Growing up I was always interested in all things ghosts, from watching movies like Ghostbusters and The Shining over and over to looking through my brother’s Time-Life paranormal series of books (I remember this great story about Lincoln’s ghost train). At that young age, I fell for pretty much any picture that claimed to be of a ghost.
As I got older, my interest in the paranormal never really went away. I always looked forward to late September because I knew that TLC and The Discovery Channel would start showing goofy specials on ghosts and exorcisms. Heck, I even watched Most Haunted on The Travel Channel, though got tired of the one guy who would get possessed everywhere they went.
Then, about six months ago, I came across Ghost Hunters on the Sci-Fi Channel and I was hooked instantly. What it is that I like about the show, beyond the search for paranormal activity and the hopes of documenting enough evidence that no once can be skeptical any longer, is that the crew of T.A.P.S (The Atlantic Paranormal Society), the group of investigators the show follows, are real. The co-founders of T.A.P.S, Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson, work as plumbers by day, they don’t charge to investigate a house or place of business, and half of the time, an episode deals more with arguments within the group then it does with any investigation.
This Wednesday, on Halloween night, the Sci-Fi channel will be showing the 2nd Annual Ghost Hunters Live Halloween Show, a 6-hour live investigative event at the Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Louisville, KY. Last week I got a chance to talk with Jason and Grant about it as part of a telephone press conference.
Q: Last year’s live event had some great moments.
Grant: Yeah, we were lucky enough to be in one location at the Stanley Hotel where we heard a female voice, a young girl, ask hello a couple of times. It was great because we heard it with our years, caught it on our recorder and cameras and millions of people heard it on TV at the same time. And after those hellos, there was a jumbled sentence and some laughter. We sent our guys upstairs to see if there was any way we were picking up stray sounds from above us and no one was up there. We went back later to the Stanley and there were about two hundred people above us who were drunk and loud; we were down there and we could just hear their footsteps. It was a good show.
Q: What made you choose the Waverly Hills Sanatorium for this years event?
Grant: You want to give some history, Jay?
Jay: Waverly Hills had sixty three thousand deaths there due to tuberculosis. So many deaths that they created what was called a death tunnel that had a conveyor belt system to carry the bodies. It’s a really interesting place. Last year we were able to catch a bunch of stuff; one of the things Grant and I were able to catch on the thermal imaging was what appeared to be a small child run across the hallway. We were able to make out the heat signature of his legs and we could see the upper torso, but you could see through it.
Grant: Jason and I also chased a black shadow into a room that had one way in and out. A few investigators had some stuff randomly thrown at them; screws, pieces of plaster when there was no plaster in the area. We’re excited to go back. We have Josh Gates from Destination Truth hosting the show and we’ll be able to break away from the investigation here and there to chat with the viewers online.
Q: When you do a show like this, there’s the danger of six hours of live television with nothing happening. Is there any concern there?
Jason: It is what it is. If we catch something, great, if not, that’s the way it goes. Ghosts don’t work on cue. You’re always taking a shot in the dark, so we’ll see. Either it’ll be six hours of interesting TV or a lot of really bored viewers.
Grant: But we’re very aware of that aspect. We’re not going to do anything as far as make stuff up to be paranormal. The goal of the show is to try and figure out what is going on there, not necessarily to capture an entity, though we’re hoping to do that, we’ll also be trying to figure the place out. You’ll get a better look at our technique and how we try to get these things to come out.
Q: Of the places you’ve investigated, how does Waverly Hills rank up?
Jason: Waverly Hills is a great place; its definitely up there, and the size of the location makes it perfect for a six hour live show. I’m looking forward to getting there.
Grant: You have to think, sixty three thousand people died there. Chances are the odds are in our favor as compared to a place where two people died. Plus, the claims year after year after year and we know the people who own the place and what they’ve experienced themselves. Plus what we experienced ourselves, it makes the place perfect for an event like this.
Q: Some people think that Halloween is a prime time to search for paranormal activity; do you agree?
