Celebrating Our Culture
by Joyce Dixon
Writer-photographer Jack Roth of Orlando,
Florida, became a ghost hunter after capturing paranormal images in his
photographs during a visit to the Myrtles Plantation in St. Francisville,
Louisiana. He contacted Dr. Andrew Nichols of the American Institute
of Parapsychology (AIP) and became an AIP Field Investigator.
Jack Roth and fellow AIP Field Investigator Ray Couch own the web site Southern Ghosts < www.southernghosts.com >, where one can learn of past investigations, future investigations, and the basics of ghost hunting. They also offer lectures and special events to educate the public and promote the growth of parapsychology. Roth and Couch work in association with the American Institute of Parapsychology, which is headquartered in Gainesville, Florida. The AIP is a non-profit educational and research organization for professional parapsychologists and those curious about psychic experiences.
Does the South have more paranormal activity than other regions? If yes, why?
There are certain factors related to the South that make it an active region from a paranormal standpoint. These factors are climate and history. As far as climate is concerned, parapsychologists have come to realize that humid regions seem to be more active than dry regions. Take Great Britain, for example. It is very humid (surrounded by water) and very active from a paranormal standpoint. History is another factor. The more history a place has, the more opportunities there are for hauntings to occur, especially residual hauntings, which are basically imprints of traumatic events that replay themselves over and over again, much like a movie. Take New Orleans for example. It has a long and tragic history (violence, disease, war, death, fire, romance, etc.). These things tend to act as catalysts for paranormal activity. To answer your question, however, there are many other regions that are active, including New England and the Northwest. Plus, dry climates are not without paranormal activity. Cities such as Tombstone, AZ, and Santa Fe, NM, happen to have quite a few documented hauntings. The fact is that hauntings occur anywhere people have lived and died, which pretty much covers the entire planet.
As a field investigator for the American Institute of Parapsychology, how do you conduct an investigation?
We use certain scientific protocols that Dr. Nichols has put into place. Basically, the job of a field investigator is to collect evidence. I am not a scientist, nor am I a psychologist. Scientific analysis and therapeutic intervention are left to Dr. Nichols and others trained in those areas.
Basically, we will go to a property and do extensive interviews. Then we will do a walkthrough of the property with some basic hand-held monitoring equipment (and possibly a psychic), and then we will set up some monitoring equipment in the appropriate areas that correspond to the most frequent activity. When the investigation is completed, I will write a report and send it to Dr. Nichols.
What characteristics makes a good volunteer investigator for one of your overnight trips?
Anybody who is seriously enthusiastic about learning more about hauntings and parapsychology is a great candidate for our overnights. Someone who just wants to get scared or thinks it's like a booze cruise should NOT sign up for one of our overnight investigations. We want to have fun, but it is also a serious investigation and should be treated as such. We do not stage anything on these investigations. These are genuine, which for some people is not as exciting as a staged Halloween event. I can understand that.
If someone hopes to photograph paranormal images, what should they do?
Pray. Just kidding. There is no rhyme or reason to capturing paranormal photographs. I can sit here and tell you to use high speed film, or to use infrared film, or to use Polaroid film, but the fact is that it's a crap shoot. I have gotten great paranormal photographs using all different types of film and cameras. The one thing I would recommend to people is that they shoot as much as they possibly can with whatever they have at their disposal. If you are at a haunted location, shoot as much as possible. Shoot staircases, mirrors, etc. It's a law of averages thing, but it helps to be in an active location that is known to be haunted. Most photographs that have anomalies on them can be explained by either a camera glitch, a camera operator glitch (human error) or a natural light phenomena associated with the lens. To that end, I believe that most "spirit orbs" caught on film are actually illuminated dust particles. However, I believe very strongly that genuine paranormal photographs do exist. Just keep on trying and don't get frustrated. And remember, if you could capture a "ghost" on every roll of film you took, it wouldn't be paranormal anymore, it would be normal.
Are some people more sensitive to paranormal events than others? Can a sensitive person draw these events to themselves? How should a person react?
Most definitely. They can draw these events to themselves consciously, subconsciously and unconsciously. We give people tests to determine their intuitive tendencies. Poltergeist cases, for example, are nothing more than psi or RSPK related, which means that it has nothing to do with spirits of the deceased, but rather a living person acts as an agent and causes these paranormal events to occur as a result of pent up energy or emotion. It's called recurrent spontaneous psychokinesis. People should react very calmly to these experiences, although this is easier said than done. Knowledge is power, and by understanding what's happening and knowing that you are not alone in this, you will definitely feel much better about it. To some, it is a gift. Others just tolerate it. A lot depends on a person's belief system, which gets more into Dr. Nichols's area of expertise.
Can ghosts harm the living? Are they dangerous?
