Photo from old movie of people holding a séance

Sitters gather around the séance table, hoping for a sign.

While they are no longer at their peak, ghost investigation shows are still pretty popular on television. We follow haunted histories tail investigators as they attempt to make contact with the departed. This is not a new thing. In fact, people have been enjoying spiritual entertainment for as far back as we can remember.

Hamlet confronts the ghost of his father and learns terrible news.

Hamlet confronts the ghost of his father and learns terrible news.

Places have had legends of strange goings-on, souls who met a tragic end or have unfinished business who seem to linger, creating confusion for the living. Clearly this idea was well established when Shakespeare wrote Hamlet. Hamlet’s confrontation with the ghost of his murdered father is what sets the whole story into motion.

Ghost stories around the camp fire are an old tradition, and kids of all eras have dared each other to go into forbidden spaces on the chance they might encounter the ghost or monster reported there. In the 19th century, however, a different approach to encountering these spirits led to a whole new way of thinking. Like the ghost-hunting shows of today, some people took it very seriously, while others explored it as a fascinating and very diverting form of entertainment.

The history of the séance, which evolved into what we think of as ghost-hunting today, had its humble roots with the Fox sisters, some young girls who manifested mysterious raps and other signs of communication with the spirits. Perhaps others had done this before, but something that was new here was the rise of media. In a time where someone would go their whole lives in a radius smaller than some people’s daily commute there was suddenly forms of communication that allowed astonishing stories to reach the population at large. When news got out about what the Fox sisters could do people wanted to see. They wanted to experience it. Suddenly it seemed that others could do this to. People eagerly read these accounts and wanted to experience them as well.

Line drawing of hands on a planchette

The Ouija board we know today evolved from this automatic writing tool called a planchette.

While professional mediums roamed the country, giving demonstrations in lecture halls, many took to their own parlors to attempt spirit contact. There was no denying that some people seemed to have a stronger connection with the spirit world, but the possibility was that anyone could find themselves in contact. Tools like the Ouija board and other instruments for detecting and communicating with the dead were introduced. Anyone could play, and many did.

While a lot of the controversy surrounding spiritism revolves around whether or not these manifestations were real a lot of people frankly didn’t care. They enjoyed the stories and experiences of spookiness and the idea that there was something mysterious that was more interesting than the dreary work and frustrating politics that was the center of everything else. (Sound familiar?)

Of course, as media became more wide-spread and technology evolved the majority of people turned to television and movies for their spooky experiences. A handful of people have always stayed connected to these things and the faithful have continued to explore their ghostly connections in communities like Lilydale, NY. The rise of the ghost-hunting reality shows started a new interest and people are trading in their Ouija boards and ringing bells for infrared cameras and EMF meters.

Now, as then, people see this as an enormous amount of fun.

I have been interested in these phenomena for as long as I can remember. I do have a genuine interest in the paranormal and I continue to explore for my own answers. But I can’t deny how wonderful it is to gather together and enjoy some spirit theatre, ghostly entertainment. With October coming up a lot of people are thinking about the spooky (though many of us carry Halloween in our hearts all year round). Let me introduce you to the world of live, haunted entertainment with a variety of offerings that can be tailored or combined for your party, event, or outing. Contact me to arrange one of these spirited activities:

  • Private ghost tour — Austin has a number of fascinating haunted locations, several which are convenient to downtown. Let me lead you through the places and the stories, with a stop off here and there for a beverage or dinner. It won’t be like the herd-tours that you see in cities. This will be a personal event that engages everyone.
  • Séance — This is where it all began, a group of people gathered together, hoping to make contact. I have a variety of approaches to fit different moods and goals. I enjoy recreating the atmosphere of the Victorian experience, but I also have techniques that draw in more modern equipment. These can be performed in private homes or other venues.
  • Ghost exploring — If you really want to take your cameras, recorders and devices and go on a ghost hunt I can help you realize your dream.
  • Haunted artifacts — If you don’t want to go quite so deeply, I can give you a private exhibition of some of my haunted artifacts and even teach how to find and care for such things yourself.

Remember, these things are not just for Halloween. In fact, that is my peak season, so that’s when it’s hardest and most expensive to book things. If you enjoy spooky books and movies or know someone who does, consider booking these activities to enjoy ghostly fun any time of the year. The Victorians certainly did!

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