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The Whittington Hospital Ghost

This article was originally published on the on January 18th 2012  on the London24 website by Kate Ferguson (reporter).  You should be warned however, that It starts off quite clichéd. Here is a small excerpt:

 “A bolt of light flashes across a corridor, and the illuminated face of a young boy appears out of the dark. This is the mysterious image which ghost hunter Leonard Low says proves that something paranormal lies beneath the Whittington Hospital in Highgate”.

See what I mean? Of course, none of these things would have actually happened, it is called dramatic licence. It is quite obvious, that these “details” were chosen to flesh-out the back story of the image after Leonard, or perhaps Kate viewed it (whoever had creative control of the article). This is quite normal in dramatic storytelling, and we have experienced a similar situation with The Feeley Case. Here is the original article for those interested.

Leonard Low.

Here is the image that Leonard Low took

So what happened, and what is the story behind this image? Well it seems Leonard was visiting a friend (ex partner) who was having surgery at the hospital when he was “told by nurses of a strange presence in the 19th Century arches deep underground”. Quite how that particular conversation arose, I don’t know.  So “Armed with his camera and accompanied by a curious Whittington administrator, he descended down to the basement to investigate the paranormal tales”.

Leonard was quoted as saying:

“Nobody had been in this area for years,” said the 44-year-old. “The ground was crystallised like snow.  We began walking down this long corridor with files all around us. We walked for around five or six paces when we saw something down the corridor moving. There was something hovering in front of us and getting closer and closer. We saw this trail of light – it was flashing all over the place. Then I saw the ghostly image of the young boy.”

I think we can add a modicum of rationality to this story, the “snow” that Leonard saw, was undoubtedly formations caused by the capillary/wicking action of the concrete, and subsequent salt precipitation. The rest of the tale, I have a really hard time believing. Hovering and moving objects? Trails of light? Flashing? The timely appearance of a ghostly child?

You can clearly see what has happened here in this photograph. After it was taken, something looked odd in it. So an entire tale was constructed to bolster the story into something far more dramatic. You see there are several flaws in this story. In the image, we can clearly see a dark corridor, with a light source at the end. It first appears to be an open doorway (but the image is cropped). The “trail of light” appears to be a motion blur of the light at the end of that corridor. This would be caused by taking the image while moving and having an incorrect ISO setting for those lighting conditions. Alternatively, it could even be a long exposure with motion. Here is a great example of that:

We can also see that the details of the “head of the child” is actually a light fitting on the ceiling, and the area that would be the “eyes” is the lower edge of the lampshade. There is also a large volume of light from the flash being returned to the lens, from the nearby filing system on the right. This adds even more light pollution to the camera aperture. However, this is all but obscured by the amazingly bright yellow light, which is the flash reflecting off a metallic surface, which appears to be a box of some description that has been placed on top on a step ladder (see larger image).

The full unedited image would be invaluable in establishing exactly how this was achieved, but unfortunately, the only image readily available is quite small, edited and overly compressed.

That should be enough information to help you to “make up your own mind” about this image, but what I am most disappointed by, is the decent into sketchy historical references to provide a basis for this “apparition”. We are used to seeing this type of pseudo-history from Most Haunted, and what makes it completely unnecessary, is that hundreds of people die in hospitals every day.

“The Whittington hospital is steeped in history, dating back to the 15th Century when a leper colony was founded there. Mr Low believes the ghostly apparition of a young boy who appeared before him was the spirit of a child called William who lost his life there in these early years”.

One might ask how Leonard knows this to be true?.

This story was also published on the thisislondon.co.uk website, where they add additional details as to where Leonard got this information.

Extract:

“With the help of analysis from mediums, he believes that the pictures depict a 10-year-old boy called William suffering from leprosy. He said: “I would love to go back. I’m fairly convinced it’s a ghost, the place is haunted. The stories I’ve heard were from nurses who have been there for 40 years.”

Mediums? Well that is totally reliable information then, given their previously high success rates. It is almost like the medium might have read this: http://www.whittington.nhs.uk/

“It was not the first time the father-of-two has felt the presence of those beyond the grave. When Mr Low was 21 an apparition of his sister in her nightgown appeared to him – a fortnight after she died”.*

**This does sound remarkably like a Crisis Apparition (Apparitional experience).  They are allegedly quite common among surviving family members who are recently bereaved.

