Mark Nesbitt: Interview with the Author of Ghosts of Gettysburg

Mark Nesbitt is a former National Park Service Ranger/Historian. Mark has written the following:
 If the South Won Gettysburg (1980), 35 Days to Gettysburg (1992), Rebel Rivers (1993), Saber and Scapegoat: J.E.B. Stuart and the Gettysburg Controversy (1994), Through Blood and Fire (1996), and the best selling Ghosts of Gettysburg Series (1991- present).
Many of his stories have aired on The History Channel, A&E, The Travel Channel, Unsolved Mysteries, Coast to Coast AM, and numerous other local television programs and specials. In July of 2004, his Ghosts of Gettysburg Series received the National Paranormal Award for “Best True Hauntings Collection” and “Best ‘Local Haunt’ Guidebook”.

Mark was a recent guest on a Ghost Hunters episode in which TAPS investigated popular haunted locations in Gettysburg, PA. 

Mark graciously consented to an interview via email. Here are the questions and his insightful and fascinating answers.

Question: What first got you interested in the paranormal?
Like most people, I was interested in ghost stories at a young age. But I got serious about collecting ghost stories when I worked as a park ranger at Gettysburg. I was assigned housing in several historic buildings on the Park and began to have unexplainable experiences. I’d casually bring them up in the coffee room and one of the veteran rangers would tell me to talk to someone who had lived in the house before. Sure enough, the strange experiences were the same, so I started writing them down.
My experiences in the historic houses were interesting and got my curiosity piqued. However, after writing Ghosts of Gettysburg I began paying more attention to some of the things that were happening. Many of the events could not be classified as “coincidence” or “imagination” so again, I began taking notes. My personal experiences were reinforced by the huge number of letters I began getting after the first book came out from people who had experienced unexplainable events.

Question: Have you had any paranormal experiences of your own?
I have seen, heard and been touched by unexplained energy under circumstances that would indicate it might have been a ghost. (How’s that for circumlocution!)

Question: You are credited with bringing the idea of a haunted Gettysburg to the attention of the public in your books entitled, Ghosts of Gettysburg Series. 
You are also credited with beginning the first ghost tour in Gettysburg. How do you feel about the explosion of ghost tours, ghost walks, and paranormal investigations that are now offered in Gettysburg? 
The problem is that anyone can set up a card table in Gettysburg, put on Civil War garb and claim to be an “expert” in the field and charge money. Sadly, visitors to Gettysburg do not always research the people who supply paranormal information.

Question: Do you believe that there should be certification for paranormal investigators?
Seeing how many inexperienced “investigators” inflate their resumes leads me to want some kind of certification for the field. The problem is, how would you “test” a paranormal investigator and who would do it? There are a handful of scholars doing legitimate work in the field. (Dr. Charles Emmons of Gettysburg College is one of them, collecting data from back into the 1970s. Interestingly, I used some of his student papers for GoG, and GoG II and found interviews with myself in the 70s as the authors’ documentation!) There are several institutions around the country (Stanford, Duke, Monroe Institute, Institute for Noetic Sciences, Association for Research and Enlightenment to name a few) that are continuing research in the field.

Question: Do you feel that there is an over emphasis on the demonic in paranormal investigating recently?
Many unscrupulous individuals in the paranormal field will immediately claim that demons are involved in a haunting to garner attention (or make money when they “exorcise” the demon.) Very rarely is a haunting demonic. A lot of times, inexperienced people (including investigators) will assume that when an investigation doesn’t go the way they expect, (a strange-sounding EVP for example) demons are involved.  However, according to some sources, there are various levels of non-human entities lingering around, waiting for an opening to insinuate themselves into a situation. Sometimes they attach to people. Who knows what some investigators are doing to open a portal and then not closing it and putting their customers in potential danger. We’ve had to “clean up” after a number of investigators have not done things correctly.

