Despite positive news about allegedly haunted locations opening their doors for paranormal tours and events, the value of such tourism is still a hotly debated topic.
Over the years, there have been many stories of so-called “ghost hunters” trespassing and committing a variety of other crimes including vandalism, theft, arson, underage drinking, and even grave robbery. Because of the sensational nature of these incidents, local media loves to hype them up. It is undeniable that certain individuals have gone to allegedly haunted locations to commit mischief, and others use this fact to paint everyone interested in legend tripping with a wide brush. They argue the simple act of writing about an allegedly haunted location invites harm to it.
I believe that legends and lore can be a great way to create interest in Local history. Critics assume stories on the Internet draw negative attention to these places, when in fact, they are already well known in the local community. Many have already suffered vandalism long before the internet or personal computers became widely available. Many of these stories developed during the 1960s and ’70s when these locations were used as party spots for teenagers who went there to drink, take drugs, or hook up.
None of that, however, has anything to do with people who are interested in folklore and ghost stories. The individuals involved in these crimes use ghost stories as an excuse for delinquent behavior. Many allegedly haunted locations are remote and unsupervised, perfect locations for mischief, but they do not have to have anything to do with ghost stories to attract petty crime.
In 2009, three teenagers were arrested in South Side Cemetery in Pontiac, Illinois as they were seen trying to tip over a headstone. Days earlier, as many as 60 headstones had been damaged at the same location. This cemetery was not associated with any legends or ghost stories.
Last summer, a par of thieves broke into Bobby Mackey’s in Wilder, Kentucky and stole dozens of bottles of alcohol. Bobby Mackey’s is famous for its ghostly tales, as well as appearing on TV programs like Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures. Although both their publicist and the local media billed the incident as “ghost hunters gone wrong,” there is no evidence that the men broke into the establishment looking for anything other than free booze. Blaming it on ghost hunters was just a convenient way to sensationalize the event and attract publicity.
The common denominator in most of these situations is an unsupervised location. Even if ghost stories were the catalyst, it was easy for the delinquents to gain access to these locations. Bobby Mackey’s was just the victim of random crime. It seems like the best thing to do for allegedly haunted locations would be to channel that interest into something positive. Allow people to satisfy their curiosity in a supervised environment, in a situation where everyone comes out a winner. Knee-jerk reactions against “ghost hunters” or people interested in the paranormal, blaming them for criminal activity, and attempting to close off locations, is not helpful—it may even be counter productive.
On the other hand, there have been times when allowing paranormal investigation teams to organize tours or have exclusive access to a location has led to unfortunate circumstances. Anyone familiar with the fiascos over Bachelors Grove Cemetery or Manteno State Hospital can attest to that. Even the best of intentions can turn sour as egos and professional jealousy get involved. That is why we would recommend ghost tours and paranormal events be organized solely by the owners of those establishments. When properly organized, these events can be beneficial for a museum, park, or business. It may even help raise money and volunteers for restoration, if necessary.
No one can stop people with bad intentions from doing bad things, but what you can do is try to remove opportunities for mischief in a controlled, carefully supervised environment in which people can satisfy their curiosity about the unknown. Many places have done this successfully, whether in special seasonal events or on a more consistent, yearly basis. The more this becomes the dominant paradigm, the easier it will be to separate acts of petty trespassing and vandalism from the simple act of visiting allegedly haunted locations.