Each year as the end of October creeps near, Dianna Avena notices more crowds of curious people venturing out at night, hoping for a brush with the supernatural on one of her tours.
But the ghosts her Roswell Ghost Tour groups may encounter don't only appear in October and Halloween is just another day for paranormal investigators.
Sure, if they run a ghost tour on October 31st they may get more shrieks and screams from a scare-ready audience, but for them it’s just life. A life filled with trying to explain the unexplainable.
While no ghostly encounters are ever guaranteed, just walking through an old cemetery at night as wind rattles through the trees can be a spine-tingling experience.
As Avena and her other guides tell the haunting history of Roswell and stop by Antebellum plantations, mill homes and abandoned houses, sometimes spectators will feel a spectral chill. The blend of tragic history and ghost stories creates an atmosphere of expectation on the two-hour tour.
Avena, paranormal investigator and owner of Roswell Ghost Tour in Roswell, Georgia, says that while her interest in the paranormal is year round, she understands that many people only think to go on her ghost tour in October, around Halloween.
While paranormal enthusiasts agree that Halloween is one of their favorite holidays, the theatricality of costumes, ghouls and vampires is worlds apart from the realities of their job.
“We do like [haunted houses] but we feel that we are doing two completely separate things. We feel that way about other ghost tours as well. A lot of people prefer to have the 'street theater' tours where people are in costume and they’re speaking in Savannah accents and it’s more story telling – we feel those tours are completely different from the way our tour operates,” says Avena.
Paranormal investigators understand Halloween is a part of their jobs and use it to educate about their passion.
“We don’t feel put out. As a matter of fact I love that [people come around Halloween] because we educate quite a bit on our tours. We talk about the various types of hauntings, the various ways to experience a haunting and go as far to explain the labels of the different experiences. We do a lot of educating we feel and that’s a positive for people who don’t already know [about the paranormal],” says Avena.
Some ghost tour operators even take the time to get out their own costumes. Kris Williams, co-lead investigator of SyFy’s “Ghost Hunters International,” says that enthusiasts she knows completely get into the spirit of Halloween.
“It makes what we’re doing okay and normal. People love [the paranormal] especially around Halloween,” she says.
However, being linked with the spooky holiday does bring up misconceptions that paranormal enthusiasts hope to dispel. People like to be scared on Halloween. Paranormal investigations are more about waiting than scaring.
Patrick Burns, paranormal investigator and author of “The Other Side: Ghost Hunting and the Paranormal for Teens” emphasizes that researching hauntings involves a lot of waiting around for activity to happen.
“It can be hours upon hours of sheer boredom marked with moments of 'What the heck was that?'” he says.
You expect to go into a haunted house and have things jump out at you. Not so much for your neighbor’s house. The majority of what paranormal investigators do is to debunk hauntings, not prove them.
“Not every location is haunted – not every little bump in the night is a ghost. Sometimes it’s a raccoon in your attic,” says Williams
Sick of the theatricality of Halloween and want to get into real nitty-gritty paranormal investigation?
Paranormal enthusiasts all have the same advice: read, read, read. Williams suggests authors like Troy Taylor, who was recommended to her when she first started. Avena adds that many of her inquiries come from younger aspiring ghost hunters. She also suggests they read — and then consider training when they turn 18.
Halloween’s fake haunts are definitely not the most controversial issue plaguing paranormal investigators. They have science to deal with. And as much as paranormal investigators try, in today’s scientific climate they will always be hindered.
“The cruel irony is the more compelling your evidence, the clearer your video footage, the more crisp your still photograph or the better the audio recording you collect the more people, especially from your peers, will assume it’s been fabricated or hoaxed. As weird as that sounds we know that the evidence we collect from a scientific perspective is pretty poor. It really doesn’t withstand hardcore scrutiny when it’s presented as such,” says Burns.
After Halloween, life goes back to normal for the paranormal community—not good, not bad, just normal. With a general acceptance of the paranormal thanks to popular television, paranormal investigators still feel the love even after the rest of us pack up our costumes for next year.
“The television programs have certainly done a good job in that they have brought the paranormal into the mainstream to the average person who just 10 years ago most people in the population had no idea what a ghost hunter was – when I told them I was a ghost hunter I think a lot of people thought I was out poaching in the middle of the night with a flashlight in the middle of the woods somewhere. But of course, now “ghost hunter” is part of our pop culture vocabulary,” says Burns.