Why sitting alone in an asylum in the wee hours of the morning is never a smart idea


Saturday 30th March was our most recent investigation, and an enjoyable evening to boot!

There was a fairly ominous start to the night as the ghost tour guides were cleaning up the lanterns from the tours.  A lantern glass propelled itself out of a lantern and on to the floor where it merrily shattered into tiny little pieces.  Needless to say, the three guides (including Cait, the biggest sceptic on site) who had been standing there discussing the merits of smart phone ghost-photo apps were a little shocked, and when they tried to re-create the phenomena were unable to trigger any more exploding lanterns (much to the relief of our manager, who was less than happy to hear about the attempt to shatter MORE glass).

So with this event in mind, there was a chill of promise in the air as we headed out the door to begin investigating.  If nothing else we were keen to snap a photo of one small and fabled bunny lugging copious amounts of chocolate eggs about the place (we jest!).

It was a fairly quiet night despite the perfectly creepy moon peeking out from behind threatening looking clouds, and in the interest of giving the group their discs as swiftly as possible I decided to forgo the third section of investigating and stick around in the Asylum alone to kick-start the data analysis process.  Not something I thought through very well!  After the group departed to check out the Basement and the Parsonage, and i settled in with a cup of tea to make fun line graphs out of some of the data, the wind picked up and started making the whole building sound alive.  Things were creaking and banging and more than once I though I’d heard the group return only to find nobody at the door!  It’s amazing how easy it is to freak yourself out in a dark and creaky ex-Lunatic Asylum in a 19th century Convict prison at 1am.  Really, what was I thinking?

In other news we were joined by James for the investigation, one of our Ghostie guides who was keen to have a look and see what we get up to so late at night.  He seemed to enjoy himself, so now we’re going to work on convincing him to become the latest addition to the P.I.E. Team!  We’ll keep you posted if we’re successful with recruitment.

Also, next week we’re having our brand new Promo photo shoot here on site, so keep an eye out for some glossy new pics depicting the glamour and glitz of late night Investigations very soon.  Here’s hoping something spooky will pop up in the background of some of the shots?

Finally, the April investigation will take place on Saturday the 27th, and there are only a few tickets left so head over to the Bookings site to get involved before we fill up!

Cheers,

Mel and the P.I.E. people

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Paranormal Phenomen-huh?


What is Paranormal Phenomena?

It’s a good question.  There are many and varied theories in the Paranormal Investigation field as to what exactly the paranormal is.  It’s hard to define any one leading theory, so here at Port Arthur we’re exploring four of them in our investigations.

THEORY #1 – “Ghosts are Dead People”

It is a belief held by many cultures right throughout the world – that the body and spirit are separate, and that when a person dies their spirit comes away from the body.  In some beliefs the spirit moves on to a different plane of existence, for others the spirit continues to walk the earth as a ghostly entity.
We tend to base our ghost tours on this theory, but a few nights ago I decided to find out what my ghost tour group thought about ghosts, so I asked them!  I had a school group of 13-14 year old kids from a remote region of Tasmania, who all came up with ideas of what they thought ghosts were:

“I think they’re dead people’s souls”

“When you die you might have unfinished things to do so you hang around”

“It’s dead people”

“When i was little my pop used to talk to me.  He died before i was born”

“It’s like, your spirit”

Inevitably, these kids’ theories all revolved around the idea of ghosts being dead people. 

THEORY #2 – “Parallel Universes”

The thought of parallel universes existing can be a thought that makes your brain hurt if you dwell on it for too long.  But it’s an interesting thought at the same time!
Imagine the world as a sheet hanging on a clothesline, alongside possibly one or more other sheets/worlds.  They exist side by side, but separate from one another.  Now picture what happens when the wind blows – the sheets connect every now and then for brief but significant moments.  (This is not to suggest that paranormal phenomena will happen only on windy days)

We have a ghost story from the 1870s at Port Arthur that makes you stop and wonder about the possible legitimacy of this theory.
In the Parsonage (Port Arthur’s historically haunted house) there lived a family by the name of Hayward.  They had experienced many odd things in the house, but one story talks of a servant walking into a front room of the house only to find a figure at the window in ‘strange garb’ holding a raised object like a dagger ‘as though to strike’.
This would be a terrifying experience, no doubt.  Reverend Hayward was said to have had to ‘box her ears’ to bring sense to the servant after the episode.  But here’s a thought: What if what that servant saw was a ghost tour guide in present time, holding a torch and peering in to the house?  (Brain explodes!)

