Business

Who you gonna call? The real-life ghost hunters

  • 14 July 2016
  • From the section Business
The cast of the new Ghostbusters movie Image copyright Sony Pictures
Image caption The new Ghostbusters movie is expected to spark a renewed interest in ghost hunting

When staff at Italian restaurant Nido's were convinced they had a ghost running amok, they knew exactly who to call.

They phoned a local, real-life team of ghost hunters.

A few days later, a five-person crew from Dead of Night Paranormal Investigations arrived at the eatery in the US city of Frederick, Maryland, to investigate.

After speaking to waiters and chefs, who said that an invisible presence would stomp up and down the stairs, the team set to work.

Wearing matching black polo shirts emblazoned with the organisation's name, they positioned video and thermal imaging cameras around the restaurant to try to capture any ghostly movements. They then turned on a key ghost-hunting piece of kit called a "sound box".

Media captionReal-life ghost hunters explain their methods to the BBC's Jane O'Brien

This hand-sized electronic device rapidly scans multiple radio frequencies, which - if you believe such things - is said to create a source of energy that spirits can manipulate in order to speak.

Soon, a ghost thought to be called Malcolm may have uttered the words "help me".

"The paranormal manifests itself in a variety of ways," says Dead of Night member Leanne Baur.

With the release of the new Ghostbusters movie this week, aided by a promotional blitz, hunting for ghosts - whether you believe in them or not - is once again in the public eye.

Image caption Dead of Night uses numerous pieces of equipment to try to find ghosts

Yet while the latest effort from Hollywood is pure fiction, there are thousands of real-life ghost hunters around the world like Maryland's Dead of Night.

ParanormalSocieties.com, which claims to be the world's largest directory of paranormal societies, shows that the US by far leads the way, with more than 3,600 American groups listed. Meanwhile, the website lists 53 such organisations from Canada, and 57 from the UK.

As the Ghostbusters film has garnered a majority of positive reviews, it is likely to do well at the box office. This in turn may lead to more business for the likes of Dead of Night if watching the movie sparks people's imaginations.

'Serious aspect'

"The release of the movie is exciting," says 36-year-old Ms Baur, who is a teacher in her day job.

"And combined with the number of paranormal shows on TV, it gives a good idea of the continuing level of interest that is out there."

Image copyright Ghosts Of Shepherdstown
Image caption Ghost hunters take their work very seriously

However, Ms Baur cautions that real life ghost hunting is a little less action packed than the fictionalised version you can now see on the big screen.

"What we do is a little different," she says. "There's a very serious aspect, we can't capture spirits, and we don't have proton packs.

"We want to make peace with the spirits."

To become a paranormal investigator requires no formal qualifications. Nor are there any licensing requirements, and you don't even have to believe in ghosts.

Image copyright Dawn Till Dusk Events
Image caption Dawn Till Dusk organises trips to adandoned buildings

But before you rush to convert your car into a "ghost mobile", or start work designing your own uniform, most real-life ghost hunters don't charge to do an investigation.

This is because their findings are so open to interpretation (you either believe in ghosts or you don't), and they want to manage customer expectations.

"Typically people call us because they want there to be something, and they may not get the answer they want," says Spencer Chamberlain, founder of East Coast Research and Investigation of the Paranormal, based in Rockville, Maryland.

"But if you are paying for someone to come in and tell you there's a ghost, they'll tell you there's a ghost."

So by not charging, investigation groups such as Dead of Night and East Coast Research say they can be as scrupulous and scientific as possible.

'All sorts'

Where ghost hunters do make money is by organising public events, such as visits to supposedly haunted properties or streets.

Ms Baur and the rest of the team at Dead of Night have been conducting ghost tours of historic Ellicott City in Maryland for about 18 months.

Image copyright Sony Pictures
Image caption Real-life hunting for ghosts lacks the excitement seen in the Ghostbusters movie

They charge $15 (£11.40) per person, and usually attract groups of 10 or more.

Ms Baur says their aim is to entertain and educate people about the paranormal.

In the UK, another paranormal group that organises ghost tours is Nottingham-based Dusk Till Dawn Events.

It arranges two or three events every weekend, including visits to the abandoned Newsham Park Hospital in Liverpool, and Drakelow Tunnels, an underground former military base in Worcestershire. Both locations are said to be haunted, and prices range from £14 to £64 per person.

Founder and owner Jessica Gladwin: "We get all sorts of people attending. The regulars are avid ghost hunters, while others are dragged along by friends and don't really believe, and some are desperate to see something."

Image copyright Ghosts of Shepherdstown
Image caption Ghost hunter Elizabeth Saint (centre) is now forging a TV career

Back in the US, another way to make money as a paranormal investigator is to star in your own reality TV show, such as Elizabeth Saint, who says she would often see ghosts as a child.

A member of ghost-hunting group Maryland Paranormal Research, last year she was picked to be one of three paranormal investigators on US TV series Ghosts of Shepherdstown, which recently premiered on the Destination America network.

'Skilled trade'

But while paranormal investigators aim to help a person or business determine whether they do have a ghost, they don't do "clearings"- remove the spirit presence.

Instead, clearings are typically performed by mediums, people who claim to be able to communicate with the dead. And they do typically charge.

Image copyright Marjorie Rivera
Image caption Marjorie Rivera charges $150 to remove a ghost

Marjorie Rivera, 47, from Pittsburgh, comes from a long line of mediums and healers on her mother's side of the family.

"We pay an electrician to fix the wiring because we don't mess with things we don't know about. I deal with energy, just like an electrician," she says.

"I figured that doing clearings was a skilled trade that I had to train for, just like a plumber and an electrician, so I decided to charge what a plumber and electrician does, and that is how I set my rates."

Ms Rivera, who is half Kuna, an indigenous people from Panama and Colombia, charges $150 for a clearance regardless of how many times she has to visit a property.

With polls showing that about a third of people in the US and the UK believe in ghosts, if something does goes bump in the dead of night, who you gonna call?

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