“Describing the extraordinary pain he experiences when in the presence of a ghost, Mr Low said: “I get pins and needles in the back of my head and I find it hard to see. It is as if my skin knows there is something there.” NB: (You would be forgiven, after viewing the above publicity still of Mr Low, to assume he may also get those same pins on the forehead).

It seems Leonard Low is not only a “ghost hunter”, but also claiming to be a “medium” or “sensitive”.

I realised that there were several aspects of this story that should be checked, so I called Whittington Hospitals press department, and spoke to their press spokesperson. In the interests of making this article sound as cool as Kate Fergusons, we shall call him Mr X.

I asked Mr X a few questions, and with a blistering efficiency uncommon in the NHS, he researched all of my answers. I asked Mr X “was it really a hospital administrator who accompanied Leonard to the basement area”? The term bothered me, because I assumed that a senior hospital administrator would be a very busy person indeed.  Mr X assured me that a hospital administrator had indeed accompanied Mr Low to the basement, but the administrator was actually a secretary.

I asked Mr X, if “a spokeswoman for the hospital said they are aware of reports of a ghost lurking there”? Mr X also assured me this was true, that some members of staff believe the place to be haunted, because they sometimes hear noises they cannot explain. No surprises there. I think this is true of most large public sector work locations. I myself have been told ghost stories by nursing staff.

My final question was perhaps the most important one. You see this is not the first time Leonard Low has been in the press. Way back on April 19th 2008, The Mirror ran an article titled “Hospital in ghost cover-up”. In the article Leonard Low claims that he was banned from the hospital after he photographed a spook in the building’s basement. Mr Low claimed that the Spiritual and Pastoral Care department of the Whittington Hospital had banned him from returning “on religious grounds“.

Mr X spoke to the spiritual and pastoral care department and they remembered Mr Low, but the person who liaised to Mr Low originally has since moved on. After contacting this person, they did not recall Mr low being banned, or banning him themselves. This was quite an accomplishment on the part of Mr X, because this information was from five years ago. The Mirror article goes on to say “Leonard Low took the snap in an area which used to house smallpox wards while researching for a new book. Draw from that what you will, but lo and behold, the tale of the Whittington ghost is explored in Mr Low’s new book, the True Story of the Pittenweem Poltergeist.

An open letter to Thorpe Park

Dear Thorpe Park,

Here at the ‘HQ’ of the British Anomalistic Research Society (or BARsoc for short) we’ve been made aware of several news stories that are popping up about you having to move the latest ride that you are building because people working on its construction have been witnessing strange things. Things that, it seems to have been decided, are ghosts.

This must have been very inconvenient for you at the park, especially with the Tourist season soon to begin…

As one of the founding members of BARsoc I felt I must write to you to let you know that the ‘paranormal detection agency’ that the Thorpe Park bosses called in are, quite frankly, talking out of their arses.

You see, there is no testable definition for a ghost, thus, one cannot detect ghosts, or anything that is defined as paranormal. Afterall, the word ‘paranormal’ basically means ‘that which cannot be explained using the known rules of science‘. If someone can detect something paranormal, that thing is not paranormal anymore. You can probably therefore see why calling yourself a ‘paranormal detection agency’ is misleading in the extreme.

Also, I would like to take this moment to try to dispel your fear about the ride being built upon a burial ground. The ride may very well have been built upon the site of an ancient burial ground, but there is absolutely nothing to worry about because, you see, the people who used to be buried there are dead.

They don’t know that you are building upon their old burial ground as their brains no longer work.

It seems to me that the people who believe that building upon such burial grounds causes spiritual unrest may have watched Steven Spielberg’s ‘Poltergeist’ one too many times, if you see what I mean.

I noticed that the ‘paranormal detection agency’ the Thorpe Park bosses called in are quoted as saying:

“Results were picked up immediately, with orbs, ghostly images in photography and ouija reaction results being strongest around the site where they were proposing to build Storm Surge. The results were so strong we felt the only explanation could be that an ancient burial ground or settlement was being disturbed, prompting the extra paranormal activity.”

