The Tug Boat Captain

Posted: September 14, 2014 in Uncategorized

Ghost tours and paranormal investigations can cause participants to respond in very interesting ways. If they come to the moment as non-believers or if they are essentially unfamiliar with the subject matter, they may become unexpectedly excited as new ‘converts’. Some even become a little scared. Or some become excited in a way that is a surprise to themselves as well as to those around them. Others seem almost complacent, because they ‘already know’. Some reveal emotions that are normally kept close to the self. And some become very open, wanting to share their own personal experiences. Such is the case in this next story.

On a recent tour we hosted a private corporate group. They were engaged, attentive, polite and excited in anticipation of an enlightening and entertaining evening. As the tour began we walked and I shared some of what I call the ‘creme dela creme’ ghost stories of the city. The first place 0n our tour attendees get to sit is in the basement morgue of a former old hospital. There I introduce the guests to the entities of the old hospital and to the ghost stories that are attached to them. After, we mount a group investigation.
It is usually right in this moment…(the first moment in which guests can approach me one on one), that a person will decide to share some personal ghost story. And these are always amazing stories for me because they are shared in the spirit of a kind of ‘knowing’…no attention seeking, little or no ego…just a genuine desire to say to another in confidence, “Oh yes…I know this is real. It happened to me.”
On this night, as soon as the group scattered to begin investigating, a man named Tim approached me. Tim looked like he was in his early forties, thin in stature with thick blonde hair. He possessed a clean, neat look…though dressed down, his neat, coiffed appearance belied that of a professional business man in casual clothes. Up to this moment, he had seemed somewhat reserved, rarely registering any emotion on his face during the early portion of the tour. He said,
“I know all of this to be true.”
I was slightly surprised. I wasn’t sure if he had some special insight. Maybe he was going to reveal himself to be a medium. He said “My older brother died many years ago. He was a tug boat captain in Galveston. He had been a captain his entire life. No matter where he went, no matter how much he scrubbed himself and bathed, he always had the smell of that port on him…the smell of seaweed and salt water. It’s a distinct smell, do ya know what I mean?”
“Yes” I said. “I think I know what you mean.”
He continued. “One night, ten years after my brother had died, I was in bed asleep. My house was on the other side of Galveston, away from the port. I awoke to that smell…it was strong in my bedroom. I sat up in bed and there at the foot of my bed was my brother. I could see him as I see you now. He said ‘Go to Mom’s house…NOW!’ I didn’t question the experience I was having. I knew it was real. I grabbed a robe and left immediately. My mother lived four miles away. It was about one AM. I had called on the phone. There was no answer…and this concerned me. I pounded on the door. No response. I was so freaked out, I kicked the door in. There nearby, my mother lay at the bottom of the stairs. She had fallen down the long flight of stairs. I called 911 and EMS arrived very quickly. They took her to the hospital, and all though she was injured, she survived. She lived for many years after that night”.
All I could say was “Wow. Amazing”. He smiled.
He said “But, there’s more. I talked with the attending doctor later that morning. He said ‘It’s a good thing you went to see your mother at that time. If she had laid at the bottom of those steps for another hour or so, she certainly would not have made it. You saved her life’. I didn’t say to the doctor what I was thinking. It was my brother who saved my mother’s life. It was a ghost who saved her! Don’t tell me they don’t exist”.
I responded “I understand. And…yes, they do”.

