We now present some useful tips for paranormal enthusiasts on taking temperature readings during field investigations of haunts. Several of these tips can be used in conjunction with those we offered in our previous primer on magnetic fields (Williams, Ventola, & Wilson, 2007).
1.) Always take note of the area you are measuring to make sure that any notable changes in temperature that you pick up are not due to natural causes, such as air conditioners or heaters, open ventilation ducts, wall cracks, or weather changes. This will better ensure that the change you are getting is more likely to be an anomalous one, rather than a false one. Although this tip is pretty much common sense, it is also perhaps the most important one to follow. The difficult thing about using temperature as a variable to monitor for the occurrence of haunt phenomena is that it can have so many natural and artificial sources. The closer you pay attention to your surroundings and remain aware, the better the chance you have of ruling out conventional sources. As you begin to do this, the possibility that you are getting something anomalous, and thus something more interesting, begins to go up. Be sure to note down any conventional sources that you may in your investigation log or report. Also, for outdoor haunt sites, be sure to note down the general weather conditions (e.g., cloud cover, presence of wind, etc.) throughout the period of the field investigation, and it might be a good idea to check the local weather reports on TV or in the newspaper prior to the investigation. The more observant and careful you are, the more seriously others will consider your findings.
2.) Be sure to take baseline temperature readings of the haunt site in order to determine how cold (or even warm) the site initially is. It can be helpful to compare readings taken from haunt areas where ghostly phenomena has been reported with readings taken from nearby areas where no phenomena has been reported (“control” areas). This is one basic way to test whether or not haunt sites may be colder (or even warmer) than ordinary sites. Once you have a baseline established, you can compare it to other readings taken at a later time to determine whether or not a temperature change has indeed occurred over time, particularly if a haunt occurrence happens to take place. Measurements should first be recorded throughout the haunt site to determine the average background temperature of the site, as well as locate any areas where there might be sources that could naturally produce a change. If you have a floor plan of the haunt site available, you might note down the readings on it, along with the locations of ventilation ducts, air conditioners and heaters, windows, and other sources where air might leak into the site. This practice will also help in accomplishing the goal in Tip #1. Houran and Brugger (2000) have suggested that measurements at haunt areas should also be compared to those taken in a “control” area where no haunting phenomena have been reported. This can help to establish that the readings taken from haunt areas are anomalous, and not just part of the regular background atmosphere of the area. Field studies by parapsychologists have produced some results to suggest that haunt sites may be colder than control sites (e.g., Terhune et al., 2007), but more data on this is needed to further and better test this hypothesis. Paranormal enthusiasts can be a major help in doing this. Also, always be sure to note your units of measure (i.e., Celsius or Fahrenheit)8, for both accuracy and clarity.
3.) To improve accuracy in temperature readings during the investigation, invest in a good digital thermometer. While standard mercury bulb thermometers can certainly be useful in field investigations to take general background readings at haunt sites, the late parapsychologist Karlis Osis (1982) once observed that these thermometers may be too slow and crude to detect any fleeting changes in temperature that may result from haunt phenomena. Today’s digital thermometers are capable of registering such slight changes in real-time temperature with a fairly good amount of accuracy, and thus they may be a bit more reliable and resourceful. A good digital thermometer that is relatively inexpensive (and which also measures humidity) is the Model 63-1032 Indoor/Outdoor Thermometer with Hygrometer, made by Radio Shack. Non-contact infrared thermometers, such as the hand-held Raynger series made by Raytek, also allow temperature to be monitored accurately and at a slight distance; they are most useful for wide-open spaces, but also tend to be quite expensive. Thermovision cameras and lenses, which visually display temperature fields in an array of false colors (Andrews, 1977), have also recently become relatively inexpensive with improving technology, and can be used for monitoring temperature changes within the space of a room. Some portable ones are made by FLIR Systems, Inc, but they may still be a bit on the pricey side for most paranormal enthusiasts.
