Before The National Enquirer became a trashy supermarket tabloid, it used to run a variety of stories, including those about haunted houses, castles and other properties in foreign countries, typically England. Whether or not there was any truth to such stories, they made for interesting reading. After all, there is nothing quite like a good ghost story to get your blood flowing and send a chill up your spine.
These days there are plenty of TV shows that investigate paranormal phenomenon around the world. Not many, though, employ the latest high-tech know-how to not only try to prove the possible existence of ghosts, but in some cases debunk legends and stories. Ghost Hunters International is one such show. A spin-off of the hugely popular Syfy Channel series Ghost Hunters, its hosts have traveled to exotic, strange and remote places to try to communicate with spirits, both good and evil. Two of GHI‘s familiar faces, Barry FitzGerald (lead investigator/tech manager) and Dustin Pari (investigator), actually began their TV paranormal careers on the original GH.
“I had been involved with paranormal research within Ireland, and when the Ghost Hunters team came across the pond [for the season three episode Attack of the Irish Elemental], they needed someone native to the area to help them with their work,” says FitzGerald. “So for me, it was a case of being in the right place at the right time and it took off from there. Dustin is very different, though. He has a greater story than I have and with lots of bells and whistles.”
Says Pari, “I was living back in Rhode Island and was actually up late one night watching TV when I caught an episode from the first season of Ghost Hunters. At that time I had no idea that the show was actually based not even 15 minutes from my house. Having been interested in the [paranormal] field since I was about 16 years old, I sought these guys out and, interestingly enough, they gave me an interview at a Starbucks. After that, I joined the home team and worked off-camera, and then they gave me a chance to be on the show.
“The first time I shot an episode it was absolutely fascinating because I’d never had access to the type of equipment that they were using. Having previously done this sort of investigating with a couple of my high school buddies, we just used tape recorders along with still cameras and lots of flash photography. So to all of a sudden be using this kind of equipment was really interesting. And then to be where I am now, it’s mind-blowing to be travelling the world, seeing incredible historic sites, and having the chance to investigate places that I would never have dreamed I’d ever have access to. It’s a long way from doing the supposed haunted house on the outskirts of town that people tell stories about, to being in these huge castles and homes all across Europe.”
Given GH‘s tremendous success, Syfy decided to cast its paranormal net further afield and GHI was born. Having left the original GH series to start a family, Pari was eventually reunited with Barry FitzGerald and together they joined with lead investigator Robb Demarest and fellow GHI investigators to begin their global exploration into the supernatural world. While the prospect of further ghostly encounters was sure to draw viewers, FitzGerald identifies another aspect that would make the new series interesting to those watching.
“Obviously they decided to set the series around my good looks and wonderful accent,” he jokes. “No, seriously, I think a major plus for GHI is that we’re touching on history throughout the world. You can go onto a site in Ireland and sometimes reach as far back as 900 AD. We have a set of tombs that I keep going on about that predate the Great Pyramids of Giza, so our history goes back a long, long way.
“Of course, once you get to Africa and places like that, the history starts stemming back 30,000 years, which just blows me away. There’s also the opportunity to see the different types of hauntings that can occur both north and south of the hemisphere and discover the commonalities between them. That’s extremely important and it gives us a better understanding when it comes to the question of what happens after death.
“The first GHI investigation we did was at Chillingham Castle in England. Having been involved in paranormal research in Ireland and the United Kingdom I had heard a lot of reports about the castle, but never had the chance to go there. So to be part of that investigation was wonderful, and the experiences that Donna [LaCroix, case manager] and I had in the underground entrance to the castle were remarkable. The noises that were coming from that location were just tremendous and certainly guiding us along to see what else we could uncover.”
Despite having a proven winner in GH to draw inspiration from, GHI still faced challenges getting started, including trying to establish its own paranormal foundation to build upon. “Getting this show off the ground was difficult as far as finding the first set of locations,” explains FitzGerald. “We were up against [the British series] Most Haunted, especially within the UK, because they had aired, I believe, four seasons in front of us. So it was tough trying to compete with them, but once we got started we soon found our niche and slipped into it. Our show is very different now, even from Ghost Hunters, because we’re focusing a lot on new technology as well as advancing the field and trying to explain it all in an environmental situation that the layman can understand. And the response we’ve received so far has been wonderful.”
