Port Gamble, Washington’s Haunted Town?

During the months of January and February of 2008, AGHOST was granted a unique opportunity to investigate several locations within the historic town of Port Gamble, WA and recently presented the town with a report of our results.

Port Gamble, located near Hood Canal was founded in 1853 and survived as a lumber town until 1995 with the longest continuously operating mill in the US. The mill is gone now but the town remains, retaining its Victorian charm. If you have not had the opportunity to travel to this beautiful gem on the sound, I encourage you to take the trip and to visit the wonderful shops there. It is well worth the drive.

During our two weekend-long visits, AGHOST teams investigated the historic Walker Ames House, the Community Hall, the Captain Daniel Jackson House, the Guest House, the town cemetery and the old town Morgue. Audio and photographic evidence were recorded as well as the personal experiences of some of our members. The Walker Ames House is currently undergoing interior renovations and it will be interesting to find out if that alters the activity there.

It was a great experience working with the management team at the town and we hope for the opportunity to return for additional investigations in the future. For more information about the town of Port Gamble, visit their website at http://www.portgamble.com/.

AGHOST has fun at the fair

On Saturday, September 29th, AGHOST participated in the Boeing Paranormal Expo at the Kent Commons. While in the past we have stayed away from these kinds of events, this year we decided to just go for it.

And boy did we have fun. We had a great turn out of members who wanted to help out with the booth. I'm sure I'm forgetting some but thanks again, Steve, Madeline, Rachael and Janet for staying all day. Thanks also to Dani, Merlyn and Dustin for helping out.

And a very special thanks to Sheri for putting it all together -- I must say that I think our booth was the best. (Hey Sheri, did you know that our tablecloth would be purple when you designed the booth display or was that your psychic side showing, again?)

Even though at times we had more people behind the counter than in front of it, we were able to get the word out about AGHOST, what we do and, more important, that we are just normal people, well normally. The candy on the counter helped bring people over, but it was our winning personalities and fascinating conversation that kept them there, and in one couple’s case, brought them back to ask more questions, again and again and again.

Look for AGHOST to put in an appearance at other events like this in the future.

Ross Allison on SCI-FI's Ghost Hunters

The last summer, TAPS (The Atlantic Paranormal Society) and the
SCI-FI Channel came to Seattle to investigate the Northern State Hospital and the Seattle Underground. That episode encompassing both investigations aired early this fall, on September 26th.

AGHOST President and founder Ross Allison, who often works at the Seattle Underground, was given the opportunity to participate in the investigation with TAPS. Although most of Ross' investigative work was edited out (figures), he did manage to make an appearance as a guest witnesses and tells of his own ghostly experience while working late at the Underground.

Figure 1: Ross playing it up to the camera ;)

If you missed this episode of Ghost Hunters, don't worry, the entire episode has been posted on SCI-FI's website! Be sure to check it out, and see if you can spot Ross :)

AGHOST Media Archive: 40,000 and Growing!

Today I posted the 40,000-th item on the AGHOST Media Archive! The official count is now at 40,274 photographs, videos, audio files and other documents archived on the AGHOSTOnline server. Since this was my pet project for the last year I am very pleased that it has been such an incredible success.

About the Media Archive

The AGHOST Media Archive is a web-accessible archive containing all data collected during AGHOST's expeditions, walkthroughs and investigations. Most of the items in the archive are digital photographs taken during investigations, but the archive also contains audio and video files, as well as a number of other documents - including old reports written before the release of ParaDB. The archive was implemented in June, 2006 and originally contained only about 4,000 photographs. It has since grown to over 40,000 items documenting all of AGHOST's investigation activities.

New Domain: AGHOST.org!

In August, 2007 AGHOST member Claire graciously donated to us the domain name AGHOST.org. This means you can now access our website via aghost.org, just as you would with aghost.us! Email works as well, so techdirector@aghost.org works just like techdirector@aghost.us, etc. I'm excited to have this new name, as I think AGHOST as a non-profit is more suited to a .org domain name.

Since both aghost.us and aghost.org work the same way and point to the same place, there is NO need to update your links or bookmarks.


Stephen A. Zarkos
AGHOST Technical Director

Do you think ghosts exist?

AGHOST would like to know your opinion! Please take our poll.

Do you think ghosts exist?

