COLUMN: Ghost-hunting is a great way to connect with the past, even for non-believers


Ghosts aren’t real.

I’m not saying that I don’t “believe” in ghosts, in the same way some people don’t believe in God or aliens or life after love.

I’m saying ghosts aren’t real in the same way Santa or mermaids or convincing evidence linking vaccines to autism aren’t real — they’re simply things that do not exist.

Now that you know I’m somebody who thinks like this, it might surprise you to learn that one of the best experiences I had as a reporting intern for the Jackson Citizen Patriot this past summer was when I went ghost-hunting.

On the bright and sunny evening of July 7, a photographer and I accompanied the "Motor City Ghost Hunters" as they investigated the future site of the Hackett Auto Museum located just on the outskirts of downtown Jackson.

Accompanying our impromptu gang of ghostbusters was the founder of the museum himself, Ted O'Dell, who tagged along with our group despite not quite being a believer in the paranormal. For O'Dell, the night was more about the opportunity to connect with the past he is trying to preserve. 

Built in 1910, the factory building has housed several car manufacturers, from Standard Electric Automobile Company, to the Briscoe Motor Company and Hackett Motor Car Company. With more than 100 years of history in its past, the building has had more than enough time to build up its roster of paranormal guests.

 "There was a lot of activity (the ghost hunters) picked up on that I did not expect," O'Dell said to me after a long night of communing with the building's spirits. "What they've shared with me tonight validates the good things that I'm trying to do here." 

Everyone in the building that night left with more than they came in with: the ghost-hunters found enough "spiritual activity" to consider it another successful hunt, O'Dell left with a renewed enthusiasm for the building's long history, and although I didn't leave as any more of a believer than I came in as, I did find a new appreciation for ghost-hunting as a practice and hobby.

Even though I can't get behind the idea of people spending their afterlife loitering in a place they might have hung out once, the memories left behind from the past can be ghosts in their own right. When a group of ghost hunters tell you a man named "Johnny" died in an industrial accident right in the spot you're standing, it should be a reminder of how dangerous the industrial process was back then – not a chance to turn a story of human suffering into a momentary thrill for those with a fetish for the morbid and macabre. 

What's more disturbing -- the poltergeist of a murdered woman spending her time pushing things around a room, or the fact that someone's life was ended by another human being in the first place? Is gawking at the possibility of a "spooky" experience a worthwhile way to commemorate the past?

When the Motor City Ghost Hunters returned to the Hackett building on Sept. 1, they hosted public ghost tours with all proceeds going directly to the museum itself. Whether or not I buy into what they're selling, I can respect their priorities when it comes to honoring each place they visit.

Whether they're good or bad, happy or sad, all ghost stories are ultimately human stories. The tales and memories left behind when we die "haunt" the world enough as it is – we can learn so much about our own history through the lives and deaths of those who came before us, we don't need "ghosts" to justify being interested in the past.