Jason: Well, the fables say that Halloween is the night when the veil is the thinnest between our world and theirs. I think its just the folklore of it all. I mean, all through September and October into November, every channel is playing horror films. Most people claim more paranormal activity in these months and you have to think that people are spending less time out as it gets colder and they’re staying home the heat systems are kicking in which make the house pop and crack, creating the sound of footsteps on wood floors. You have to take things like that into account.
Q: How did you get into this line of work? What turned you onto ghost hunting?
Jason: We both had our own personal experiences that we’ve kept private, but it took two totally non-believers and threw us into this field. From there we saw so much garbage out there. Everybody was pretty much following everybody else. We had different ideas on how to investigate the paranormal so we went with that. I’m a true believer in the paranormal, I just think that over eighty percent of the claims can be disproved.
Q: Do you see yourselves mainly as debunkers or supporters?
Jason: I see us as paranormal investigators who are trying to debunk the claims.
Grant: We’re just looking for the truth. If the truth is there’s something there we can’t explain, then that’s great. If it can be explained away by plumbing and stuff that’s great too. We find equal success in either conclusion.
Q: How did the show come about?
Jason: Our website came along at the perfect time and became one of the most popular paranormal websites out there and we started to help out on other little shows. Then we did an article in the New York Times for Halloween where we disproved a haunting and the story went out over the wire to the other papers who printed it. That steamrolled to production companies contacting us which steamrolled from that to the show on Sci-Fi. And Sci-Fi has been just a great group to work with, as has Pilgrim, the production company.
Q: And T.A.P.S. doesn’t charge for investigations, is that correct?
Jason: Yeah, we don’t charge.
Q: Does the Sci-Fi channel help with the costs of the investigations?
Grant: If we’re going to California, that’s on their dime; I’m happy investigating the house next door. They cover tapes and batteries and some other expenses.
Q: And you’re still plumbers?
Grant: We still work for Roto-Rooter. No matter what show, no matter how good it is, its going to get canceled sooner or later. We’re sticking with a field that will always be needed. People aren’t going to go back to outhouses now.
Q: You’re ratings for the third season are higher then the previous two seasons. Do you think people are just now finding the show?
Jason: I think that’s a lot of it. Grant and I go out and speak at colleges and we have a radio show, Beyond Reality Radio, so we’re getting the word out with that.
Q: What is the reception like at the college engagements?
Jason: Its ninety nine percent positive. We spoke at Harper College in Chicago and had thirteen hundred people show up, they had to turn people away at the door. We just got back from the University of New Hampshire last night and they maxed out the room as well. Its definitely a positive thing.
Q: What do you think is the appeal of your show?
Jason: I think its that were not claiming to be scientists or doctors. We’re not going to talk over your heads, we’re just ordinary guys that investigate the paranormal.
Grant: Its interesting because if you believe in the paranormal, you can watch the show and have a good time. If you don’t believe, I think you can watch the show and think "that’s what I would try" when we debunk things.
Q: On the show, in the episode when you investigated the Queen Mary, you found that someone had tampered with one of your cameras to simulate paranormal activity. Was there more to this that wasn’t shown?
Jason: Well, we definitely had our suspicions about who it was but we can’t say anything. There were only certain people who had a key to the room. I can’t hold it against the crew of the Queen Mary for the actions of certain people. I mean, it doesn’t benefit T.A.P.S If the place is haunted or not.
Q: Have you ever had to scrap a shoot entirely?
Grant: We had one in New Hampshire. The person we went to help was in an apartment building and she had some severe activity. The problem was one of her bum neighbors called the cops on us, which we weren’t doing anything illegal, but we decided it was best to leave and send up a team up privately without the show.
Jason: Yeah, then the team that went up privately, the same guy pulled a gun on them.
Q: Sounds like the living are more dangerous then the dead.
Jason: Most of the time, the living are.
Grant: The spirits aren’t scary, its the people. Ghosts don’t pull guns on you.
Q: Will the trend continue in investigating larger places and moving away from homes?
Jason: Actually, the season starting in 2008, we’re back doing a lot of the homes. We really like the personal cases because we’re able to help out people who truly need us. With businesses you get some employees who might be bothered here and there, but when its somebody’s home, they really need us and its such a good feeling to help them.
