With Halloween only a week away, you can be certain that your local news networks will begin to air Halloween themed fluff pieces. There will probably be someone on to discuss trick or treating safety; maybe a local chef demonstrating how to make earthworm cupcakes and evil cocktails; almost certainly a reporter doing a live shot from a local cider mill or harvest fair; and, inevitably, uncritical reporting about local or famous ghost stories.
It’s easy to crank my skepticism up to 11 when I see these sorts of news reports. Most of the year I’m both aware of and critical of such shoddy, lazy reporting. But on Halloween, a holiday drenched in spooky stories and made up monsters, I’m inclined to be lenient on the normally rampant reporting of woo.
I confess, even as a skeptic I enjoy hearing a good ghost story. Heck, when I was in college I told them! I acted as a guide for several years doing a Halloween “haunted campus” tour. My school had tales of spectral co-eds, spirit-crossed lovers, secret Satanic cults, and even a psychic-predicted school massacre. I wasn’t quite that skeptic that I am today — I was still holding out hope that UFOs and Loch Ness monsters and poltergeists might still be real — but I was fairly certain that the stories I was telling, as fun as they were to tell, where most likely nothing more than campus tradition.
There is an undeniable amount of fun in telling a ghost story to someone who thinks it could be real. Not because you’re playing on their gullibility, but because storytelling is inherently an audience-centered act. When you tell a ghost story and see someone tense up, fidget, shake off that feeling on the back of their neck, it’s rewarding. Their reaction feeds your enthusiasm, and the entire performance is enhanced as a result. It happened all the time on those campus tours: in the right corner of campus, with the right audience and the right tale, I could get young men to look over their shoulders and young women to clutch one another protectively.
I remember that time in my own life when I believed. Every old house was potentially a haven for hauntings, every dusty attic a possible phantom zone. I used to be the kind of person who hesitated before going into a dark basement at night, just on the off chance that there might really be some mischievous spirit waiting there. I don’t think I ever believed I was in any serious danger from such entities; but the possibility that they could be real was a bit thrilling.
Nowadays, when I go into the basement in the dark, I’m more afraid of encountering a mouse then I am a free-floating, full-torso vaporous apparition. I don’t believe in ghosts, and I don’t think most of the reporters doing live shots from in front of old graveyards or haunted theaters really believe in them, either. But this time of year they’re good fun, just so long as we don’t take them too seriously.
So have at it, local news networks. Tell us about the haunted hangouts and phantom-filled places of the world. I promise not to go too hard on you … at least not until November 1st.
In fact, why not bring the fun here to the Skeptoid blog? I would love to hear your favorite local ghost stories. Feel free to share a story, or a link to a local news story, in the Comments section.