How do you feel about all of the paranormal reality shows on TV now?
The “reality” paranormal shows on TV are, first and foremost, interested in ratings. They won’t survive without them. So the ante is upped with every season. As well, people come in to our tour office all the time and ask if they are going to see a ghost on the tour because on TV it seems that the investigators get evidence every minute or so. (Of course, they compress an entire night or two into an hour broadcast.) I’ve worked with “Ghost Adventures” and “Ghost Hunters” and, for the most part, I don’t think they are faking anything, but I’ve never been invited to the actual investigation, so I can’t say for sure.

Do you  have a favorite and a least favorite show?
I really don’t watch the “Investigation” shows. We do scores of investigations every year ourselves and have a different protocol. Watching a TV investigation is anticlimactic; how many times can I watch them prove that a site is indeed haunted. One of the shows I do enjoy is “The Haunting Of….” where a celebrity “victim” of a haunting returns to the haunted site sometime later with medium Kim Russo to revisit the scene of their frightening experience. Kim acts and talks exactly like the mediums we work with so I think she’s the real deal.

What is your favorite tool/gadget/piece of equipment for paranormal investigating and why?
The piece of equipment I rely on most is my old Panasonic DR-60 recorder. Although I’ve gotten EVP on other recorders, the DR-60 is the most consistent. At first I thought that the recordings were too muddled to be of any use, but listening more closely to the recordings with a headset, I’ve heard some remarkable clear (but soft) words and sentences. Some of the most interesting have occurred when I wasn’t actively asking questions. Once in a “psychomanteum” at a seminar given by Dr. Raymond Moody, I turned on my recorder and in total silence recorded 8 minutes of roars, shouts, soft words and sentences. The most dramatic was a voice that said, “I die tonight.” One winter night when our Ghosts of Gettysburg Tour Headquarters was closed, I put the recorder in a room and left it overnight. At 3:55 am it began recording and caught 44 minutes of voices, roars, noise and phrases when no one was present. It was like the spirits were having a party. But we’ve been moving away from using electronic equipment to “detect” ghosts, but use it rather to document an investigator’s intuitive impressions—doing things in reverse from the TV shows. For example, an investigator feels a touch on his/her back; another investigator moves in with an EMF meter or quick-read thermometer to confirm the touch was paranormal.

How do you feel about provoking?
Provoking can be done subtly, by merely asking a question. “Were you wounded in the battle?” Dealing with Victorian-era ghosts (as at Civil War sites), one should be polite because, in spite of waging the bloodiest war our nation has ever seen, they were a genteel folk. I don’t subscribe at all to the “Hit me! Smack me!” type of provocation. I like to imagine the ghosts as being in a very comfortable place. Suddenly someone smoking a cigarette and half drunk tries to gain entry into this comfortable world yelling, “It there anybody here who will talk to me? C’mon, punch me! Scratch me!” I mean, would you respond or just ignore them?

Can animals be ghosts?
I have a number of accounts of animal ghosts, mostly domesticated animals such as horses either with or without riders, sometimes large groups of them. Dogs and cats are also experienced. Sometimes it is a noise—whinnying, purring, barking, hooves hitting the road. Sometimes they are seen and sometimes captured in photos. But they seem to be limited to domestic mammals. I’ve never heard of a ghost fish or dinosaur.

Do ghosts attack?
I personally have never been physically attacked by a ghost. I’ve seen people on TV who claim to have been scratched by a ghost, but I didn’t see what activity they were engaged in just before the “attack.” I’ve known people who were psychically attacked who have gotten headaches, queasy stomachs, general disorientation. I’ve also seen “channeling” where a spirit actually entered someone and seemed to do harm. One was a wounded soldier who did not want an amputation and fought off those trying to take him to the operating table. This event was accompanied by screaming as if the woman channeler was in extreme pain. She later remembered none of it. Another fairly large woman was invaded by a spirit and virtually levitated when two smaller female friends helped her to a bed. They exerted no effort whatsoever as she leaned back and they “carried” her to the bed and let her down.

