The economics of ghost hunting


This week’s food show wouldn’t be complete without talking a bit about candy: the official food of Halloween. Americans will spend more money than ever on sweets this year. Between candy, costumes and haunted wagon rides, we’ll be shelling out around $80 a piece on average this Halloween, according to the National Retail Federation.

But for some consumers, the scary spending is more of a year-round affair. Take Michael Valentino, who took a three-hour trip from New Jersey to the small town of Napanoch in upstate New York to spend the night at the haunted Shanley Hotel.

“Today is my birthday,” he said. “I just turned 30 and I wanted to do something that I’ve never done. So I was online looking at this place and I was like, I want to do this, this is awesome. And we booked it, like last month.

The other part of this “we” is Valentino’s girlfriend, Chelsea Pearcell. She is less enthused by the Shanley’s paranormal possibilities.

“I try,” she said. “I can’t be the lame girlfriend.”

Pearcell says she doesn’t want to have a paranormal experience at the Shanley, but almost everyone does. The hotel charges $85 per person. In return, he gives you a haunted room, a historical tour, and offers gear and guides to help you hunt ghosts late into the night.

But if you think spending $85 to see a ghost is a lot, you should meet a serious ghost hunter. Willy Hassel has been tracking the paranormal for 10 years. He shows off his latest purchase: “It’s a full-spectrum camera,” he says. “The infrared and ultraviolet spectrum, which you can’t see with the naked eye, this camera will capture it all. It’s my new toy.

Hassel leads a team called Spirit Chasers Paranormal and estimates he spent around $900 on ghost hunting gear. “When you get addicted, like anything else, you start spending money,” he says.

Spirit hunter Michelle Hamel says she got addicted herself. “We’ve got the game cameras, we’ve got the digital cameras, we’ve got the K2 meters, we’ve got more voice recorders than I care to admit to owning,” she says. Hamel estimates she spent over $1,000 on ghost hunting gear.

It may seem odd to spend money trying to see a ghost, but more and more people are willing to pay, says Shanley owner Sal Nicosia. Nicosia says these days most of her guests are newbies in their 20s and 30s who became curious after watching ghost-hunting reality shows.

“Just like you see tonight…we’re getting a lot of new people, never done this before,” he says. “It gives me satisfaction to see the expression on their faces, that there is something there.”

Meanwhile, on the spooky, unrestored third floor of the Shanley, Spirit Chasers Paranormal member Michelle Hamel has just had a sighting. “Going down, looking from room to room… Saw a tall, dark person waving.” Unfortunately, the character was not filmed. However, later that night, Hassel says he got a recording from one of the rooms: a ghostly voice telling him to get out.

How did the amateurs do it? No hard evidence, but Valentino and Pearcell had an idea in one of the rooms. “Like a lead blanket, where you’re weighed down,” says Valentino. “As if you were about to be shocked by something.”

Pearcell felt it too. “I actually felt it in my spine,” she says.

The reward for ghost hunting? Bad feelings, shadow figures, angry voices and, of course, a good ghost story.

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