The best ghost-hunting apps and tools for Halloween 2018 – Vox

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Do I think ghosts are real? No, I’m a journalist! But do I think ghosts are real? Yes, it’s October.

When the air gets crisp and the leaves fall and everyone who sucks starts quoting the end of The Great Gatsby, it’s time to open your heart to the possibility that you don’t understand everything. You don’t even remember why leaves turn orange, probably. I know I don’t! You might buy some ghost-tracking equipment and play with it, and that would be an all right and possibly even admirable thing for you to do. Maybe better than a lot of other ways you could spend your money, hm?

I sat down with Kim Johnston, a paranormal researcher from Birmingham, Alabama, to find out what kind of money I should be prepared to spend on ghost-hunting apps and equipment this fall, and to get an expert opinion on which of the dozens of ghost-hunting apps available in the app store are rude scams that will only trick me and hurt my feelings.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Kaitlyn Tiffany

To start, could you give some background as to your experience in the paranormal field? What do you specialize in?

Kim Johnston

I have been either experiencing paranormal activity or investigating it and researching it for the last 10 years. It started when I moved into a house that I can only describe as haunted, back in 2008. So that’s where my journey into the paranormal began. I do have a day job — I’m a senior software engineer who designs and develops business web applications for an insurance company — so I tend to be pretty logical and skeptical. But there’s sometimes things that you experience that you have no other explanation for.

I write stories about local history and local hauntings, and then I also do a lot of residential cases where people call me because they’re experiencing paranormal activity and they need help.

Kaitlyn Tiffany

Could you talk a little bit about the local stories you’re referring to? And when you’re helping people in their homes, what exactly does that entail?

Kim Johnston

Here in Birmingham, in the early 1800s, the Creek tribe was being pushed off the land by Andrew Jackson. There were numerous fights in the area surrounding us — battles and massacres and that sort of thing. We have that type of history here that I think causes some of our hauntings.

The city of Birmingham was also known for its pig iron back in the 1800s, when we were having the Industrial Revolution. We have mines everywhere. All the abandoned mines tend to be haunted because so many men died while mining. Sloss Furnace is located here in Birmingham and it’s one of the most haunted places in America, I would argue. It’s haunted because so many men would die, falling into the fires, or from smoke inhalation, or other industrial accidents. Those are some of the stories I’ve investigated.

The first thing we do if someone thinks they’re having paranormal activity is, using an EMF (electromagnetic field) meter, I determine if there’s an electrical issue in the house. High EMF ratings have been linked to hallucinations and a feeling of paranoia, or making you feel like you’re being watched. These things can feel like they’re paranormal to the person experiencing them, but it can be just really high EMF and prolonged exposure to that. So the first thing we try to do is we try to debunk and rule out the paranormal.

If you don’t have an EMF meter to detect these different electromagnetic waves, then there are apps that have that built in. One of the apps is made by Laxton Ghosts; they’re some researchers out of Sweden. That app has several tools in it, and I find that one useful because it’s built by genuine researchers and not people who are just trying to have fun or make an app that’s kind of a joke.

A basic EMF meter, also called a K2 meter, you can find on Amazon or pretty much anywhere online. The cheapest model you can find is about $40 or so. It’s detecting electromagnetic fields, which are given off by anything electric: appliances, your power box at your house, power lines that go overhead. A TriField meter is a little more expensive. They’re about $150 or more, depending on what model you get. But that one can detect magnetic fields alone, and then electronic fields, and also radio frequencies depending on the settings you choose.

Kaitlyn Tiffany

I’m curious to hear a little more about how expensive this is as a hobby or as a research project. Other than the meters we’ve talked about, what kinds of things do you need to buy if you just want to try it out?

Kim Johnston

It can be a very budget-friendly hobby. All I started with was a flashlight and a voice recorder from Walmart that ran me about $30. Those were the two main tools I needed to get started in paranormal research. The voice recorder is used to capture electronic voice phenomena (EVPs). That’s all you need to get started. You can just go into a place that you know is haunted, or feel like might be haunted, turn your voice recorder on, and start asking questions, and see if any kind of voices show up on your recording afterward.

