Ghost Hunters: Edison’s Successors?

Ghost Hunters‘ Grant Wilson (Left) and Jason Hawes (Right) via Sloss Fright Furnace

When reading Natalie Zarelli’s article about Thomas Edison’s spirit phone, I couldn’t help but think of one of the guilty pleasures of my middle school years–paranormal TV shows, particularly Syfy’s Ghost Hunters. And at the very end of the article, Zarelli puts my thoughts on paper, mentioning ghost hunters in the context of their equipment and its connection to Edison’s spirit phone.

The now-cancelled show’s titular ghost hunters came in the form of ex-Roto-Rooters Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson and their TAPS team (The Atlantic Paranormal Society–yes, they included“the” in their acronym), who certainly followed in the paranormal footsteps of Edison. The Ghost Hunters used some pretty expensive equipment, ranging from FLIR thermographic cameras, EMF meters, night vision cameras, digital thermometers, and normal video cameras in addition to some interesting one-off uses of devices like geiger counters, geophones, ion generators, and white-noise generators. The equipment functioned much in the same way that I use it here; it basically is meant to sound scientific and lend credibility where there is little (thankfully I have the Internet on my side to tell me what these devices are supposed to do and some knowledge of the scientific method).

If the Ghost Hunters consciously or subconsciously used Edison and his spirit phone as inspiration for their work, that’s the extent of scientific influence on their process. Prominent skeptic Benjamin Radford puts it nicely, saying “…you may own the world’s most sophisticated thermometer, but if you are using it as a barometer, your measurements are worthless.”* The Ghost Hunters used all their high-tech equipment in a rather unscientific manner, misusing devices, making up functions, and drawing little connection between paranormal evidence and their gear. To the show’s credit, it almost acknowledged its faulty methodology, shifting focus to become almost as much about the TAPS team’s interpersonal relationships as it was about ghost-hunting (a docu soap in the vein of Deadliest Catch).

Despite the show’s questionable nature, it met with immense popularity and was even one of Syfy’s longest running reality shows. It also acted as a harbinger of a cultural movement, an indicator of renewed fascination with the paranormal that inspired both a host of other ghost-hunting shows and a surge in amateur ghost-hunting. In fact, Ghost Hunter’s popularity seems to mark a revival of the spiritualism of the 1920’s that Edison sought to tap with his spirit phone–a phenomenon that demonstrates a continued desire to bridge the gap between the living and the dead in our modern day.

*Radford, Benjamin. “Reality Check: Ghost Hunters and ‘Ghost Detectors’.” CSI: The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Center for Inquiry, 08 June 2008. Web. 27 Feb. 2017.