imageWhy might a ghost appear to the naked eye or to be captured on digital or film media? Is it a change in the environment? A momentary hole in the quantum field? A slipping in the phase between dimensions? Some believe that when a ghost is seen by the naked eye, it is because of something different in the energy of the viewer…a shift in their energy being. Often children see apparitions. And young pre-pubescent girls seem to have the front row seat, often sensing and seeing phenomenon no one else does, indicating it could even be something in our biology. I am sure there is some element of truth in all of these suppositions. But still, this would not explain the appearance in photos and videos.
These guesses are all centered on ‘outward’ explanations, based on factors having nothing to do with the entity itself. This seems to miss a major point. Could it be that they ‘want’ to be seen or recorded? One explanation of ghosts is that they are energetic impressions left in physical matter that ‘replays’ itself over and over, like a video tape looped. So therefore objects and buildings are haunted because of ‘something left behind’. And maybe this is true in some cases. But to except this in a blanket way discounts those times when ghosts ‘communicate’ through EVP’s or show some conscious decision making process. Definitely, in the countless ghost stories that have been recorded over time there is often conscious reactive movement.
I believe that consciousness is at work. It seems that there is some aspect of ego still present. Very often ghost’s show up much younger than their actual age at death. It is relatively common for a ghost who died at sixty or seventy years of age to manifest as a thirty year old. There are many ghost stories of a family member who does not recognize their deceased grandma or grandpa because they did not know them as a younger person.

Coincidently, psychological studies indicate that many people who age past forty or fifty, continue to think of themselves as a thirty year old. It is a time when one is no longer viewed as ‘young’ but also not as ‘old’. Many (who as they age) are aware of changes in eye sight or joints or have facial wrinkles, but do not really feel that different than they did at thirty years of age. And…how are you ‘supposed’ to feel as a sixty year old? Could it be that ‘how you see yourself’, is how you show up…as a ghost? This would underscore the idea that ghosts are energistic beings sewn together by consciousness.

And if this is so, then the next question of inquiry that should intrigue each of us, the ‘living’, is…how do these conscious beings see us? What does their view into our dimension look like to them? Particularly since time and space does not exist for them as it does for us. Are they looking through a veil at a world they once understood but now has changed? And…do they know what they have become? It is a deeper question worth pondering.

image by Alejandro Jodorowsky

image by Alejandro Jodorowsky

Sometimes being a tour guide of a ghost tour is like being a sherpa in the high Himalayas…you never know what may happen in that ‘rarefied air’. Your skills must include a command of information and historical facts, story telling, experience and knowledge of paranormal activities/investigations and a deep and sensitive respect for the experiences and feelings of your public guests.

Each tour, (because of the many varied influences offered by guests, the environment and the ‘perceptions’ of the moment), is unique. On one such tour recently, a family was participating comprised of a father, mother, two teenage daughters and a third daughter who was ten years old. In story, I was recounting the actions of an entity who will on occasion ‘flick’ the hair around or touch the ear of guests…but he only does this with females. Men are safe from his trickery. It became apparent that the girls, particularly the ten year old, were emotionally affected, that is to say, obviously uncomfortable. As I became aware, the concerned father, addressing the ten year old, said “Are you ok?” She said “No. I need to leave”. The other two daughters said they would go upstairs with her, away from where we were in the basement area. A public space upstairs, I said they would be safe there. This all happened very quickly. The father, a man relatively conventional in appearance, turned to me and said, “It’s ok. She has ‘the gift'”. I was stopped in my storytelling tracks. I said, “Ok. We need to take a moment and address this!”

He said “I’m a police officer and I don’t believe in what I can’t touch or see…or prove. But my daughters have brought me over. They all are ‘sensitives’. They can see and hear the dead. However, my youngest is different. She has a physical connection and they will sometimes ‘touch’ her. I had a feeling your story was going to affect her”. I could only respond with “Amazing”. Those on the tour were very interested and so, as time allowed, he shared and we all listened intently. He told of events in which his family had been touched by emotions while in contact with deceased loved ones. “We have been on ghost tours around the country” he said. “In an odd way, it has brought us all closer together. It’s something we alone share and understand”. Throughout the rest of the night the girls were in and out…intently involved but at times keeping a distance. When we went into the next haunted site, they remained outside and their parents took turns attending to them.
There may be several lessons we can take away with us concerning the events of that night.
First, a book indeed cannot be judged by it’s cover. I never know as my tour begins who may be a ‘believer’ and who may be not. I have learned that people attend ghost tours for as many reasons as there are individuals. For some it’s a serious paranormal investigation. For others it’s an enjoyable way to learn about history. Others yet it is just entertainment…a way to do ‘something different’ for the evening. Or for some it is a confirmation that we exist after death. And yes, some come hoping for the thrill of being scared. And you will never know by looking at them initially which one it may be until the tour is nearly over. Secondly, the ones who might become scared are usually not the disbelievers, unless they have been ‘converted’ in the course of the evening. More often it might be the ones who have had prior experiences and they really do KNOW that this is real. And thirdly, when a moment arises that is outside of what might be expected…and certainly outside of what might have been planned…sometimes something very rich occurs. And when this happens, (and it happens far more often than you might expect), both the tour guide and the guests must respect what can be revealed in that moment by being sensitive and non-judgemental. These are often the ‘jewels’ of a ghost tour in which the guests become as interesting as the ghosts.

