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The Ghost Hunt

by Ryan Johnson, Nov 11 2008

So to start off this week, I’d like to address a few questions received from our readers before I jump into the continuation of our story.

Many have asked where can I see this show? Well, at the moment, we don’t have the show in active production. We have finished a pilot episode and demo, and that is being used right now to pitch to agents and TV networks. We are working with some very esteemed individuals and companies that are representing the show for us. We are all making great progress.

As we begin to get solid deals put together, we’ll be sure to let you all know. Don’t worry, when the show is picked up, the entire Skeptical Community and hopefully many other people will know that it’s coming! For our international viewers, we’re not certain who will carry it, but rest assured, we’re working hard to give the show the largest audience possible. If we don’t air it outside of US, you can bet we’ll be working on online and home video options as well.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to share our exploits into producing the pilot with the Dream Team of skeptics: The Skeptologists!


The Queen Mary.  Haunted ship?

The Queen Mary. Haunted ship?

We last talked about the two topics that we’d present on the show, Ghost Hunting Tools and Wheatgrass Juice. This week it’s all about those spooky little monsters and their propensity to violating all kinds of physical laws!

Ghost Hunting, Tools of the Trade! Ripped directly from Brian’s Skeptoid episode of the same name, this topic was a great subject for many reasons: It’s current, it should be interesting to de-mystify, and it would require a great, spooky location that’ll be great on TV.

We wanted to create a pilot that would show the true direction of this series, we needed locations and production quality that looked like the million dollar per-episode budget that we wanted to produce the rest of the show. We didn’t have a million bucks so it was going to take some hard work.

We set out scouring Southern California’s haunted hot spots. There were several that quickly floated to the top; The Coronado Hotel, A few different private homes and of course The RMS Queen Mary in Long Beach.

In our research, it quickly became apparent that if you owned a house, hotel or rusty old ship that was nearing 100 years old or more, well, it’s haunted by default. Just come up with some great ghost stories, or talk about the untimely death of someone that used to live or work there and you are set! Instant haunted place! Better yet, instant tourist trap! I figure in 30 more years my house will suddenly become haunted and I’ll be able to sell tickets to walk around my house with flashlights and stud sensors. I’m gonna be rich!

The one location that I really liked, and thought would be perfect is the Queen Mary. It’s history and it’s popularity for being haunted is very well documented and it has been a favorite for many, many ghost hunters. It’s a big location, and by that I don’t just mean it’s size, but it’s also very grand on screen and that’s the type of production quality we needed.

We needed to check it out, first hand. Shawna, our producer and I had stayed there a few years back when we were shooting a video on an unrelated project and we remembered how cool and spooky it was. The history of that ship, spooky or not is something you can truly feel as you walk through the maze of corridors, and levels.

Upon further investigation, we found that the Queen Mary has regular haunted ship tours, and once a month, has a special ghost hunt. This rather expensive tour started at midnight on a Friday night and would go till 2AM or later. We were to bring our cameras and flashlights and “be prepared” to see ghosts and evidence of the paranormal. I’m not sure exactly how one prepares to see a ghost, but I had a tall white chocolate mocha from Starbucks and some Smarties candy if you must know.


Brian Dunning, David Vienna and Ryan Johnson, Preparing to hunt for ghosts aboard the Queen Mary

Brian Dunning, David Vienna and Ryan Johnson, preparing to hunt for ghosts aboard the Queen Mary

At 12 midnight on February the 15th, I was joined by Brian Dunning, Shawna Young and David Vienna to take part in our first official Ghost Hunt. We brought two video cameras, a couple of still cameras and our flashlights. We were ready.


We and about 20 others all met in the lobby, and laughed and joked about what was going to happen while we waited for our “Ghost Hunters” to arrive. These were not Queen Mary employes, rather they were a team of self described “Professional Paranormal Investigators.” They took this ghost hunting business very seriously.

They finally arrived and quickly led us to a room towards the lower section of the ship. It was a moderately sized room with many poorly taken still photos with light streaks, overexposed people and just plain old dust, that were all supposedly paranormal activity. If I had to guess I would say this was the room they used daily for their tourist “Ghost Show” which was, admittedly, a fun tour around the ship with special effects to simulate the paranormal activity supposedly witnessed there in the years past. We weren’t there for some special effects show, nope, we were there for the real deal, baby!

