SCI FI Channel‘s Ghost Hunters International debuted Wednesday night as the network’s No. 1 reality telecast in its history, and bested its broadcast time slot competition, including the dreadful, and dreadfully popular, Gossip Girl. The episode found a new team of Ghost Hunters — lead investigators Robb Demarest and Andy Andrews; Brian Harnois, Donna La Croix, Barry Fitzgerald (whom you may recall from the original Ghost Hunters’ frightening exploration of some Irish ruins) and newcomer Shannon Sylvia — traveling to England’s Chillingham Castle and Scotland’s Mary King’s Close to see what kind of spirits Europe can throw at us. As you might expect, the Old World did not disappoint. The Close was especially creepy, an underground series of tunnels and streets where many once died from the plague, including a little girl named Annie. Visitors now leave piles of toys and stuffed animals for Annie, and under the greenish glow of the Ghost Hunters’ cameras even these innocent items took on an air of sinister intent.
Next week we’ll see the team descending into the depths of the Abbey at Lucedio, near Turin, Italy, to unlock the secrets behind the legends that make up its 1,400-year-old history. Then, a trip to Wales takes them to the legendary Nanteos Mansion. Lore has it that this was the one-time resting place of the Holy Grail.
Last month I was able to talk with Robb and Donna in advance of the show, and here are some of their insights:
Q: Are you going to visit the more obvious, well-known haunted places in Europe, like the Tower of London, or some lesser-known areas?
Robb: I think it’s a combination. Certainly people want to see us go to some of the exciting, well-known places that they can recognize. At the same time, our job is to find the most active locations. If there’s evidence out there we certainly want to find it. Sometimes you have to go off the beaten path. I spent a couple of hours working with some friends of mine overseas on some locations that, unless you speak fluent Japanese, you’re probably not going to find. So it’s pretty exciting to get in there where no one else has been and see what we can find.
Donna: You’ll see us going to different parts of Eastern Europe, and possibly France and Germany.
Robb: Italy will be on the menu as well.
Q: Have you gotten any EVPs (Electronic Voice Phenomenon) that were in a different language? Did you have it translated?
Donna: One of our locations that we investigated was in Italy, and one of the EVPs that we captured … a response was not in English but Italian.
Robb: In this case it was actually fascinating because we play the voice for the client, and get their take on it, and we didn’t know what the meaning of it was before we approached the client with this phrase. And when we heard it, it brought the whole investigation together, and definitely was a moment that could send a chill up your spine.
Donna: It was an answer that made sense to the question being asked, which makes it even more profound.
Q: Have you also gotten any strong visual evidence in your investigations?
Donna: The fans won’t be disappointed in regards to [visuals]. We do have some exciting evidence.
Q: What is the most common reaction when you confirm to someone that their place is indeed haunted? Relief? Excitement? Fear?
Robb: Most of the reactions we have gotten have been overwhelmingly positive. Most of our clients believe that their locations are haunted. We come in and try to rule out the possibility of a haunting. Whatever is left over at that point indicates that there is paranormal activity. I think the client’s pretty happy when they believe it’s haunted, and we couldn’t rule everything out.
Donna: Robb and Andy are the lead investigators, so they also are responsible for taking all the evidence that we collect and bringing it to the client in the last segment, called the reveal.
Robb: Andy is an expert; he is terrific. He has a real analytical mind, so when he is presented with these reports of these paranormal happenings, his mind kicks in immediately and he starts looking for alternative explanations.
Q: European civilization is obviously much older than America. Based on the greater amount of history, have you found that leads to more ghosts in Europe than you’ve seen in your American investigations?
Donna: The general thought is that Europe is a lot older in terms of development than the United States, so of course they would have much more active paranormal activity. In honesty, I don’t find a huge difference. I do find that the stories and fables associated with a certain location are a lot more embellished [in Europe]. But I do not find that they are any more “charged up” than what I have found in my investigations in the United States. These places we investigate are usually in the very least a couple of hundred years old. With them are associated a lot of stories and legends. My part of the research is to try and find any historical substance that either verifies or debunks these stories. Oftentimes they are just stories, but at times we come across other information that nobody knew about, and does relate to the investigation and the evidence. Sometimes it’s disappointing when you find out those popular ghost stories have no meaning historically, but that you did know that certain people that lived there back then are coming through on our EVPs.
