As pc/nametag's in-house Word Wizard, Meaghan creates educational content that brings people together and drives meaningful conversations in the events industry.
The Hodag. The Mothman. The Jersey Devil. The Beast of Bray Road. If you're familiar with any of these unique and terrifying legends, then there's a good chance you love all things paranormal.
There's a certain thrill in going cryptid hunting, visiting places that are allegedly haunted, or gathering together to share scary stories. That's why this year, I decided to reach out to a real paranormal investigator to learn more about his honest, no-frills-added experience with researching the unexplained. His answers may surprise you.
Meet the Paranormal Researcher:
Kevin Lee Nelson has investigated hauntings on ABC’s Scariest Places on Earth, searched for werewolves on Discovery Channel’s Mystery Hunters, and tracked vampirism on Discovery Channel’s Travelers.
He has also professionally lectured at paranormal conferences for over two decades and serves as a founding member of Back Roads Lore, a research collective dedicated to chronicling anomalous events, historical mysteries, urban legends, and the darker side of folklore.
Inside the World of Paranormal Research 👻
pc/nametag: "What initially sparked your interest in parapsychology and unexplained phenomena?"
Nelson: "It's one of those interests that's always been with me. In 4th grade, when other kids were demonstrating to the class how to make a PB&J, I demonstrated how to perform a séance. I can't point to a certain event; rather, I've always been curious about life's big questions, and I love a good mystery.
I grew up in Wisconsin surrounded by lumberjack lore and tales of Northwoods monsters. The rich folklore of the Great Lakes region made a deep impression on me and sparked my interest in the paranormal. Today, I travel the nation seeking out and recording America’s hidden legends and vanishing folklore."
PCN: "What do you find most intriguing about being a paranormal investigator?"
Nelson: "These days, I don't really consider myself a 'paranormal investigator' per se. Unfortunately, because of bad television shows over the last 20 years, that title has become sort of a loaded term and lost a lot of meaning and respectability. It conjures images of amateur thrill-seekers bumping around in the dark with night-vision cameras and jumping at shadows. That's not what I do. Sadly, it's no longer possible to get a degree in parapsychology (at least in the United States), so without a barrier to entry this field of research has a major credibility problem.
For the past decade or so, I have taken my focus away from ghosts and shifted towards monster legends, cryptids, and other urban legends. I'm fascinated by the stories. So, today I consider myself more of a researcher of American folklore. I'm not out to prove or disprove anything—I'm not a scientist. My goal is to preserve legends that help maintain a sense of wonder in the world."
PCN: "Are there any common misconceptions about paranormal research? If so, what?"
Nelson: "One of the biggest misconceptions is that so-called 'ghost hunters' are doing 'science'. They are not. With rare exceptions, most ghost hunters are not trained scientists, and many do not have the training or background to understand the tools they tend to use. Many walk around with gadgets they don't understand and think they are 'doing science.' They use technology to add perceived legitimacy and affirm beliefs they already hold.
All of the theories about the application of technology to the spirit world are just speculation. After decades of ghost hunters using the same tools, theories, and methodology, we still haven't found one ounce of evidence of the existence of a spirit world. Not one. It's time for a new approach and for people to move away from doing only what they see on TV. That's entertainment, not research. I may sound pessimistic, but television (and its legions of imitators) have done a major disservice to parapsychological research."
PCN: "How do you find the haunted locations you visit?"
Nelson: "Usually, I select my location based on word of mouth, or I hear about stories/legends through research (usually old newspaper articles, etc.). My definition of 'haunted' is a bit broader. I'm not just looking for spooky buildings or traditional hauntings; I'm looking for sites (or even small regions) that could be potential so-called 'window areas' where assorted strange phenomena have a tendency to cluster."
Kevin Lee Nelson visits the Cryptozoology & Paranormal Museum in Littleton, NC.
PCN: "What is your favorite haunted event venue and what makes its story unique?"
