Ghost Hunters 6.12: "America's First Zoo"

As someone who grew up just outside of Philadelphia, I completely understand the nostalgic factor that was referenced endlessly in this episode. It certainly brought back memories. Granted, certain areas look a bit different now, but it's not so different that it lost the resonance.

One thing I don't remember is any mention of the zoo or related buildings being haunted. That's not necessarily meaningful; most of my visits to the zoo came early in life, so it's unlikely that I would remember such details. I was far more interested in the exhibits! I wonder if any readers did hear such stories before, or if this seems like an attempt by a struggling institution to get publicity and semi-notoriety.

My biggest concern about the location, however, is the potential for audio contamination. Setting aside the usual concerns with wireless audio and what not in a fairly metropolitan area, where the likelihood of capturing stray signals is much higher than usual, it seems obvious that this would be a location rife with unusual animal noises. And while one might suspect that the sounds wouldn't travel into the areas being investigated, that's hard to say definitively without first-hand knowledge of the nighttime conditions. Even TAPS couldn't logically make such a blanket statement.

I really don't have too much to say about this investigation. Most of the usual observations apply. I noted that KJ pointed out the relative lack of convenient power in some areas, but that doesn't explain why there was a dearth of useful handheld devices. A few dataloggers focused on the right parameters could yield useful information, even in the most mundane of investigations.

For example, Brit and KJ reported cold spots in the Penrose building. But where was the independent verification that it happened? I've noted before that the format of the show and the formula now used with the investigations relies on the audience to take the investigators at their collective word, but there's just nothing to substantiate the claim.

This is the second episode in a row with the sound of doors slamming and other similar noises. This does happen on investigations, but without some basis to identify the source, it's hard to determine whether or not it's paranormal. And as they say, when in doubt, throw it out. The only reasonable example, in my mind, was the sound captured in the Shelley building, where Jason and Grant were systematic in testing the various doors. Taken as presented, it seemed to exclude the nearby doors well enough.

Might I suggest, at this juncture, retiring the silly practice of using "Shave and a Haircut" as some kind of test of intelligent paranormal interaction? I've never been all that happy with it, because it's all too easy to take any two noises that come right after that "test" as confirmation of communication. Much like the flashlight test, it is a simple sign of confirmation bias.

(To be clear, I'm not entirely against asking for a sound or sign of presence. But it should be the beginning of a systematic process to establish a clear pattern of call and response, with enough variation and complexity to eliminate the vast majority of random sources. I have yet to see that happen in the field.)

As far as the thermal camera incident goes, it's hard to take seriously. For one thing, those units can easily be knocked off balance (at least the ones I have seen). So in the absence of anything else to suggest something unusual about the incident, it should have been logically dismissed. However, I would also point out, as others undoubtedly will, that this happened off-camera and very close to Grant. Most investigators would want some kind of independent video that could eliminate any inadvertent action that might have caused the camera to roll and fall.

The "evidence" is largely personal experiences and some very questionable audio. Many of the supposed captured voices and EVPs were not at all discernable, and sounded more like static or environmental noises that were misinterpreted. Certainly, none of them were clear and distinct. It's so subjective that Jason and Grant have to tell the client what is supposedly being said, which automatically invalidates the interpretation. EVPs shouldn't rely on coaching to be heard.

(Which makes this claim in the official summary even more laughable: "The footage caught lots of audio that puts even the most seasoned scientist back on his heels." As a scientist and engineer, I can say with full confidence that the audio is not remotely that compelling!)

I don't doubt that it was an awesome location to investigate, and it seems very clear that the client was eager to have the team find something compelling. But it's equally clear that the location was often creepy, and even the most seasoned investigators (to borrow an adjective) can fall prey to psychological effects. Whether or not that, and the nostalgia, factored into the final conclusions, I cannot say, but this wasn't nearly as airtight a case in the presented form as they made it sound.


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