Ghost Hunters 5.13: "Judgment Day"

Earlier this season, TAPS investigated Overbrook Hospital, which was the first time they had gone to a location after I had been there first. That gave me an interesting perspective on that particular case, because I recognized the challenges and drawbacks of the location from experience.

This episode brought with it similar feelings, but from a different angle. I happen to live in Union County, and the legend of Hannah Caldwell looms large in my neighborhood. I live on Caldwell Avenue, a stone’s throw from the Caldwell Parsonage House, built on the foundations of the original where Hannah Caldwell was killed in 1780. The current house was built a couple years later. (Sadly, I’ve never been able to investigate the house, despite the convenience!) A few years ago, when I was assigned to a grand jury for several months, I spent hours and hours all over and around the Union County Courthouse. So this isn’t just a place I’ve investigated in the state. This is home territory.

Given some of my concerns about certain aspects of the show of late, I was a bit worried about how things would be portrayed. I wanted this to work out well, because there was a lot of local promotion of the episode and it would have been unfortunate if there had been any obvious shenanigans. There was the potential, at least, of making a few of my critical opinions a little more personal.

Of course, as an investigator, there’s also a bit of mixed feelings. TAPS’ celebrity status gives them the kind of access that smaller groups never have, and that lead to a bit of jealousy. Not so much for the fame and supposed fortune, but rather, for the opportunities. This is especially true when it feels like TAPS isn’t taking fill advantage of those opportunities by using a full range of equipment and technique.

Case #1: Union County Courthouse, NJ

All in all, I was quite pleased with how the location was represented. They covered most of the stories that I had heard, and I can say that their own personal experiences (while few) matched some of the anecdotal comments I’ve heard. So from that perspective, this felt authentic.

The soon-to-be-infamous footage of the potential apparition was very interesting. Before addressing it directly, let me first say that this is a perfect example of why I felt the reactions in a recent episode felt overdone and questionable. In the PA case, they were wildly enthusiastic about a flashlight turning on. Presented with a potential apparition, they were far more reserved and even a bit perplexed. This felt a lot more natural.

I know that there will be plenty of people who will claim this is just a trick, but that’s the nature of the beast. This isn’t first-hand footage we’re seeing; it’s been edited down and altered for television. All the usual caveats still apply. That said, if I found something like this on video during one of my investigations, I would have considered it worth a very close second look, to say the least. And I completely agree with the notion of conducted an even more intensive follow-up investigation.

It might have been better if they had found more to solidify what they did find, but in a way, that might have made me more suspicious. Corroborating data from several sources, providing a solid collection of “evidence”, is the true holy grail of the field for those with a scientific view. And that’s the case because it is so rare to find. At best, one might get two or three data sources that seem to fit together. So the fact that it didn’t happen here doesn’t surprise me.

Even knowing that there will be alternative explanations offered for the footage, I have to say that this ranks as one of my favorite investigations they’ve ever done. The combination of local appeal plus some of their best “evidence” in a long time made this a winner in my book.

Case #2: MacNell House, NH

By now, everyone knows I love a good debunking case, and as usual, the second case of the episode offered little in terms of activity. It was, however, an interesting look into the logic of debunking. If there is one valid criticism of debunking as a whole, it’s the reality that those alternative explanations need to make sense. The same amount of work needs to go into presenting a strong case for natural sources of reported activity as one puts into the collection of data to support the presence of paranormal phenomena.

For example, it’s not enough to say that all EVPs are just captured RF transmissions or random cell phone captures. One must take into account the context of the specific EVP, the time and place, and the nature of the recorded sound wave. It’s not at all hard to tell when an RF source has been recorded. My point is that there’s a difference between debunking a claim and dismissing a claim.

I think some of the explanations for the activity in this case were a bit far-fetched. I’ll accept the idea that the heavier, sturdier items might have been affected by sloped floors or even the occasional low-grade tremor. But an area rug sitting on a carpet behaves a lot differently than a bed on a bare wooden floor!

Besides, to make a strong argument that the moving furniture was the result of local tremors, it would have been more substantial to correlate the date and time of a particular incident to data provided by the USGS. That’s what I thought they were going to do, but they never really made a strong argument for the link. On the other hand, since I often comment on the lack of true scientific methodology during their investigations, I shouldn’t be too surprised when they show a similar trend with their debunking.

Perhaps ironically, given my disappointment with the series of late, this was one of those rare occasions where I had little criticism of their investigations and conclusions (other than the usual dearth of equipment) and issues with their debunking efforts. The upshot is that this episode has proven that the show still has a few good surprises to offer.


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