activity and demonic haunts. “A residual hunting is one that you can think of as a record that plays over and over again. The spirit does not know it is dead and cannot interact with you in any way. An example of this is a figure that someone sees walking in a room”. She then details that an intelligent haunt is the type that investigators enjoy. These spirits can interact with people. “They can communicate, move an object or even touch you, sometimes on command, if you’re lucky.”
A demonic haunt or poltergeist activity, on the other hand, seems to be a bit less pleasant. These types of cases are more difficult for investigators and may even combine outside sources for help if needed. Outside sources can include demonologists or even the Catholic Church, mentions Wagner. Not all investigators are comfortable taking on these cases.
To a paranormal investigator, being skeptical of others’ work is just as important as being skeptical of their own. Skeptics shape the way investigators approach their research and data collections. This is one paramount difference between ghost hunting and paranormal investigation. The paranormal investigation community views skeptics as a welcome piece to the puzzle.
Gonsalves writes in an article, “Guarding Against Skepticism”, aimed toward fellow investigators, “Be your own skeptic, don’t believe it until you see it. Collecting your evidence could be the most important part of your research.”
This echoes Wagner’s favorite phrase, “normal before paranormal.” Being skeptical will not only keep the investigator objective, but it will assure quality evidence if any is found.
According to Steve Gonsalves from TAPS, skeptics can be a great addition to a paranormal investigator’s investigation. Steve, a former cop with over 201,000 followers on Twitter is a celebrity in his own right. He is heavily involved in the paranormal investigative community, and is rarely seen without his signature ball cap.
By having evidence that is unshakable, it makes the investigator more credible. Gonsalves recommends coupling evidence, or combining two types of evidence together to further display credibility.
Some of the ways this can be done is to combine a picture of an anomaly with a spike in EMF. Therefore, the goal is to have two types of evidence in one picture. In additional excerpt from his article geared toward fellow investigators, he states, “you could present your evidence as, ‘Every time my EMF gauge spikes a reading that supports paranormal phenomena, I capture this smoke like mist on film’. That is a much better way to present evidence then, ‘Look at the strange mist in these pictures’. The EMF gauge offers a scientific backing for your evidence. The same would work with thermal probes or any of the paranormal adapted technology we use.”
Amber agrees, “a story is just a story, a picture just a picture. But if you combine a story, a picture, and an EVP or any other instrument, now you have something.” This is what paranormal investigators are looking for, many ways to capture the same phenomena. It may not explain exactly what it is the investigators are experiencing, but it will lend credibility that there truly was activity. Hopefully, a story can become evidence with the right mix of tools.
Returning to Wagner’s main goal of helping others, coupling solid evidence can play a large role in closure. By presenting evidence of activity that is undeniable, the investigator can then move forward into an explanation and offer help if needed.
Referring to an earlier investigation mentioned, Wagner mentions that an explanation for activity may not always be what the homeowner or person experiencing activity wants to hear. Such as the negative entity who scratched an investigator and agreed that it wanted to hurt the team. According to Wagner, an explanation of the negative entity case an simply be, “there is a negative entity present. This property is close to a cemetery where many people died untimely deaths. Here is the EVP we captured and the picture of the scratches. You have indeed been experiencing activity. We will continue researching, but for now, this is our findings.”
Steve cautions at other investigators to not use charged words such as ectoplasm, Ghostbuster, or psychic. These words have been used to describe things that my undermine credibility to an investigator’s findings. “You’ll find that if you use words like ectoplasm, psychic and Ghostbuster, people will have a harder time taking you seriously. Of course there is a lot more to making and keeping your reputation healthy, but using simple tips like these it will be a lot easier to present your evidence to skeptics.”
But Wagner says with a slight smirk, “You can’t think too much of those that don’t believe. They can always find a reason to doubt. If you believe it yourself, no one can take that from you. Don’t let those people get in your way.” She continues that there will always be naysayers, but there are also people that really need her help. Ultimately, No matter what your passion is, don’t let others put the fire out.
Although paranormal investigators believe in the unknown, they do not go looking for it for their own thrill. Instead, investigators use science and research to prove or disprove claims of activity. They help others who are experiencing paranormal activity, but they do so in a trusting way. Without fabricating evidence, paranormal investigators are the real deal.They take their work very seriously and are professional during their investigations. .
Wagner mentions she could write a book on her experiences, but reflects that a book won’t help others explain their activity. So she continues to listen to reports of paranormal activity, research and investigate then present any pertinent findings. “I am always going to help others”, Wagner mentions. “In way way or another. But investigating gives me the chance help others when they may be most vulnerable. Scared or confused. I like being there for them. All of the work is worth it.”
The next time you hear a bump in the night, pay attention. You may just want to call up a group of investigators to come over and help you out. After all, it is what they love to do.