Continues Pari, “I really do feel as well that we’re focusing a lot more on the technological aspects with the development of the full-spectrum camera that Barry has brought into the team. We’ve really garnered some incredible results capturing photographs from several locations, and with the episodes that people are seeing this [second] season, we’ve combined that technology with video using the full-spectrum DVR camera and are also seeing results there.
“I think this kind of advancement is very important in the field. When you being to get results using certain tools, there’s a tendency to fall into a familiar routine. Yes, you get some positive results, but there are no advancements being made, and I think what we’re doing now is really pushing those boundaries. And on behalf of Barry and myself, we also have a personal respect for the metaphysical realm and that side of things, which is important to bear in mind during investigations as well. It’s a matter of keeping yourself open and gathering better and better evidence. That’s what sparked Barry and me to put together our new book, which is called The Complete Approach [published in the U.S. on August 7th, 2009]. It combines the metaphysical understanding of this field along with the scientific research and approach to it. It’s something we’re really proud of and it’s already received a great deal of interest, which, again, has come out of advancements we’ve made within the field.”
As with most people working abroad, the GHI team faces the occasional hurdle that they must overcome. “I think one of the biggest challenges is getting through customs, because when you have to write down what your occupation is, it’s not easy to explain that you look for ghosts,” says Pari. “That always raises a few eyebrows and you have to spend time trying to explain exactly what you’re doing. Language barriers, obviously, create some interesting situations. My three years of high school Spanish can only get me so far,” he jokes, “but it’s been going OK. One thing that I find fascinating from a sociological point of view is that people in certain countries aren’t always that accepting of the paranormal. The field is viewed quite differently in some parts of the world, France, in particular. The French have had a very hard time admitting that something very conclusive is, in fact, paranormal. Some cultures embrace what we do quite a bit, and others aren’t really into it, so that’s something we need to address and adjust while we’re on the road.”
Says FitzGerald, “Regarding languages, we’ve been finding something extremely unusual when addressing the EVP [electronic voice phenomenon] sessions during filming. The thing is, we knock ourselves out trying to learn the language that is native to where we happen to be, but in the EVP sessions a lot of the responses coming back to us are in English, which, again, is quite unusual. We still don’t know why that’s happening, but it’s part of this field and something we’re further looking into.
“I’m still getting used to which side of the road we’re meant to be driving on when we’re travelling. That can be another obstacle because we’re back and forth all the time, and if the roads aren’t marked it can often lead to trouble. Food, of course, can also sometimes be an issue, especially in Italy. I’m not a great lover of pizza and pasta. I’m more the Irish potato kind of guy, and you tend not to get too much of that in Italy. When we were in Peru, I tried guinea pig, which I must admit I don’t think I’d ever try again, and at the moment we’re down here in Australia where I’ve been dining on kangaroo and things of that nature. So sometimes it’s a little hard to get used to, but other times it’s just fine.”
During GHI‘s first season, FitzGerald, Pari and their teammates trekked around the world and visited numerous locales including St. Mary’s Close in Edinburgh, Scotland; Dartmstadt, Germany and Frankenstein’s Castle; the Grande Hotel in Cambuquira, Brazil; and Castillo de la Coracera in Madrid, Spain.
“For me, the scariest place we visited back in season one is Orava Castle [in Slovakia],” recalls Fitzgerald. “Confronting that particular entity in the Octagon Tower was very memorable. I must admit that we did go back and try to confront it again, but the first time it appeared to me, it certainly made me sit up and pay attention and try to get the hell out of there as fast as I could.”
Says Pari, “The [Dunedin] New Zealand trip to visit Larnach Castle is especially memorable for me because it was my first time working with the GHI team. I was reunited with some of my old GH teammates, including Barry, and I met some of the new guys, too. It was the dawn of a new era for me in this field, and I’d never really been out of the country before either, except for Ireland and England. So to fly all the way down to New Zealand was remarkable on its own. It was a good time for me to kind of start things over, and whenever I look at a map I can’t believe how many places I’ve been to just between last season and this one.”
This second season of GHI, the investigators have so far gone back to Ireland to visit an 18th century prison (Wicklow’s Gaol) as well as the Czech Republic and Houska Castle, reputed to have been built over the gates of Hell. They also made a first-time trip to Austria and a 500-year-old torture chamber (Witches Castle). The show’s penultimate mid-season pair of cases, Spirits of Italy, unfolds at the Tuscan castle of Malaspina, former residence of the doomed lover Bianca Maria Alosia, and the Palazzo Ducale, home to Genoa’s doges and their prisoners. GHI‘s mid-season finale, Holy Spirit, finds the team in South America to investigate the El Bosque City Hall in Chile and Santiago Severin Library in Valparaiso.