THEORY #3 – “The Power of Suggestion” 

The human mind is incredible.  Scientists are only just beginning to understand the limitations and possibilities of the human brain.  There is still so much that is unknown about our capabilities!

I’ve seen (as I’m sure most of my fellow guides have too) just how strong the power of suggestion can be.  Without giving away too many tricks of the trade, in the job of tour guide where your tour group are expecting to be scared you soon learn to develop a few subtle skills in creating atmosphere.  Many’s the time I’ve had people ‘experience’ the paranormal on tour, though about 75% of the time when asked to describe exactly what’s happened to them they will regurgitate something they’ve already been told on tour.  In many cases this is a ploy for attention, however there are cases where visitors are completely convinced that they have experienced something, and will even have physiological reactions to the event.

THEORY #4 – “This is All a Pile of Poo”

A very valid theory that can’t be discounted.  There are studies being done in parts of the world on various external influences on the human experience.  Factors such as Electro Magnetic Fields and Infrasound are being tested for their potential to create a “haunted” atmosphere.  There are suggestions that various external factors can produce hallucinations, feelings of unease, and even that wonderful and comforting sensation of seeing movement out of the corner of your eye.

So these are the theories we’re working with at Port Arthur, and by concentrating on all of these different possibilities it’s helping us to remain open-minded about the various experiences reported on site.  It also helps bring us back to the importance of always asking questions.

Just because someone talks to their Pop as a kid, doesn’t necessarily mean that they are talking to a dead person’s spirit.  Maybe they are talking to their Pop from another world (after all, having never known their Pop, they would be unaware of how any behaviour might differ from their actual Pop).  Maybe, having never met their Pop, this kid wanted to talk to him and was convinced by their own mind that it was really happening.  Or maybe the location of the home combined with any number of external factors created the illusion that Pop was indeed present and chatty.  Oh the possibilities!

‘Til next time, the P.I.E. team.

The life of PIE :)


We’ve been investigating Port Arthur regularly for 12 months now, so it’s about time we presented a little of our findings!

There have been many anomalous readings on our EMF meters throughout the various buildings we visit during the investigations.  In the Parsonage we’ve discovered that the security system produces incredibly high levels of EMF from the Post Office room, which then has a flow on effect through to surrounding areas of the building.  The levels in this house top out our KII meters, whilst the ELF meter reads levels usually associated with industrial sized EMF pumps.  Interestingly this is a room where sightings are commonly reported, particularly during ghost tours of an evening.

In the Commandants House, again the alarm systems wreak havoc with the EMF levels.  We’ve been setting up the ELF meter here on most investigations, and have a consistently  high reading of levels of EMF in the front section of the house.

The Separate prison has produced the occasional anomalous EMF reading, although we have been unable to locate any source.  The ELF meter will be established in this building for the next year.

The basement (which has no electrical wiring at all) has also surprisingly produced infrequent anomalous readings.

We’ve had a few interesting results from our Full Spectrum Cameras, although most of the these photos have had some kind of logical explanation now associated with them.

The CCTV system is in the process of being transferred to the Separate Prison, where we will have cameras aimed up A and C wings, in the Chapel, and covering the central room. In the Commandant’s House we found that we were capturing plenty of movement in the hallway on these cameras, although this has been attributed to dust particles in the air.

We’ve captured one decent EVP in the Separate Prison, however no one has been able to conclusively say what the words are.  We classify this as a B grade EVP.

There have been many anecdotal experiences on the investigations, from both visitors and guides, however these have not been captured on any of the equipment to date.  Some phenomena has been witnessed by multiple people at a time.

