TAPS and Trickery at the Pasadena Playhouse

Britt Griffith, star of Syfy’s Ghost Hunters and Ghost Hunters International took the stage Saturday night at the Pasadena Playhouse to deliver a lecture on ghost hunting and to do a Q&A with excited fans.  Tickets to the event, originally $30, were lowered to $5 due to poor sales.  By the time Griffith took the stage, only about 1/3rd of the available seats were taken.

Credit: Luis Castillo

After saying that he was a bit rushed and would only be able to talk for about an hour, Britt kicked off his performance by stating, unequivocally, that he never faked evidence on Ghost Hunters, nor did he ever see anyone he worked with fake anything.  “I don’t know how they do things on other shows,” he said.  “But we never faked anything.”  And if that sounds like a weird way to kick off a show to you, I would agree.  But roughly 35 minutes later, these words would blow up in his face.

Lou Castillo, an independent paranormal investigator in California and self-proclaimed “believer,” attended the evening’s festivities and reported what went on directly to me throughout the night.  A longtime listener of the internet radio show and podcast, Strange Frequencies Radio, that I host along with my friend Bobby Nelson, Lou is affectionately known by us as our “West Coast Correspondent.”

Britt put on an entertaining show, Lou told me.  He told jokes, regaled the audience with tales from behind-the-scenes of the Ghost Hunters program and showed clips of pranks the cast has pulled on each other.  He also gave advice to would be paranormal investigators, explaining why the crew uses certain pieces of equipment and warning that, should they ever be traipsing around in abandoned locations, it may be smart to invest in a carbon monoxide detector.  Later, creating a bit of an “Us vs. Them” atmosphere, Mr. Griffith gave a few of his thoughts on skeptics, pooh-poohing “what skeptics would have you believe” as it pertained to paranormal photography and EVP recordings.

What really got the audience excited, however, was Britt’s buildup to a secret piece of video never before seen from one of their televised investigations.  “West Coast Correspondent Lou” described it as “black and white night vision footage of a hotel where, down a hallway, what looked to be an elderly man moving right to left, then left to right” could be seen.  It never made air, apparently, due to the request of the proprietors of the location itself.  They felt that showing this on television would possibly scare clients away, or maybe even stir up activity at the location more.

Griffith stated that there was no one down the hallway who could have been pulling a fast one on them.  Certainly no one that could have escaped the watchful eye of the video recording equipment set up.  And if a skeptic tells you that it could have been faked by the crew themselves, well remember, TAPS never faked anything while Britt Griffith was around.

Credit: Luis Castillo

It was at about this time, when the atmosphere in the Pasadena Playhouse was at its peak, that something strange happened.  A light fixture which was placed up on-stage began to flicker a bit.  What was happening?  Was the power going to go out?  Then, quickly, it moved, right around 3 inches or so and seemingly on its own, back and slightly toward the left of stage.  The audience gasped and one attendee shouted out, “Did you see that?  It moved!”  Tension was beginning to mount and excitement at what was thought to clearly be a paranormal occurrence was at a fevered pitch.

Griffith, seemingly oblivious to the movement of the light fixture asked for details from witnesses.  He asked folks to keep an eye on it and, before continuing with his presentation joked, “if it moves towards me, someone please let me know!”  He pressed on with his talk, but it is easy to understand why many of the eyes in the room were focused elsewhere.  Just then, mere moments after the original event, the light fixture moved again.  Not quite as far this time, but certainly a noticeable distance.  People began to scream once more and onlookers rose from their chairs.  The room filled with the light of a dozen or more flashbulbs going off in an effort to capture real-life paranormal phenomenon on camera.

Soon thereafter, and once things settled down, Griffith finished up with the Q&A portion of the evening and those curious about the light fixture walked up onstage to check it out for themselves.  Mr. Castillo hurried to be among them.  He witnessed a few people taking photographs of the fixture, but jumped in front of them to get a better look at the setup before they could start touching it.  The first thing he noticed, he said, was how heavy it was; certainly not something that could be moved easily.  He also noticed the base of the fixture and the thick electrical cord that was attached to it.  But immediately doubts about the authenticity of the event came to his mind.  The cord was was stretched out as straight as could be, not at all how a cord would look if the light fixture it was attached to had moved on its own.  In that case, one would expect the cord to have some slack to it and perhaps even be in an “S” shape.  And it was then that he noticed where this very straight cord led:  back and to the left of stage, behind the curtain of the Pasadena Playhouse.  Exactly the direction the fixture had moved toward two times earlier.  Easily, Lou saw how someone could have pulled the cord from behind cover to make it appear as if the fixture was being moved by an unseen phantom.

While Lou could see all the evidence pointing to fakery almost immediately, the others folks around him couldn’t.  Nor, he says, would they listen to reason.  While they were discussing their luck at having witnessed true paranormal activity, Mr. Castillo tried in vain to explain to them what probably really happened.  In fact, he even had a suspect in mind to who pulled off the stunt.  A younger blonde woman, who he says attended to Britt throughout the evening and was possibly an employee of the theater, was suddenly nowhere to be found.

But the other TAPS True Believers (TTBs) were unswayed.  Lou was told that he was taking the wrong perspective, or even just denying what they all had seen with their own eyes.  “But it moved!” one said to him.  “You’re just a skeptic.”  A friend of Lou’s, who was attending the event with him, stepped in at this point.  Lou, he told them, was not a skeptic at all, but someone who very much believed in ghosts.  And though Lou tried his best to explain to the onlookers that, while he would love for it to be real, what they had all seen was likely a very simple trick.  But it was useless.  The others had saw what they saw and their minds were made up.  It was a paranormal event and no one could tell them otherwise.  Their money was well spent.

I have seen similar instances much like Lou described to me in so-called paranormal hotspots across the country.  In both private residences and public locations, “seasoned paranormal investigators” and other curious onlookers fall for obvious hoaxes or fool themselves into believing that a natural event is something paranormal.  In many of those cases, the expectation of ghostly activity trumps rational explanation.  But with Britt Griffith and the Pasadena Playhouse, I think the fame and respect factor played in heavily.  Not wanting to believe that Britt Griffith, a TAPS team member they look up to and have enjoyed watching on television, could be involved with staging paranormal activity, they ignored all the evidence that pointed toward a hoax and instead walked away believing it was genuine.

Was Britt in on the fakery?  There is no way I can say for sure.  Perhaps a rogue Pasadena Playhouse staff member decided to spice things up a bit.  After all, the theater has a few paranormal legends attached to it and has welcomed amateur groups in before to investigate.  This could have been a perfect opportunity to add to the stories.  And, probably, add to the ticket price of future events as well.

What I am sure of, however, is that there was no paranormal activity involved Saturday night.  But a number of people, falling victim to expectation and the loss of critical thinking in the face of someone they deem to be an authority figure, became yet another case study in the psychology behind perceived paranormal experiences.

Then again, some folks call me a skeptic.  So maybe that’s just what I would have you believe.  Right, Britt?

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TAPS and Trickery at the Pasadena Playhouse