My friend Bryan and I went on a “ghost hunt” (I use the quotes advisedly) at an old house in southern Indiana last night. They were hosting a tour of this supposedly haunted house, as well as a three-hour “investigation” that went until midnight. It seemed like an interesting thing to do on Halloween, and ghost hunting is pretty much the modern engagement with the supernatural par excellence.
Alas, things were a bit less hunt-y and a bit more turn-out-all-the-lights-and-speculate-about-the-horrible-stuff-that-went-on-here-y. The small crowd that turned out for the event approached it with varying degrees of seriousness, and the noise of different groups tromping around the house, giggling and periodically blinding you with camera-flashes, went a long way to demystifying the whole experience.
In all, it was less a chance to participate in a specific local supernatural tradition than it was a staged tourist event. It attracted primarily high schoolers and at least one drunk person, and the house itself, while certainly old and dilapidated, also contained precisely enough kitsch–and exactly no sense of presence of any kind, beyond the ghost hunters themselves–to cause me to disengage from the whole thing. Contrary to a lot of other scholars, I don’t necessarily see anything wrong with the commodification of tradition. I’m not criticizing the ghost hunt on those grounds. It just wasn’t what I wanted it to be.