I’ve always loved history. Old houses, vintage clothes, historical dramas…I’m here for all of it. I’ve always wanted nothing more than to throw on a hoop skirt and be transported back in time to experience a bygone era. I fully comprehend that my love for modern amenities would quickly have me begging to be sent back to the future, but there is something magnetic and intriguing about the “old days.” It’s what drives people to visit historical sites on vacation, to fill their home with antique furniture, and to gobble up shows like Downton Abbey. I think it’s also what helps drive an interest in the paranormal and why the paranormal field has more recently become a very important tool for historic preservation.
The paranormal field may not immediately come to mind as a pathway to historic preservation. Typically we would think of museums, historical societies, and curators as the most important means of historic preservation. Yet, when it comes down to it, even the most well-funded historical societies cannot afford the upkeep on the amount of historical properties that exist in any given city. Many historic buildings are lost in an era where cities or potential home and business owners are overwhelmed or uninterested in preserving historical structures in favor of demolishing the old and building something new and modern. Recently in my hometown, the city has announced their plans to demolish two historic and incredibly well preserved storefronts just to build yet another parking garage to serve a large corporation moving into the area. A corporation that in 5 years time could decide they no longer have any interest in having their business here. It’s not the first time this has happened in my hometown, and surely not the last.
Drive through any city in America and you will see historical buildings in need—often with crumbling brick, broken windows, and a “for sale” sign in front. It’s truly a shame to see what was once someone’s beloved home, business, school, or significant town landmark being lost to time. When those buildings get demolished, often the stories they contain are forgotten as well. I’ve always considered one of the main jobs of a paranormal investigator to be that of storytelling. It’s our job to piece the paranormal evidence we collect together with the historical evidence to tell the story of what is happening in a haunted location. It makes sense then that when a city or historical society chooses not to take control of a historic location that a paranormal enthusiast may sometimes step in. There are countless examples of a private party purchasing a location destined to be torn down to save it from the wrecking ball and preserve it’s history. Sometimes these locations are notoriously haunted locations with stories that have been passed down through time and sometime paranormal phenomenon only starts to happen as the location is being renovated. Either way many owners of these locations take advantage of the activity to help fund its preservation. They give paranormal tours or rent out the building for the night to paranormal groups looking to gather their own evidence. What they charge for these events keeps these buildings standing; helps repair damaged ceilings, replace rotten floorboards, and restore buildings to their former glory. Some owners choose to forgo restoration and embrace the “creepy” element of a dilapidated building.
No matter what they choose to do with the building itself, it’s certainly not an easy responsibility to take on. I can only imagine there is a great deal of stress involved. The stress of maintaining the building with a limited budget, keeping out uninvited guests looking to explore the location on their own terms, and balancing respecting the history and spirits that may be present with the need to make a living (for the living!) I think there are a good many locations that get this balance right and are really in it for the right reasons. Unfortunately, I do feel there are locations that don’t do a great job of this and exploit the terrible things that happened at the location and the spirits that may remain there—just for a profit. But that’s a discussion for another day.
As I walk through many locations on investigations, it often occurs to me that I might never have gotten a chance to step foot in these spaces if someone hadn’t cared enough to save it. What good is an old prison once the prisoners have been moved to a newer facility? What good is a dilapidated asylum once it closes its doors to the patients? What value do these buildings hold? To someone in the paranormal field these places are invaluable. They are places to test new equipment, places to train new team members, places with stories to be told. We’ve all heard the saying “If these walls could talk…” Well, some walls do talk, and as investigators we are here to listen.
- Allie Schmalz
Co-Director, Transcendent Paranormal Society