4.) Consider taking magnetic field readings alongside temperature readings to see if any changes in temperature are accompanied by changes in magnetic field strength, as would be predicted by the Peltier effect. Although the Peltier effect is a plausible mechanism for cold spots in haunt sites, additional data are needed to further test its validity. Again, paranormal enthusiasts can be of help in accomplishing this. While collecting and noting down temperature readings, other members of your group might also collect and note down magnetic field readings in your vicinity. Since most fields produced by the Earth are DC magnetic fields, it is recommended that the Tri-Field Natural EM Meter (the one with the blue label) be used to take magnetic readings (especially since this meter registers changes in the local geomagnetic field, which may result from an electrical current as in the Peltier effect). However, some seismic phenomena may also sometimes produce AC electromagnetic fields, so taking readings with the Tri-Field Broadband Meter (the one with the tan label) should also be done from time-to-time. (If possible, you might have members of your group take readings from both meters while you take temperature readings, since the two meters measure different kinds of magnetic fields; one meter may detect a field change that the other is unable to.) We refer the reader to our previous primer on magnetic fields for more information about taking magnetic field readings (Williams, Ventola, & Wilson, 2007).
As a basic way to look for a possible relationship between temperature and magnetic field strength, you might consider plotting each set of readings (one for temperature, one for magnetic field) in a line graph drawn on a piece of graph paper, and then compare the two graphs to see if they show any similar patterns (such as both showing a sharp increase, or “spike,” at a certain time) with each other. Just as a picture is worth a thousand words, a basic line graph of your data can say a lot about the trends occurring over time at a haunt site.
Although this primer is not meant to be comprehensive, we hope that it will be helpful for paranormal enthusiasts when it comes to measuring temperature, and that it will serve as yet another stepping stone for those who wish to take their approach to haunting investigations a step further.
8. Fahrenheit is most commonly used temperature unit in the United States, and is related to Celsius by the equation F = (5/9)*C + 32 degrees, where C is the temperature in Celsius.
Andrews, A. K. (1977). The use of instrumentation to detect temperature fields in haunting, poltergeist, and experimental PK investigations. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 71, 333 – 334.
Houran, J., & Brugger, P. (2000). The need for independent control sites: A methodological suggestion with special reference to haunting and poltergeist field research. European Journal of Parapsychology, 15, 30 – 45.
Osis, K. (1982). New equipment for ASPR research on apparitions. ASPR Newsletter, 8, p. 1.
Terhune, D. B., Ventola, A., & Houran, J. (2007). An analysis of contextual variables and the incidence of photographic anomalies at an alleged haunt and a control site. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 21, 99 – 120.
Among the various kinds of subjective perceptual experiences that one may report having in a reputedly haunted house, one of the most common may be sensing a noticeable change (typically a drop) in the ambient background temperature within the space of a room (Coghlan, 1998 – 1999; Osis, 1982; Roll & Persinger, 2001; Roll et al., 1996; Turner, 1970). These apparent “cold spots” may occur spontaneously and only be a fleeting feeling, or they may be persistent over time, seeming to be a characteristic part of the haunted locale and perhaps adding to its mystique.
In a related manner, some sightings of apparitions or ghosts have been accompanied by sudden feelings of cold. In his classic book Apparitions, psychical researcher G. N. M. Tyrrell (1953/1961) had noticed a fair degree of consistency across the reports of witnesses who had such feelings, with some stating that it was like, “...a jug of cold water poured on the nape of my neck,” or “...as if the blood was like ice in my veins,” or “...a cold, shivering feeling came over me” (p. 73). Other witnesses gave statements suggesting that the cold sensation had emanated from the apparition itself: “As the figure passed we distinctly felt a cold air,” or “Her kiss was like a waft of cold air upon my cheek” (p. 73).
A good illustrative example within the annals of psychical research of how cold sensations play into apparitional and haunting phenomena can be found in the “Morton Ghost” case, documented and reported by 19-year-old medical student Rosina C. Despard (Morton, 1892).1 From about 1882 to 1889, the Despard family repeatedly saw the apparition of a woman dressed in a widow’s outfit that would wander through their house in a specific, repetitive pattern.2 Some of the family also occasionally heard footsteps, and on one such occasion, the footsteps seemed to be pacing up and down the second-floor landing. This drew the attention of Rosina’s three sisters and two family maids, who emerged from their rooms with lit candles in their hands to see who was causing the ruckus. As the unseen footsteps passed them, they reported feeling “‘a cold wind,’ though their candles were not blown out” (p. 320). This suggests that the wind may have been a subjective feeling, and not a physical breeze. On another occasion, when Rosina’s sister Edith, her mother, and a maid heard footsteps pass close by them on the landing, they suddenly felt an “icy shiver” (p. 325). Edith herself had an encounter with the spectral widow on another night, while she was singing in the drawing room. She stopped in the middle of her song when she suddenly “...felt a cold, icy shiver, and I saw the figure bend over me, as if to turn over the pages of my song” (p. 325).