Ouija boards and ghost hunting: are they dangerous?
A Quija Board is just a board. Ghost hunting is just walking around trying to gather evidence. Neither is inherently dangerous (unless you fall through a hole in a rotten floor!) The problem comes when someone uses either to open portals into another realm, then fails to close it because they get scared and run away or forget protocol.

 Why do some spirits remain here?
The reasons why spirits remain earthbound are numerous. Some have died so suddenly they don’t realize they are dead; some have unfinished business; some are afraid of judgment; for some the living are mourning too long for them. For ghosts at Gettysburg, often a youthful, violent or unexpected death will create a ghost stuck to the spot where he died. There are also scientific reasons, such as the energy of the dying person being entrapped in the surrounding physical environment, especially quartz-infused granite (like the boulders at Gettysburg). The quartz acts like a computer chip to the electromagnetic energy released by those suffering and dying. Under certain conditions (which seem to have a lot to do with the observer) this electromagnetic energy is released and seen, felt, or heard.

What is your opinion of science in the paranormal?
I don’t think there is enough science or rational, analytical thinking in the field. Most people are so excited to photograph an “orb” they don’t record or even notice what conditions they took the photo under—rain, dust, insects. I’m upset that scientists are not more interested in the phenomena—scientists should be interested in everything—but with amateurs touting anything they capture as a “ghost” and even professionals (especially in Gettysburg) encouraging them to get their money, I don’t blame the scientists.

What's your take on mediums, psychics and sensitives? How many are fakes?
I have worked with many mediums over the years as well as many people who think they are mediums and fall short (and some who are and don’t know it and some who know it and are afraid to admit it.) I am very impressed with three or four and work with them on a consistent basis. You can tell the fakes by the vagueness of their questions and answers. (To an audience: “I’m getting a father who died recently and the letter C.”) Also by what they charge for the services. The mediums I work with have come up with names and bios of people who can be documented in the records. That’s the good thing about working in historic places: a lot was written down and you can check that against what a psychic says.

What's new in the field?
Somebody is always coming up with a new electronic device that beeps or flashes or talks. I can’t keep up with them. But all they do is measure anomalies, which may be paranormal in nature like an electromagnetic spike in the middle of a room away from electronic devices. They can be easily manipulated either accidentally or on purpose. Anyone with a cell phone in their pocket can set off a K-2 or EMF meter. A $5,000 FLIR heat-recording camera can accidentally film the “ghost” handprint of a fellow investigator who was leaning against the wall and left un-noticed. The thing to remember is that there is no such thing as a ghost detector and many ways to misuse anomaly detectors. And many ways to fool novices into thinking they’re detecting ghosts so they’ll return and pay for another trip on a tour of a “haunted” house.

Tell me about your new book which you co-authored with Pat Wilson.
Patty and I co-wrote The Big Book of Pennsylvania Ghost Stories (Stackpole) after Haunted Pennsylvania was a success. Some of the stories, in expanded versions, will appear in my newest collaboration with Katherine Ramsland (author, forensics expert, professor, former consultant on “Bones” and “CSI”) called Haunted Crime Scenes, which will be my newest, sometime this summer.

What advice do you have for those who want to write about the paranormal?
Advice for those writing about the paranormal: Collect stories and interview the witnesses. Be skeptical. Ghost stories are already considered anecdotal; don’t muck them up with your own version. Do your own investigating.  In Civil War Ghost Trails I did a paranormal investigation almost everywhere I could—Kennesaw Mountain, Andersonville Prison, Shiloh, Chickamauga, many at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Wilderness, and Spotsylvania—and got a pile of evidence I could write about—not all explainable, but additions to the massive data-base I started years ago.

Are you afraid of ghosts?
When I have been confronted by an un-natural event, for some reason I always move toward it rather than run away. Fear, I guess, is overcome by a writer’s curiosity. I’m more fascinated than afraid.

