Despite the wacky charms of our childhood friends Slimer and Beetlejuice, real ghosts are no joke. And tracking 'em down with high tech equipment takes a special kind of courage. (Balls. It takes balls.)
Enter Steve Gonsalves and Jason Hawes, two of the stars of the SyFy channel's longest running spook show, Ghost Hunters. Their team uses high-tech equipment to investigate paranormal phenomenon all over the country. And while cynics constantly challenge the show's authenticity, the crew insists it's all legit.
With Halloween right around the corner, Steve and Jason appeared last weekend at the Seminole Casino Hollywood for a little metaphysical meet and greet.
Cultist caught up with Steve and chatted about his "first time" (with the paranormal, that is), haters, and his love for all things Universal Studios.
Cultist: What experience first led you to believe in paranormal phenomenon?
Steve Gonsalves: I started researching it long before I had an experience. The first experience I had I was in this graveyard when I was 16, just before I started doing it semi-professionally. I was leaving the graveyard and it felt like something kind of tripped me a little bit, but I was confused. I didn't know if I just tripped over something. I didn't stick around to evaluate what might have actually happened. I don't really consider that a legit experience. Five or six years later I saw a spontaneous fire, which was very strange to me. Just to see a fire start on a table when you know there's nothing there ... I'm in this family's house and it just appears. I know something goofy's happening here (by goofy I just mean unexplained). But I've never seen a ghost, unfortunately.
What do you say to skeptics?
Yeah we get a lot of flack from skeptics. What most people don't realize is, I don't think there's any bigger skeptic than myself. I encourage what they're saying. You shouldn't believe anything unless you see it yourself. What we're dealing with are things that are so fantastic to believe. If you say, "I saw this table sliding across the room" or "I saw this bouncing light," the average person will look at you with raised eyebrows and think, "yeah right, buddy." I sort of appreciate that outlook because you really have to be that way. There's no sense in fooling yourself or other people.
The hateful skeptics are kind of a nuisance. They think we're all liars, which is fine. But when they start to get hateful it's just like, come on guys, really? It sounds horrible, but boil it down to jealousy. I end up finding out that half of these skeptics are members of paranormal organizations, and when we first came out they loved us and said we pushed this into the forefront. But then they always sort of have that mindset that, it should be them on TV. I have yet to meet a skeptic that doesn't have an ulterior motive to what they're feeling or saying.
But in general, I think that mindset is healthy and they should approach it as we do.
What's the science behind your equipment?
It depends on the equipment. While we don't consider ourselves scientists per se, we do take what you could call a scientific approach. If you talk to any scientist, they'll say a scientist is just a person that seeks the answer to a question.
Our EMF gauge measures energy, radiation given off by a fluctuation in the magnetic field. Everything on earth has a static charge to it. Even a pencil on a table is surrounded by static electricity -- as soon as it moves, it becomes electromagnetic. So a movement of energy creates a little bit of radiation, which is what our EMF picks up. If we see a fluctuation it could be something natural or manmade. We look for sources like electricity, power boxes, copper piping, etc. If we don't find a source and it seems to be a free-floating disturbance, we move our meter in every direction and make sure it dissipates, to determine that it's not coming from any one direction.
Once we see and can rule out any natural or manmade source, then we can look at the potential that there's something else there manipulating that energy.... The theory is that spirits are made of energy. So we believe that when we get a little fluctuation and we can't find a source for it, there could be something there. It doesn't mean it's a ghost. It could be geothermal energy, it could be a lot of things -- we just know we can heighten our investigation as there's a chance something could be present. We also use our equipment to disprove claims of hauntings.
We also use digital recorders, cameras that can see in the night, infrared cameras, thermal imaging cameras, full spectrum cameras. We use a device called a geophone that's basically a mini seismograph. It takes an electric impulse caused by a vibration and converts onto digital reading.
What's the scariest experience you've ever had? Wildest paranormal experience?
One of my first was that spontaneous fire which to me is very bizarre, very strange. It's something I didn't think in a million years I would see. I don't know if that's ghostly or energy or demonic. To me that was incredibly bizarre. All of a sudden I smelled burning, and saw a flame appear and turn into a little fire the size of a softball on the table. And every time I see an object move, it's very bizarre. Not necessarily assuming it's a ghost -- we don't know how it moves. We're finding evidence that energy can cause other energy to move. Dark matter can acutally move objects. Some of the stuff we've experienced where we've jumped right to a ghost might be natural energy moving something around. There are a lot of scenarios that can be a little startling.
I understand you're into horror movies and have lots of tattoos dedicated to them. Favorite?
Haha, yes! Do I have to pick one?
Naw, you can tell us all of 'em.
I'd have to say Reanimator I like that one a lot; The Thing (80s version with Kurt Russell) and I like Evil Dead. Those are probably my top three.
Any ghosts you'd really like to meet?
The obvious ones. I know he's not a ghost in a sense, but the Holy Spirit, Jesus, would be pretty amazing. Never a big Elvis fan, but Michael Jackson. Historically, maybe George Washington. Always had a lot of respect for him, that'd be pretty amazing.
So this isn't really meant as a religious question, but given your profession, what do you think happens when we die?
I think there's some continuation of life, but we're not sure of the mechanics behind it. For instance, if we see a ghost or an image of a person, or if we capture a voice or audio that wasn't present at the time we were investigating and there's intelligence behind it (meaning, it's interacting with the living, it has conscious thought and decision making skills) ... I'm just not sure of what it is exactly or why.
It could be someone that's died and moved on, someone that's died and is stuck here, someone in a different dimension, even though I don't reall believe in that, you never know.
The work that I do has reaffirmed my religion beliefs. I've seen power of prayer work, pretty instantly at times. I'm not an overly religious person by any means. I'm not a churchgoer. I curse and I do things that religious people shouldn't really do. But like the Bible says, keep God close to you and he's not too concerned about everything else. He reads your heart when you pass. It's reaffirmed that I do believe we go in some capacity, I just don't know what or where. The greatest minds on the planet all say that it's impossible for energy to just disappear, and we all have energy in our bodies. It has to go somewhere and do something. Does it disperse and go into the earth? Who knows, but it's gotta go somewhere. If it carries your soul and your consciousness with it, perhaps we go along with that ride.
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Have you been to South Florida before? What are your plans?
Never been to Hollywood. We've done some work in Ybor city, we've been to Clearwater, and we've done a lot of work in St Augustine, very north. This'll really be our first visit south.
I tell everybody, every time I go to Florida I have so much fun it's amazing. Wherever I am in the state it's a good vibe, people are friendly, its just fun. I know people who live in Florida don't love Orlando, but I like to be Orlando-bound two or three times a year. I'm so obsessed with Disney, and I love Universal, even more so Disney.
Ghost Hunters airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m.