So what have we learned from all this?

We need to keep investigating, and make sure that everyone is carrying a device that can potentially document a personal experience.  We need to keep our slightly sceptical stance and (tempting as it is to jump to spooky conclusions!) rule out any logical explanations for events during the investigations.  We need to test theories, and try to replicate spooky events by any reasonable means.

So our goal for this year?

Keep investigating, keep looking for logic, and most importantly keep having an absolute blast whilst we’re doing it!

In other news our February investigation is headed out tonight.  Good luck to everyone going along!  Don’t forget the March investigation is only a few weeks away, why not come down and help us investigate before the weather turns cold again?

We’d love to hear some feedback on what we’ve found so far, so please feel free to leave us a comment.  And to keep updated, join our other followers by signing up for email notifications (on the home page).  For those of you who’ve been on an investigation with us, if you’ve found any good photos you may have taken on the night, please let us know as we’d love to share them here.

P.I.E’s first birthday


This month the Port Arthur Paranormal Investigation Experience is one year old, and we’re pretty pleased with the first year of its existence.

To mark 12 months of investigating we’re also going to change it up a bit by moving our CCTV system from the Commandant’s House to the Separate Prison, along with the ELF Trifield Meter.  We’ve not had great results with the CCTV in the Comms so far, and the most we’ve managed to pick up is a whole heap of dust floating down the hallway, and a mouse investigating Nanny’s rocking chair.

We spent this morning figuring out power sources for the cameras in the Separate Prison which is never an easy task in a 19th century prison building with minimal electricity.  I did manage to get stuck in a locked stall in the chapel trying to access a power point, and rather than helping to rescue me, Caitlin and Peter (the I.T. Guy) decided it would be much more productive to take photos of me trying to save myself.  Helpful souls that they are.

Today and tomorrow we’re introducing the rest of our Paranormal Team to Data Analysis, and attempting to get through as much data as we can.  Having had a look at the EMF data for the last 12 months in the Commandant’s House we’ve seen a real trend with the boosted levels of EMF.

This is a normal reading in a normal house with normal wiring (you would normally expect to find a reading of 0.5-2.0)

EMF normal

This is the kind of reading we’ve been getting in the Commandant’s House:

19_01_13

The elevated levels are when the house is empty, the low levels are when our Investigation teams are inside.  We’ve had consistent readings like this since February last year, and are working on theories to explain it.  So far we’re leaning towards the alarm system, or high levels of water in the walls, but it will be interesting to see the kind of results we get when we move the whole system to the Prison this month.

If you’d like to be part of the February Investigation and help us celebrate a year of the Port Arthur Paranormal Investigation Experience, head over to our bookings page to reserve a space now, tickets are selling fast!

For regular updates on P.I.E. why not subscribe to our blog (look over on the left!) and you’ll get an email whenever we post about our latest exploits!

Till next time, the PIE team 🙂

Scepticism in the face of something running really fast


We’ve always tried to remain as sceptical as possible on the Paranormal Investigations here at Port Arthur, or at least to approach everything logically and look for possible explanations before jumping to conclusions.  However, even a sceptic can get a bit of a shock when something bizarre happens.

It was the investigation for January 19th, and we had 8 people out there with 2 guides.  After a fairly quiet night without much going on, we had just finished up supper and moved on to the 3rd and final investigation of the evening, in the Commandants House.  For those of you who have never been to the Commandants House, let me explain the layout for you. 

The house has a large verandah, approached by a double-sided staircase from the driveway below.  The verandah stretches across the front three rooms of the house, and is capped by a much larger room on either end.  The front door in the centre leads to an entry hall, with rooms coming off either side, a hallway running across the back to the side rooms, and a short set of steps leading to the corridor that runs up the length of the house and has multiple small landings leading off to even more side rooms.  To put it more simply, this place is a total rabbit warren of rooms and corridors!  It is a house that not many guides enjoy spending time alone in, by night or by day, and my least favourite building at Port Arthur. 