The Harvard Exit Theater

The Harvard Exit Theater in Seattle is one of Washington’s more publicized ‘haunted’ locations. In the past it has received media attention and been investigated by several paranormal groups, including AGHOST. During AGHOST's research of the building's history it came to light that some of the stories linked to the Harvard Exit have been portrayed and retold inaccurately. I thought it would be good to tell a few of the stories, as they were retold to us by former theater employees; as well as one that had not been told publicly before.

The Hanging Woman

One story that has been told and reenacted by the media is of a theater employee seeing the apparition of a hanged woman on the third floor. According to the previous theater manager who was on site during the event, this is not what really happened. While the manager was in the main lobby one evening he heard the upstairs office door open and close, followed by a loud scream and running. He leapt up and ran toward the stairs to find out what had happened and met one of the floor staff half way up. She was shaking and saying “I’m never going up there alone again” over and over. When she had calmed down she told the manager that she felt like someone was in the hall with her. She turned to see a ghostly woman in a flowing dress hovering about two yards behind her. She did not see a head on the woman’s body, but never reported that she saw a hanging woman.

The Lady in the Lobby

Another story that has been retold inaccurately and seems to have exaggerated claims of other sightings is that of a former theater manager. This is the story as she tells it.

One night around 5pm, while opening the theater as usual, she opened the doors to the lounge and noticed a fire burning in the fireplace. She was shocked because there was no one in the building, and all personnel had been instructed to never leave a fire lit without supervision. Then as she entered the lounge she noticed movement to the left of the fireplace. Her eyes were drawn to a woman seated in one of the high backed wooden chairs next to a table and lamp. The lamp was on and she saw that the woman was wearing a calf-length floral print dress and had her hair pulled up in an old-fashioned style that framed her face. The woman turned toward the theater manager, looked her straight in the eyes and faded away. This was the only time she saw the apparition, or a fire mysteriously lit in the lobby.

An untold story

A previous theater manager also relayed a story told to him by a long time projectionist of the Harvard Theater. This story had not previously been told to the public as the witness did not want to talk about his experience. The projectionist was sitting in the first floor projection booth showing a film. There was a stool that sat between the two projectors for when he had to make a change over between the machines. At this time he was off sitting in a more comfortable chair as the movie ran, when he noticed that the stool had begun to vibrate. As he continued to watch it seemed to be doing a little dance. It then stood on one leg and began to spin around; then it stopped and didn’t move again.

More About AGHOST

We occasionally receive emails from folks asking for more information about AGHOST and what it is that we do. There is quite a bit information about our organization on our website, but there are many interesting aspects to AGHOST that are not mentioned on the website or blog. So I thought I would write a bit about AGHOST (from my perspective) and what it's all about.

First, The Basics

The AGHOST group was founded in October, 2001, and although it did not originate as such, it is currently operating as a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization within the state of Washington (USA). We are a volunteer-based, membership-supported organization with (currently) around 60 members. We provide investigation and research services primarily within Western Washington, but have conducted investigations all over the US, Canada and Europe as well. You can learn more about AGHOST's services on our services page.

Investigations, Walkthroughs and Expeditions

AGHOST regularly organizes various research-related events. We categorize these events as either an Investigation, a Walkthrough or an Expedition.

  • Investigation - An all-out paranormal investigation at a potentially haunted location.

  • Walkthrough - A pre-investigation visit to the client's home or business. During this time the investigators will typically collect some baseline measurements and conduct the interview.

  • Expedition - Expeditions often occur at cemeteries or other uncontrolled areas where our team members can get together and have fun in a less formal environment. Data is often collected during these outings, but individuals are not typically required to complete a report.

Our investigation teams include AGHOST members that are trained in a particular role. The team roles include the Tech who operates the equipment, the Observer who helps document the investigation, and the Psychic who documents any psychic impressions they receive. The group works as a team, but each member is responsible for collecting particular types of information and completing an individual report. This allows us to collect a wide range of information about a potentially haunted location.

The Psychic

As previously mentioned, AGHOST utilizes qualified psychics who document their impressions during an investigation. We have a PSI Director who is responsible for maintaining the protocol to be used on an investigation, and also certifies and prepares new psychics to utilize their talent in the field. Unlike the technical and observer roles, there is no "psychic training", so to speak. Instead, psychic classes are offered that help our members develop their abilities, and in some cases allow our own PSI Director to help assess and prepare new psychics for our investigations. These classes are open to all members (even the Tech Director), regardless of whether or not the member wishes to participate in investigations.