Grant: With a business, if it’s haunted, you can at least go home at night and feel safe. When its your house, where do you go?
Q: If you look through history, the paranormal plays a big part of a lot of literature. What do you think is the enduring curiosity, from Shakespeare to Scooby Doo?
Grant: Well, with Scooby Doo, its always Old Man Jenkins, that guy is a nuisance. I think its a natural human condition to think about these things and wonder. A lot of the English speaking world thinks that ghosts are only from he eighteen hundreds and up, but all around the world, Japan, Italy. In Italy they have Roman ghosts. In Japan they have samurai ghosts.
Q: You’ve had some pretty impressive evidence on the show, like the one in Arkansas when you captured what looked like a full person with the thermal camera. Do you hear from a lot of people that want to see the full tapes of the shows to try and figure out if you guys are faking the evidence?
Grant: All the time, and we’re happy to share it with them. We’re very up front and honest. With that case, we still don’t know what that is. We contacted Flir, the company that makes the thermal camera we use and they had nothing to say. We tried for four hours to recreate the image ourselves and couldn’t. If you go there with a thermal imaging camera and you make it work, tell us how. People who are putting in that much effort into trying to figure it out are helping us.
Q: How do you go about deciding what equipment to use for your investigations?
Grant: We’re constantly trying to find new equipment to make it easier to understand what’s going on. They don’t make this stuff at Ghost Hunters ‘R Us, you have to take stuff from all fields. We originally got the thermal camera because we thought we would be able to catch cold spots and hot spots with it, because that’s what people complain about a lot, but it doesn’t really do that very well. But we’re finding that it picks up a whole bunch of stuff that our other cameras don’t pick up, and thank goodness cause it was a lot of money for that camera. We just had custom built faraday cages to put around our microphones to cut out all wireless signals from walkie-talkies or cell phones. We’re always looking to expand our arsenal.
Jason: Well, there are members of T.A.P.S that no one will ever see on the show because they have jobs that don’t allow them to be on camera. We do deal with forensic scientists, nuclear physicists, electrical engineers. These people help us out with equipment and some of them modify it for us. Its not like they make stuff designed for hunting ghosts.
Grant: And the more the show gets out there, the more you get accepted and people who have doctorates and can make an influence and change start to contact you because they realize that you’re not going to believe everything you see and they want to help you.
Q: Occasionally, on the show, you’ll come across a place that has a lot of reported activity and there may be little to no incidents for you to document. Do you have a feel for when something will or won’t go down?
Grant: You definitely get a sense if something is going to happen or not. Of course, it doesn’t happen on cue; you can investigate for three weeks straight and have nothing happen then on the fourth week everything goes crazy. We don’t have any kind of super powers or anything like that, but when you’re doing something long enough you get a knack for it. And because the show is so popular and we get so many case requests, we’re able to raid the cream of the crop for show and we get a little more of a success rate. But at the same time, we filmed about thirty cases for the first season and only about thirteen or fourteen made it to TV. If a case is lame, we’re not gonna show it and put you guys to sleep.
Q: When you’re doing the regular show, how many hours of actual filming and work go into the hour of TV we see?
Jason: Well, sometimes two and a half weeks. A lot of these places, it may look like we’re there for four or five hours, but sometimes we’re there for four or five days.
Grant: Yeah. Say we do ten hours of investigation in one night and we have six cameras set up, thats sixty hours of footage we need to watch, so that all adds up.
Q: Do you have editorial input as to what makes it on the show?
Jason: We don’t have the time to worry about all that. We have a lot of faith in the editors and the executive producers and they haven’t let us down yet.
Q: You had a contest for the live event where a few viewers would join you for the investigation as finalists. What will they be doing? Will they have a specific jobs?
Grant: Getting us water. No, I’m kidding; we’re not really sure yet. We haven’t met them yet and I think we’ll gage how we utilize them when we meet them. We plan on putting them through the ringer.
Jason: Oh yeah, we’ve got to.
Q: And the one that wins the contest, do they join your team from now on?
Grant: They’ll join us for another episode in season four.
Q: Watching the show, when you shut off all the lights in the areas you’ll be investigating, how dark is it when you’re walking around these places?
