I admit it: my family and I are hooked on paranormal investigation shows, a relatively new sub-genre of reality TV that has evolved its own vocabulary and equipment set – EVPs (electronic voice phenomenon), EMF (electromagnetic field) detectors, digital voice recorders, thermal imagers, the mysterious Inductive Probe, a panoply of specialty cameras – as well as its own stars.
Syfy’s veteran Ghost Hunters franchise is headed up by the nonplussed New England Roto Rooter men-turned-investigators Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson; Discovery Channel’s Ghost Lab has the brash, beefy, and brainy Klinge brothers from San Antonio; and Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures has the lively Three Amigos from Vegas, Zak Bagans, Nick Groff, and Aaron Goodwin.
Each series has its own character and strengths, but Ghost Adventures, which airs Friday nights at 9 on the Travel Channel, is our current top dog on the strength of its often wildly entertaining blend of creepy settings, high production values, serious investigative techniques, impressive background research, and the showbiz bravado of the testosterone trio’s patented “lock downs” — overnight confinement in some of the nation’s most haunted settings.
Ghost Adventures launched its third season in fine style on Halloween ‘09 with a seven-hour live investigation from the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston, West Virginia. Tonight’s episode is centered on a visit to Clovis Wolf Manor, a former sanitarium and convalescent home in Clovis, California.
I recently talked by phone with the show’s founder and figurehead, Zak Bagans, 32.
Hi Zak, my family and I have become paranormal investigation show fanatics and it’s based on you. We love the show – you’re the right combination of serious investigative approach and showman.
Awesome, thank you.
I apologize because I’m sure you’ve gone over it many times, but I’m very interested how all of this came together for you in the first place. I know you’re from Michigan and went to school for documentary filmmaking.
Yes, I was interested in what could be done with the documentary aspects of film, but I never knew I’d be doing it on ghosts! It’s still a shocker to me that I’m doing this but I think it was meant to happen in some weird way. Six years ago I had an experience with a ghost that changed my mind and I couldn’t ignore it, and that served as the catalyst for what I do now.
Where was that?
That was in the little town I’m from called Trenton, Michigan.
But now you’re in Las Vegas?
Yes, but when I experienced this paranormal encounter in Trenton, I was being taunted by a ghost. And I don’t like being scared of things – I don’t like running from them, and it caused me to run from it. That’s how real and vivid it was. When you run from something you want to learn about it because that’s a powerful thing.
I think that’s a subtext of the show: there are times when you are genuinely afraid or creeped out and you’re willing to show that because it’s part of the experience.
Yes, it is. You come into contact with certain things that are so unexplainable and they can have an unexplained effect on your body. Your body doesn’t know how to handle the encounter. When you get physically attacked, marked with scratches, it can put you in a panic state and you feel it emotionally as well – you feel the emotion of these spirits. And that’s where it gets inside of you and makes you react in certain ways.
How did you hook up with Nick and Aaron? Your personalities are different but compatible – you seem to really work well together and are a solid team.
I moved to Las Vegas and met Nick – he had had a paranormal experience similar to mine and had a film background as well. Our individual personal experiences with ghosts led us to think about going out and capturing what we experienced. So, we had a common bond there. We hired a camera operator, Aaron, who had worked on countless projects here in Las Vegas – UFC fights, red carpet premieres – a really good camera guy, and that’s what we needed. He was our eyes.
We formed a really good trio; our personalities are so different, but that diversity has really helped us capture some of the evidence we’ve got – the difference in our emotions and energy.
When you guys are doing a lock-down, it’s really just the three of you, right?
Yes, because audio evidence is such a huge part of gathering evidence, and when you have a lot of people who are around and unaccounted for, they could be the ones making the noise. We don’t lock ourselves into these places for "dramatic effect," we lock ourselves in to prevent any kind of audio contamination.
I wanted to congratulate you on the live Halloween show. We were concerned about how you were going to do all those hours without it getting boring or becoming too much about the process, but it was great, really held my attention and was a lot of fun to watch. And running the live chat feed was a brilliant idea, I couldn’t believe the response: you guys are like rock stars!