In some cases people are scratched, pinched, pushed, etc. These can occur in both genuine hauntings and poltergeist cases. But by and large, no, ghosts can NOT harm the living. If you run from a noise you hear and fall down the stairs, that's different. People tend to be more of a danger to themselves than ghosts are. Ghostly phenomena tends to be very subtle and benign. However, there have been reported cases where violence has been documented. I would refer to Dr. Nichols for specifics in that area.
What is the difference between a genuine haunting and a residual haunting? Are there any famous examples of each one?
A ghost is described as an electromagnetic energy field that contains a fragment of consciousness, or ego, of someone who has died either tragically or traumatically. At the moment of death, the separation between the body and the spirit is hindered by a state of emotional shock. The "spirit" becomes stuck, not knowing he or she has died in most cases, and exists in a state of dementia, if you will. Communication can be attempted because it IS a consciousness. When this is the case, which by the way is almost always non-veridical, it is considered a genuine haunting.
A residual haunting is like a psychic imprint or echo. It is a past, traumatic event that is captured in the environment and replays itself over and over again. The action never changes, and it is much like watching a movie (hence it is also known as "cinema of time."). Inanimate objects can absorb energy. Objects such as brick or stone tend to be more absorbent than wood. If someone who is psychically sensitive is in the right place at the right time, they can trigger this psychic imprint and a paranormal experience occurs. A great example of a residual haunting would be Gettysburg battlefield. People have seen soldiers charging down fields and have heard a group of men singing Irish folk songs. They are not necessarily seeing or hearing the spirits of all these men, but rather are seeing or hearing an emotional event (fear in the face of battle) that has been imprinted into the environment. Residual hauntings, especially for people like me who are history buffs, are just as fascinating as genuine hauntings. It is the closest thing we have to a time machine!
If someone suspects their house is haunted, what should they do?
Call Dr. Nichols. He will advise them what to do. When somebody calls me, I usually either refer them to Dr. Nichols or ask if they wouldn't mind having a preliminary investigation performed. This includes interviews of all witnesses and a general impression of the situation and family dynamics. This would then be reported to Dr. Nichols.
What type of evidence does it take to document a haunting?
Paranormal phenomena cover a wide range of experiences including sounds, smells, apparitional sightings, physical or visual manifestations, precognitive dreams, etc. We can gather evidence in a couple of different ways. First, there is the eyewitness testimony. Second, there are the results from any monitoring equipment we use during the investigation. Third, there is psychic testimony. And then there is historical research. The goal is to find corroborative evidence. For example, we go to a property and eyewitnesses say they saw a little girl in a white Victorian dress run across the back porch. They also hear a young girl scream in the middle of the night. We set up equipment in the house and pick up high electromagnetic readings near the back porch and in the living room. We also pick up some EVP (electronic voice phenomena) on a tape recorder we leave on the back porch overnight. It is hard to make out but sounds like a girl's voice saying something. We also get a couple of Polaroid photographs that have vaporous images on them. Nothing can be discerned, but camera malfunction and photographer fault can be ruled out. A week later we bring a psychic to the property who knows absolutely nothing about the property or the people who live there. She picks up on the spirit of a little girl who was killed in 1862 by a Confederate soldier who wandered onto the property. We check historic records and find that the home was owned by the Smith family in 1862. Records show that Dr. and Mrs. Smith had 8 kids, one of which was a little girl named Martha. Records also show that she died in 1862, but cause is not listed. This is an example of what would be very good corroborative evidence. This does not happen that often, however, but it does happen.
You've done several pilots for TV. Is something in the works now?
Yes. We are working on shooting our own footage for various purposes, and we are still hoping to make Ghost Detectives work as a series on the Discovery Channel. This is not our ultimate goal, however. Television can be more of a hinderance to scientific research than anything else. That's why we are documenting our own investigations so we can hopefully present it in a proper manner. I believe that fame and fortune do not go hand in hand with being a paranormal researcher. That's the problem in the field today. There are too many prima donnas and ego cases that only care about becoming famous and not doing proper research. If you want fame and fortune, do something else. True parapsychologists like Dr. Nichols and Loyd Auerbach, however, remain focused and determined in their quest for the truth.
Tell us about your upcoming book with Dr. Andrew Nichols entitled Haunted Florida.
Yes. Writing is my profession and that is what I would like to do with my experiences - share them with others in book form. For this book, we are using Dr. Nichols's case files from Florida to write a book about hauntings. I am helping Dr. Nichols write and edit this book, and I am also filling in the blanks as far as research and photography are concerned. The problem is we keep doing more Florida cases, so we need to just finish this book at some point and get it published. We can worry about Haunted Florida Volume II after that.
Ghost Tours and Overnight Investigations
The AIP at Sea
To learn more about past investigations and how to participate in a future event, visit Southern Ghosts at http://www.southernghosts.com
© 2002, Joyce Dixon, All Rights Reserved