Dan Smith has been hunting ghosts for 18 years. As the author of multiple Cincinnati-centric paranormal investigation books including the new Ghosts of Bobby Mackey’s Music World, a traveling parascience technology inventor and speaker and the proprietor of the Haunted Cincinnati Tours ghost tour company, Smith laughs when he says that his whole life is based around “paranormal stuff.”
But it is and it has been for a while.
Smith’s desire to research and explore the reality behind paranormal activity started when he was a teenager. “Back in 1995 … my family experienced a haunting,” he says. “It got really extreme — chairs moving around, doors closing, weird stuff happening — so I got interested because of what had happened to my family.”
This was in an era before the prevalence of ghost tours, ghost hunters and the inundation of television shows like Ghost Adventures, The Haunted Collector, Paranormal Witness, Celebrity Ghost Stories and so on. “We were kind of on our own with it,” Smith says.
In order to try to understand what was happening to his family and others he encountered suffering similar paranormal experiences, he only had the basics. “I had a little analog recorder with a little tape you had to change and some baby powder to put on the floor to catch ghost footprints and that was it,” he says.
Eighteen years later, he has much more. Standard ghost hunting equipment includes an artillery of sound recorders used to pick up on EVP (electronic voice phenomena), i.e. otherworldly voices, devices that detect disturbances in the electromagnetic field, motion detectors and infrared thermometers — all used to try to detect the presence of something we can’t see. In fact, Smith is a member of a parascience organization full of chemists and programmers who develop new equipment for use in the field of paranormal research. (The guys on the aforementioned Ghost Adventures even use some of Smith’s inventions.)
“The real paranormal community has grown a lot scientifically in just the last five or 10 years,” Smith says. “A lot of people say, ‘You don’t have any evidence. You don’t have any proof,’ but the truth is there’s a lot of data that’s been collected, we just don’t fully understand what’s going on.”
Smith also does around 35 to 40 private investigations a year for those dealing with home and personal hauntings.
“We can kind of tell what’s going on and give them a recommendation. Sometimes it’s monotonous as, ‘You have a residual haunting’ and sometimes it’s more extreme. We’ve seen more extreme cases where [the spirits] are physically injuring children or slamming the doors so hard they’re breaking the doors and we’ll refer them to clergy.”
In concert with his paranormal investigations, Smith started his ghost tours and overnight group investigations in Cincinnati in 2008 after seeing how much history the city had — specifically its haunted history. “I like to share the history of the city — the area is so rich with history and so many of the buildings are still here,” he says. “I try to get people to understand the history better so they can kind of better understand the haunted presence and why things are happening today.”
On his Haunted Cincinnati Tours ($28 per person), patrons can personally investigate some of the most actively haunted sites in the city with Smith’s ghost hunting equipment. The tours usually last three-and-a-half hours and include stories of history, tragedy and paranormal events.
A large portion of the paranormal events revolve around several different types of hauntings: residual hauntings, intelligent ghosts and demonic activity. According to Smith, a residual haunting is probably the most common to experience. It’s a repeating energy the earth has recorded and keeps playing back — like a DVD. For example, a family in Newport contacted Smith because they saw an apparition of a man repeatedly walk up their stairs. “We go through the deed records and find the guy who lived there last lived there for 62 years, so him going up the stairs to the bathroom two or three times a day has happened so often for years that it’s been imprinted and replays,” Smith says. “So we’ll see a real apparition but there’s no real ghost behind it.”
An intelligent ghost is what you think of when you picture a classic ghost. “It’s that disembodied spirit of someone that was living once,” Smith says. “Most intelligent ghosts, they interact with the living, with things going on. … During investigations you can actually capture EVP, spirit voices, talking about present matters.”
And then there are demonic spirits, which Smith says are extremely rare. “On TV shows, everyone’s got a demon in the cookie jar, but that’s just not how it is.”
But patrons have witnessed all types of paranormal activity on Smith’s Haunted Cincinnati Tours, which include or have included local landmarks like the Omni Netherland, Taft Museum of Art, Music Hall, Eden Park and Bobby Mackey’s Music World. The latter of which, Smith says, is “the most haunted place I’ve ever been to and the most dangerous.”
“[At Bobby Mackey’s], you don’t just catch EVP on recording devices, you can hear them in the environment with your ears when they happen,” he says. “I’ve seen cameras go flying across the room when no one’s around them. I’ve seen people get attacked, scratched, people said they’ve been punched, kicked and had their hair pulled.”
Less demonic is the spirit at the Omni. People have reported seeing The Lady in Green, an African-American woman dressed in a formal green ball gown who wanders the hotel (and rides the elevator with guests).
As far as the Taft goes, the most common spirit is former owner Annie Taft. “Some of our assistants have caught an apparition but never a full thing,” Smith says. “It’s like a torso or an arm … but people have gotten photos of partial figures standing in the yard this past tour season.”
At Eden Park, they’ve recorded the voice of Imogene Remus, who was murdered by her husband, infamous bootlegger George Remus. “Her ghost is said to be [at the gazebo],” Smith says, “and we’ve caught meters answering questions, we’ve caught her voice over the years answering stuff.”
And at Music Hall, the grounds of a former insane asylum, pest house for patients with contagious diseases, orphanage and pauper’s cemetery, people hear ghostly music — specifically a music box version of “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” — and see apparitions ranging from children to a man waving from the audience. On a few occasions, according to the Cincinnati Research & Paranormal Studies, which conducts ghost tours of Music Hall specifically, the freight elevator has moved on its own with entire tour groups inside.
And while all of this may seem spooky, for Smith it’s more about history and science and proving that there’s much more to our world than meets the eye.
HAUNTED CINCINNATI TOURS’ hands-on “Ghosts of the Queen City” tours are sold out for the remainder of the year, but those interested can book private tours via hauntedcincinnatitours.com.