The psychic on an investigation must also complete a report and disclose all impressions they note during the investigation. Regardless of how some groups may feel about the use of psychics in an investigation, many of our clients enjoy their presence and find their impressions very useful. Utilizing both techs and psychics allows us to collect a great deal of information, and create a more complete profile of a potentially haunted location.

Since I'm the Technical Director I'm really not the best one to comment on the psychic role, but hopefully that was fair enough for a brief summary. If not, be rest assured that Merlyn (our PSI Director) will probably put a curse on me or suck out all my blood or something. Nothing new here at AGHOST.

Technical Stuff

Similar to many other research groups, we also utilize a myriad of technical equipment during an investigation. This includes photographic, audio and video equipment as well as a number of different types meters to quantify a particular aspect of the environment - such as various EMF (AC and DC) meters, temperature/thermocouple devices, humidity meters, barometric pressure meters as well as data-logging equipment for long-term monitoring.

Aside from electronic devices, we've also built a number of unique software tools and online services that assist us in the investigation and post-investigation workflow. Many of these tools I've already spoken about in-depth in this blog. These tools assist us in collecting information efficiently, fulfilling our reporting requirements and archiving our data for easy access later on.


The AGHOST team also includes a Research Director who helps define and guide research-oriented projects within the group. The research tasks vary from property research, to long-term studies such as psychical research or collecting and correlating geographic, geomagnetic and space weather information for a large number of investigations. Research meetings occur usually about once a month and are open to all members.

Board of Directors

AGHOST is managed by a Board of Directors. All the politics and management of the group occurs within the monthly board meetings and via email. The job of the board is to manage all aspects of AGHOST and assure we meet our stated goals. All of our board members are volunteers. AGHOST has no paid board members, but we try to do as much as possible with the few resources we have.

Only board members may vote on proposals, but board meetings are open to the general membership. The board also has a non-voting position called the Member at Large whose purpose is to be the voice of the general membership, and present the board with questions and concerns on behalf of a particular member or group of members. Our Member at Large also serves as a sort of welcome party for new members just getting started in AGHOST.

We currently have a very active board, all of whom are very hard-working individuals dedicated to making AGHOST a better group. We don't always agree, and we're not always right (well, except for me), but I can honestly say that the board does a pretty damn good job overall.

Fun Stuff

AGHOST is more than just a research group, we are a small community of diverse individuals. And as such many individuals will organize official and unofficial social events for folks to enjoy. These include official events such as the yearly picnic and Halloween party, as well as other events such as "movie nights" and occasionally even out-of-town events. AGHOST maintains an internal calendar and messageboard to post these events. Most anyone may do so as long as they adhere to AGHOST's non-discrimination and other conduct policies.

How to Get Involved

AGHOST public meetings are normally held every other Sunday. These meetings are always open for guests and friends to visit regardless of whether they wish to become a member. A New Members Meeting typically occurs after the first meeting of the month, and includes an orientation and some paperwork to initiate folks into the group. After initiation, folks wishing to participate on investigations will be required to attend training classes before they will be allowed to shadow other experienced investigators during a walkthrough or investigation.

Official dates for the AGHOST Meetings can be found on the public calendar.

Individuals who are not local to the Seattle area may still join AGHOST via the AGHOSTOnline.org website. AGHOSTOnline members have access to all of our online resources and archives.

More Information

I hope this gives everyone a bit of a taste of AGHOST. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to send an email to aghost@aghost.us.

We Are Living In A Material World

Guest Article: Posted on behalf of AGHOST member Jody C.

The question has come up a few times in past months whether or not sellers and/or realtors are required to tell potential home buyers that a property may be haunted. Going by what I have studied (I’m a fledgling realtor), I'd say no.

Realtors should provide a potential buyer with an Abstract of Title, which summarizes all public records regarding a particular parcel, lists any transfers of ownership and divisions of property. If the property has ever had a lien or other encumbrance associated with it, that will also be shown in the Abstract of Title.

Sellers are required to disclose all Material Facts about their property, defined as:

"Information that substantially adversely affects the value of the property or a party’s ability to perform its obligations in a real estate transaction, or operates to materially impair or defeat the purpose of the transaction."