The next piece of equipment would be a decent camera. You can use your camera built into your phone, but if you want to do something like a night vision camera, those run about $200 for a good one from a reliable dealer. You’ll need the IR lights that help light up the room so the camera can see. I think IR lights are anywhere from $40 and up. That’s really all you would need.

Kaitlyn Tiffany

Have you seen the BooBuddy teddy bear that has an EMF reader in it? I just stumbled across it this morning and really want one.


The BooBuddy bear has an EMF reader in his stomach to help detect paranormal activity.
Bytown Paranormal

Kim Johnston

I have one!

Kaitlyn Tiffany

Do you love it?

Kim Johnston

I do like it. We did have a very interesting experience using it at an old mining village. It has an EMF meter inside it, so its belly will grow red if it detects any electrical fields. We were standing out in the middle of the woods of this mining village and the bear’s belly starts glowing red. We ruled out that there was anything electrical around to cause it to do that. One of the people with us said she felt like there was a little girl holding her hand. She was holding BooBuddy in one arm and then the other felt like a little girl was holding her hand. It has recorded questions inside of it. We’ve used that some but not with a lot of luck — at least not yet. But it does seem to attract childlike spirits.

Kaitlyn Tiffany

So once an EMF meter shows you something like that, what’s next?

Kim Johnston

Next, we’ll set up the voice recorders, and we use [what’s called] a spirit box. A spirit box is an AM/FM radio that’s been “hacked” to scan through all the radio stations at a high rate of speed and create white noise. It’s really noisy and makes a lot of racket, but the theory goes that spirits can [manipulate] that white noise to [make words or sounds] and communicate with us — real-time, where we can hear them. We can ask questions, and they hopefully will respond.

Some [apps that can also do this] scan internet radio stations and others just have a bank of sounds built in. We have a [classic] radio spirit box, and we also use apps that are spirit boxes on our smartphones. My favorite spirit box app that I’m using right now is SonoX10, which is one of those apps that just has a sound bank; there’s also a SonoX12 for people on Android.

Kaitlyn Tiffany

Could you talk a little bit about how you go about deciding that a research team — and therefore their app — is reliable?

Kim Johnston

I had a conversation with the creators of the Laxton Ghost app. I did a little research on them and saw that they were serious investigators — they weren’t just trying to create something for fun, and this was a serious effort to create something that was useful for paranormal research. I really kind of go by whether these people are serious in the field or if they’re just out to make a buck and fool somebody.

I avoid [the popular free app] Ghost Radar or anything named similarly to Ghost Radar — anything that has a built-in feature where you can take photos while you’re in the app. That kind of app will manipulate your photos to make you think you’ve caught some kind of paranormal apparition or strange-looking orb in your photos. So those are not very credible to me.

I was kind of skeptical of iOvilus, which is an app that seemingly just spits out random words. Supposedly spirits can manipulate it and give responses, make it say a word that’s relevant to what you’re asking or where you are. I do like to play with that one. Not everything it says is accurate or even applicable to where we are or what we’re doing, but sometimes it’ll do something or say something that’s dead-on. It makes me wonder.

Kaitlyn Tiffany

Since you are a software developer, is working on something related to the paranormal something you’d ever get into on the technical side?

Kim Johnston

I haven’t started developing the code for it yet, but I am in the research phase [of an idea]. I want to create something that will allow a spirit to be able to interact and give yes or no responses. I have an idea of how that can be done differently than it has been done in other applications. One day, I hope to get that developed.

Kaitlyn Tiffany

My big question around the app stuff is, obviously if you’re interacting with ghosts, they’re probably pre-iPhone. Does that seem like a barrier to you?

Kim Johnston

You’re saying that the ghosts are from long ago, how would they know how to use our equipment?

Kaitlyn Tiffany

Yeah. Sorry if that’s a dumb question.

Kim Johnston

No, no, I struggled with this question in the beginning of my paranormal research too. What I would do is I would explain to the spirits when we started a session how to use all the various equipment. Some of my friends would kind of giggle at me because I felt the need to do this. Supposedly once you’ve passed on and you’re on the other side, you’re kind of all-knowing and you don’t need those explanations, but I still explain it anyway.

I do think it is a barrier at times. Our equipment can be intimidating, it can be loud, I do think that some spirits are afraid to interact with us because of that. But yeah, I don’t know, some of them figure it out really quick and we get some good interaction.

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