Q: Do Europeans have a different attitude toward ghosts and the paranormal than Americans?
Donna: I think it’s real location-specific. Sometimes you have towns that are known to be haunted, and which attract a lot of tourists. A lot of the locals get resentful of that, so you get a lot of locals nay-saying the whole idea about the place being haunted. Then again, you go into a tavern or a hotel that proposes itself as being haunted and they welcome us with open arms. So it’s really location dependent. For the most part I would say, just talking with people … most people have a ghost story. Most people would tell you, you know what, I had this one experience when, dot dot dot.
Robb: [laughs] You’d be surprised how many times people come up with the opener: “Now, I don’t believe in ghosts, BUT … ” and then launch into this massive story about how they saw something that there was no other way to explain. But people feel safe once they’ve issued that kind of disclaimer for it.
Q: What was your most memorable or scariest encounter so far in your European investigations?
Donna: [not giving much away] We usually have teams of two investigators that go out with just a cameraman and a production assistant. Sometimes we’re put in somewhat spiritually dangerous situations, where we have to do our job, but still it’s hard to separate your feeling from all the activity you’ve heard about [in] this place. So psychologically it could take its toll on you. You’ve got to really close down that part of your brain that’s replaying all those ghost stories. Some of them are really grotesque, and dangerous.
Q: How have you found the places you’ve investigated?
Donna: There’s been instances where we’re scheduled to do a location and we’ve been sitting in a pub and talking to the owner or the bartender and they start telling us stories. And it’s a little place off the beaten path, but it’s a place full of activity that we try to get into. It takes a lot to get a place approved. … A lot of it has to do with government approval. There’s a couple places in Germany I guess we were supposed to be able to get into, but due to the government they just wouldn’t allow any investigators to come in. And then there was a place where the owner was really highly resistant against any group coming in because of a bad experience with a previous investigative group, but we were able to come in and ease his fears and be professional.
Robb: People see us coming, and say “ghost investigators,” “ghost hunters,” those sort of things, and they think we’re going to be holding a seance, breaking out a Ouija board. And it’s not that kind of party with us. We’re bringing in high-tech equipment. We come in with an open mind, but our first thing is to be skeptical and not just believe the claims and stories that we’ve heard.
Q: Most paranormal investigations, not just on your show, are conducted at night. Is this more conducive to activity, or just to help increase the creepiness factor?
Robb: On a personal level, one of the reasons that I like investigating at night, is that you get this quiet. You don’t have, necessarily, the cars going by, the passersby, so that’s useful for what we do. I also find that investigating at night, you’re more aware of your surroundings. Even though you may be in pitch darkness, you can hear things, you can make out things in the darkness, that in the light your eye might be drawn to certain things. Whereas in the dark, you’re totally in the moment, and it makes it easier for you to get an idea of what’s going on in a location.
Q: The original “Ghost Hunters” would occasionally delve into the human dramas among the team members. Are you going there with this series?
Robb: Six people together, we’re away from home, in foreign territory; there are going to be some tensions. But for the most part, I think that everyone on this team has respect for each other, each other’s abilities and backgrounds. It is kind of a family atmosphere. Will there be some sibling rivalry? Yeah, there probably will be. But at the end of the day we all go home from the investigation and maintain a high level of respect for each other.
Q: Robb, you mentioned earlier that you were looking into a haunting in Japan. Just how international is “Ghost Hunters International” going to get?
Robb: Nothing’s in the works on that yet, but what’s nice is that SCI FI has been open enough to take suggestions. Hopefully, this show is going to be as international as it possibly can be. We’d like to go anywhere and everywhere. If there’s paranormal activity, we’d like to chase it down.