Learning how to conduct an effective ghost investigation is a process of trial and error, with far more error in the early stages. Investigations require experience, objectivity and above all, patience. They can be frustrating and frightening, but when you record that first unexplained sound, or photograph an image of something unquestionably from the realm of the paranormal, it will make all of your planning and waiting well worth the effort.


When I was gathering stories for my first book, Ghosts of Rockland County, I began by just interviewing witnesses and photographing buildings during the day. However, as a former research chemist, my scientific curiosity soon took over and simply talking to people wasn't enough--I had to try to experience and study the haunting phenomena. I soon acquired an EMF meter, a non-contact infrared thermometer, an infrared camcorder and a couple of motion detectors. While critics may say that these "ghost-o-meters" are a waste of time, they can provide crucial evidence that is hard to discount. For example: Feeling a cold spot is one thing, but when the EMF meter simultaneously registers an inexplicable electromagnetic field and the thermometer displays a sudden 20 degree drop in temperature, you can safely rule out your imagination.


In the past ten years, I have been in some strange places and encountered many bizarre things. Often, I find absolutely nothing, and that's okay. It's easy to get discouraged, but it is of the utmost importance not to force the evidence. If there is ghostly activity somewhere, chances are you will eventually detect it. Stay objective, keep your sense of humor and remain determined.
Some basic tips on conducting a good investigation:

  • Go with a plan! Gather as much information as you can about a site before you go. Interview witnesses, study the history of the place, and make sure you know where and when to concentrate your efforts.

  • Test all of your equipment before each investigation, and have plenty of batteries. Electronic equipment can often behave erratically at haunted sites and you need to rule out human error.

  • Try to get to your site while it is still light so you can do a walk-through to identify anything that could later be mistaken for something paranormal. Be aware of loose floorboards, mirrors or other objects that could cause reflections, branches rubbing against the house, and pets who might be wandering around. If it is cold, turn up the heat so you know what the sounds of the heating system are, and you will be more able to detect cold spots. Remember, things look a lot different in the dark, and I know of at least one case where a man screamed at the top of his lungs because of the terrifying dark apparition in front of him—which turned out to be a black raincoat on a coat rack.

  • We once went to a site in the middle of nowhere in total darkness and realized we forgot flashlights. A white swirling mist stood just a few feet in front of me in the old basement of the Orange Inn, but I had given my camera to someone else a few minutes earlier. The hard lessons we learned--Keep a checklist of what to bring and review it before each investigation, and make sure everyone is prepared for anything.

  • Don’t wear your strongest cologne or perfume, don’t smoke, and keep the bologna sandwiches in the car. One of the most valuable (and free!) investigative tools you have at your disposal is your nose. There can be many different types of aromas associated with hauntings, but if you and your crew are creating your own smells it certainly won’t help.

  • If you are investigating with a group and everyone is walking around talking, you might as well save the batteries in your tape recorder. Minimize movements and talking, and if you are going to make noise, announce it. For example, say into the tape recorder, "It’s 10:15pm and I will be walking upstairs to move the camcorder." On the other hand, if you do hear something unusual, say, "It’s 11pm and there was just a knocking sound on the cellar door." Keeping a written log would be ideal, but not always practical.

  • Remember the living! Don’t go alone to a cemetery in the middle of the night where crack addicts are known to hang out. Don’t assume abandoned buildings are empty. On a ghost investigation in a remote or potentially dangerous location, you should be more afraid of the living than the dead. Be smart and use caution.

  • Don’t run out and spend thousands of dollars on equipment for your first ghost investigation. Make sure this is something you really want to do, and will do often enough to justify the expense. While your intelligence and your senses are your best tools, at least try to have a camera and tape recorder with you. If you decide you are ready for more equipment but are on a budget, try getting together a team to share expenses.