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Paranormal tourism: Fun or fraud?

by Sharon Hill

July 26, 2011

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Donate Loch Ness, Scotland. Willow Creek, California. Raystown Lake, Pennsylvania. Lake Champlain, Vermont/New York. Pine Barrens, New Jersey. All these locations and many more succeed in capitalizing on their famous monsters to draw in visitors.

Even a greater draw than monsters are ghosts. It is standard for historic U.S. towns, particularly in the south and northeast to have multiple ghost tours available. I have trouble tracking how many ghost tours exist in the Mecca of paranormal pickings - Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. You can't go a block without seeing an advertisement for such a business. I've investigated a ghost tour of a historic sea side town in New Jersey and was less than impressed.

When a town is in need of a tourist attraction, should they stoop to publicizing the local paranormal lore to draw attention?

Ghost tours attract families for an after-hours casual walking trip. It's a fun and safe thing to do. The paranormal experience is just out of reach so as to not be particularly frightening and the guides are meant to be entertaining and not pushy regarding belief or disbelief. They let YOU decide. What's the harm in using local legends to boost tourism?

The latest example of jumping on the paranormal tour bandwagon is Flemington, New Jersey. According to this story, Flemington is in need of economic revitalization. One businessperson is not opposed to promoting ghost stories as a way to help draw interest in the old hotel. Commenting on the request from the local paranormal group who asked permission to investigate the building prior to renovation, he explains.
LoPiccolo, who wants to cultivate all forms of enthusiasm for the hotel, is checking with attorneys and the owners to see if Cook can return with a crew. The editors of Weird New Jersey magazine are also interested, he said.
Even the paranormal investigator is open about the public's appetite for spooky stories.
Cook [paranormal investigator] says he'd like to bring in six to eight people, including "a couple of sensitives and a psychic," along with a recording device to try to pick up EVP (electronic voice phenomena), laser grids to detect movements or shadows, and geophones to feel vibrations. He said paranormal investigations and discoveries are good for businesses - the hard-core nonbelievers don't care, while just about everyone else is intrigued.
I care! And I'm not particularly "intrigued".

Subjective, worthless ghost investigation reports are available by the thousands online with permission from the property owners. A few paranormal groups will "certify" your location as "haunted". This strongly supports the trend of businesses deliberately SEEKING this type of publicity.

Labeling a location "haunted" is silly and borders on fraud. Ghost stories are stories. Unexplained or unnerving experiences that any individuals have reported in the past can not be confirmed. Once in a while, a historic tragedy can be confirmed at a precise location but a critical point is ignored: NO ONE HAS BEEN ABLE TO DEMONSTRATE THAT GHOSTS EXIST! So, to say so matter-of-factly that a spirit lingers there that causes a visitor to get the heebie-jeebies is unreasonable speculation. Even if there are long-standing legends of strange events occurring at some location, to suggest that a place is haunted just to freak people out is contemptible. Ghost stories lend a particular atmosphere to historic places. Or, one may also conclude that historic places ooze with a "haunted" atmosphere cultivated by our pro-paranormal pop culture.

Ghost tours and monster festivals are fun. But, their apparent frivolity disguise an underlying invitation to buy into an idea just because it's entertaining while having no basis in reality. I don't begrudge businesses for offering ghost tours as a way to explore a location and it's history (because I think there actually IS a way to do it in an unobjectionable way), but it can easily go beyond entertainment and, thus, contribute to the promotion of paranormal belief in our society. It's the 21st century; we need to move beyond that low level of understanding.

Been on any GOOD ghost tours? Why were they good? Let me know in the comments.

by Sharon Hill

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