“You gotta see it to believe it!” That phrase has been ingrained in our minds, and for good reason. For ages, it was true. To see something with your own eyes silenced skepticism. But now, with the modern magic of Photoshop and other tools, seeing is no longer believing, and that is the central tenant to most hoaxes. Of course, the vast majority of ghost stories are hoaxes, yet according to a CBS News poll in 2009, nearly half of Americans believe in ghosts. Maybe that explains the popularity of so many ghost-hunters shows. Or does it reinforce the phrase, “There’s a sucker born every minute”? Click ahead for 10 tales of the supernatural that were nothing super at all.
Jhakri Waterfalls Ghost
This photo made the rounds in 2010, supposedly taken at Jhakri Falls of Gangtok. The story goes that a child, after visiting the falls, later died that night. When the parents developed the photo from earlier in the day, they saw a ghostly image behind him. Well, with the help of computer forensics, the photo was determined to be nothing but a case of Photoshop.
Mumler’s Spirit Photos
Even before Photoshop, there were hucksters. In the mid-1800s, William Mumler went into business as the first spirit photographer and earned a pretty penny producing spirit photos for grief-stricken clients. He was even charged by police in New York with fraud. Prosecutors claimed he was using double-exposure. His most famous photo is of Mary Todd Lincoln and her late husband, President Lincoln. She found comfort in the photo and refused to believe it was fake.
In 2008, a video from a security camera taken from inside an elevator shows a ghost of an old woman haunting an office building. Turns out, it was from a Singapore advertising agency in order to highlight the dangers of working late.
The Amityville Horror
Seems everyone is familiar with the creepy house in which the windows look like malevolent eyes. Based on the 1977 book “The Amityville Horror: A True Story,” it tells the story of a family who moved into a house in Long Island and were terrorized by paranormal phenomena. The book was also the basis for 10 movies between 1979 and 2011.
It is true that Ronald DeFeo Jr. killed his family in the house and that the Lutz family moved in about a year later. But that’s when reality and fantasy intersect. The truth about “A True Story” is that it simply isn’t real. Researchers found more than 100 factual errors and holes in the Lutz story. Finally, a lawyer for Ron DeFeo Jr. admitted the lawyer and the Lutzes “created this horror story over many bottles of wine.” (Snopes.com) Even with that statement, some still contend the house is haunted. Click here for a rebuttal.
The Spiral Stairway at Santa Fe’s Loretto Chapel
This tourist attraction at a real chapel supposedly stands despite not having any means of support. There’s a whole story about how the nuns back in the day needed a way to get up to the main loft. With too little space inside, they needed something unique, and they prayed for nine days to St. Joseph for help. Lo and behold, on the ninth day, a carpenter came and built this beautiful staircase. Even though it’s claimed engineers cannot understand how the staircase can balance without any central support, wood technologist Forrest N. Easley said, “the staircase does have a central support” an inner wood stringer that “functions as an almost solid pole.” (Snopes.com) “Nothing about Loretto’s design evidences any sign of the miraculous. ... It is now a privately owned museum operated for profit, a situation that provides its owners with a strong financial motive for promulgating the legend.”
“Ghostwatch” was a British documentary that aired on Halloween in 1992, and was presented as “live” television, even though it had been filmed in advance. The “reporters” were investigating a home in which poltergeist activity was taking place. While they were there, the reporters and audience witnessed a variety of supernatural activity culminating in a large seance in which the anchorman became possessed by a spirit. Like the 1938 “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast, people thought it was real and called the police, concerned over the darkness unleashed on the nation. A ruling by the High Court stated “the BBC had a duty to do more than simply hint at the deception it was practicing on the audience. In ‘Ghostwatch’ there was a deliberate attempt to cultivate a sense of menace.”
Carmen Winstead Chain Letter
It’s amazing how humans rationally know the contents of a chain letter are fake, but still go ahead with a just-in-case attitude and forward it on. Such is the story of Carmen Winstead, a chain letter from 2006 about a girl who died when she was pushed down a sewer by girls she thought were her friends. The chain letter circulated and said she would kill those who did not resend her story. The truth is there is no record of a person named Carmen Winstead dying in such a manner and no credible references to any unexplained deaths in which "teens were found in sewers with broken necks and mutilated faces.” (hoax-slayer.com) Many hoaxes depend on the ol’ chain-letter technique to spread their stories and stir up some fear.
Courthouse Ghost in Santa Fe, N.M.
A surveillance video was uploaded onto YouTube from 2007, and it showed a ghostly object near the First Judicial District Courthouse. Reports circulated on the Internet and even major news organizations. Believers speculated it was the ghost of Andy Lopez. But it was Ben Radford, managing editor of “Skeptical Inquirer,” who tested and proved his theory that the “object” was merely a bug crawling across the lens of the camera.
The Bell Witch
This legend, which was the inspiration for the movies “An American Haunting” and “The Bell Witch Haunting,” also centers on scary events at a haunted house, this time in Adams, Tenn. from the 19th century. A ghost named Kate cursed the Bell family, and focused on the Bell’s youngest daughter, Betsy -- especially after she became engaged to Joshua Gardner. Several inconsistencies have since emerged, namely that the diary from which the movies take their inspiration was written by a 6-year-old who waited 30 years to write down the events. The diary has since been lost to history. Also, no newspapers of the time mention the witch’s murder of John Bell, nor does any court or church. There is a theory that Richard Powell, a local schoolteacher, caused the “paranormal” events to scare Gardner away in order to marry Betsy, or that Martin Ingram, the man who got the diary many years later, made the whole thing up for profit. (Skeptoid) Maybe there’s nothing scarier than being broke.
Next: Eery Photos That Prove Ghosts are Real?
The Blair Witch Project
This famous film from 1999 was one of the earliest to use the found-footage technique. It pretended to be a documentary about a local legend known as the Blair Witch. The audience is told the documentarians were never seen or heard from again, though their footage was discovered a year later. When it first came out, many believed this was true. However, if you still believe "The Blair Witch Project" is real, then my spirit is going to come through your screen and eat you.