We arrived at the house and my group of 4 split up and started moving through the building, whilst I waited in the entry hall for them, monitoring the CCTV. When 3 of the group had returned to the entry hall, I had heard a noise and turned to look up the back hallway to try to spot our 4th person.  Lo and behold, someone dashed across the first landing of the stairs, from the Study to the interpretation room opposite it.  I figured it was our missing investigator until 2 seconds later when he appeared from a side room in the front of the house.  With such a small group it is easy to keep track of who is where, and the question now is:  If that wasn’t one of us then who was it?

It would have been easy at this point to bolt for the front door in fear, as others in the group had witnessed the same thing and we were all a little concerned.  Instead, we bravely (and as a group) made our way to the room where the figure had gone.  There wasn’t a soul in sight, but as we turned to look across the landing to the study, it was pointed out that the hanging light fixture was now swinging around. 

As we turned to head out, the light in the entryway also started swinging around on its cord!

We stuck around a little longer then decided we had better get moving back to the Asylum to meet up with the other group and finish the night.

It was an event that has me totally stumped.  I am certain we saw a figure walk quickly across the landing, and the lamps were absolutely swinging around.  But I’m still trying to come up with the logic behind it all.  A good start will be to test the lamps on the next investigation, maybe there’s a loose floorboard that bumps a wall somewhere and triggers the swinging? Sounds like a bit of a stretch but i guess we wont know until we try it!

I know the Parsonage is meant to be the historically haunted house, and the one with the big scary reputation, but the Commandant’s House is really starting to give it a run for its money!

In other news, we have 2 whole days set aside in the first week of feb to sit down and catch up on all of the wayward data discs to get the backlog sorted out.  Thanks to everyone for your patience and understanding!

The next investigation will take place on Saturday 23rd February 2013, so head over to our bookings page now to save yourself a space (and possibly get wigged out in the Commandant’s House too!).

After the fires


Hi everyone,

First up – we’re still all OK despite the recent fires affecting our area.  Some members of our Investigation team had some pretty close calls with their homes, but luckily we seem to be fine.  There were many sleepless nights and 10 days without electricity which, being a rural community, meant no running water either!  Whilst others from the team were out defending their homes or looking after their families, Caitlin and I were down on site helping the hundreds of stranded visitors deal with their enforced extended stay at Port Arthur, (I’m sure there would be very few visitors who come to Port Arthur expecting to end up camping out on the floor in the Visitors Centre for days on end) and helping out at the local shop.  During the 10 days we chatted to visitors, cooked fast food at the shop, learnt how to fill gas bottles, pumped petrol, hauled over a tonne of rotting food to the skip, carted supplies and resisted the urge to make the world’s largest mattress fort after the last of the visitors had been evacuated from Port Arthur.  The strangest part about the whole situation was wandering through the site with no one around, it was rather like a ghost town with hundreds of abandoned cars and not a person in sight.  We rather suspected for a while there that the Zombie Apocalypse had happened and no one had told us.

The buildings on site certainly took on a fairly spooky air as they stood there empty for over a week, and when we went in to grab spare torches the Separate Prison particularly was quite expectant and odd feeling.  This is the first time in many, many years that these buildings have been locked up for so many days on end.  It would have been the perfect opportunity to investigate, but given the circumstances I think if we’d sat down to run an EVP session we would’ve fallen asleep.

It’s still rather smoky around the place on and off as the Tas Fire Service are still doing back burns and containment lines, but we’re back open and gearing up for another investigation tonight!  There are still plenty of places available, so if you’re in the area and feel like a late night out, come and join us.  We are also going to run another investigation on Sat 26th January, and after that we’re back to our standard investigation on the last Saturday of every month.

To those who were scheduled to come along in the last few weeks we apologise profusely for not being able to run the investigations, but as you’ve just read things were a little crazy here!  We hope you can reschedule and come back sometime soon.  And for those who haven’t received data discs yet, now that things have settled down a little we’ll be getting back onto it for you.

Fingers crossed for some spooky happenings out there on site tonight, I’ll post an update in a few days to let you all know how it went.