While the following are excellent sources for creating residual energy and/or hauntings, they are NOT considered to be Material Facts and therefore are not required to be disclosed to a potential buyer:

"The fact or suspicion that the property, or any neighboring property, is or was the site of a:

  • murder, suicide or other death
  • rape or other sex crime
  • assault or other violent crime
  • robbery or burglary
  • illegal drug activity
  • gang-related activity
  • political or religious activity, or
  • other act, occurrence, or use not adversely affecting the PHYSICAL condition of or title to the property."

This is all according to the realtor's code [RCW 18.86.010(9)].

So, unless a haunting is causing the building’s foundation to shift, the timbers to rot or the plaster to continually peel, it seems the chance that a buyer will be told ahead of time that their dream home comes equipped with an afterlife tenant is slim.

Note that this is a generalization. Some states require that if a buyer poses a direct question to a seller or Realtor about whether or not a death occurred on the property, they must answer honestly and to the best of their knowledge. When in doubt, though, ask a real estate attorney and they will let you know about your rights to full disclosure.

Understanding EXIF

In recent years, many paranormal enthusiasts have adopted digital devices as their primary means to collect audio, video and still photographs. Digital cameras, in particular, have taken hold as the dominant format for the hobbyist photographer as well as the professional - despite their rocky start as pixel-mangling orb collectors. In this article I'm going to discuss a commonly used aspect of the digital photograph, specifically the metadata that is embedded in nearly all of the digital photographs we see today.

Metadata specifications were designed to provide a standard way of embedding important information within a file to better facilitate the sharing and distribution of that media file. EXIF (Exchangeable Image File Format) is one type of metadata, but not the only type, commonly embedded in digital photographs. The EXIF specification includes a number of tags for storing specific bits of information about a media file. XMP (EXtensible Metadata Platform) is another example of metadata that can be inserted into a digital photograph and other media types.

Extracting Metadata Information

There are a number of applications available that can extract and display EXIF and other metadata information within an image. Image editing programs, for example, often include functionality to display some or all of this data. One need only to use Google to find an program that will suit their needs. For this article, I will be using the exiftool command-line utility to extract and write metadata. Exiftool can typically be obtained on most any system that includes Perl.

Example: Using exiftool to print out all non-binary metadata about an image (some output snipped for brevity):

me@linux:~/test> exiftool -a -u -g1 original.jpg
... Snipped ...

---- IFD0 ----
Image Description :
Make : SONY
Camera Model Name : DSC-F828
Orientation : Horizontal (normal)
X Resolution : 72
Y Resolution : 72
Resolution Unit : inches
Modify Date : 2006:04:15 20:55:48
Y Cb Cr Positioning : Co-sited
---- ExifIFD ----
Exposure Time : 1/30
F Number : 2.0
Exposure Program : Program AE
ISO : 100
Exif Version : 0220
Date/Time Original : 2006:04:15 20:55:48
Create Date : 2006:04:15 20:55:48
Components Configuration : YCbCr
Compressed Bits Per Pixel : 8
Exposure Compensation : 0
Max Aperture Value : 2.0

... Snipped ...

Spotting Edited Photos

When a photo is modified, some of this metadata information may be altered or removed - and sometimes new information is added. Knowing some of the tags that various image editing applications may add to a photo can help one in determining if the photograph has been edited. A good example is the popular Photoshop application, which often embeds a number of its own tags in a modified image. Unfortunately, the absence of altered metadata tags is not always a reliable means of proving that an image has not been modified. Since, as we'll see later, one could simply "fix" the metadata after a photo has been altered so that it looks just like the original.

The embedded thumbnail image may also provide some clues about the original image. Many modern digital cameras embed a thumbnail image within the larger image. These embedded images are typically used by various file browsing applications, like Windows Explorer or Konqueror, to display a thumbnail of the larger image when browsing your photo collection. Interestingly, some image editing applications do not update the embedded thumbnail image when saving the image. Thus, one may often view the thumbnail to get a better idea of what the original image looked like before it was edited.

The following command will extract the embedded thumbnail image and copy it to a file called thumb.jpg. You could then view thumb.jpg and compare it to the original.

me@linux:~/test> exiftool -b -ThumbnailImage modified.jpg > thumb.jpg

The Trouble With Metadata

In many ghost hunting books I've read, I have often seen EXIF and other metadata compared to a negative produced by 35mm film. The purpose is typically to suggest that while a negative can help verify the authenticity or correctness of the developed image, the EXIF metadata can serve a similar function for the digital format. Unfortunately, the reality is that quite often this is not the case. While still valuable information for analyzing digital photographs, the trouble with most metadata is that this information can be manipulated as easily as the digital photograph itself.

