Question of the Week
February 19, 2017
Each week I will post a question raised by people I meet at book events or at haunted locations I visit, or submitted to me by e-mail.
I will post my answer Sunday evenings, usually no later than 6:00 PM.
Are prisons still on your top five list of most haunted places?
Prisons are most definitely on my top five list of most haunted places. Over the years, I’ve modified the list slightly, but penal institutions have always had a solid spot in my TOP 5 and I cannot imagine replacing those wretched places with anything else.
My assessment of the intensely of ghostly activity at prisons has actually increased recently as I investigate and write about them. Since June of 2016, I have been visiting and researching several prisons throughout the country, gathering material for my next book, GHOST HUNTER’S GUIDE TO AMERICA’S PRISONS, JAILS, AND ASYLUMS. This book will probably be published in the spring of 2018. That does seem like a long way into the future but that is the nature of the publishing business.
Visiting nearly forty asylums and penal institution does take time and a good deal of preparation, including interview and research. My experience thus far causes me to advance prisons to the top of my TOP 5 list. The ghostly population of every prison is filled with in-mates who were killed by other prisoners and those who decided to commit suicide rather than served a life sentence or face the gas chamber. Some died during escape attempts while others were tortured and eventually succumbed to infection or exacerbation of chronic illness by beatings or whippings. Of course, those who were formally executed also contribute to the ghostly population.
Here is the nagging question: why would a spirt remain in such a noxious environment such as a prison?
Some prisoners don’t know they are dead. The death experience may have been obscured by illness or occurred so suddenly that the spirit is unaware of bodily death. Consequently, the ghost continues to occupy his cell, occasionally slamming the door and created a sound that thrills ghost hunters.
Some ghost remain in prison because, despite torture and threat of violence from other prisoners, it was the most emotionally stabilizing environment ever known. Three meals each day, a warm bed, and other privileges such as TV or Internet, may have been a far better lifestyle that the prisoner knew when he was on the street.
Some remain behind because they are angry and await an opportunity for revenge on wardens, guard, and other prisoners. Others have reconciled themselves to the realization that they are horrible people and deserving of terrible punishment.
Finally, many ghosts remain in places that seem abhorrent because they are fearful of moving on to the “light” or “crossing over” to a place where the spirit enters the next higher realm of existence. The possibility of “judgement” for a murderous life or encounters with victims and family members who are ashamed of them, may be too much to face.
Prisons top my list and they are likely to stay there as I continue my journey through America’s haunted penal institutions.
For review, see last week's Q and A . . .
I don’t hear much about orbs anymore. Why?
In the past few weeks I have received communications from ghost hunters who expressed renewed interest in orbs. These e-mail included some fascinating pictures of orbs. The reason for this renewed interest seems to be spectacular images of illuminated disks captured in places that have a history of documented paranormal activity.
I remind enthusiastic ghost hunters, particularly those who rely on visual-spectrum photography, that there is a good reason for the infrequent mention of orbs in paranormal TV and radio shows. After a few years of scrutiny by knowledgeable people, the general consensus is that, with few exceptions, orbs don’t represent a paranormal entity.
Over the years, I’ve met many ghost hunters who were absolutely convinced that a place was haunted simply because they captured orbs in their photographs. These excited people did not consider the characteristics of the light anomaly, possible “normal” explanations, or corroborating evidence that might support or deny a contention that the image represents something paranormal.
Most serious paranormal investigators no longer consider orbs to be an indication of paranormal activity or presence. There some exceptions, however, which I’ll discuss below. Let’s first consider some basic concepts that help us to understand the true nature of orbs.
There are all kinds of light anomalies that may be considered an indication of paranormal activity or presence. Let’s limit this discussion to orbs.
An orb is a symmetrical white disk that appears most often in visual-spectrum photographic and digital images made under low-light conditions. The orb may appear hovering near a ceiling, over a bed, or inside a car. A photograph may contain a single orb or show so many of varying sizes that they cannot be counted. Impressive pictures of light anomalies may be viewed at several Web sites.
Many ghost hunters claim that orbs are spirit manifestations without explaining why the spirit of a human would appear as a disk of light. While some light anomalies may have a humanoid shape within them, the vast majority fail to convince critics and skeptics that the image is that of a ghost because it is so perfectly illuminated that it appears fake. Software for processing digital images has reduced the power of proof that was once attributed to photographs. Critics and skeptics point out that orbs may be the result of insects, dust particles, or water droplets suspended in the air close to the lens or inside the camera. Excited ghost hunters have displayed pictures of light anomalies that turned out to be the result of wisps of hair, a camera strap, a finger, cigarette smoke, light reflected from jewelry, or smudges on the lens.
It is interesting to note that orbs were extremely rare in the field of paranormal investigation until digital cameras became available. Consequently, many people suspect that orbs may be the result of operating characteristics of the camera. In fact, under conditions of low light, the pixels of a digital camera may not fill in completely. This has been called under-pixelation. As a result, no image information or electronic signal is generated. The lack of a signal is detected by the camera’s software which then fills in the missing spot in the picture’s signal array with white light. The result is an orb.
This widely accepted explanation if far more plausible that a paranormal explanation. Thus, the probability that an orb represents a spirit is extremely small.
Is it possible that a spirit will manifest as an orb?
Yes, although many experts suggest that as many as 99% of orb pictures do not represent anything paranormal. I’ve seen some very impressive orbs, however. Ghost hunter Jackie Ganiy, president of Sonoma SPIRIT captured a picture of an orb hovering over the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Hornet in Alameda, CA. This orb was symmetrically rounded but a skull was visible within it. Since several crew members died on the flight deck of this WWII aircraft carrier—at least three by decapitation from contact with aircraft arresting cables—it has been suggested that this fascinating picture of an orb does, indeed, represent something paranormal.
Books by Melvyn Willin and Troy Taylor present fascinating collections of the best pictures of ghosts and other paranormal light anomalies, including orbs.
Generally, light anomalies such as orbs should not be readily accepted as evidence of spirit manifestation unless there is corroborating evidence from other technical devices. This includes audio phenomena, possibly isolated changes in air temperature, or other still or video images. Evidence might also be found in psychic impressions experienced at the time and place that the orb picture was created. Psychic impressions of intense emotions, sobbing, and cries for help, or screaming might be obtained while standing in an old hospital room as a photographer captures a picture of an orb hovering over the bed.
Problems with photographic representations of paranormal phenomenon are multi-faceted. The foremost problem is actually the oldest; faked images. From the earliest days of photography, users started faking pictures. Most of the pictures that represent the era of Spirit Photography (1880 to 1950) are fakes. With the advent of modern film-based photography, the fakes were ridiculous, created by blowing cigarette smoke in front of the lens or directing the flash at a mirror or window.
Digital photography brought new opportunities for faking paranormal images. Users who are skilled with software such as PhotoShop can create fantastic images that, in some instances, are difficult to prove as fakes.
This places a great burden on paranormal investigators who rely heavily on visual-spectrum still photography as the primary means of gathering evidence of ghostly activity. Skill as a photographer, appropriate use of photographic equipment, careful set-up of your surveillance, and inclusion of corroborating detection media are essential elements of investigations based primarily on photography.
For now, we should view images of orbs as a technical anomaly. If concurrent paranormal activity occurs, we might look upon an orb as a clue that something ghostly might be nearby. Orbs are nothing to get excited about, no matter how impressive they may be.
Copyright Jeff Dwyer. All rights reserved.