On television today is filled with a myriad of paranormal programs. In the guise of reality TV, they flood the airwaves with tales of ghost encounters and investigations into the validity of such legendary creatures as Bigfoot. The most amusing of these cheap-to-produce programs — which is why they are so common on cable TV — are those that attempt to show that ghosts exist. In shades of eerie green caused by the use of night-vision cameras, the so-called paranormal researchers enter a house or other haunted building and begin their quest for the unworldly ghosts that are haunting the worldly. Every noise or blurred camera shot is greeted with a tremble from the investigators, who announce that the abode is indeed being visited by malevolent spirits doomed to walk the earth.
The funniest parody of the ghost- hunter genre was a 2009 South Park episode entitled Dead Celebrities. It mocked the reality series Ghost Hunters and its stars, Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson. Ike, the adopted Canadian in the animated television series South Park, is haunted by Farrah Fawcett, David Carradine, Ed McMahon, Adam Goldstein and Billy Mays — scary in itself. Mays, the dead star of infomercial TV fame, repeatedly tries to sell Ike products from the afterlife, including ChipotlAway, which cleans blood from people’s underwear caused be eating food at the Chipolte Mexican Grill. The boys of South Park call in Hawes and Wilson to investigate, but they aren’t much help as the two paranormal investigators quickly become extremely frightened by their own overfraught imaginations and flee in terror after wetting their pants.
There’s much more to the parody, but what is mentioned above does show that all the paranormal shows have more to do with putting on an out-the-top performance rather than determining whether a haunting is actually occurring. Of course, no one can really prove the existence of ghost, since they are based more on belief than reality. But there’s one thing about harrowing tales of spectral hauntings, especially on Hallowe’en, and that is that they certainly grab the attention of viewers, readers and listeners. A good ghost story — whether you’re a believer or not (47 per cent of Canadians claim to believe in ghosts, according to a 2006 Ipso-Reid poll) — is quite entertaining.
Even the incredulous know the value of a good ghost story, which is why so many tales of the supernatural are reported in the mainstream media. Locally, such reports have been published since newspapers were first printed in Winnipeg.
George Ham (1847-1926), a Manitoba Free Press journalist and editor, as well as book author, was responsible for one of the first Winnipeg ghost stories to go into widespread public circulation. In his book, Reminiscences of A Raconteur, Ham related how he had lived from March 1877 to November 1880 in a haunted house on Main Street and Wesley Avenue, near the first Grace Church, owned by Captain George H. Young.
“During the night queer noises were heard,” wrote Ham. “The stove in the adjoining room rattled like mad, and investigation proved nothing. There was no wind or anything else visible that could cause a commotion. A door would slam and going to it, it was found wide open.
Ham spoke to Young about the strange noises, as the landlord had lived in the house before renting it out. “You’re hearing those noises too; well, I won’t raise the rent on that account,” was Young’s reply to Ham’s queries about the strange occurrences.
The alleged haunting was the topic of the article Canadian Ghost, which appeared in the December 9, 1882, Free Press. A reporter interviewed a former unnamed occupant of the house (it was actually Ham). Ham said he hadn’t seen a ghost, “but the spooks, or whatever they were, kind of boarded in the house, so to speak. At any rate, they made themselves at home, and kicked up such a racket some nights you’d think they were holding a political picnic or a caucus ... I was awakened every night by some indescribable noise. Sometimes I would get up six or seven times in the night and look through the house to ascertain what caused the noise, but I never found anything ...
One night Ham said he armed himself with a club and lit a lamp and “pranced the house” in anticipation of interrupting the noise-maker. “No sooner had I gone out of a room then the noise commenced in it; but on rushing back, I failed to locate any spooks.”
Ham said he and his wife at first blamed their cat, but when they locked it in their room with them, the noises still occurred in other parts of the house.
On one occasion, his wife woke Ham saying intruders were coming up the stairs. Ham hastily put on his pants, grabbed a lamp and hurried to the scene of the disturbance, but “nothing was to be seen. I rushed down the stairs armed with a poker, and although I searched the entire house thoroughly, found nothing.”
One evening he enlisted the help of Jack McGinn. “Just as I was showing him to bed about midnight, the kitchen seemed to be having a fight with the pantry adjacent. Jack, who had a revolver, rushed down stairs, and I climbed after him with the lamp. But just as we got to the kitchen door the noises ceased and were heard no more that night.”
Ham said his family soon became accustomed to the nightly noises, although that wasn’t the case with the next tenants, a man named Conlisk and his boarder, who stayed just one week, “and Conlisk himself ... quit before his month was up. You see they weren’t used to ghosts like I was.”
Ham said others had been visited by the spectres inhabiting the house. “I think Charley Bell had a siege one winter. Then there’s George Young ... and his family and several others well known in Winnipeg, who are just as skeptical on the subject of things supernatural as I am, but who, nevertheless, heard the noises, and notwithstanding their diligent search and investigation, never were able to discover their real cause.”
Ham believed that the house was haunted because it was built on an aboriginal graveyard, and immediately under the house were the graves of three women, “who, if they kicked up the racket, ought to be ashamed of themselves. No respectable corpse would act so outrageously right next door to a church, as the house was ...
“That’s all I know about ghosting and what I told you, you can depend upon as gospel truth — whether Winnipeg ever possessed such a desirable object as a ghost or not.”
Ham said the haunting ended when the house was moved to another location. But when other structures were being built on the site between 1876 and 1897, human remains were uncovered, providing evidence for the existence of an earlier aboriginal burial ground. Ham left it up to the reader to arrive at his or her own opinion about the alleged hauntings, but admitted it certainly made for a good ghost story.