Rating: 4 Stars
Disclaimer: I believe in ghosts. I've lived in an apartment that I believe was haunted (though we always referred to the spirit as Ghost Baby due to its toddler-like voice and actions, so haunting is not really the right word. Maybe the right phrase is 'other-worldly guest'). I've had experiences both at the Villisca Axe Murder House (real name) in Villisca, Iowa and The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado that have led me to believe that ghosts do exist. This review will reflect that belief. If you have a different opinion, I am cool with that. What I am not cool with is belittling or rude comments because our beliefs are different.
I've debated for a long time between a three star or a four star rating. There are so many positives going for this book and it is easily one of the best books about paranormal investigations that I've read yet. The negative though is that the author at several times pointed out the flaws and problems with methods of other teams - both that he worked with, and teams as seen on television (think Ghost Adventures and Ghost Hunters). I view this as a problem in general with investigation books, not just this one alone. I get it, Ghost Adventures is especially ridiculous. No serious investigator watches these doofuses and thinks, "Wow, these guys are legit!" Mostly my issue is with Zak and how he thinks every ghost is cussing at him and wants to kill him, or follows him home and haunts him. But the main issue I have with this book and others of the genre is a lot of time, pointing out said flaws ends up coming across as being judgmental or even condescending in past instances I've read. I do understand the need to clear up misconceptions that reality shows might present, but too much of it comes across in a negative manner.
As I previously mentioned, so far this is one of the best books on paranormal investigations that I have read. The author included several pieces of possible evidence captured on different investigations - both photographs and video/audio evidence which can be easily accessed (I read this on my Kindle). My only complaint is that I would like to see the photos in color and as this was on my Kindle, they were in black and white. I also very much appreciated the author limited himself in sharing his personal experiences as they occurred at each site. He addressed this directly, stating that he did not want color experiences for anyone else or bias them in any way by offering explanation of his own tat had no video/audio/photo back-up. This is highly important to me, as whether we want to believe it or not, we are very impressionable in situations like this and it would be easy for a future explorer to go to one of these locations, think about the author's experience, and then ONLY look for those same types of experiences too.
One of the strongest aspects of this book involves the recounting of the history of each place that the author investigated. He not only covers the history of each in regards to reports of paranormal activity, but general history as well. Anyone who has read a few of my reviews knows how important contemporary resources are to me - diaries, newspaper accounts, eyewitness testimonies, etc. I feel they add credibility to any non-fiction text and this book is no different. Not only has the author helped to build up the credibility of paranormal investigation as a legitimate field, but he gives a lot of context to readers who may be unfamiliar with the sites he explores (I personally was pleased to read about numerous sites I was already familiar with - the Villisca house, Gettysburg, and the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, just to name a few). I especially loved the history of Trans-Allegheny, including a list of numerous reasons as to why someone could have been admitted to the asylum in its heyday. Most of the reasons are just so silly now, people were really committed for reasons that most certainly did not make them insane - laziness, NOVEL READING, or greed. here's the list:
(This photograph was taken from Snopes. The article is here to further read about what it actually means)
Another strength the book has going for it is the section dedicated to the technology necessary to conduct an investigation. Naturally there are pros and cons for each, which the author addresses. He indicates his own personal preferences, as well as cost-effectiveness - some of the pieces of equipment are pretty expensive, and are not necessarily proven to work the way their creators say they will.
I was surprised to see Villisca in the book, it is a small town that not many have heard of (until the guys from Ghost Adventures went and made a mockery of it all, as usual). A friend and I had driven to Villisca a few years ago to visit the house where 8 people - 6 children - were murdered in the middle of the night with an ax in 1912. All 8 were found bludgeoned to death in the beds where they slept - Josiah and Sarah Moore, their four children Herman, Katherine, Boyd and Paul, and two of Katherine's friends who spent the night, Lea and Ina Stillinger. Even during the day, it was clear there is paranormal activity going on here. Like the author, I will not share specifics of my personal experiences here so as not to color anyone else's experience, but the attic and the landing where Josiah and Sarah slept (and you can still see the ax marks in the slanted ceiling) are places of interest.
As an aside, reading about the way some people behave at Gettysburg today is appalling. There is zero respect for the dead and many people seem to have forgotten the meaning or the fact that it is a CEMETERY where the bloodiest battle of the Civil War took place. But no, let's go for a round of frisbee golf and take our dogs to play. because, that makes sense. Morons.
After the text of the book, the first Appendix lists several locations around the country where paranormal activity has been reported. They are listed alphabetically, and give a brief backstory of each. I was happy to see the Stanley listed here. Estes Park, Colorado is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been and the Stanley did not disappoint when I was there a few years ago. This is another place I would definitely say is haunted - this is based both on my personal experiences that occurred there and photographs taken while exploring as well. But it felt very different from Villisca. Villisca felt sad, and deeply depressing - as it should anyway even if it did not have paranormal activity occurring. The Stanley, on the other hand, feels anything but. It was a peaceful (except for the loud footsteps on wooden floors at all hours of the night - strange, since all the floors are now carpeted and have not been made of wood for decades) and happy.
The second Appendix is another helpful resource, especially for those interested in joining the field of paranormal investigation. It includes, alphabetically by state, lists of different groups one could contact - I assume either with an investigation need or for possible membership.
Overall, there are far more positives than negatives with this one (though the negative is important to address - it is a fine line between pointing out the absurdity of some of the ghost adventuring reality shows and sounding condescending. Most books end up doing both and the latter will alienate people who might truly be interested in investigating, not just thrill-seeking). I found it to be well-written and well-researched and I feel like if more books about the paranormal were written in this vein, the field might one day be regarded more legitimately.