10th Anniversary Special Edition
In 2009, Mike and I were returning from a ghost hunting trip to Buffalo, and during the long drive were talking about how many incredible cases we’ve had over the years. (For those who aren’t yet familiar with our work, Mike Worden is police detective and we have been on many paranormal adventures together.) I mentioned that in 2010, it would be the tenth anniversary of the Ghost Investigator series. Mike suggested I put together a special anniversary volume of my best cases.
What a great idea!
Invariably at a book signing, people ask which of the nine volumes is the best, which is my favorite, which has the best evidence, which is the scariest, etc. Now when someone asks one of those questions, I can hold up this book and state without hesitation, “This one!”
Looking back, it still amazes me how this all got started and how far it has gone. To summarize, I think I already said it best in the introduction to the first volume in the Ghost Investigator series:
The Birth of a Ghost Investigator
No, this wasn’t what I went to school for, and it isn’t anything I ever planned on doing. So how did I get to be the Ghost Investigator?
When I was a kid I was always fascinated by ghost stories and the paranormal. I remember one story in particular that sent chills up my spine—coffins in a crypt kept rearranging themselves every night until an unwanted family member was removed. To me, it was unthinkable that someone would ever be crazy enough to go inside a place like that, or any other haunted location for that matter. Now, crawling around a basement filled with ghosts is just another day at the office.
My first career was as a research chemist for a medical diagnostics company. I loved the lab and all its gadgets and instruments, and I certainly got plenty of experience conducting experiments and examining things objectively. However, under that white lab coat beat the heart of writer, and my creative impulses were not to be denied.
I left life in the lab and started writing about science, history, and science fiction. I also found that lecturing about my favorite subjects was just as much fun as writing about them. So, bit by bit, I pieced together a new career, but little did I know that more changes were to come.
In 1997, I was giving a series of lectures in Rockland County, New York, about local history and legends as part of the county’s bicentennial events. I got a call from one of the libraries where I was scheduled to speak, and the librarian asked if I knew any local ghost stories to add to my history presentation. I knew only one, but I told it, and thought that would be the end of it.
About a week later, I got a call from another library. The librarian excitedly asked, “Are you the Ghost Lady? I hear you give ghost talks. Could you give one here?” I was astonished and slightly annoyed, but politely explained that I was giving history lectures. I couldn’t understand where this was coming from, but decided I had better start gathering more ghost stories to tell.
It’s a good thing I did, because over the course of the lecture series fewer people attended for the history, while the number of ghost enthusiasts swelled. Then a lot more people started calling and asking if I was the “Ghost Lady” they had heard about, and when was I going to publish a book of stories? Opportunity was knocking, as loudly as a spirit rapping on a medium’s table.
Initially, I read up on the popular ghost stories that had been passed down from generation to generation. I also interviewed people who had personal stories of hauntings, and occasionally was lucky enough to actually visit a site. My only equipment was a 35mm camera and a tape recorder, and I simply gathered eyewitness reports and took some pictures, but I quickly realized that the best way to tell a ghost story was to personally experience the haunted activity. At first I didn’t think I would find enough stories to fill an entire book, but by the time I completed Ghosts of Rockland County in 1998, there were enough additional stories and leads to begin Haunted Hudson Valley. (Haunted Hudson Valley 2 and 3 followed, and then the first four books were combined into Ghost Investigator Volume 1.)
As the first run of Ghosts of Rockland County was coming off the presses, I couldn’t help but have a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. Would people actually buy a book of local ghost stories? Within in short time I had my answer—the entire first edition sold out in two weeks, and I was swamped with offers to give lectures. All the ingredients for the creation of a Ghost Investigator were now in place. I had a background in science, history, and writing. My books and lectures fueled interest and brought me in contact with people who had more stories for more books and lectures, etc., etc…
The only things missing were the tools of the trade. If I was in a haunted house and walked into a cold spot, I wanted a way to instantly measure the temperature and see if there were any electromagnetic fields present. I wanted to be able to see in total darkness and record images in infrared. It wasn’t enough to say I felt or sensed something—I needed solid data to try to substantiate that something real and measurable was taking place.
So, for Christmas of 1998, I asked my boyfriend (now my husband, Bob Strong) to get me an electromagnetic field meter. (Shopping for presents for me is rarely a case of sizes and colors—it is more likely megahertz and horsepower.) Then I bought an infrared non-contact thermometer, a camcorder that tapes in infrared, motion detectors—anything (that I could afford!) that I thought might help put ghost hunting on a firmer scientific foundation.
However, as much as I try to conduct controlled, rational investigations, I haven’t forgotten a crucial element—telling a good story. Just because I can’t stick a meter into something doesn’t mean I will disregard it. Part of me is still that kid with a flashlight reading ghost stories under the covers. While I never make up any part of the stories I personally investigate, I realize that not all second-hand sources may be accurate in every detail. What is important in those cases is that the witnesses are credible, the stories are consistent, and when you read them a chill goes up your spine.
Do I have a clue where all of this will take me? No, but that’s part of the fun of life. I will keep doing what I do and just see where it all leads. Of course, I would love to be able to someday say, “Here is incontrovertible scientific evidence on the existence of ghosts. This is exactly what they are, and how you can detect, measure, and communicate with them.”
Until that day comes, I’ll keep sticking my meters into dark corners, and at the end of the day pull the cobwebs out of my hair and just tell a good story about it all.
So, that’s what I wrote ten years ago, and since then I’ve certainly pulled a lot of cobwebs out of my hair, told hundreds of stories at lectures, and on TV and radio. Now all I need is my own television show to share all these incredible cases with a much larger audience, and I will be a happy and content Ghost Investigator.
But please, make no mistake—I will never become so content that I lose my desire and passion for paranormal mysteries. My years of investigating have evolved into something of a quest, and true quests are always lifelong journeys. Will I ever find the holy grail of ghostly evidence? Will I find the paranormal smoking gun that will turn skeptics into believers?
Maybe, maybe not. It would be nice, but a real quest is all about the journey, and I intend to just keep enjoying the ride.