Are all such cold sensations during apparitional and haunting phenomena purely in the mind of the witnesses (as the candle example in the Morton case suggests), or do some have an actual physical basis in the environment? To find out, some parapsychologists have taken temperature measurements during field investigations of haunted locations to see if they differ much from control locations where no ghosts or haunt phenomena have been reported. In a similar fashion, many amateur enthusiasts have taken readings with thermometers as part of their attempts to search for spirits in ostensibly haunted locations (Coghlan, 1998 – 1999).
To help guide them along in their efforts, we are providing at Public Parapsychology another basic primer – another “crash course,” if you will – that may be useful in conducting their haunt investigations. Over the next few days, we will give a brief overview of what parapsychologists have learned so far about temperature in relation to haunting experiences, and provide some useful tips on how to properly collect and interpret temperature readings during field investigations. This primer can be used along with our previous one on magnetic fields (Williams, Ventola, & Wilson, 2007), which it is meant to supplement.
1. For reasons of anonymity, Rosina Despard had reported the case under the pseudonym “Miss R. C. Morton,” hence its name. Since the house at the center of the case was located in Cheltenham, England, it also came to known by some as the “Cheltenham Ghost” case. The details of the case were independently verified by the prominent psychical researcher Frederic W. H. Myers, who stated that, with one minor exception (an elderly man couldn’t recall one event that had happened 6 years before), he “...found no discrepancy in the independent testimonies” (Morton, 1892, p. 311). Incidentally, Rosina Despard went on to become a practicing physician in forensic medicine, which was quite an achievement for a woman in the 1880s.
2. The Morton ghost’s pattern of movement would begin on the second floor of the Despard home, usually after Rosina would hear someone at her bedroom door. Upon opening it, she would see the ghostly widow walking down the landing hallway towards the stairs. The figure would then descend to the ground floor and enter the drawing room, standing at the window on the far side for a time. Then it would exit the room and head for a passage leading to the garden, where it would regularly vanish. On rare occasions, when other people or objects were in its way, the apparition would either simply pass through them, or would make slight deviations in its path to avoid them (Morton, 1892, p. 317, 321). Attempts by Rosina to corner the apparition were unsuccessful, as it would simply disappear (p. 322). Although it initially appeared “...so solid and life-like that it was often mistaken for a real person,” according to Rosina (p. 321), the spectral widow seemed to gradually fade with time, and had completely vanished by 1889. Inquiries by the Despard family suggested that the apparition may have represented the second wife of a previous occupant of the house.
Coghlan, A. (1998 – 1999). watch. New Scientist, 160, 42 – 45.
Morton, R. C. (1892). Record of a haunted house. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 8, 311 – 332.
Osis, K. (1982). New equipment for ASPR research on apparitions. ASPR Newsletter, 8, p. 1.
Roll, W. G., & Persinger, M. A. (2001). Investigations of poltergeists and haunts: A review and interpretation. In J. Houran & R. Lange (Eds.) Hauntings and Poltergeists: Multidisciplinary Perspectives (pp. 123 – 163). Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company.
Roll, W. G., Sheehan, L. C., Persinger, M. A., & Glass, A. Y. (1996). The haunting of White Ranch. Proceedings of Presented Papers: The Parapsychological Association 39th Annual Convention (pp. 279 – 294). Durham, NC: Parapsychological Association, Inc.
Turner, K. H. (1970). A South Yorkshire haunt. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 45, 325 – 353.
Tyrrell, G. N. M. (1953/1961). Science and Psychical Phenomena/Apparitions. New Hyde Park, NY: University Books.
The Arlington Institute provides a video presentation of a piece of the history of the psi research program funded by the US government, code named StarGate, as told by the first director of that effort. (Hat tip to Dean Radin.)