When he was a teenager in the 1980s, Richard Southall encountered his first ghost. It began, as many hauntings do, with small items disappearing around the house, only to be "found" later in obvious places. Unexplained noises followed - heavy footfalls stomping around and knocks at the door - caused by some unseen presence. Then at an early hour one morning, his mother actually saw an apparition: a tall, thin Civil War soldier wearing wire-frame glasses. Southall's research revealed that his family's house in Jackson County, West Virginia stood on an area where Confederate soldiers had marched through more than a hundred years earlier. The energy of at least one, it seemed, had lingered.
So began Southall's pursuit of the paranormal in the form of ghosts, haunted houses and poltergeist activity. And he's distilled his years of research and experience as a ghost investigator in a new book, How To Be a Ghost Hunter (Llewellyn Publications; 2003), which can serve as a good handbook for those who are interested in investigating haunting phenomena in their own communities.
The book consists of six parts:
- Why a Ghost-Hunting Guide
- Ghosts, Spirits and Poltergeists Defined
- Researching a Suspected Haunted Area
- Paranormal Photography
- Electronic Voice Phenomena
- Your Ghost-Hunting Kit
- Forming a Paranormal Group
Why a Ghost-Hunting Guide
In this lengthy introduction to the book, Southall explains how he became a ghost hunter and recounts some of his early investigations. These included various sites of paranormal activity in the West Virginia area, such as Point Pleasant, where the now-famous Mothman phenomena took place in the late 1960s. He honed his investigative skills and witness interviewing techniques hunting down hauntings in Parkersburg, Moundsville Penitentiary and more. With Susan Sheppard, Southall also founded the Haunted Parkersburg walking ghost tour.
Ghosts, Spirits and Poltergeists Defined
To clarify what's out there to be investigated, Southall begins the handbook in earnest by defining the terms, since ghosts, spirits and poltergeists are not interchangeable and represent quite different phenomena.
Ghosts and apparitions are a kind a recording on the environment - a residual energy that can come from a person, animal or even an inanimate object. We can experience these lingering energies by sight, sound, smell and touch.
Spirits are what people most often think of as "ghosts." A spirit is the "actual sentient presence, or soul, of an individual or individuals who have remained in the material world after his or her physical body has died." Southall continues by describing different types of spirits and the reasons they may have stayed behind.
Poltergeist activity, contrary to the Hollywood view, probably is not caused by ghosts or spirits at all, but by the mental energies of living humans. Research has shown that such activity usually centers around one person in a home who is experiencing great physical or emotional stress and is released as mysterious knockings, disappearing objects and even the physical movement of objects. This is the theory held by most researchers today, so it's a bit confusing when Southall writes that the intelligent nature of poltergeist activity "would add credence to the idea that poltergeists are actually a form of spirit."
Entities are what are commonly thought of as angels or demons and, although quite uncommon, can usually be distinguished by a strong sense of good or evil.
> Next page: Researching, photos, EVP and more