Thank you very much. When you have the enthusiasm of going after something that a lot of people don’t believe in — when you personally believe in it and know it exists — it will really show. Doing the live event I think we conveyed that this stuff does happen even more clearly.
You seem to feel some kind of obligation to mankind to present this kind of information, as grandiose as that sounds.
Exactly, I think it’s an obligation to mankind. We know spirits exist and we know there are some people out there who have questions about whether or not it does exist. When you know something does exist 100%, that’s the drive that keeps you going.
What kind of evidence do you think it will take? There’s a lot of evidence out there that you have accumulated, and others have accumulated, and yet you still have a large percentage of the population that denies this. What do you think it’s going to take?
We’ve captured full body apparitions and such great evidence… I think there are some people out there who just don’t want to believe in it. There is a religious angle, and some people are just afraid of it. When some people are afraid of something, they just reject it no matter how much great evidence you have, even if it’s in USA Today that government scientists have confirmed the existence of ghosts.
There seems to be a fundamental difference between the residual kind of ghost or energy, and an actual intelligent entity. How do you see that dichotomy?
I don’t think residual hauntings are proof of life after death. There is energy created if a massive group of people are murdered, and if you were there witnessing that you would feel a shockwave, you would feel that energy. It’s a very powerful, dark energy I don’t think the atmosphere even knows how to handle. That’s no proof of life after death. But when we’re taunting evil spirits and getting responses and getting scratches on our backs, and getting relevant answers to our questions by the means of EVPs, that’s intelligence. That’s life. That takes things to the realm of life after death.
What are your goals now?
My goal has already been achieved: I’ve already gathered enough evidence to validate the personal experience that got me into this. But it’s never ending — we want to keep capturing evidence nonstop and someday hopefully prove in a scientific, factual manner that ghosts do exist. I would love to take some credit for that.
What has frightened me – not so much for my own sake since I’m on the other side of the TV – but there have been a few instances now where you seem to have lost control of your own personality. The scene where you are howling at poor Aaron in the Venice episode, that was truly frightening to me.
Can you explain what’s going on inside you at those times, and does that bother you when you seemingly lose control? To me that was getting into a whole other realm of experience.
It’s a whole other realm that we just don’t have answers for. This whole thing of ghosts and possessions, it’s not scientifically explained in factual data, so we don’t know what we’re messing with. When you don’t know what you’re messing with, the danger factor is very high.
Possessions are very real. We work with an archbishop exorcist who has witnessed possessions – some that have ended in death – and it is dangerous. Mankind deserves to know what’s going on – everybody wonders what happens after death. There are risks and we fully understand the risks and these spirits, these energies, can manipulate you. If you come into contact with the spirit of a serial killer, that energy can get inside you. You can feel the evil. You can be overtaken by that energy, and these energies can try to use your body to inflict harm on others, and that’s what happened to me in Italy.
What did that feel like inside while that was going on?
I have don’t have a whole lot of recollection of what it felt like. I didn’t remember a lot of it, and when I watched the footage it was very disturbing and a lot of it we didn’t show. And that’s really scary when you can snap like that, but we had a lot of scientific data leading up to that event that was very credible in the fact that we started seeing these balls of energy, these balls of light, and we were able to document that these balls of light contain electromagnetic energy, something that ghosts are said to be made up of.
How do you see piecing together the scientific with a more philosophical side of it and the religious side of it? We saw you bring in a religious element for the first time that I’ve seen anyway, to the show in that Venice episode.
We did, and there are so many different sides to the paranormal and I say we’re like mixed martial artists, using various tools to do paranormal research: religious, scientific, emotional. You have to have an understanding of all the sides if you really want to investigate this. As I said, it can be harmful, but knowing all these sides really helps you to handle the experiences you come into contact with.
Do you see the religious side of it as your ultimate personal protection?
I think so. It’s helped us, in particular in the case of Italy. There are ways to cleanse yourself and protect yourself on a religious level. While it’s not “proven,” it’s worked for us.