Nelson: "The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado is easily my favorite location. As many know, it was the inspiration for Stephen King's book The Shining. I'm also a history buff, so I find this hotel fascinating and charming.
There are theories why the place is very active with ghostly encounters (at least according to some guests). Some believe the quartzite under the hotel somehow amplifies activity or traps it there -- a version of the 'stone tape' theory. But of course, it's just a theory."
PCN: "What is your favorite urban legend and why?"
Nelson: "My favorite urban legends are the really wild ones, like The Enfield Horror or the Ghoul-Snake of Oxford Cemetery.
But my favorite would probably be The Van Meter Visitor of Van Meter, IA. It was a giant bat-like creature that terrorized the town in 1903. It had a horn on its head that emitted a beam of light. When struck by the beam (and the noxious odor the creature gave off) folks would lose consciousness. Some shot at it point-blank, but bullets seemed to have no effect on it. It's a uniquely bizarre case that is still a mystery today."
PCN: "Do you use equipment in your paranormal research?"
Nelson: "Decades ago, I used a wide assortment of gadgets and cameras, etc. However, I don't use any of that anymore. My philosophy on what paranormal activity actually is has evolved tremendously over time. Quite frankly, technology doesn't fit the current model I use (unless one has a billion-dollar lab at their disposal to test the nature of our reality). I think it's more likely to fall into the realm of the occult. So these days I simply carry a notebook and pen."
PCN: "Have you ever captured a paranormal entity in a photograph?"
Nelson: "Yes. I have a picture from the historic Mizpah Hotel (in Tonopah, NV) of the infamous 'Woman in Red'. She's actually wearing a white dress, but it's stained all down the front with blood. She was murdered there a century ago. It's a compelling image. I have no idea how to explain it."
Built for $200,000 in 1907, the Mizpah Hotel featured granite walls, solid oak furniture, hot and cold running water, brass chandeliers, stained glass windows, and an electric elevator (one of the first in the state). At five stories, the hotel was the tallest building in Nevada at the time. [Image Source]
PCN: "If someone wants to become a paranormal investigator, how should they get started?"
Nelson: "Keep in mind, this is not a professional field. The days of being a paid parapsychologist are long gone. So first, people need to figure out what their goal ultimately is. Publish a book? Fulfill personal curiosity? Create a podcast? Folkloric preservation? Everyone's motivation is different.
I would start by reading as many books on the subject as possible and stay away from TV shows. More importantly, read a broad spectrum of books on strange phenomena and folklore, not just ghosts. What you will find is that many of the strange things out there (ghosts, UFOs, bigfoot, etc.) tend to point to a common source and may potentially be linked to how we actually perceive and experience reality.
Secondly, if you have an interesting experience or theory, try submitting your work to a reputable journal. Strange things and places are all around us. You don't necessarily need to go to famous places or pay money to go on what is, essentially, just a tour. Every town has an allegedly haunted house or a strange legend. They're everywhere. Do some digging and find the lore right in your own town. Maybe you can be the one to rescue these tales from obscurity and keep them alive for future generations.
Today, with towns filled with ubiquitous chain stores, our communities look more and more identical. However, it is our unique folklore that is the one thing that sets us apart and can't be replicated elsewhere. It should be celebrated as something each community can truly call their own."
Our Favorite Paranormal Books by Kevin Lee Nelson
Because we love paranormal oddities and all things spooky here at pc/nametag, we wanted to share our top three favorite books about the supernatural written by Kevin Lee Nelson and his fellow researchers. Which will you read first?
For many people, Halloween isn’t just a one-day event. It’s a month-long dive into spooky stories, urban legends, and haunted lore that only the bravest of the brave dare to explore. No matter what scares you, you’re bound to find a chilling place in your state to give you a proper case of the heebie-jeebies. 👻🎃
Do you believe in the paranormal? As R. L. Stine says: “Reader beware, you’re in for a scare!” Check out these seven eerie event venues that’ll give you and your guests a frightfully good scare.