Monthly Archives: February 2010

Sham Ghosts

I recently read a blog post for the CFI that spoke of how the television show ‘Ghost Hunters International’ had, on one of their shows made contact with what they claimed was the spirit of a woman reputed to haunt the location they had visited. The strange thing was that the woman said to haunt the location was actually a fictional character meaning that GHI had either:

a) Done the impossible, or,
b) Not done their homework (naughty, naughty them…)

The episode was called ‘The legend of Rose Hall” and it aired last week as the thirteenth episode of the second season. Rose Hall isn’t a person but in fact a place and the building is said to be haunted by the ghost of an evil woman named Annie Palmer who is often referred to as “The White Witch of Rose Hall.”

According to Ben Radford who wrote the revealing article for the Fortean Times and the Centre for Inquiry blog:

Annie was “beautiful beyond compare; she had a rich throaty voice with black penetrating eyes… Her complexion was smooth, and she could shift from a gentle smiling creature to a haughty, cruel, sensual, cat-like woman, gracefully exuding both anger and sensuality. Annie had strength besides her cruelty. She had the power of a mind trained in sorcery. She believed in spirits and had the ability to project death fears in her slaves.” As a young girl living in Haiti she had apparently become the favourite of a high voodoo priestess.

Apparently, she made her way through four husbands who all died in mysterious circumstances Annie not only left a trail of dead husbands; she also delighted in acts of unspeakable cruelty and perversion. Annie’s sadism was legendary, her wrath feared by all. She was said to enjoy watching the slaves being whipped from her balcony. Once, when a servant displeased her, Annie had the poor fellow’s head cut off and placed on a bamboo stake, left to rot in the tropical sun as a warning to others.

During their time at Rose Hall the GHI team claimed to contact a spirit they believed to be Annie Palmer through the various pseudo-scientific methods that they use and pass off as scientific. However it isn’t the pseudoscience involved in their show that I want to focus upon in this case. It’s actually the supposed ghost and Annie Palmer who is in reality a fictional character.

Apparently, Annie Palmer is in fact the title character in a famous Jamaican novel, The White Witch of Rose Hall, published in 1929 by Herbert G. de Lisser. Annie Palmer never existed, thus they presumably could not have found any evidence of her ghost. Rose Hall, “the most haunted house in the Western Hemisphere” and indeed one of “the world’s most haunted places” is in reality merely myth passed off by careless writers as fact.

What is does call into question though is how thorough television shows really research their cases before representing them as ‘true haunting’ to the viewing public.

Reading the blog made me recall a time when I visited The Black Swan hotel in Devizes in Wiltshire which is reputed to be one of the most haunted places in England. During a tea break at our time in the building the then landlady (who was terrified to be there and wouldn’t stay anywhere on her own) admitted that the back story to the supposed haunting had been made up by a local historian (who at the time did local ghost walks) and some local guy who claimed to be a medum (who also led ghost events in the building for a price a few years ago.)

What interested me the most about the admission was that the television show ‘Britains Most Haunted’ had visited The Black Swan for one of their episodes and had ran with the supposed back story that was admitted to us to be fake.

“But surely…” I pointed out, “Most Haunted have Richard Felix, the historian with them, wouldn’t he have known the story was sham?”

The landlady had laughed. “Richard Felix didn’t do any research, he simply went with the information we gave him and held a big book in front on camera to make it look as though he was studying from it.”

Surely both of these stories prove that you really cannot trust what you see on television – even if it seems convincing.