Former "Ghost Hunters" investigator Kris Williams talks 'paranormal' in Bennington

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BENNINGTON — Kris Williams came to town Friday but she wasn't in search of ghosts.

Instead, the former paranormal investigator from the SyFy television channel's "Ghost Hunters" and "Ghost Hunters International" series discussed ethics which fraudsters have ignored throughout history.

The two television shows looked at whether something truly was going on in homes or businesses where haunted experiences were reported. The hosts were plumbers by day and paranormal investigators by night. Several networks have launched similar productions.

"The biggest problem is our audience has become desensitized," said Williams. "They want to see chairs being levitated and being thrown. They want to see people being possessed. It's impossible. And you have the honest investigators stuck in the middle of this trying to make the show interesting without being a fraud."

Williams exited "Ghost Hunters International" after realizing motivations relied too heavily on ratings. The last straw was an incident involving a cast member cutting herself in a bloodletting ritual held at a location in Belize. Williams did not want the episode to air and when it did, she quit.

"SyFy is amazing. I honestly couldn't say that enough. But this never should have happened. The production company should have known better," Williams said. "It just backfired. Ratings for this show took a nosedive after this episode."

Approximately six months later, the show was cancelled. And now, Williams stays involved in the field but in a way she is no longer edited.

"I can be myself and I can be real," she said.

Early in her career, Williams was asked where she saw investigations going in the next five to 10 years. She didn't know.

Now, Williams has seen drastic changes.

"I look back to the spiritualist movement, so the mid-1800s," she said. "You'll see a lot of similarities to today."

Williams hopes to see the field avoid the same "crash and burn" that occurred to spiritualism in the 1930s. Unfortunately, fame and fortune attracts fraud and fakery.

The spiritualist movement focused heavily on the medium, who would claim to have the ability to communicate with the dead. Its roots began with the Fox family settling into what seemed to be a haunted house. Several occupants had already left the Hydesville, N.Y., home after short stays.

"They started hearing footsteps leading to the basement, raps in the walls," said Williams. "They claimed that people were yanked from their beds and one girl claimed she woke up feeling a cold hand on her face."

The family launched an investigation, performing tests involving call and response tactics to interview the spirit, which was believed to be a 31-year-old peddler murdered in the house then buried in the basement. Two of the Fox sisters quickly became famous as they were considered to be mediums.

Seances would offer a way to interact with spirits but Williams largely distrusts them. Those involved would be asked to keep their hands clasped or on a table while skeptics wouldn't be allowed to sit at the table and the mediums could not be touched during the process. It was too easy to dupe the audience, said Williams, pointing out modern investigators pull off similar tricks by hiding in the dark. Night time is best, however, because there is quiet and less activity to worry about interference.

Frauds eventually were exposed. The magician Harry Houdini became well-known for calling out the shams. He wore disguises after he was no longer allowed at public seances.

Gadgets, tools and equipment soon came into the fold. Photographs revealed mysterious spirits but this method was too easy to manipulate. Talking boards also were dismissed as users claimed to be in a trance as they used a wooden tray table with letters and numbers to communicate with spirits. That leaves it up to how much you trust the person, Williams said.

"By the 1930s, (spiritualism) started fizzling out," she said. "The main reason was it was just getting attacked."

Scientists and investigators began to disprove theories. Margaret Fox went on to call the movement "an absolute falsehood from the beginning to the end," admitting she and her sister fooled people.

According to Williams, spiritualism likely was popular due to the deaths of loved ones during the Civil War and World War II. And an interest in the paranormal seems to have increased after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

"Most of the people who get into the paranormal or get into the spiritualist movement, it's because they're hurt. They're grieving. They're broken in their own way. That's how I came in. We lost five people in one year," said Williams. "You really have to trust the investigator. Even with the investigators I trust with my life, we'll still question each other. We never get insulted when we're questioned. Usually, when people are up to no good and you start questioning them and questioning them, they get ticked off."

Williams urges investigators to use multiple pieces of equipment. Devices now popular in the field look at frequencies in the electromagnetic field while others record sounds and video in varying quality.

"I don't know how many times I sat in what was an empty room, asking random questions then I go home and listen to a recording where I'm getting sweared at. It's a great feeling," Williams said. "How do you explain that?"

Williams' lecture was part of the Fun Friday Series being held at the Masonic Temple Ballroom in Bennington. D.J. Renee Bisson is scheduled to appear on July 3, with the Memory Brothers performing 1950s, 1960s, rock and country covers on Aug. 7 and a tribute to Johnny Cash on Oct. 2. September's event is still to be determined. Visit mtanthony13.org for tickets and e-mail events@mtanthony13.org for event sponsorship opportunities.

Contact Chris Mays at cmays@benningtonbanner.com or 802-447-7567, ext. 111.


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