Jason: Its pitch black.
Grant: There was an episode a few weeks ago where we were down in a wine cellar and Jason felt a cold spot; he was trying to follow it and his hand hit me right in the face. And if you think we have it rough, you have the poor camera guys walking backwards in these places.
Q: Have you considered using mediums or someone who is sensitive to the paranormal to help in the investigations?
Jason: We have used mediums, but the problem is I can’t base an investigation on what they’re saying they’re hearing or seeing. We try to base our investigations on hard evidence, on what we can put out there for the world to view and draw their own conclusions.
Grant: I hate to use this term, but you can only really use a medium as a bloodhound where they say "point the camera over there" and we say "thanks, don’t say anything else". Cause mediums tend to, not all of them but most of them, get a little dramatic. They like to drop and do the floppy tuna on the floor and we don’t need that.
Q: Would you say you’re skeptical of mediums?
Grant: Oh, of course.
Jason: I would say we’re skeptical of everything; you have to be. Anyone can tell you they’re a medium or that they can speak to ghosts but in our investigations, we’ve been impressed by maybe two or three of them after dealing with thousands.
Q: You just came out with a book as well. I’ve been reading it and its got some interesting stories.
Jason: Thank you.
Grant: There’s something we have to say about the book. While we did write it, there are pages in it of pictures that we never saw the final layout for before it got printed. A bunch of the captions are wrong and there’s also a picture we’d never seen before that’s supposedly ectoplasm and we’ve never seen ectoplasm. It looks like someone took a picture of a plane window.
One story in the book is about a couple that hides speakers in the
walls to try and trick you into saying their home is haunted. Since the
show started, have people been trying to trick you more often?
It doesn’t happen that often, but you have to keep your eyes open
because it can happen. We’ve had a few cases here and there, but most
people truly believe they have something going on.
Q: Are there any famous haunting sites that you haven’t gone to that you want to investigate?
Jason: I would love to go to Amityville and shoot that place down once and for all.
Grant: I want to investigate the Haunted Mansion in Orlando. I think I could debunk that place. I’d like to get over to Japan, they have some really interesting historical hauntings.
Q: Any advice for the amateur paranormal investigator?
Grant: The best advice is don’t go crazy buying thermal cameras and stuff right away. Just get a good camera with night shot and a digital recorder; that’s the best bang for your buck. Start off at a friend’s house or relatives house so you don’t have to worry about a homeowner pulling a gun on you or something like that. And take everything you read with a grain of salt. A big grain of salt.
One thing that fans of the show have been concerned about in message
boards is the apparent staff turnover recently, such as Brian Harnois
leaving for the second time.
funny because people send me these posts saying "Donna left, Andy
left!". Donna is one of my closest friends in the world, I talk to her
all the time. You have to remember that when we’re filming the show,
sometimes we’re on the road for ten weeks straight and that’s not a
good thing for some of the team. They have normal jobs and families and
stuff like that. So Donna can’t be on the road that long, but she will
be on the new show, Ghost Hunters International. Andy Andrews, another
personal friend, his wife is pregnant. He’s also part of Ghost Hunters
International. They go over seas, do the show in two week increments
and come back, so he spends more time with his wife then if he was
going all over the US for weeks on end with us.
Grant: You have
to understand that Jay and I have been doing this together for a while
and before that we were doing it separately. Not everyone on the show
has been with us that long. People come in the group and investigate a
while, some leave and form their own groups and we support that; Keith
did that.. Other people come in and find what it isn’t really working
for them and move on. Its constant rotation. If, like, Donna came up to
us and said she was leaving for a job in New Hampshire, we’d say "OK,
we’ll miss you". To the fans its like "wait, what’s going on? Where’s
Jason: Yeah, there’s no bad blood with Donna and Andy
or anyone else. With Brian, we wish the best for Brian with whatever he
does. There’s always been turmoil when it comes to Brian.
Q: Where do you see T.A.P.S In ten years from now? Will you still be doing investigations yourselves?
Jason: We’ll still be out there. We were investigating long before the show and we’ll be investigating long after.