The concept of the paranormal, of something beyond what we see and hear, has always fascinated me. Over the span of my life, I’ve watched a number of shows about ghost hunting and paranormal investigations.
Most recently, I’ve been captivated by Hellier (YouTube/Prime), a show in which a team of investigators are asked to look into a strange case of Kentucky goblins — only to have the investigation spiral off into progressively weirder territory.
Two of the investigators in Hellier, Karl Pfeiffer and Connor Randall, began their work as paranormal investigators at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, a site well known for having paranormal activity and for being the inspiration for Stephen King’s The Shinning. From the period of 2009 to 2016, the hotel hosted five-hour paranormal investigations for the public, which Pfeiffer and Randall participated in as guides.
During their time at the Stanley, the pair along with fellow investigator Michelle Tate also held their own private investigations, which they filmed as part of a series called Spirits of the Stanley (YouTube).
Featuring seven episodes (broken into two to three ten minute parts), Spirits of the Stanley begins as a fairly standard ghost investigation show, involving explorations of the hotel in the dark of night (either as a team or individually) listening for voices or hoping for visual manifestations.
Due to their extended stay at the hotel, the team has an intimate knowledge of the location’s environment. Unlike a number of teams who are brought in for a night or few, Pfeiffer, Randall, and Tate have worked their over the course of months and years, getting to know the natural sounds of the spaces involved, making it easier for them to recognize if what they’re hearing or experiencing is out of the ordinary. In general, the team stays fairly grounded — presenting their evidence and experiences, while often admitting that they can’t prove that what they experienced was actually a ghost.
One of the most interesting elements of the show is when the team begins developing a new paranormal investigation technique — the Estes method (which is also used later in Hellier). The method implements a common investigation tool, the spirit box, in a unique way.
A spirit box is essentially device that works like a broken radio, cycling through radio frequency at a such a rapid rate that the stations are unintelligible. An investigation team will generally play the spirit box aloud and ask questions of the ghosts. If a coherent phrase comes through the box, it could mean that the ghost has responded — or that’s what some believe.
The spirit box has been criticized, because it can be susceptible to group bias. It’s easy enough for people to hear what they want to hear, and for the excitement of a “response” to be carried away by the group.
The Estes method is an attempt to combat that bias. Instead of the entire group, a single person — using noise cancelling headphones — listens to the spirit box. Unable to hear the questions asked, they say the words they hear, with rather interesting results.
Spirits of the Stanley presents three different experiments with the Estes method with varying results. Whether you believe this method actually eliminates bias or not, it’s fascinating to watch.