The idea of introducing paranormal into historic sites is a relatively new idea, at least in the U.S., and is still quite controversial at times. Almost always the concern is that the history will be lost and the site will simply become known as a ‘haunted house’ which is a legitimate concern.
So how does a historic site walk that fine line? Should they walk that fine line?
When I was working at a Philadelphia site in the early 90’s I had actually mentioned the idea of at least letting it leak out that this particular site was haunted. Not so much promote it nor have ghost hunts at the site but even then a ‘haunted’ site was likely to have more traffic than a non-haunted site. The idea was shot down. They were focused on making sure the site was recognized for its history and it’s importance in the founding of this nation (the site dates back to the 1690’s). Given that anything to do with paranormal was still not mainstream, I understood and life went on.
Then the TV shows happened. First Most Haunted out of England became a huge hit there and eventually made its way to this side of the pond where it became a hit here as well. Not soon after, Syfy introduced their American answer to MH with GhostHunters. And so the wars began. Yet despite all the bickering over who was faking evidence and who was better or science vs feelings, the real winners in the television wars were the sites featured each week, whether it be a castle or pub in England or a fort or restaurant in the US, tourism was up and so was income.
So began the dilemma for many sites. Gettysburg Battlefield has long since put their foot (and the law) down and made it illegal for anyone to conduct any ghost investigation on the battlefield – a very understandable stand given the reverence and respect it deserves. That, however, has not deterred those in town to build an entire tourism industry on hauntings.
In 2009 I was working with Delaware Ghost Hunters. We had been asked by Fort Delaware to help them with their October Paranormal events. It was a new venture for both of us. Each weekend visitors paid to come out to the island where they could be part of their own paranormal investigation. We were the paranormal team that would answer questions and help them out while the fort provided their own employees to talk about the history. In just that one month over $70,000 was raised to go towards funding the site! Fort Mifflin in Philadelphia averages about $40,000 per year with their paranormal programs. Most recently Graeme Park in Horsham, PA and Bolton Mansion in Levittown, PA have asked for help with establish programs for this additional, and much needed, income. Each program is set up with respect to history and with the intent of never allowing the paranormal aspect to overshadow the factual history and importance of these sites.
Still, despite the numbers, there are many board members of many historic sites that are 100% against the use of paranormal programs for raising funds. Are they wrong? No. Because of TV there are many paranormal groups that have formed consisting of members and founders who have no interest nor appreciation of nor respect for the history. These are the groups that give this venture a bad name. I, personally, have witnessed many times when some paranormal investigators have gone into a site and sat in chairs that they weren’t supposed to or picked up museum objects that were off limits and yes, even broken things and given the attitude of “we’re here to help you, this isn’t my fault”. Why do some feel that they have carte blanche to do whatever they want or touch whatever they want? Because they do it on TV. Unless special permission is given it is never okay to touch museum pieces whether it be china or furniture. It is actions like that by a few that have given sites and board members the absolute right to be hesitant about the paranormal community.
However, despite the mentioned concerns, the fact is in today’s economy many sites are up against the wall with choices of either close altogether and risk a house or building being torn down or destroyed by neglect or finding a way to meet in the middle with the paranormal world to bring in an additional income that could be the difference between open doors or padlocked doors.
Somewhere, somehow, the paranormal community and the historic community must find a way to work together to survive.
**All views are my own based on my own experiences.