A Wild Ride

Posted: May 15, 2014 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

imageWell, I’m back in the blogosphere after a lengthy hiatus. The last two years on the Official Ybor Ghost Tour have been a wild ride. We have been recently rated among the top thirteen ghost tours in America by US City Traveler as #1. Locally in Tampa we were chosen by Tampa Bay Magazine as the #1 ghost tour in the Tampa Bay area. We appreciate these accolades and we appreciate the support of our guests and followers. I suppose you gain this kind of attention through hard work and commitment to try and achieve something special. Which leads me to this conclusion, which I think followers of ghost tours and the paranormal might find noteworthy:

There are varied kinds of ghost tours across the country. I have been on many. They differ and often each has something to recommend them. Some are entertaining parties that have costumed guides who are more prone to being ‘scary’ than being serious investigations of the paranormal. Some are even thinly disguised ‘pub crawls’. Some are very strong on local history. Some are so serious as investigations that they become almost ‘academic’ courses in the world of spirit. And for participants this variety may offer something more suited to each depending on their goal for the evening. We have attempted to create a balance of history, stories and investigations of interior sites that are truly haunted.

All of this leads me to a simple conclusion about a not so simple enterprise. In order for ghost tours to succeed and continue so that guides can be paid for their efforts and skill, to remain sustainable and for the tour to survive as a business and therefore as a ‘product’…and that guests who are not deeply into the paranormal, who are simply looking for an enjoyable experience and a ‘good time’ …and as well has the kind of content and credibility that more serious devotees can appreciate…requires that you must be honest and respectful with the subject matter. In short, do what you love and make sure it’s something you believe in and the rest will follow. For those of us who are guides on the Official Ybor Ghost Tour, a flood of amazing experiences have been occurring over the last several years. Guests having powerful feelings and experiences. Photo captures of not only orbs and ‘energy forms’…but even full body apparitions inside buildings. Phone batteries draining. Camera batteries draining. The list goes on. (More on these experiences forthcoming in future posts). On a recent tour as we investigated the lobby floor of the old Cuban Club with EMF meters buzzing and guests capturing strange images, a woman in the group turned to me and said, “You have an interesting job!” I responded “Yes…you have no idea”.


The Gasparilla International Film Festival is Tampa Bay’s largest independent film festival and was established in 2006. It has grown since then. Today it is taking it’s place among major film festivals around the country. This year’s 2012 offering showcased over 100 films made up of features, shorts and documentaries. Filmmakers, actors and celebrities traveled to Tampa to celebrate the art of film here and around the world. Among those attending were film impresarios The Booth Brothers. They were here to screen their new film “Children of the Grave 2” at Muvico Theater in Ybor City. Their creative film contributions on the SyFy Channel are, I believe, the best work being done on that network today. Because of my ghost tour here they contacted me and we had a chance to meet. They invited me to the screening and then to the ‘after party’. At the end of the screening there was a Q&A session in which Christopher and Phillip were open, honest and gracious. They shared insights into the effort required to make a project like this happen. They answered questions about film and the paranormal. Moreover, they shared their real feelings about these subjects and I found this refreshing. I had an opportunity to chat a little more with Phillip than Christopher and found him to be a kindred spirit of sorts. My sense was that they are both loving the ride and loving the work and are dedicated to their art. The experience from first to last was a treat.

