October is the one time of year when even skeptics allow themselves to become interested in the paranormal. But for Alexandra Holzer, ghosts aren’t merely confined to fantasy and film — they’re her livelihood. The self-described ghost hunter, or more accurately, “physical researcher,” has spent her entire career researching allegedly paranormal activity — and has some serious gear to do so. Spoiler alert, it’s nothing like the reality shows you see on cable TV.
“Every day, the paranormal is part of my world,” Holzer tells Inverse. “Even in my own home, we’re not haunted, but we’re visited. My father’s around, his grandfather’s around, and then there’s other people in-between.”
Holzer’s father, Hans Holzer, literally wrote the book on ghost hunting — in fact, he wrote more than 140 of them before he died in 2009. Alexandra says much of her father’s teachings have informed her career, but some new gear hasn’t hurt, either. Belief in ghosts is just that, belief, and while there’s no scientific evidence for the supernatural, the tools used by Holzer and other paranormal professionals often yield results that offer people spiritual fulfillment they’re seeking — whether it be closure over the death of a friend or an explanation for the piano they hear in a house that doesn’t have a piano.
A Polaroid Camera
“With people who have serious hauntings, I usually talk to them first,” Holzer explains. “If I can get to them, we do a walk-through. Equipment-wise, I always have digital cameras and digital recorders. We’ve also started purchasing the standard Polaroids again, because my father and many researchers in his day had Polaroid cameras. These are important because of the readiness of the film that comes out — there’s no manipulation.”
While you don’t need a lot of expensive equipment to hunt down paranormal activity, Holzer says cameras that can sense infrared heat are useful — if you can afford to shill out a few thousand dollars, of course. Perhaps the most overlooked and important gadgets is just a good set of headphones.
“When we walk through an environment, we have headphones on as we’re recording. So we have a digital recorder and we’ve got the headphones on, and we’re doing playback on it, you can actually hear whats going on inside if somebody says something to you. Unless you’re clairaudient — meaning you can hear if a spirit says something to you like ‘hey, get out!’ — you can’t hear it.”
While the industry has become very “gadget-heavy” according to Holzer, some tech is probably better left in the graveyards of paranormal hobbyist websites. Some ghost hunters swear by copper (dowsing rods,)[https://www.amazon.com/C-Green-cgreendr-Copper-Dowsing/dp/B003115X5M] which allegedly can help locate lost spirits — emphasis on “allegedly.” Holzer says she’s not entirely sold on them.
“I’ve been around people that have used them, and I have to look away because I want to start laughing,” Holzer says. “It’s a metal rod that [people claim] is being moved by energy around you, that’s being caused by maybe one or two ghosts that are there. It’s not going to give you any information.”
Electromagnetic Field detectors
Then there are the Electromagnetic Field detectors. These are the boxy gadgets everyone knows from those ill-fated late-night paranormal shows, in which a crew of ghost hunters wanders around for 25 minutes scaring each other and not finding anything. Predictably, Holzer says EMF detectors — which claim to pick up waves from ghosts — are dubious at best.
“The EMF detectors are sold by a lot of people that have teams or have been on TV and decide to make their own brand,” Holzer says. “But they’re a joke. The thing lights up if you pass by Aunt Tilly’s microwave five miles down the road. You don’t know what’s setting those things off.”
Ultimately, Holzer says the best tool any ghost hunter can use — from amateur to seasoned pro — is themselves. After years of research and experience, Holzer says her intuition can deliver more than any flashy gadget could.
“There is no real ‘telephone to the dead,’” Holzer explains. “It is a culmination of many said tools, and that’s how I work. It’s very successful, and it follows in the tradition of my father and those before him.”