The Christmas Spirit


Christmas Spirit!It’s that time of year again where we all stuff ourselves silly on turkey and ham and drink far too much in the spirit of the holidays!  We of the Paranormal team are not winding down for the holidays, though.  On the contrary, we’re hyping up for a big summer of investigating, with a Paranormal Experience happening every Saturday in January, plus the regular December Investigation on Dec 29th.  There are still a few tickets left for the December Experience, so if you’d like to get involved, head over to our bookings page and reserve your spaces now!

This month, the guides will be Caitlin and I (Mel).  We’re both pretty excited to lead a public investigation together for the first time since the Paranormal Investigation Experience started earlier this year, and we cant wait to get out there and see what we can find!  Since work first started on the Paranormal Investigations around 2 years ago, Caitlin and I have been keen to put into practice some of the many investigating techniques we’ve picked up through our world travels at places like Bodmin Jail in Cornwall (www.bodminjail.org), as well as through our experience as part of R.I.P. Australia (www.ripaustralia.com).  It should be a fabulous night, we’re hoping that the site gets into a party mood and brings on the anomalous events for the final Investigation of the year!

A big thanks to everyone who has participated in and supported the Paranormal Investigation so far in its first year of existence!  Thanks to you, we’ve amassed a huge body of data from all over the site, far more than we ever could have collected ourselves.  We couldn’t have done it without you!

Finally, we’d like to thank all of the guides who’ve come on board with the Paranormal Investigation Experience for their hard work in learning a whole new set of skills this year.  We’d also like to thank Jodes, our Heritage Programs Manager (did I get that right for a change?) for her help in nutting out the Experience in a way that would make it Historic Site friendly, and of course our Guiding Manager and boss, Jake, for all of his help and continuing support.  Cheers everyone!

Merry Christmas all, and we hope you have a happy, safe and spooky New Year.

(And please forgive my horrible attempt at using ‘Paint’ to insert a very fake looking festive ghost into the photo of the Commandant’s House!)

The importance of being logical


Having spent my fair share of time in dark and creepy places in the last 5 years, and more so than ever since we started the Paranormal Experience, I have first hand experience in how easy it is to jump when things go bump in the night.  Rest assured that most people, regardless of how sceptical they are, will jump a mile if they’re sitting in pitch black dark in a haunted location and something grabs them or crashes around nearby.  It’s very easy to jump to the wrong conclusions!

For example:

On the July Investigation this year, participants from my group may well remember we heard footsteps in the Commandants House the minute i flicked out the lights.  Straight away i can honestly admit that i jumped along with everyone else, in fact i jumped across the hallway to land safely in the middle of my group!  At the time it was adrenaline inducing and scary, but looking back with a logical viewpoint there is no way to rule out the possible logical causes of what went on.  The first thing that springs to mind for me is animal noise.  Wallabies notoriously cause some very convincingly bipedal noises when leaping around, and at the end of the hallway was a door leading out onto a wooden walkway.  I can’t rule out the possibility that a wallaby chose the exact moment that i turned out the lights to take a little walk (or jump) on the board walk right outside the house.  Or a possum on the roof, perhaps.  But it’s not the first thing to cross your mind when it’s dark and you’re investigating the paranormal!  And that’s just what we need to train our brains to do.

It certainly makes for an exciting evening when things are going bang/crash in the dark, but the challenge is to not let yourself leap about and shriek “Ghost!” at the top of your lungs, and instead to go take a closer look with all the right gear.  As such we are trying hard to push the message across to the groups that come out on the Investigation with us: Don’t take anything at face value out here.  This is an investigation, so when anomalous events occur – go investigate!  (And pretty please take a camera/sound recorder/EMF detector with you!)  Because anecdotal evidence is not evidence, it’s a personal account of things that happened with nothing to back up your tale.  It’s a bit like going fishing and coming back with nothing but being able to talk about the one that got away (That fish was THIS BIG!).

