Cody Polston has been a ghost hunter for 25 years and is the president of the Southwest Ghost Hunters Association. For more information on the organization, go to their website.
What is your favorite ghost story and why?
My favorite ghost story is Sandee Saunders. She was an amateur country artist with big red hair. She had one big hit called “Mornin' Kind of Feelin.” So she did her bit and once, she was driving back to Hatch, where she was from, and—you know where I-25 crosses the river—well, she fell asleep at the wheel and her car wrecked. When it crashed, the windshield popped down and decapitated her! Her head was never found. The ghost story is that if you're driving on that part of 25, the song comes on the radio and if you look in the [rearview] mirror you'll see her decapitated head in the back seat. It's neat because it's an actual person and it's local.
What exactly is the point of ghost hunting?
The point of our group, originally, was that it's a fun hobby. You get to go to historical places and it's a mental challenge to figure out if we can solve it. It's more like “Scooby Doo” on my team because we approach everything as a mystery. Also, parapsychology back in its day kinda hit a brick wall. They hadn't been able to prove that ghosts exist. Our group was started in '85—and I heard this guy, Tony Cornell, talk. He was a member of the Society of Psychical Research. He said where amateurs could really contribute would be to help find the stories that are maybe legit and separate out the ones that are explainable so that their scientists could focus on real stories. So we formed on that pattern, but a lot of the organizations that did psychical research aren't funded any more and a lot of them have vanished.
What was your first experience with ghosts?
A friend of mine talked me into joining a group in Texas called The Ghost Hunters of South Texas. They needed a skeptic—I've always been more skeptical. We went to this place called 'Big Nose' Kate's Saloon in Tombstone, Ariz. We were there all night long. At the end of the evening, they were shutting down and I was talking to the bartender and saying, 'Do you really believe all this?' So I'm talking to him at the long bar and at the other end of the bar there's this beer glass. And it starts spinning, making a noise. And because it's making noise, we're both looking and I saw it come off the table about a foot and then—wham!—go 20 feet across the room and hit the wall. I turned around and he [the bartender] said, “Well, there's another one” and made a tick mark on his list of how many [glasses] the ghosts break. We looked under the bar, there was no spring mechanism, no magnets. We'll go years solving all of our cases, but it's that one time [that makes you believe] there's something to this.
So I'm talking to him at the long bar and at the other end of the bar there's this beer glass. And it starts spinning, making a noise. And because it's making noise, we're both looking and I saw it come off the table about a foot and then—wham!—go 20 feet across the room and hit the wall.
What are ghosts?
The Society of Psychical Research's most important study was the 1884 [“Report on the] Census of Hallucinations.” From their studies, they believed that ghosts are perceptual. They call them “veridical hallucinations” because they're happening in the mind, it's not something that's happening in the environment. That census surveyed 17,000 people. Others say they're souls that have something left to do or they don’t realize they’re dead. But to me, that doesn’t make sense. Like the ghosts at Gettysburg. Why would they want to stay where they died in such a horrible way?
What do ghosts look like?
According to the scientific studies, they look just like you and I. They're solid. The only thing that would catch your attention is it doing something unusual, like walking through a table or wall or something. They dress in the clothing from their time period. So if it's a Civil War guy, yeah you're gonna notice him. But if it's someone that died five years ago... there could be a kid in a Metallica T-shirt leaning against the wall over there. You could walk by him every day and you've never know. All the orbs, light streaks and all that, those are photographic anomalies. They've been proven [fake] so many times. Plus if it really is all in your head, then you can't take a picture of them.
What tools do you use?
None of that stuff works. A lot of ghost hunters are posers who think they are scientists. Most don’t even know what that stuff does. We use video and [audio] recorders so that we can see or hear what people are experiencing, but other than that it’s all observation.
Have you ever uncovered a hoax?
Yeah, I’ve seen people do that. I’ve seen speakers hidden in walls. Especially now—there’s a big difference between having a haunted hotel and one that’s not. There was a place up in Denver that we checked out a long time ago and there weren’t any ghosts. Then one of the TV ghost hunter shows went there and suddenly there were 12 ghosts hangin’ out! After that, room prices went from $70 to $250. There’s money in it so you have to question everything. They’re selling a product.
Do you think exorcisms or spells can get rid of ghosts?
No, I think that stuff is to make the living feel better and it’s really just a lot of trickery. I’ve seen a lot of hoaxing with that. I guess I’m jaded against it because I’ve seen a lot of people duped.
Advice for the world?
Think critically. Approach things like Sherlock Holmes rather than Zak Bagans on “Ghost Hunters.”