By Amy Bennett, Tri-City NYPS Lead Investigator
There is one saying that acts as a common justification for trespassing into all sorts of abandoned and/or derelict structures, outdoor properties, and anywhere else that the saying can apply: "...because I heard it was haunted." Not only does it justify trespassing, it justifies complete disregard for the memory of the deceased and the preservation of history.
That statement alone has allowed so many people to feel comfortable waltzing right into places they'd otherwise avoid, along with everyone else who'd pass it by without thinking twice. The enticing meaning behind the word "haunted" seems to act as an incentive for entering places where it would seem applicable. And the more dark, tragic, mysterious or famous the history of a location is, the more that enticement increases. I can't break down the meaning of the word "haunted", there are too many to even delve into. For most, a large part of its implication is the thrill of an adrenaline rush due to experiencing alleged paranormal activity. When you think about it, the reasons people are "ghost hunting" a lot of these seemingly "spooky" locations can be mostly attributed to personal reasons. Not only does it risk a run-in with the law, it poses so many other problems of both a moral and ethical standpoint.
It's when the justification goes beyond just trespassing to have an experience or to come out of it with a good story, that things start to get problematic. The idea of helping spirits who are 'trapped' is a noble thing to want to do, with all the best intentions. A truly kind person who goes to places to attempt just that, is still subject to the local laws, but at least isn't trying to do anything bad on anyone's behalf - dead or alive. The people who go to places and try to stir things up for the sake of their own amusement or personal gain, is what makes me think that there's a problem of morals or ethics with those people.
Maybe I'm a giant wuss who just doesn't want to hurt anyone, (partially true fact), but I see the provocation of possible spirits or entities, human or inhuman, as a form of confrontation where one side can't exactly fight back. The only fighting back the paranormal is capable of, to my knowledge, is when dealing with something negative, and that can result in some really dangerous and downright frightening/life-altering experiences. Why test the waters in such a way though? Why would anyone provoke a dark attack from an unseen force?
When it comes to spiritual safety, perhaps it really does all come down to how much a person believes, and perhaps it's in that level of belief that protection is somehow granted; an immunity of some sort. To explain: if believing in provoking negative entities can result in backlash of some sort (mental, physical, etc), then maybe it's only bound to happen to those who believe that. Alternately, those who go into the spookiest location available without a care in the world about what negative energy can manifest into/do to a person, might simply not be affected by anything due to honestly not giving it the time of day to have an affect. Of course, there are examples and circumstances which defy the normal assumptions too. They are rare cases of non-believers being confronted with the paranormal on such a level that they can't deny it - good or bad they are then converted to first-hand-witness believers.
Another aspect of not just trespassing, but paying to visit and investigate historically significant or abandoned places is the physical damage it can do. I don't mean that I can't stand people falling through floors to lower levels, forget their safety, I just want the structure to remain intact. It means that the more perpetuation of the supposed "hauntedness" of a place, the more it can draw in many other people, and there are a lot of people who don't care what they break or destroy at these places, let alone who they may offend.
What I also find to be utterly strange, is that due to the paranormal obsession by society right now, massive, history-rich and long-abandoned locations are now able to stay open to the public. While they are in a state of disrepair, they are gaining thousands of dollars in entry fees. It's fantastic that these places can stay in the world, even if left as-is, however, if the money received from hundreds of people and groups perusing the area and investigating for ghosts isn't used to rebuild and reconstruct the property, or to keep it open - where the hell is it going?
Into the pockets of the owners? Gaining more and more money based on the idea that the spirits of dead people stick around - and living people want to talk to them - is called exploitation. Gross and disturbing thought, isn't it? The people who dropped hundreds of thousands of dollars are paying back their loans thanks to hapless ghost hunting groups, hell-bent on getting "evidence": you. You pay to play in a location, you pay the bills not for the location or its upkeep, but for whatever the owner sees fit. Clearly not every location functions like this, but those that do are quickly garnering a loss of respect from me, and hopefully also from paranormal researchers who don't endorse the entertainment-only aspect of this field. Our credibility is at stake due to this 'haunted house' aspect which lacks the real substance of gathering data.
Obviously this is not the case everywhere, but I've actually witnessed it first hand at a famously "haunted" hotel from the 19th Century. I was disgusted with the owner and the lack of 'give-a-shit' they gave to what past the hotel had. I know this is just one case of many - as the derelict structures that litter our countryside are quickly being bought up to exploit the memories of those who've long since passed away, the cycle will continue.
"I heard it was haunted" is one of our biggest obsessions at the moment - occurring barely a century or so after the Spiritualism or Spiritism movement of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries - founded on the invention of photography. It's as though our obsession never died out completely, it just lingered on in the background, awaiting the next great technological leap forward to utilize for more exploitation.
I'm not a ghost hunter, I'm a paranormal investigator, and I'm sad to say I think ghost hunting is downright wrong.