Friday, 12 August 2016

Is Every Historic Building In Britain Haunted? Meet The Man Who Means To Prove It and Tabloids That Exploit Him.

There's a shadowy figure stalking the halls and staircases of some of Britain's most famous historical buildings. Wherever he is spotted, reports of paranormal phenomena are almost certain to follow. Usually in the tabloid press. Meet Mark Vernon (left), Yorkshire ghost hunter and self-proclaimed "paranormal detective". Mark has appeared in two prominent news stories within the last few months. The latest first appeared the Keighley News on 6th August and was quickly picked up by the national tabloid press. The story tells us Mark had been at 17th Century East Riddlesden Hall for only 10 minutes when he caught footage of an alleged "ghost". He then went on to capture the same apparition in several other rooms of the building. The most notable thing about the footage is how singularly unspectacular it is.

The footage features a light coloured "orb" drifting back and forth and up and down the screen. You can see the footage used in the news story at the 3:00 mark in this video Mark uploaded to YouTube roughly a year ago (below). Apologies for the awful 90s throwback dance music Mark chose to package the video with.

I'm sure after watching the footage, you concluded as I did, there seems to be absolutely no reason to suspect this "ghost" is anything more than a piece of fluff or dust immediately in front of the camera lens. The fact that it follows the person capturing the video around the Hall suggests to me it's something small, dust, fluff or even an insect, attached to the camera or the person shooting the film. I mean physically attached... not you know... a spiritual attachment. Of course, this may not be the case, it's not beyond the realm of possibility that these are just three separate specks of dust.  Historic buildings tend to be, well, dusty, and bed linens and tapestries, in particular, hang on to dust well.
                              (above) The "spirit" appears by a staircase

               (above) The "spirit" also appears in one of the hall's bedrooms.

                                   (above) ...and in front of a tapestry

I think what is most interesting about this story is why is it only being featured in the press now? Vernon shot this footage over a year ago, so if he truly believed it to be evidence of the paranormal, why sit on it for twelve months? I think it's because Mark recently garnered some press attention with another piece of footage recently, and was actively looking for something similar to offer the press. 

In June this year, a video filmed by Vernon in Wakefield Cathedral (left) was featured in the Daily Mail and other tabloid news outlets. I looked at it at the time and considered whether to blog about it. I decided against it because, frankly, there was nothing to really write about. Mark tells the Mail "'I was investigating it for 40 minutes - I caught a ghost, a shadow man, walking past my camera in broad daylight." And the footage alleges to show this shadow figure, but I almost literally cannot see anything. There's a slight lightening of the screen in the highlight area, but are we seriously to extrapolate from that "ghost"? Come off it. The only other supportive evidence Mark provides is that a team of spirits "told him" the identity of the ghost, and Mark highlights a snippet of audio that he believes is a spirit communicating with him. The problem with this is, as I'm sure you heard on the video, the audio is filled with the constant hum of tourists chatting. This snippet of speech is likely just part of that background hum.

Mark's YouTube channel is filled with similar non-remarkable footage filmed mostly in historic locations, I have to say I don't really doubt this man's honesty. I don't think he's a cynic out to exploit a lazy and greedy tabloid press that will accept just about anything as evidence of the paranormal, especially if it comes with a video that can be monetised. Let's face it, once you've viewed that non-skippable ad in front of Mark's videos on the Mail or the Sun or the Mirror, those companies have your money. They couldn't give a shit if ultimately, you've watched a video of nothing happening. Rather I think Mark is just a chap who sees "paranormal activity" everywhere he looks, and I also believe he genuinely enjoyed his moment of fame.

As I've mentioned before, many paranormal investigators are, as Kenny Biddle termed them, anomaly hunters. Mark's videos show him as a man with this propensity dialled up to eleven. As Mark Smith of Northern Ghost Investigations points out on the group's Facebook page, 30 years experience isn't that impressive when you're still falling for dust orbs.  When a man plays the Omen soundtrack over an image of himself with glowing white eyes shot in night vision, a simple and well-understood effect which he implies means he is possessed, it's clear there is some severe straw clutching going on. 

Likewise, videos which claim to feature "2 ghosts and an alien" (not some bizarre tribute to "2 girls one cup" I hope) show us a man who sees paranormal entities everywhere he looks, in the mundanity of the everyday world lurk ghosts and aliens. Where others see dust and fluff, dwell phantom monks and demons. As Mark told the Mail in June, in his own words:

"'I have the ability to make things happen when I walk into a room."

I think this speaks volumes about the narrative Mark has formed around himself. It's a shame that the attention he and his work have recently enjoyed in the press is closer in nature to exploitation for money-generating click-bait than genuine exposure.

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