Now, at this point, we were all pretty excited to be there, I don’t know what I was hoping for but I really wanted to have something happen that I couldn’t explain. I wanted something to make me think that, at the very least, someone was screwing with me.


Our Ghost Hunter

Our Ghost Hunter

But first, we had to endure an hour of the lead investigator essentially yelling at us for being there. Really. He did his best: “I’m a skeptic folks! And there’s a lot of bad people in my industry trying to fool you! We’re doing this for real!” It was hilarious, he was trying to be this tough, abrasive, been-there, done-that, seen-it-all type. I got the feeling that he was making it all up as he went along. When pressed by us and others for details of hauntings that he had supposedly witnessed in his “investigations” he suddenly stumbled and then gave a weak answer and then turned to his partner for some sort of assurance. His partner, by the way, took most of the first hour to get suited up into some sort of military black nylon accessory vest. He worked hard at becoming a one-man Radio Shack. He proceeded to stuff every little battery operated handheld device that you’d ever seen onto his person. “Boy we’re in for a real adventure if the ghost hunter needs all that!” I whispered under my breath.


So after being verbally abused by the lead ghost hunter, we were carefully informed, that we probably weren’t going to see anything. (Keep those expectations really low. Got it.) He went over the ghost tools, and I was impressed that he did hit some of the more obvious misuses of the common ghost tools that are seen on TV. The idea was to prove that he was a “real” ghost hunter and those screw-ups on TV were just out to make a buck. Did I mention that we paid $75 a head for this tour, and we counted 25 or so people on this one tour alone. Hmm.

"Ghost Hunting Tools" ready to go.

Ghost Hunting Tools, ready to go

After talking about the fact that most these tools don’t work great for ghost hunting, and that there were not too many tools that did, he offered them all up to the participants in preparation to go hunt for the ghosts! Oh. OK.

Finally, 1:15 am we were headed down to the dark bowels of the rusty old ship. Now, understand this is an amazing ship and a fantastic place to see, the tour was worth the price strictly for the fact that we got to go where most other visitors would never be able to go. And since these guys were basically making this all up as they went along, we sort of meandered through the most dark and creepy places to look listen and scan for anything unusual. And I do mean anything. Heck a mouse crawling across the floor would have been something.

We toured the famous First Class Pool, a cavernous indoor pool covered with marble tiles and ornate architecture. This must have been a real sight back in the day, oh, and with some lights. It was pretty dark. We could see all the electronic special effects equipment that was used during the day for their haunted ship tour. We got to crawl around a while, and we noted several people noticing discrepancies in their compass readings. There were a few minor anomalies that were witnessed, but all could be explained away by nearby electronics or the steel of the ship. The ghost hunter tour guide basically just walked around pointing his flashlight. I dare say, it got boring pretty quick. Once we determined that haunting wasn’t happening there, we moved on.


Did you hear that?  -- Producer Shawna in the Engine Room

Did you hear that? -- Producer Shawna in the Engine Room

One location that is tied to much of the Queen Mary folklore was the engine room’s aptly named, Door 13. There once was a steam activated door to the engine room that was kept closed at all times during the ship’s voyages. It was a safety door that would keep water out in the event of problems on either side. Many of these doors separated sections of the ship in these lower levels. The door itself was no longer there, but according to many different sources, there was a worker who got smashed in the doorway and was killed. In a followup visit to the ship, I verified this information by one of the staff members who says that he had personally seen the accident report and that indeed, this was one of the many fatalities that had occurred on the ship. Though he said himself, “I’m not sure that his ghost was hanging around.” He didn’t believe, but it was clear that Queen Mary policy was to keep this story alive to promote the ghost tours.


The engine room was great, but noisy spot and we noted that for a location to possibly shoot. We were joined for a while by the Queen Mary’s own paranormal researcher who gave the daily tours. She was really into this stuff and told many many stories about noises and sightings. We turned one of our cameras on her and did an impromptu interview, which was quite hilarious. When asked direct questions, in each case, she gave a very squirmy answer. She didn’t like that much.


The Queen Mary's Boiler Room

The Queen Mary Boiler Room

We then moved on to the boiler room. And I have to say, it’s one of the coolest rooms I’ve ever been in. This was one of four giant rooms that originally had enormous boilers in them that created the steam to drive the ship’s massive engines. The boilers were removed, and all that was left was decaying scaffolding and pipe work from the old system. This site has been used in many old Disney films and also as a radical backdrop for some TV shows and live dance events. We quickly decided that this would be a great place to shoot, as it offered the right look, and plenty of clear open space to work, and of course, plenty of stories about the hauntings that happened in here.