In conclusion for today’s rant – come along, have fun, be prepared to get a little creeped out in the dark, but do it all from a sceptical viewpoint!  After all if you’re going to get evidence of the paranormal you want it to be the real thing, not just a cruisy wallaby out for a midnight snack in the Commandant’s garden!

The grand and controversial ‘Orb’


If you were to take every Paranormal Researcher and Investigator in the world, put them in a room, draw a line down the middle and ask them to choose a side based on their opinion of “Orbs” it would probably be a pretty even split. 

One side would be the group who believe that these mysterious glowing spheres of light are spirits breaking through from the ether, trying to manifest and impart their message from the world beyond. “(sigh!) look at the wee ghostie!  manifesting all over my pictures, isn’t it incredible?”

The rest of us would be looking at those people like they’re just a little bit odd, knowing that in 99% of cases “Orbs” are dust, pollen or even water droplets in the air also known as “rain”.  As Caitlin said just a week or so ago “If you were going to come back as a ghost, why bother coming back as a little speck of light?”  Yet there are groups of investigators who so passionately declare that these MUST be ghosts based on various different very weak reasons. See the link below for a lot of explanations.

For the official record:  Port Arthur Paranormal Investigation Experience look for the logical reasons first.  We will not automatically squeal with glee when we get an “orb” photo, nor will we encourage others to assume that these are anomalous photos.  While we respect that people have differing personal beliefs when it comes to this sort of phenomena, beliefs actually have no place in any kind of rational investigation.

Back in 2010, Caitlin and I were lucky enough to get a few hours on our own in the Villisca Axe Murder House in Iowa, which is meant to be one of the most disturbingly haunted buildings in the world.  Whilst we felt a little uncomfortable in the building and spent a great deal of time investigating in there, we unfortunately didn’t have anything at all happen to us.  We got to the point where we decided to try provoking a response, and still got nothing.  So we created our very own Villisca “Orb” photos.  How?  I picked up some dust and threw it in the air, Cait snapped a photo and voila! Ghosts!

We sometimes like to demonstrate this to groups on our ghost tours.  Walking along a gravel path, all it takes is a little shoe scuffing in the dirt and suddenly the orbs appear, as though by magic! 

So I guess the moral to this story is – it’s going to take a lot more than an “Orb” in a photo to convince us of ghosts.

And here is the link for the amusingly written page on the debunking of “orbs”:

http://ssprstn.tripod.com/id65.html

Lurking in the dark – behind you!


Saturday night was our November Investigation, and the first time since February that we didn’t experience rain, thunderstorms and generally nasty weather!  It was a fun night, with 14 participants taking up the challenge and a number of personal experiences, including 2 of our number who saw a face lurking behind the wooden barrier of B Wing in the separate prison.  (And ran away swiftly!)

Hopefully analysis of the footage may give us some evidence of this and the various other anomalous events experienced on the night.

We had a bit of a play with the ‘Human Pendulum’ theory (as taught to us by Mark Rablin of Bodmin Jail in Cornwall on our ghost tour of the world back in 2010) in the Senior Surgeon’s Basement, and got some quite interesting responses which should be fun to review on the video cameras.  We also test drove our now much louder (yet still slightly controversial) Frank’s Box in a few of the buildings and did seem to yield some kind of response.

Saturday night we also welcomed our newest member of the Paranormal Team, Andrew, who had a great time and is really excited to get out there again soon after such a successful night of investigating.

On reviewing some of the photos last night we came across one that made us stop and do a double take.  This photo is one that we’re pretty sure is a prime example of pareidolia – at least we hope so given the fact that otherwise it’s an impressively creepy figure lurking in the dark behind one of the participants!

The next Investigation is December 29th for anyone who wishes to come along and take part, and the great news is that this January we will be running investigations every Saturday Night!  So there are plenty of opportunities coming up to get involved and try your hand at investigating.  It doesn’t matter if you’re the most experienced Investigator in the world, or have no experience at all, everyone is welcome.

Please note – we encourage visitors to bring any gear with them that they might wish to use.  If you have a camera, a camcorder, a sound recorder or anything like this, feel free to bring it along.  The more devices recording the night, the better the data is at the end!