Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Paranormal Misdiscoveries...

There is a ton of absolutely mind-boggling ghost hunting out there. And even more, there is an unending wealth of erroneous history, bad investigating, and sheer stupidity. Most of the time, I just breeze by these things and roll my eyes. But yesterday, after watching a half hour video by Discovery Paranormal, I just couldn't bite my tongue any harder. It was begging me to pick it apart... and shed some truth on the reality behind the "Lehigh Valley Train Crash of 1911".

The video starts off with a walk down railroad tracks to the site of the accident, which occurred on August 25, 1911 on a trestle near Manchester, New York, spanning the Canandaigua Outlet. Three passenger cars plunged off the bridge when a faulty steel rail broke apart under the train (which was traveling at excessive speed). According to Michael Angley, the narrator for the show, they also investigated the nearby roundhouse which was "the last place the passengers were before the crash." We'll get back to that major mistake later, but first let's get to the bridge investigation.

It's obvious from the terrible audio that he's using the same full spectrum HD camcorder I have (and didn't feel the need to bother with an external microphone). Heading down the tracks, he says that the train "went down in the ravine," which is a partial truth. Three of the 14 excursion cars went down; that is all. The team's psychic Tammy sensed "it's like fear... it's like 'oh my god, we're going down' kind of feeling... people were scared; I hear children crying and... crash." Really. At a train crash site? But then, Michael goes on: "...back then, those trains they had no safety devices; you know, it was 1911. We're talking about... you're going down 40 feet in a wood and metal coffin; essentially, you're dead."

The first railroad safety improvements (beginning with air brakes) were made in the 1870s. He makes 1911 rail travel sound downright rustic. But if you look at photos of the crashed cars, you will see that they were a far cry from the old wooden cars heated by wood stoves used in the 19th Century. Very little has changed with passenger car design since that time. Today, if you plunge 40 feet off a bridge in an Amtrak car, the only safety feature you can brag about is emergency exit windows. That doesn't help when you're already dead. Michael went on, "...they used that shop back there as the temporary morgue." Actually, the makeshift morgue was in the basement of a country furniture store in nearby Shortsville, just south of the crash site. But I digress.

After many more obvious revelations from the "psychic", the team headed down the ravine to the bottom where the crash happened. And they brought their trusty dowsing rods. Thanks to the wonders of high definition filming, you can watch as the hands of the dowser rock back and forth ever so slightly, causing the rods to cross over and over. And they don't even wait for a question sometimes! While busy talking to a ghostly little girl, the group fails to address an important point: this train carried a number of Civil War veterans and their families returning from Rochester. The brooches worn by unidentified women from the wreck may have been mourning jewelry bearing the initials of dead soldiers. You would think the psychic would have at least picked up on that much, or that someone had bothered to actually read all the newspaper stories about the accident.

But the ghosts were far too busy trying to rush the intrepid ghost seekers to the more important destination: the roundhouse to the west. Ah yes, the roundhouse; that place where passengers wait to board trains. Oh, that's a station... nevermind. For those of you who don't know, a roundhouse is where locomotives are stored and repaired. There is absolutely no reason any passenger would be wandering a roundhouse unless he or she was an employee of the railroad. Still, the team decided this was the most likely spot to look for ghosts (instead of the makeshift morgue, that actually would make any sense whatsoever).

"...if a crash happened here, the victims--or the passengers--would go back to the place that they knew the most, which is the round house [sic]." Inside the old locomotive warehouse (I mean "passenger waiting area/place they turned around trains"), they bring out recorders to capture really vague nonsensical "voices" and sounds. Michael says, "the historian said that the train was still, uh... that the platform was probably still here." Once again, roundhouses did NOT have station platforms. Oops. Just then, the psychic says the first thing that actually makes sense: "...there's a man here... he's really, um, getting people to work..." Finally, something that talks about what the building was really used for--locomotive repair.

The dowsing rods come out yet again and questions fly while the rods swing back and forth a lot. You can really see the hand movements better here (around 15 minutes into the video) when he's asking how many ghosts are inside the building. And the questions keep getting better. "It was a grand building at one time, wasn't it? It was round all the way around?" Both get a 'yes' from the rods. (A roundhouse is commonly a half circle or smaller, otherwise there'd be no place for locomotives to enter. Only a few full circle roundhouses were ever constructed.) There's just one minor problem with this place. The round house was built in 1916, five years after the accident.

The psychic (and by now I use the term loosely) goes on to tell about sensing the passengers. "It's like they were anxious to see their relatives... and they were going on a trip and they couldn't wait to get there. They were almost there..." Thanks for that obvious report. "This is where they changed over, they got a little rest and something to eat..." (This town was NOT a stop for the speeding train in 1911.) Here they bring out "Pete's Ghost Box" to communicate with the spirits. Of course, when using a Ghost Box, you don't actually need to pay any attention to what words are coming out of it (as the team wisely shows us). Never mind that it sounds more like an Ovilus than a "Frank's Box" sweeping radio frequencies. In sure it's just coincidence and they really know what their equipment is called.

After reading off the list of the dead (and getting different answers from the dowsing rods; watch for the hand movements yet again), they announced they "found a bunch of spirits that have not moved on" at the roundhouse. Michael ends it with "Who knows when a train will ever come for them." If they're waiting in the roundhouse, my guess is probably never. And so ends a bafflingly unresearched investigation. Could it have been worse? Absolutely. But this is one video that makes me wonder why some people call themselves serious "paranormal investigators" who, as the website states, are "dedicated" to "collecting hard evidence of paranormal activity."


Greg said...

Yikes. Great piece, Ken. Isn't it funny how the "research" of paranormal teams has slowly crept the way of the television producer? I think it probably goes that direction with every hobby (certainly plenty of people believe that pawning is as exciting as Pawn Stars shows), but it's always interesting to me to see the direction of amateur videos on this subject. This was was clearly looking for reactions, valuing their "entertainment" over information. Is that because they're trying to be on television or because they've been completely influenced by television?

Ken Summers said...

Well, this is one "television show" that seems to be lacking the "television" part (though their Facebook claims they received an award in 2011 for "television excellence"... I wonder what cable access network that was from.

If they were trying to be entertaining, they failed miserably. I could produce a better non-tv show than that. Everyone's trying to be on TV or in the limelight still. But most groups out there don't really do their research anyway. That takes work and fact-checking, and there's no time for that when all you need is a psychic to give you all the "real" answers.

I think what really bothers me is that so many people take a legend and run with it without actually looking back at the legend. Many stories started with something truthful, but they've been changed over time. Still, the least you can do when you investigate a "haunted roundhouse" is bother to look up at the cement beam above the door and see what year the place was built! That's not poor research. That's just total ignorance.

Cullan Hudson said...

Awesome, awesome, awesome. If you don't mind, in my head I'm picturing you smacking them with a rolled up newspaper--an old one... with all the facts...

Ken Summers said...

I'm just waiting for an angry email. LOL

Jeanne said...

Research about simple facts like what a roundhouse really is; when the building was constructed, what sort of safety features were in place at the time of the accident,etc. are all viable pieces of knowledge. Too bad they didn't check these facts.
It does get ridiculous when a psychic states the obvious.
Sigh....we have fun with these shows, but really...
Good post.