Example: Altering metadata

Let's say we have a digital image called original.jpg captured using a digital SLR camera. We then make a copy of the image, modify it and call it modified.jpg.

Original Photo

Modified Photo

Depending on the application used to edit the image, the EXIF data may be changed, added to or sometimes completely removed. Popular applications such as Photoshop or the GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) may add their own metadata to an image while preserving much of the original data.

Using the exiftool and diff utilities, one could type to following command to view the changes in metadata between the two image files:

me@linux:~/test> diff <(exiftool -a -u original.jpg) <(exiftool -a -u modified2.jpg)
> JFIF Version : 1.1
> Resolution Unit : inches
> X Resolution : 72
> Y Resolution : 72
< Modify Date : 2006:04:15 20:55:48
< Thumbnail Offset : 2498
< Thumbnail Length : 15105
> Thumbnail Offset : 2484
> Thumbnail Length : 7653
< Thumbnail Image : (Binary data 15105 bytes, use -b option to extract)
> Thumbnail Image : (Binary data 7653 bytes, use -b option to extract)

I realize that this output probably looks a bit cryptic to those who are not familiar with the diff utility, but I'll explain what it all means. The first thing one might notice from this output is that, surprisingly, very little metadata was actually changed by the image editing program. The application did, however, add a new metadata group called JFIF and the Modify Date tag has been removed. The other data, such as thumbnail information, is not as critical since one would need both the original and the modified file in order to see that this data has changed.

This is just one example. Other image editing applications will add, modify or delete different metadata - leaving different "fingerprints" on the altered file. Test this out for yourself. If you find anything interesting, please send me an email and let me know.

Now, to fix modified.jpg so that the metadata matches original.jpg. What we will end up doing is copying the metadata from the original photo to the modified photo. The problem is that this process will also overwrite the embedded thumbnail image with the one from the original file, so we will first need to save the thumbnail from the modified image so we can re-embed it later:

me@linux:~/test> exiftool -b -ThumbnailImage modified.jpg > thumb.jpg

Now, copy all the metadata from the original to the modified image:

me@linux:~/test> exiftool -TagsFromFile original.jpg -all:all modified.jpg
1 image files updated

Re-embed the thumbnail image saved from the modified image:

me@linux:~/test> exiftool '-ThumbnailImage<=thumb.jpg' modified.jpg
1 image files updated

Rip out the JFIF tags added by the image editing program:

me@linux:~/test> exiftool -JFIF:All= modified.jpg
1 image files updated

If Photoshop was used, these tags can also be removed as well:

me@linux:~/test> exiftool -Photoshop:All= modified.jpg
1 image files updated

Now, let's compare the images again:

me@linux:~/test> diff <(exiftool -a -u original.jpg) <(exiftool -a -u modified.jpg)
< Thumbnail Offset : 2498
< Thumbnail Length : 15105
> Thumbnail Offset : 2502
> Thumbnail Length : 7653
< Thumbnail Image : (Binary data 15105 bytes, use -b option to extract)
> Thumbnail Image : (Binary data 7653 bytes, use -b option to extract)

There is now little difference between the original and altered photo, and certainly nothing left that we could use to identify fraud. Attributes related to the thumbnail have changed, of course, but as I mentioned before, without access to the original file this difference cannot be detected.

I suppose I should make a note here that neither I nor AGHOST condone the intentional manipulation of any sort of data for the purposes of deceiving the public. The purpose of this section is simply to show that the metadata contained in an image can be manipulated as easily as the image itself, and thus should not be trusted as the sole means to verify the authenticity of a photograph. As I mentioned earlier, EXIF and other metadata types were designed to facilitate the sharing of media files and other data. The specification does not (as far as I know) include any sort of data integrity functionality for the metadata itself.

Fortunately, detecting photo fakery is a very well-studied problem.
New software to detect image manipulation is constantly being developed and becoming more accessible, and there are also many other techniques which can be used to detect altered photos. I'm interested in knowing what techniques other groups are using to analyze photo evidence. As always, please feel free to post a comment or shoot me an email and share your ideas.