I use the word ‘impresarios’ because ‘filmmakers’ isn’t quite adequate. They are gifted cinematographers who write, direct and produce. They are ghost investigators…researchers. They are story tellers. They are artists who are helping their audience see something they have never seen before. They are using their medium to make connections for their audience between the heart and the spirit. They do not use the approach so many ghost hunting reality shows use, to endlessly shift the camera in some dark, excited drama using night vision cameras as though we are on a spook house ride. Or to treat the subject like some midway sideshow. Instead, they create a sense of humanity in the process of revealing the story and the evidence obtained.

I see this so clearly because they are doing, on a far more sophisticated level using an entirely different medium, something not so far afoot from what I do here on my tours. I and my guests do some investigating, recording and photographing…but most of what I do is storytelling in which I attempt to acquaint my tour participants with the ghosts themselves, with their stories and maybe with their attachments and why they remain. I attempt to connect my participants with the human condition of these individuals who have become ghosts. In doing so I hope to touch something deep. The Booth Brothers are artists using a different medium to invoke the art of storytelling in which I believe they too wish to touch something deep.

And how do they do this? First, they use historical documentation in the form of old newspaper articles and photographs to inform us and to give the sense that we too are involved in discovering this history. We come to see a credible ‘past’ in each story. Secondly, recreations of events are done with a sense of accuracy and with an attention to detail but never without a stylistic flow that draws the eye in. I am a fan of cinematography and their work here, framed scene after framed scene is beautifully rendered. This illustration is done in camera with effects but not with CGI (computer generated imagery). Third, with each investigation comes finally an effort to ‘assist’ the entities toward some resolve…to give some guidance to their ‘moving on’. This part is in some ways the most chilling and the most inspiring. It is here where we as the audience make the connection that what we call ghosts are disembodied conscious beings who have some aspect of ego still intact and can be helped to move forward. They do not ‘have to’ choose to remain here. It is affective and inspiring and very different than anything else being done in reality ghost hunting shows. In fact, I believe the Booth Brothers have made a step out of the genre (which frankly is saturated) into a creative place where they have the opportunity to investigate something beyond simple ghost hunting. They are working to take us to the next level. They too, like all ghost investigators, use elaborate technology. It’s now ‘stock in trade’ for the process of any investigation. But technology is cold as is the word ‘paranormal”. The Booth Brothers use both sparingly in ‘Children of the Grave 2’. This film does not portray ghosts being ‘hunted’. It is not the science of the paranormal being objectively applied to investigations. It is rather a rich, film exploration of something more universal than the paranormal…it touches upon the supernatural. And in doing so it touches our spirit.

They Are Us

Posted: March 26, 2012 in Uncategorized

Out of a need for the security offered by certainty, every civilization, every major group has needed to believe that they were right and they knew basically all there is to know. The truth likely is that what we now know about our world and the Universe, both in matters of science and the spirit as well, is tiny compared to what can be known. It is only questioning and consciousness that creates our ‘path’. All else will fail us.

image by Alejandro Jodorowsky

Quantum physicists now tell us there are eleven dimensions of existence. Varying religious practices and metaphysics have inferred that there are even more. What realities exist in these dimensions and how do they intersect or overlap with our own? It might be reasonable to assume that this is where we as energetic beings go after death or even in between physical lives. Through my investigations of anecdotal evidence and of those documented experiences by many in the realms we call religious, supernatural and paranormal…I have come to believe that within these dimensions exist ‘beings’ or consciousness who are not ‘from’ this world. Entities that have been described as demons or angels, shadow figures and even extraterrestrials. But ghosts are not these. They are us. Humans who have not made the complete journey. They are ‘in between’ here…and there. Possibly trapped by some phenomenon we as yet do not understand. Or more likely they have made the conscious decision to remain. And why? Well, it may be for all the same reasons that we as people make various decisions to stay or go, to remain in a dysfunctional marriage or a bad job. It could be because of an unresolved conflict or possessive attachment or jealousy or love. Have you ever returned to a high school reunion 10, 20 years or more and found that there are some classmates who simply never ‘move on’? As though growth and maturation seemed to pass them by? Could it be that there are some of us as spiritual beings who do the same?

