…and not just because it’s around Halloween.

Our little museum is in an old house, and rumors about it being “haunted” have circulated since our opening 20 years ago. The history of the house is fascinating–the family that built it in the 1700s today owns a prominent regional business empire–but really has nothing to do with our official mission. So for years we’ve officially downplayed the stories. They’re widespread enough that national “paranormal” groups (including the Discovery Channel) have contacted us wanting to come in. We’ve always turned them down. So much wacky spiritual crap is associated with our interest group that we really don’t need to add colonial-era ghosts into it.

The stories vary. People staying in the house during our events have “heard” things–loud boot thumps on the stairs at a certain, consistent time of night, or a woman singing, and doors flying open simultaneously. There’s a persistent story about a little boy in one of the exhibit rooms. Vendors camping out in the house have told us, flat-out, that they were not alone in the house during the night. An artist working in one of the exhibit rooms around midnight was so spooked that he spent hours trying to “make peace” with the spirits in the house. People have smelled violets.

I tell everyone that asks that I’m a “skeptic,” but the truth is that I just completely don’t believe it. I think it’s bullsh*t, frankly. I respect other people’s beliefs, but sorry–you’re wrong. You’re imagining things.

That’s why I was a little leery when we decided to allow a “paranormal” group in for the first time these past few months. The reason was financial: A local organization got a huge grant to publicize haunted houses, and the reality is that we can’t turn down free money right now. We bit.

What we got was three “ghost hunters” with “equipment”–cameras, electronic recorders, etc.–and three “psychics.” Oh my God. The shenanigans. Just like on the TV shows, they fired up all the “equipment” and allegedly photographed “orbs” and got “evps,” which are the equivalent of ghosts whispering. Whatever. Maybe. Then we all gathered in a room while the group “interpreted” the evps for us. Summary: “You’ll now hear what appears to be electronic noise, but they’re really saying ‘yes, I’m here'”, followed by everyone leaning in to try to create “Yes, I’m here” out of electronic noise. Then there’s the showing of what are clearly pictures of double exposures or other miscellaneous camera malfunctions. So far, not impressed. Oh, and there are little white things that are “orbs.” Yeah, sure.

So the other night we had our first paranormal “tour,” where a big group of gullible people gave us their firstborn sons so they could be in the museum with the lights off and get scared. People claimed to be “tugged” by spirits.

For this nonbeliever, I actually found it pretty fun. But I think there’s a real risk of it getting out of control. As I’ve mentioned before, bizarre things happen at small museums. It’s part of the novelty of them. But there’s a fine line between cool-wacky and stay-away-from-that-place-wacky. All we need is for someone to get a hold of the fact that psychics are telling us that we have dead people standing at our front door, or that we are now okay with bringing people in to do “house blessings” where everyone stands around in circles and chants things about love and harmony.

If you’re in an alleged “haunted house,” my official advice is to downplay it. It’s tempting to give in to a new revenue source, but it leads down bad paths. The people that are really into that sort of thing are not usually the kind of people you necessarily want as the face of your museum, and many people–especially those with kids–are absolutely not okay with it. Happy Halloween, but save it for the little kids at your door.


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