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A Ghost Hunters Rant: Octagon Hall

A few members of the TAPS team.
A few members of the TAPS team.

Paranormal television…well, I just had to give it another shot.

Octagon Hall.
R. Hinton

I don’t watch a lot of it. Occasionally a location will intrigue me, or maybe it’s a place I have been and I’ll watch. But generally—No! If you are involved in paranormal investigation yourself, you have a tendency not to want to watch others doing the same thing. On the February 5, 2014 episode of Syfy Channel’s Ghost Hunters the TAPS crew traveled to Franklin, Kentucky to “mitigate” an urgent request from the owner of the Octagon Hall. I have been there—several times—and the show disturbed me. And not for any paranormal evidence gathered.

The Octagon Hall had been an integral stopping off station on that invisible borderline between the North and South during the period of the Civil War. There are claims that residents from this period still remain behind within the house and on the grounds. I wanted to watch the show to see what the kids came up with and match with my own experiences.

The Ghost Hunters crew did not come up with any revolutionary evidence, and to their credit even debunked a couple of things, but what bothered me about the telecast was the pretense of it all and televisions twisting of emotions involving paranormal situations. And maybe not necessarily lying…but certainly not offering the whole story. By omitting certain facts, it puts a different spin on the investigation. And how they made owner and director Billy Byrd appear for the sake of a contrived situation.

Generally I like the Ghost Hunters team. Always have. They have been around the longest on the continuing magical realm of paranormal TV and were directly responsible for my decision to quit doing it solo and actually get immersed in a team of like minds. I have the first few seasons of their DVDs on my shelf. They had been unofficial mentors in my journey when I took the plunge towards teamwork, and seem a fun bunch to sit down with over a few beers and trade war stories. I like Jason Hawes and his “don’t take crap from anyone” attitude. But, I would also expect that the only crap that Jason will take is from the Syfy network and how they want their show to come across. Pretense, pretense….

The pretense that was depicted on the Octagon House show:

  • This was the first time that members of the Ghost Hunters had set foot on the property. Yes, I know, but it’s all about what they didn’t say…. Maybe Jason Hawes had never been there, but Ami Bruni and Adam Berry had in 2012, participating in one of those “celebrity” ghost hunts where you pay an outrageous amount of dollars to hunt side by side with a ghost hunter from television. Bruce Tango (father of team member Dave) also joined the festivities. The Ghost Hunters team was not meeting Octagon for the first time…yet there was no reference to that fact.
  • Ghost Hunters were the first to investigate. Wrong! Paranormal investigative groups have been filtering through the Octagon House for years! The restoration of the grand old monument has been a labor of love for Billy Byrd, but it’s also a business (Scarefest 2012, for example). Careful camera angles did not show the wall of celebrity photos hung in the main entryway or the sheets hung on the wall of the main lower level dining area with hundreds of names of paranormal investigators and teams who have passed through its doors. Again…no mention of this fact.
  • A “sudden” increase in spiritual activity was causing Billy and his volunteers cause for concern for their safety. Wrong! The new onslaught of spookiness (shadows, figures seen, a rushing of a spirit through a physical body) is hardly “threatening” and has been going on for years there. I would expect that Billy and his volunteers have grown quite used to it. Kudos Syfy…good story with an element of danger! And Billy stating on camera he was afraid to go into the house alone—the magic touch!

But the biggest pretense that caused me to pour a stiff drink of rum:

  • Billy Byrd—a desperate owner that needed answers—stating to Hawes in his plea video purportedly sent to TAPS, and reinforced again during the opening interview—I need help!

During recent renovations Billy had discovered a tunnel, extending from a second story closet, which he suspects harbored Confederate soldiers when the Union came to call. Another such tunnel was found in the basement kitchen. The discovery of these tunnels resulted in a rash of paranormal activity that scared him and his staff.

Come on now Billy…and Syfy! This should be old hat considering your years of tenure in the paranormal business. This should not be affecting you or your staff in the least. Everyone from The Most Terrifying Places in America in 2010, the Bio Channel’s My Ghost Story, John ZaffisHaunted Collector in 2012, a partial representation of the Ghost Hunters team and years of weekend ghost hunts has trod through your entryway and climbed that beautiful staircase to the second floor bedrooms. The paranormal has been a big factor in your life for many many years.

I love Billy Byrd. He is a charming and personable southern gentleman who has done a remarkable thing in keeping the Octagon Hall alive and kicking. The Billy I watched during the telecast—while usually very animated—seemed rather nervous subdued, and I can’t explain it any other way—desperate! His words seemed scripted. My girlfriend Laura, never having met him, got the impression he was angry. Where were those great stories of the Confederacy and a time when life and death depended on ones mastery of surviving the elements and making sure your family was fed? I would guess that Syfy didn’t have time for that nonsense.

I would also guess it was a mutual arrangement: Syfy needed a location and Octagon Hall needed to regenerate interest. It was a smart business arrangement. Having the TAPS team come to call is a coup-de-grace for any haunted venue. Competition is fierce with so many paranormal investigative opportunities out there, and after doing this for several years, Billy would certainly not say “No.” Octagon Hall is a grand old house that needs upkeep and the money has to come from somewhere.

On the Ghost Hunters episode the emphasis was on the tunnels and had they unleashed something? “We are struggling with the questions we have,” Billy stated. He wanted to know whether he should reseal the tunnels to put an end to the paranormal activity. TAPS’ Reveal to a very grateful Billy Byrd was a door shutting in the basement while Steve and Tango watched (Yawn), and digital audio recordings of what seemed the murmur of women in conversation, a female humming, and a dog whining; Billy countered it sounded more like a child in pain, which Jason Hawes immediately went with. However, the “big” audio clip of the night was a male voice stating “Don’t forget about us.” And even that was a questionable interpretation of what came across.

The question proposed was should he close the tunnels. Hawes proposed that this audio statement indicated that he should not. By leaving them open it would highlight the turmoil of the times when the Confederacy struggled to survive. This told Billy exactly what he wanted to hear. I feel he wouldn’t have anyway, regardless of whatever Hawes told him. When John Zaffis paid a visit in 2012 he recommended moving Caldwell’s (the original owner of the Octagon House) wife’s photo back to a place of prominence on the first floor; it would stop the surge of paranormal activity. Billy said that he would, but chose not to. It was still on the second floor when we paid a visit a few months later. Billy listens to advice, but apparently chooses to not always take it. Ceasing the paranormal activity is not even an option.

Steve Gonsalves’ Cicada on the left shoulder of his jacket was amusing as it played upon his phobia of insects, but all in all, it was a boring episode…with little sustenance.

Billy Byrd’s’ recent discovery of the tunnels had not happened during my last visit, but he had initiated the process of digging about in the basement. No mention was made to Jason Hawes—or investigated during the show—about the hiding area under the front steps accessed from the basement, yet it was shown during the various camera inserts.

Yes…a rather dull night for the Ghost Hunters team and television viewers. One clue that it will be a mundane investigation is when Syfy encompasses two investigations into one episode. They need the filler because frankly…not much is happening in either.

I get it! This is television and ultimately a product for public consumption. Syfy will always want to give the impression that the TAPS crew are the only paranormal team out there and that haunted locations are exclusive to them. Yet no one is at fault here. Jason Hawes, as lead investigator, has to keep Syfy happy and at the same time toe that narrow line between entertainment and the true reality of the paranormal. The line is beginning to blur…. Billy Byrd does what he has to do to insure the survival of Octagon Hall.

Syfy plows onward in the continuation and survival of an enterprise. We have the luxury to choose not to watch.

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