Do you believe that an object can be haunted?
Objects can be haunted. If something traumatic happened to a human being in the presence of an object, I believe the object can be altered in some way. (Quantum physics might have an explanation.) It has been scientifically proven that humans give off a burst of energy when they die. Could this energy be impressed upon an object such as a sword or gun as it seems to be on the environment? It would explain haunted dolls and why psychometry works.

In your recent appearance on Ghost Hunters the idea of children haunting the battlefield, and the Jenny Wade House and the Orphanage was investigated and explored. How do you feel about child ghosts? Why would they still be here?
My experiences with child ghosts are not as common as with adult spirits, although one of my first ghostly encounters was hearing a baby crying in the National Cemetery Lodge (near the Orphanage). According to the psychics we use, we have a child ghost in our Ghosts of Gettysburg Tour Headquarters building. Sure enough, a paranormal investigator got a picture of a child one night in one of the rooms, and we have a recording of a child saying “Catch me!” Children die too, and are mourned very hard by parents, perhaps dooming them to be stuck in an earthly place. But there is apparently no rulebook for ghosts—who’s to say that, when we die, we can’t come back to earth temporarily as the child we once were?

What's the latest state of the art equipment for investigating?
See above for new equipment. Gary Galka has been developing equipment like the “Melmeter”, designed so he could talk to his daughter who was tragically killed in a car crash. They were using infrared glasses in the Ghost Hunters episode I was on. Those might have some promise since it seems that ghosts appear in the infrared spectrum frequently. But, once again, no one has yet to invent a “ghost detector.”

What direction do you feel that paranormal investigators and groups need to go in?
First, paranormal investigators need to get away from the idea that they are going to land a TV show. There’s too much incentive to fake results, act so that they will “one-up” the latest show, or not investigate in a rational, scientific manner. Paranormal Investigating should not be the way to become famous. Second, they need to focus on “The Field” of the paranormal as if it were a science. Anyone who is a P.I and who is still trying to “prove” that ghosts exist with photos or recordings is behind the times. They should already know that the supernatural is all around us, all the time (and not just at night!) As Alexandra Holzer, daughter of the famed Hans Holzer once told me her father said, “There is no such thing as the paranormal. If it exists, it’s normal.” What they should be working on is how to replicate results (as in the scientific method), how to gather information from the other side, develop experiments with various electromagnetic frequencies to enhance communication with those on the other side, and so forth. Getting the best “orb” picture shouldn’t be interesting to an experienced P.I. anymore.

 How do you feel about "Paranormal unity" and all the infighting and nastiness between and among groups?
I’m not sure what “Paranormal Unity” means. I’m all for competition in the field because it can foster increased experimentation—playing off one another. I also think there should be peer review, but who are the “experts” to do it? I know some who have been in the field for 30 or 40 years who would be excellent. I also know some who claim to have been in the field that long (meaning they were ghost hunting when they were 5 years old.) Whenever you have a field full of mysteries and unknowns and a gullible public willing to pay for a thrill, you will have hucksters. “Haunted” tourist venues are the perfect place to get ripped off on a “ghost hunt.” Some companies take you at night to a place you’ve never been to, tell you stories they made up about the place, hand you some equipment that is guaranteed to beep or flash whenever the phone in your pocket seeks a cell, tell you it’s a ghost, and let you walk around by yourself in the dark. Then they give you a certificate when it’s over saying you’re certified. The next day, you’re headed home thinking you had a ghostly experience and are a certified paranormal investigator.

Mark's most recent work is "The big book of Pennsylvania Ghost Stories" Co-authored by Patty A. Wilson. The book is a compilation of 125 ghost stories from each region of Pennsylvania. Stories include "Tragic Spectors of Gettysburg, Pittsburgh's Legendary Green Man, Revolutionary Spirits of Philadelphia, Foreboding Ax Hollow near Erie, Mysterious Mountain tales of Scotia Barrens, Captain Phillips's murdered rangers and the Lost Children of the Alleghenies."


Popular Posts