“I really enjoyed the investigations we did in Italy,” says Pari. “Unlike Barry, I’m a big fan of pizza and pasta, plus I grew up in an Italian household, so being there was good. We also got to see some of the sights, including Rome, the Coliseum and the Vatican. It was a fantastic opportunity, and the cases were really well-put together. I found myself staying at this little castle [Malaspina] on top of a mountain, and in the morning I’d wake up, look out the window and think, ‘God, how did I ever get here?’ There was a particular story about a young girl who was walled up alive, which I’m finding more and more of as I travel through Europe. Apparently, it was a popular thing back then, but I found this story quite touching. And one of our new recruits, Ashley [Godwin] had a personal experience trying to contact that girl. Maybe I’m just a romantic at heart, but those are the moments, when there is a tender story, that really make me appreciated what we do.”
Adds Fitzgerald, “I would tend to agree with Dustin that Malaspina was truly memorable. To be able to go up onto the roof of the castle and watch this amazing storm front come over the top of the mountains was a remarkable experience to be had, and the activity going on there was good as well. My pastime is photography, so I got an incredible amount of photographs from that particular location once the sun started to set. Chile was an amazing place, too, and memorable because of the dogs. They have thousands and thousands of dogs that just roam the streets, but the locations themselves were most impressive.”
Unlike most jobs, “ghost hunting” is not your average 9-5 gig with a desk, lunch hour and two weeks vacation a year. It is, however, as FitzGerald and Pari have explained, an occupation filled with exciting, educational, unforgettable and sometimes scary moments. Not many people would have the passion, or the nerves of steel, to make it their line of work. So what first drew these GHI investigators to the paranormal world?
“My interest certainly stems from the fact that I grew up in a house which presented such activity,” says FitzGerald. “As a child waking up on Christmas Eve and dying of thirst, I needed to get some water, and seeing an apparition coming up the stairs that I knew wasn’t my parents, frightened the absolute living hell out of me. I thought it was Santa and because I’d been caught awake, I wouldn’t be getting any toys that year. For me, that was my first indication that something more was out there and it sparked the curiosity that has presently led to 10 years of research.”
Recalls Pari, “As a little kid I was always fascinated with Halloween. It was my favorite holiday, even over Christmas. I’m not a big horror movie guy, but I enjoy anything to do with classic ghost stories and stuff like that. When I was younger and living with my parents in a small house in Providence [Rhode Island] I had a nighttime encounter with what we now refer to in the field as a shadow figure. I remember seeing this thing in my room and being terrified, so I threw the covers over my head and, being a good little Catholic schoolboy, prayed and prayed and buried my head in my pillow. Thankfully, that thing went away, but it left a lasting imprint and an interest, which grew inside me.
“As I got older, I found myself looking more into books regarding the paranormal, and once I turned 16 and had access to a car, I began investigating local [paranormal] hot spots with my friends. So it was really something that started from way back, and since then it’s taken on an even more spiritual turn for me. I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older or whatnot, but I find myself working in this field because I really want to prove to other people out there that there’s something after this life.
“Without being religion specific – I don’t like to become involved in afterlife bureaucracy and such – I do think that there is some accountability for our actions here. And if I can even be an inspiration to the team that makes that final connection with some hard proof, that would be a great accomplishment for me. I think people living today would then look at their lives differently and maybe treat each other a little more respectfully while we’re down here.”
Although the last of six new GHI episodes have aired on Syfy, there are more to come this season. As for what viewers can expect to see, FitzGerald offers up a tidbit or two. “The locations themselves are going to be extremely distant and difficult to get to. Believe it or not, at the moment [August 4th, 2009] Dustin and I are sitting in a forest [in Australia]. We never thought in our lifetimes that we’d be this far away from our homes, but there are wonderful [paranormal] things to be had and seen, including photographic evidence. And I can promise you that it’s going to make people sit up and take notice.”
The Complete Approach – The Scientific and Metaphysical Guide to the Paranormal by Barry FitzGerald and Dustin J. Pari can be ordered on-line from such outlets as Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble. com.
As noted above, all photos by Justin Canning, Gareth Phillips, Mikael Pilstrand or Cheryl Senter and copyright of The Syfy Channel, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any form. Thanks!