On weekends we go out in droves armed with our flashlights and digital recorders in the hope of finding something. We argue about ‘what is a ghost’ and we talk about what equipment we should or shouldn’t be using. While this is all a part of being a paranormal researcher, there is one important element that sometimes doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Our history and its significance.
This is not an article about whether or not you should research before and investigation, because I have been there and written that. It is about what the paranormal community is actually doing for our historical sites. While some site owners or property managers are hesitant or reluctant to get the paranormal through, it could be the thing that saves it from destruction. One of the biggest concerns I have learned from working with venues over the past few years is that they don’t want to be known as a ‘haunted location’. There are many reasons behind this. It could be as simple as the person in charge doesn’t believe in it. They may be afraid that by advertising that it is haunted that it will attract thrill-seekers who will break in and trespass. They may be wanting to respect the deceased as there are always sometimes skeletons in the closet that they don’t want to be made public out of respect. The list goes on. These are all valid concerns.
What is also a concern is the attitude of developers. Historical significance to them is not as important anymore. If there is land available and money can be made, they would rather knock down the building and build a block of apartments on it. This is why it is important for historical buildings to be able to bring in some income. Yes, they may get grants from the council, but sometimes they are very tiny and are not even enough to pay for the yearly maintenance of a property. They rely on extra income from special events and historical tours to keep them afloat. The less they need to ask the council for money, the more likely the council will happily retain the property. How often do you see an article where the council has decided to sell a heritage site to developers?
Elements of a property may be heritage listed, but it doesn’t mean a building will stay intact, Maybe it is just the front gate or wall of a building that is heritage listed. Maybe it is just the exterior of a building. That doesn’t mean a developer can’t come in and leave those parts intact and gut the rest of it. Just recently here in Melbourne, there have been a few properties lost. Willsmere here in Melbourne was once an insane asylum. A sister to Beechworth and Aradale asylums has been converted into apartments and is a closed community. The public cannot even access the grounds. The main building was heritage listed and remains as a museum to honor the past, a museum which again the public cannot access. Just recently some residents have conducted some walking tours to allow the public in, but this is a major part of history that has been lost and, in some cases, forgotten about. A lot of people today see it as a beautiful building, but do not know the important history behind it.
There is a debate that I have seen in many forums of the paranormal community about public investigation tours. A lot of serious investigators believe they go against the integrity and what we believe in as investigators. I understand where this comes from. I used to think this way too at one point. I think a lot of it boils down to the people who are running the tours. There are a lot of tour companies and groups that put the money back into the venue which of course is highly important. The venue should be the winner. They also run investigations that are genuine and in a lot of ways, educational. They offer a proper glimpse of what a real paranormal investigation is like. I was talking to a couple of people at a tour last night who had been to a few different tours across town. They told me how much they enjoyed an investigation they went on recently where even though it was a pretty quiet night, they appreciated the honesty and integrity of the investigators because it was clear that they were faking anything to try and make the night more entertaining. I am hearing this a lot more which is really enlightening to hear. We have to remember that not everyone wants to be a serious paranormal investigator. Some people do just want to go and attend a few investigations here and there and this is the perfect way for them to do this. If we didn't have these experiences available, the field would be a hell of a lot smaller. How many of you expanded on your paranormal ‘career’ after attended just one public investigation? I know that is what kick-started my paranormal journey so why shouldn't this experience be offered?
I guess another sensitive issue can be the type of venue and things that have happened there. I recently wrote an article called 'Ethics, grief and the paranormal'. It is intended to start an open conversation about how soon is too soon? If you are investigating a venue where there was trauma, you also have to be very careful how you conduct yourself and what you 'imply' about the people who were once there. The majority of the population believes that a ghost is the soul of someone who has passed away. A lot of people feel their family members may be there. Maybe there are tragic circumstances or family secrets they wouldn't appreciate being made public. Maybe it was just such a horrific event that out of respect it needs to be left alone completely. This is where the integrity part comes in. We do always need to ask ourselves the question before pursuing any venue, 'Just because we can, should we?'.
A lot of things have happened in our past. There are a lot of things we as countries and humans are ashamed of. The way people were treated in our past was in some cases barbaric. We cannot deny that these things did not happen, because they did. Destroying the buildings and burying the past is not the answer. We need to learn from our mistakes and also respect the legacy of the people that perhaps lost their lives to this cause as well. Having access to these places may help us understand more about our links to our family as well. A lot of ex mental hospitals here in Australia use the buildings as a way to educate people on how far we have come in the development of mental health. They will acknowledge hey we got it wrong and people should not have been treated this way. It is a glimpse into our past. When it comes to offering some sort of paranormal experience if a building is sitting there dark and empty and night and can potentially make some money hosting an investigation, I don’t see an issue with it. It makes them some money and it also generates more interest in the property. People who have attended a night investigation are likely to visit again during the day because they want to learn the history or see it during the day. History is not just reserved for the older generation. Our younger generations are now taking a bigger interest in our historical past and a lot of it has to do with the paranormal. They hear the stories or they even watch reality tv shows, and suddenly they want to go to an open day at the old gaol. We need to embrace this interest in our properties and make sure they are around for a really long time. We can't forget our past, and more importantly, we can't forget the people who in a lot of cases sacrificed themselves so that we could live the life we live today. To me, preserving this history is honoring their memory and making sure they are not forgotten. As long as it is done with integrity and most importantly respect.
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