There are paranormal researchers who postulate that one explanation of ghosts may be as energetic impressions that are left on our physical environment, like a finger print or maybe more like a recorded tape loop that plays over and over again. This could be but it seems to me to be less likely. Electronic voice phenomenon (EVP) and recounted stories seem to indicate that consciousness is involved. At some level, ghosts know who they are and some aspect of ego is still functioning. Consciousness is a tricky thing. It is a powerful thing…maybe the most powerful thing in the universe. You can use it to free yourself from the reality you have created here in your life. Or…you can use it to create a reality here even after physical life has ceased.

I know they exist. A presumptive statement for the uninitiated or the non-believer. I have been asked, “Why this blog title?” A declaration to convince? A device to gain attention? No…it is not these. If it were a tactical reach it would soon ring untrue under the scrutiny of a frequent blog. Like the various dimensions of reality, the meaning may appear to be one thing and another…at the same time.

Much of the exploration of the paranormal over the last century has been preoccupied with seeking credibility, to compete with the empirical model of science. The empirical model is adversarial. A supposition is made, ceaseless experiments are conducted to support and verify… and then critics work to disprove. If the final evidence is found to ‘survive’ this process, then proof is agreed upon. And so the parallel course of ghost investigations has been to scientifically ‘prove’ their existence. It began over 130 years ago with the earliest photography, in which attempts were made to catch images of ghosts. In 1920 Thomas Edison announced he was working on a device that would record voices of the dead. He never succeeded. Over the years motion film cameras and video cameras have been positioned to capture moving ghosts. Sometimes they have succeeded. Today an entire industry has sprung up around ghost investigations. Ghost meters that read electromagnetic waves and temperature fluctuations, special film and digital image recorders and audio recorders to record electronic voice phenomenon are all now accepted as ‘research instruments’, much the same way that microscopes and telescopes are accepted as scientific tools. All of this points toward the unavoidable conclusion that ghost enthusiasts want proof…maybe to convince non-believers…or maybe as a way to reassure themselves that their pursuit is not folly. Maybe proof would put them in touch with something eternal…a way to conquer the great mystery of death. Certainly there is value in doing what can be done to give ghost hunting, as well as all paranormal research, solid credibility. I have been involved in ghost investigations and will continue to do so…and I will take whatever evidence that I may find. And it would give me pleasure to see others fulfilled by a proven answer. I certainly believe that science and technology will continue to seek answers to our greatest mysteries. And, science and the paranormal will one day nearly merge in a seamless way, in which great insights will be revealed.

But for me, proof, in the empirically derived way is unnecessary. I have seen a ghost. In addition, I have been made aware of people who have passed into the next dimension but who’s consciousness continues. But even with this knowledge, my reason for the statement “I know they exist” is to free this blog from proof as a limited ceiling in which we can fly no higher. I will address science and technology, discuss it and explore it’s meaning in relationship to ghosts. But the blog begins with the premise that ghosts exist…that the phenomenon exists and survives in it’s own right…that an exploration of all the subtle meaning and all of the profound implications is as meaningful as proof. If there is no proof, does it mean that the phenomenon does not exist…that there are no ghosts? Or could it mean that our technology has not yet evolved to measure ghosts, who for the most part, may not even exist in this dimension. Tools from this dimension to measure evidence from the next dimension? Here in this blog we will embrace the security of certainty, but not be limited by it and pursue the inspiration of the mysterious.


Welcome to the new BLOG home for Ybor City Ghost Tours and Joe Howden …