After traipsing around the guts of this old ship, we took a bit of a rest in one of the conference rooms, (it too was originally a boiler room, but had since been converted.) We listened to the ghost hunter tell his varied stories about things that went bump in the night and how he was fighting the good fight to rid his clients of their demonic dwellings.


Ryan Johnson, Videotapes old ship parts, but sadly, no ghosts.

Ryan Johnson, Videotapes old ship parts, but sadly, no ghosts.

The more comfortable he got with us, the more elaborate all the stories got. About half of the group made it through the full ghost hunt. Not because of being scared, but I imagine, more because they were bored. There was a few individuals that were on the tour that were part of a self-envisioned paranormal group. They took themselves very serious and even starting calling out to the spirits. That kind of freaked out a group of young attractive girls that were with us, and so they were among the first to leave. Damn.

Suffice it to say, we didn’t see any paranormal activity, there wasn’t anything even remotely like it. I wasn’t scared, I got a creepy vibe walking through the place, but that was probably more about worrying whether I was going to fall through the rusted hull into the water underneath, than being possessed by the spirit of an ancient ship passenger, or one of the unfortunate souls of a soldier who were carried during World War II.

Shawna, Brian and Ryan after the tour.

Shawna, Brian and Ryan after the tour.

All in all it was a really interesting experience. I learned a lot about the history of the grand old ship, and got to see a lot of fantastic things. It’s something that many just don’t get to see these days.

I didn’t realize how much more familiar I would become with this special ship in the months ahead. The Queen Mary was slated to become the primary location for the production of The Skeptologists pilot episode!

Stay Tuned!

6 Responses to “The Ghost Hunt”

  1. Smarties, the secret of eternal wisdom! :)

    While making these cons and charlatans squirm is all well and good, what about explaining why some reasonable or supposedly sane people believe all these stories? Do you guys have a segment where you talk about the frailties of the human brain, and how easy we are to fool into believing and seeing things that just aren’t there, even though we’ll fervently believe that what we saw was real. I’m sure that readers here, and perhaps most watchers of the show will be familiar with how electromagnetic fields can stimulate the “other presence” phenomenon, be familiar with the human brain’s tendency for paredolia, understand the funky state of sleep paralysis and dreaming, etc. But discussing them can hopefully enlighten some people, and maybe they can spread the word as well.

  2. haha the more gear they carry with them, the more official they must be.

  3. Jose The Paranormal Skeptic says:

    Ahhhh yes, uncalibrated EMF meters, useless IR thermometers, Thermal cameras that are great for capturing farts, Night Vision Goggles, EVP captured on dictaphones with high compression and distortion via a crappy internal mic, Geiger Counters because Ghosts are all of a sudden radioactive, claims of scientific method yet not an ounce of scientific method, people accredited with make believe certifications and fairy tale credentials etc etc. All based on unfounded theories and speculative claims.

    Then you have The Frank’s Box. My pet hate. Essentially a broken radio that performs a linear scan. Frank’s Box has nothing on the Spirit Box which takes EMF readings and converts them to audio via a voice chip.

    So the question I ask these investigators is, how do you calibrate your equipment and to what standards?

    Most of these groups claim to be “in search of the truth”. Somehow I’m assuming this translates to “reinforcing belief whilst ignoring the obvious”.

    They consider it a science, I consider it a pscience. Pseudoscience makes me vomit blood.

  4. Jose! How’s life “down under”? You, my friend, took the words right out of my mouth. It is quite funny to watch those that drink deep of the “paranormal” Kool-Aid.

  5. DangerMouse says:

    I hope one place you’re pitching the show is to the SciFi channel. I think they OWE us some skeptical programming after having foisted the likes John Edwards and Ghost Hunters on us.

  6. Jose The Paranormal Skeptic says:

    Hola Stu, it’s HOT down under at the moment and we have no water which means plenty of “orbs” floating around! Maybe I should break out my digital camera with a fixed lens and increased depth of field to capture some floating “ghost energy balls”!

    Keep up the great work with your paranormal skepticism! If it wasn’t for you guys, I’d be alone in my fight to bring a bit of logic to a scene that is founded on speculative bullshit.

    Stay cool