Basie Keeps the Ghost Light Burning

Grant Wilson (left) and Jason Hawes (right) are the SyFy network’s GHOST HUNTERS, and they’re driving the TAPS van to the Count’s castle for a Thursday night appearance.

Tag along on any of the Red Bank Walking Lantern Ghost Tours that wind through the downtown business blocks every Friday night through Halloweekend, and you’re likely to hear told about the tradition of the “ghost light” — and why historic old auditoriums like the Count Basie Theatre have found it prudent and necessary to keep a bulb burning for the restless entities who are often said to haunt the catwalks, catacombs and balconies.

On Thursday night, October 20, the old Basie place gets paid a visit by Grant Wilson  and Jason Hawes, New England-based bosses of The Atlantic Paranormal Society and — thanks to the long-running hit SyFy Channel series Ghost Hunters — internationally renowned (and even somewhat reluctant) TV stars.

The pair of regular-joe tradesmen (they also famously operate a RotoRooter franchise by day) and lifelong history buffs (partners as well in a venerable New Hampshire inn) haven’t been called to the Count’s castle to flush out a clamorous poltergeist, or even snake out a sluggish floor drain. When they step out onto the stage that’s hosted many of the biggest names in show business, the men from TAPS won’t be tap-dancing, singing or telling jokes, but offering up a refreshingly matter-of-fact presentation on the nature of their work, the fascinations that led them to their passionately pursued avocation, and the real reasons why they spend so many nights lurking around allegedly haunted houses all over the United States — including the house where this correspondent lives (more on that in a moment).

UpperWETside spoke to the well-traveled Grant Wilson in what could be called his most frequent haunt — behind the wheel of a moving vehicle on an interstate highway. Following is what we found when we reviewed the recording.

upperWETside: I guess the first thing I should say is, greetings from the Stephen Crane House in Asbury Park, New Jersey, where you taped an episode of GHOST HUNTERS back in 2010.

My wife and I moved in after you guys were here, and while there are plenty of bizarre things about the place, it’s been pretty quiet on the ectoplasmic front — except, perhaps, for the first few nights we were here. I witnessed doors swinging open and clicking shut by themselves; I’d lock up, go out and find the doors wide open when I got back — and wherever I aimed a camera, I’d find something on the wall or curtain that looks like a face.

GRANT WILSON: Well, it’s possible to find faces in just about anything if you’re looking for them. Either that, or the faces find you! We appreciate the history behind the house — a lot of the places we visit are museums, libraries, things like that, and we don’t always get to hear from someone who lives in one of them.

We’re talking to you in advance of your live show at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank on the 20th; it’s one of those great old places, built in the 1920s — and as I’m sure you’ve visited a lot of similar places, does it seem to you that just about every one of them has a spectral story attached to it?

A lot of them do, yeah; I think that a theater, a place where people come to be entertained, has a lot of emotions imprinted upon it — it’s a happy place; maybe I should say a place of emotional highs and lows. And that seems to leave an impression.

So what can we expect to see during the presentation that you take on the road?

It’s basically a variation on the lectures that we’ve been giving for many years, since long before the TV show. The difference is that ten years ago we’d have like 30 people show up, and now we’re consistently selling out these big halls, which is just amazing to me.

We’ll give a keynote presentation; talk about some case studies, look at evidence that we’ve collected. We’ll take you behind the scenes of the show, show you stuff that hasn’t been on TV. And we’ll have a Q&A with the audience, which is important to us; we like to engage the people who follow the show, just talk to them like the regular guys we are. There’s some laughs; a little bit of paranormal in there, but we’re not psychics!

According to some things you’ve said, you’re not really “ghost hunters” either…

We consider ourselves to be paranormal investigators — we’re not trying to conjure anything or channel anything; people come to us with questions and we’re just trying to help them figure it out. We disprove claims wherever we can; come up with the truth behind the story rather than making something out of nothing. And most of the time, not much happens.

We actually turned down doing the TV show five times! We weren’t crazy about the title GHOST HUNTERS, and we were afraid that the production company would try to make what we do into something it’s not — those first couple of seasons we butted heads with them over a lot of things.

Well, in an age when most TV personalities have to be louder, more colorful characters with their wild hairdos and catch phrases, you guys distinguish yourselves by the low profile you present…

We’re regular guys, you know, we babysit neighbor’s kids and things like that. I hardly ever watch the show — when I do catch it I love it, but none of my friends really watch it. You’ve gotta keep grounded.

So then are you able to go about your business, go to Home Depot or Lowe’s, without getting mobbed like you’re The Beatles?

Unfortunately we’re past that point — everywhere I go I get mobbed! I forget that I have a show on TV, but really, everyone I meet is respectful and I have to remember that they’re genuinely interested in what we do. I make time for them.

And imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, a whole lot of similar shows have sprung up in the past couple of years.

Well, no two shows are going about it the same way. Each show has a certain goal; nobody’s getting hurt, and there’s room for everyone right now.

You do have your fans out there. You may not walk around feeling like a rock star, but I’ve got a friend, a woman who lives near the Count Basie in Middletown, New Jersey — she and her husband have triplet sons named Philip, Andrew and Douglas, and those kids are obsessed with your show. They want to do their own ghost investigations; to them you guys are almost like superheroes…

I don’t feel like a superhero or a superstar or a super-anything…as I said, I’m just a guy who certainly didn’t set out to be a TV star. I do want to give those kids a shout out; let them know that we appreciate them, and it’s great to have fans who understand what we’re trying to accomplish with the show.

I went not too long ago on a professional ghost investigation, to an old bowling alley down the street from where I live, just to write about the experience. What was most interesting, I think, was the real-time aspect of staking out a place for hours; the dark and quiet and solitude establish a rhythm that’s quite different from the fast paced edits of the TV shows. It’s kind of a relaxing way to spend a night.

You’re absolutely right…when you’re sitting quietly for long stretches, just listening, kind of getting a feel for the place you’re in, it’s an experience that we obviously can’t do in an hour TV show. It is relaxing in a way; just thinking about what’s going on.

Granted, we know our way around Photoshop, but here’s a late-night scene from the Crane House’s “red room,” where a previous tenant allegedly got scared away by a ghostly gentleman caller. We isolated and brightened up the weird blotch on the wall and we found…what do you think?

There’s a lot of interest now in the paranormal — people are falling in love with it; they want to know how these stories stand up against our modern methods of collecting data. It’s the last true frontier. I don’t think of them as coming to see ME — they just want to understand it; be a part of it, and I’m just here to state what we found.

Tickets for Thursday’s 8pm appearance by the Ghost Hunters are priced between $20 and $45.50 (with a limited number of $85 VIP seats available), and can be reserved right here.