I would like to take this moment to let you know that everything this person has said shows that ghosts are at your theme park have actually been shown not to be paranormal in nature by people who typically know what they’re talking about and don’t copy what they see off the telly.

Orbs, for example, are actually what professional photographers call ‘circles of confusion’, and they are typically out of focus objects in front of the camera. You can read a great summary of this by visiting the ‘Orb Zone’ website that shows how orbs are really not spooky at all. The ouija board is also an outdated piece of equipment that people use to (not always knowingly) reinforce their personal beliefs. You can read more about that on our very own website, and I think your paranormal detection man may have fooled himself as well as you.

We would also be interested in seeing the photos he claims show ghosts because, quite frankly, they might be an actual scientific breakthrough which, as you can imagine, is rather important and significant.

You may now be thinking something similar to:

“‘Oh darn, we have gone to great lengths to get this paranormal detection chap into our humble theme park and he has really made us look rather foolish because now we are moving this huge ride which is costing us money to do so, and in all reality there is nothing really to suggest that the odd things going on were ghosts at all. Oh bother, oh bother!”

Well don’t fear because BARsoc are here! We would like to offer our services to you, for free. Our researchers are more than happy to come and talk to the people who have witnessed strange things at the construction site and see if we can work out what is causing the strange things that have been reported.

We don’t use ouija boards, we don’t think orbs are ghosts, we don’t call ourselves a ‘paranormal detection agency’ and we will not mislead you. We will even do things in complete confidence because we know how terrible it can be to have such negative press – what with it coming up to that time when people are going to be visiting your theme park soon.

What with all this hoohah about ancient burial grounds and unsettled ghosts, the last thing you want to happen is for people to have pictures in their minds that equate your theme park with that poor house in ‘Poltergeist’, right?

You can email us if you really want to get to the bottom of the spooky things that are happening in your theme park.

You know where to find us and we look forwards to hearing back from you.

With kindest regards,

Hayley Stevens Founder of the British Anomalistic Research Society. (BARsoc)

danger! danger! misinformation!

erYou would think that anyone claiming to be rational and skeptical in their approach to investigation would be unlikely to spread misinformation and, if anything, they would fight misinformation being spread by the less rational people out there.

However the sad reality is that some people who do claim to be rational and skeptical in their approach to their research do promote misinformation and sometimes don’t even realise it. This is a scary truth.

If somebody claims to be credible – or pretends to be if they believe it will made them seem more professional – and they start talking about ideas that seem scientific and factual then people will assume that they know exactly what they are talking about, and that the ideas these people are promoting are true.

It’s bad enough in the paranormal research field when people who don’t have an ounce of common sense or rationalism in them spread misinformation – yet, these people who typically hold some sort of bias due to belief promote such pseudo-theories that are easy to spot. “Orbs are paranormal”, “ouija boards are evil”, “ghosts use our energy” – all of which can be read about on our ‘Fact vs. fiction’ page.

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Ghost stereotypes?

ghouulIt’s quite evident when one reads some books aimed at those with an interest in the paranormal – or even if you visit websites about the paranormal/ghost phenomena that there appears to be a trend to stereotype the kinds of ghosts that haunt our homes and buildings.

If you ever read a paranormal book/website you’ll probably be provided with a lot of information about the different types of ghosts, their characteristics and behavours.

‘Doppleganger’, ‘Poltergeist’, ‘Shadow ghost’, ‘grey lady’ – These are just some of the ‘types’ of ghosts, apparently

These classification seem to be just more information that is copied down in a parrot fashion by ghost hunting teams who cannot be bothered to conduct any proper research for themselves – it almost appears as though people who display such information about ghost stereotypes just read it, take it as a fact without even looking into the information for validity, and then copy and paste it into their website.

The truth is that no ghost/spirit – call it what you will, has ever been documented in a controlled condition. There is no documented evidence that suggests that ghosts exist. So ask yourself, if there is no documented evidence that ghosts do exist – how can these ghost hunters class ghosts into different types?

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