Monday, October 12, 2020

Guest Post: Telling Ghost Stories to Skeptics, Part 1, by Scott Markus

Note from Amelia: Welcome Scott Markusfellow author and storyteller, tour guide, podcast host, presenter, investigator, and friend. I had the honor of being interviewed on Scott's podcast, The Fantastic Story Society, in 2019. For the next three weeks, Scott will share his perspective on the art of storytelling, particularly the delicate art of ghost-storytelling to skeptics, and share a few of his own ghost stories along the way:

One of the things I love most about ghost stories is that they are a way to unite people. When I was just starting out in the late ’90s, I would frequently come across the stat that about 1/3 of Americans believed in ghosts. It wasn’t long before I was going from library to school to whoever wanted to book someone to tell stories, giving speeches. For a while I’d start my speech by asking my audience, “Who here believes in ghosts?” I found it amazing that even here, an event about ghost stories, that ratio remained: only about 1/3 of the audience believed in ghosts. I ended up finding comfort in that. Whether you’re a believer or not, everyone likes to hear a good story.

I should take this moment to mention that, inspired by Amelia Cotter’s weekly storytelling sessions at the beginning of quarantine, I started telling ghost stories every Wednesday night over at In addition to telling themed ghost stories each episode, I also have a question of the week for the audience, which isn’t anything paranormal and more importantly, it’s never anything political. One of my big goals in life lately is to remind people that we all share in a million human experiences and that we’re far more alike than we are different. Loving ghost stories? That’s almost universally a human experience. Almost.

That said, not every occasion of telling a ghost story to a non-believer has gone smoothly. Though extremely rare, sometimes a skeptical listener actually is there with ill-intent. In all cases, there was a little lesson to learn. So, I’m going to share with you a couple of my own ghost stories, how certain people attempted to get in the way of each story, and, hopefully my pain can be your gain if you ever find yourself in a similar situation.

Paranormal Investigation at the Tribune Tower and the Party Pooper

The Chicago Tribune Tower at 435 N. Michigan Ave.
Photo by Scott Markus.
When you’ve spent the majority of your life visiting haunted places, you tend to get invited to parties as the unofficial (unpaid) entertainment. At one party, the hostess was an avid fan of ghost stories. During a lull in conversation, I was asked to talk about a recent adventure I’ve had. The timing was good because I had just had the unreal experience of having the run of one of Chicago’s most iconic skyscrapers – the Tribune Tower. (You can view the edited video of our investigation here:

The Chicago-area stand-up comic Patti Vasquez has long been a good friend of mine and when she got her own show on WGN Radio, we found more ways to have adventures together. She’d usually have me on her show around Halloween where I’d tell stories and take calls for an hour. One time, she lined it up so we could investigate the building her late-night show wrapped for the evening. It was around 2 a.m. once her show wrapped.

Located right in the heart of Chicago on Michigan Avenue, we began our paranormal search in the “showcase studio.” It’s a Today Show-style street-level studio with big wraparound plate glass windows. The production team had recently lost one of their crewmembers to a heart attack and still wondered if famed broadcaster Bob Collins, who died years earlier in a plane crash, might be in hanging around after death in this space. The studio seemed very peaceful, still, and quiet, so we eventually moved on to other parts of the building. There is a meeting room, which is where Chicago Tribune reporters would take important interview subjects to conduct their hard-hitting pieces. According to the team, this is the room where many a big name was brought to their knees, their corrupt careers brought to light. This seemed to be the most active location on our night. We experienced cold spots, voices that came over the spirit box, and perhaps an actual voice in the room, to go along with some small EMF hits. Based on what he heard about the room, there could be a lot of emotional energy left behind. 

As another aside for what might make this location haunted, the Tribune Tower is incredibly unique in that its ground floor, inside and out, has artifacts embedded in it from around the world. There’s a piece from the Great Pyramid, a rock taken from the site of the lost colony of Roanoke, pieces of the Taj Mahal, the Parthenon, Angkor Wat, Lincoln’s tomb, Notre Dame Cathedral, and, more recently, a piece of the World Trade Center Tower wreckage. There’s more than a hundred more pieces including small rock samples taken from the site where Christ was born. If you can go along with the idea that a place can hold a spiritual energy charge, the Tribune Tower has gathered energies of unique sites from all around the world to this one location.

We talked to the overnight security team to find out if they have any stories and they pointed out to us locations that they did not like to patrol. One was a stairwell very high up in the building. It was exciting to view this location because we could see very quickly that the EMF readings were extraordinarily high here due to the wiring. High EMF can affect our perception to the point of feeling uncomfortable or paranoid. I believe we found a practical reason to rule out that location being haunted. However, we fully understand why the security team did not want to spend more time here than they needed to. 

Cornerstone of the Chicago Tribune Tower.
Photo by Scott Markus.
My favorite part of the night was when the security guards took us to the floor they find the most unsettling. According to them, there was a suicide on this floor and a negative entity remains. You can actually see in the video I posted on YouTube that the security guards bring us up to this location, but before we could ask many questions, they had already abandoned us…getting out of Dodge as soon as possible! Sometimes I find human reactions to things to be some of the biggest “evidence” of a haunting.  I didn’t see anything paranormal, but you could see their fear and that was significant to me.

So, Back to Me Telling This Story at a Party…

The woman who was sitting next to me couldn’t have been less interested in hearing it. She certainly had the option to get up and walk away, and I wish that she had. However, in staying, she took it upon herself to roll her eyes and loudly scoff at every statement. She would try to put me on the spot and call me out on minor details like, “Well, what floor was it?” Always striving to tell an honest story, I responded, “I don’t remember off the top of my head, but it’s in the video, which is published on YouTube, if you really want the answer.” At this, she found another opportunity for a big eye roll and a gesture around the room as if to say, “See, I told you this was all a lie.”

First off, how does that prove anything? I could’ve said any number in response to her question, and she wouldn’t know any different. Had I confidently said a number, would that have proven to her that the story was true? Of course not. Just for the record, it’s the 24th floor.

I never take the approach of “trying to prove something” while telling a story. I simply approach it like a journalist would approach a news story. I state the facts, interview witnesses, research, and try to be clear in my descriptions. This woman’s pushback was so strong that the instinct for me as the storyteller was to elevate to her level of intensity in an argumentative way. Fortunately, that’s not my style and I tried to be the bigger person by ignoring her and simply addressing everybody else in the room who was interested in the story. However, the heckler completely undercut everyone’s enjoyment.

Lessons to Take Away from the Experience

For the most part, I’m happy with how I handled things, but there was still room for improvement. If you’re dealing with someone who is aggressively against you and taking an active role in belittling you, it’s good to not feed that energy. Stay true to the story you were going to tell and focus on the people are having a good time.

That said, I think I should have called out the uncomfortable situation live, as it was unfolding. “Why are you acting so mean?” I have to imagine that calling out her behavior in an innocent way would have ended the situation immediately. Hopefully, I will not have a Take 2 to test this option in the future.

In the next two installments, you will get ghost stories about locations ranging from the Hollywood Sign to Gettysburg, and the sometimes surprising ways people react to them.

Scott Markus has been researching the paranormal for more than half his life. He is a published author, having written the historical/paranormal book, Voices from the Chicago Grave. His work in both production and the paranormal includes two documentaries on the unexplained and running He has been interviewed multiple times for Travel Channel’s Mysteries at the Museum and founded the LA Hauntings Tour Co., which lead people through haunted Hollywood and downtown LA.

“Telling Ghost Stories to Skeptics, Part 1,” Copyright 2020 Scott Markus

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