Troy Taylor (1966– ) Founder of the American Ghost Society, prominent Ghost and paranormal investigator, and author.
Troy Taylor was born on September 24, 1966, in Decatur, Illinois, in an area rich in ghost lore. As a youth he was fascinated by true ghost stories and followed the work of ghost investigator Richard Winer, British ghost investigator Harry Price, and cryptozoologist Loren Coleman (cryptozoology is the study of mysterious or “hidden” creatures). He struck up a correspondence with Coleman, establishing a lasting relationship.
In school, Taylor was known for his paranormal interests and often took friends on informal ghost tours of local haunted sites.
Following graduation from high school, Taylor traveled and worked in various jobs. He married, had two children—a son and a daughter—and divorced.
In 1989 Taylor took a job in a bookstore in Decatur. By 1992, he was an active ghost investigator. His ghost experiences and his job inspired him to write his first book on ghosts, Haunted Decatur, his collection of ghost stories and lore. He published the book in 1995 with his own press, Whitechapel Productions Press.
The immediate success and popularity of the book established Taylor as an expert on Hauntings and ghosts. While investigating a haunting at Eastern Illinois University— the ghost of counselor Mary Hawkins reportedly prowls Pemberton Hall dormitory—Taylor met Amy Van Lear, a graduating student who shared Taylor’s ghost interests. The two were married on December 31, 1996.
In 1995, Taylor and Van Lear organized a group of ghost enthusiasts to act as an investigations team and search for hard evidence corroborating the existence of ghosts. The organization, the Ghost Research Society of Central Illinois, started with about 25 people and quickly grew. A year later they reorganized it as the American Ghost Society, and it quickly became one of the largest ghost organizations in North America.
The Taylors moved to Alton, Illinois, near St. Louis, Missouri, in 1998, where they purchased a bookstore, Riverboat Molly’s, later renamed History & Hauntings. The bookstore served as headquarters for the AGS and as the site of the annual AGS conference. Taylor gained prominence in the media as a ghost expert and author. He started the Alton Hauntings tour company.
The Taylors divorced in 2005. Taylor sold the bookstore and relocated to Decatur, where he started two more tour companies, one in Springfield, Illinois, and one that arranges haunted weekends. For a time he collaborated with Ursula Bielski, a Chicago-area ghost author who also had a tour company. In 2006, Taylor established his own Chicago area tour company, Weird Chicago, based on his book Weird Illinois.
In February 2006, he remarried, to Haven Starrett.
Taylor describes himself as “a skeptic with an open mind.” He believes in Survival After Death and is favorably inclined toward Reincarnation. He believes in the existence of ghosts, though he has not found any conclusive proof. His no-nonsense approach appeals to a wide audience. When investigating phenomena, Taylor starts with the premise that the cause is not a ghost and looks first for all possible natural explanations.
While many cases do have natural explanations, some remain inconclusive. Taylor divides ghosts into two categories: residual hauntings, or impressions of images, sounds, smells and so on, and intelligent, conscious spirits, or discarnate beings who exhibit a personality. Intelligent ghosts are rare; residual hauntings account for most unexplained phenomena.
Taylor has had various experiences himself of haunting phenomena, such as unusual Smells associated with haunted places. For example, he went to Springfield, Illinois, to research the Springfield Theatre Center, reputedly haunted by the ghost of actor Joe Neville, who committed suicide at home in the 1950s, shortly before he was to take the lead in a new production. Taylor didn’t know it at the time, but one of the hallmarks of Neville’s presence was the pungent smell of a wellknown medicated facial cleanser cream used by many actors for removing makeup. Taylor walked into a littleused, old dressing room and met the recognizable smell of this cleanser. He didn’t think it was unusual—after all, he was in a stage theater. Later he was told the smell signified the presence of the ghost—and also that the theater had prohibited the use of the cleanser for years, because of the haunting.
On a research trip to the Gettysburg Battlefield in Pennsylvania, Taylor had another phantom smell experience— the sudden, pervasive aroma of peppermint along Baltimore Street. He then learned that the residents of Gettysburg had used ample amounts of peppermint and vanilla to counteract the stench of dying soldiers. Both smells still haunt the area today.
One of Taylor’s primary objectives is to raise the standards of professionalism in Ghost INVESTIGATION. His book The Ghost Hunter’s Handbook: The Essential Guide for Investigating Ghosts & Hauntings (1998; 1999; 2001, 2007) has become a standard manual for ghost fieldwork.
Taylor has written more than 40 books on ghosts and hauntings, nearly all of them published by his own company.
FURTHER READING :
- American Ghost Society. Available online. URL: http://www. prairieghosts.com. Downloaded October 22, 2006.
Profile Troy Taylor Troy Taylor is the author of more than 30 books about ghosts and hauntings, including The Ghost Hunter’s Guidebook (Whitechapel Productions, 1999), Haunted Illinois (1999), and The Haunting of America (2001). He’s the president of the American Ghost Society and editor of Ghost of the Prairie Magazine.
Q: What is your favorite haunted place?
That’s one of those questions I can’t answer with one. There are a handful of places that I always go back to, that I never get tired of and not just because of the history and all of the years of ghost stories behind them.
One of them is the Lemp Mansion in St. Louis. It’s one of those places where the tragedy of the place just lends itself to a haunting. Plus, there have been really reliable stories over the years. It’s a place that I’m fascinated with. And I know this sounds bizarre, but it’s a place that I’m really comfortable with. I think my fascination with the history of the family and my respect for the family just makes me feel comfortable there. But I do honestly think it’s a very haunted place.
Second would be a place in Illinois called the Old Slave House. I can’t give you a town that it’s near because it’s just in the middle of nowhere. But it has a really horrendous history regarding a guy who leased slaves to work salt lands. He ended up kidnapping free African-Americans and pressing them into slavery. It’s the only place in Illinois where slavery really existed. He kept the slaves chained up in the attic of the house. This sounds like an urban legend, but this is all really documented history and it’s one of the only buildings—as far as I know, it’s the only building in the state of Illinois—where official state records actually talk about the ghosts. That’s how long the ghost stories have been around.
The Bell Witch cave in Tennessee is also very high on my list. I’ve been there probably a dozen times. I’ve spent the night in the cave, I’ve known the owners for years—it’s just one of those places that has a great history behind it.
Finally, I’d have to say the first place where, I’m convinced, I actually saw a ghost. And that’s the old Waverley Hills Sanitarium in Louisville, Kentucky. It’s an old abandoned tuberculosis sanitarium with a dark history behind it, and there’s just story after story there—more than just kids chasing down ghost stories. These are real people who’ve been there, who have had some really good documented encounters. One night, a friend and I were walking down the hallway there, and a guy walked across the hallway in front of us and disappeared into a room on the other side of the hall. I have no doubt that it was a ghost, considering the room was empty when we got there. I have to list that as one of my favorites.
Q: Why be a ghost investigator?
I’d love to say that I have some kind of really deep spiritual reasons for searching for life after death, but I don’t. I’ve always just taken it as fact that there is life after death—that we’re all going to end up somewhere. But preferably, I’m not going anywhere. I always tell people if it’s possible, if you have a choice to be a ghost, I want to be one. So I’m not looking for proof, because I can’t convince everybody. For me, it’s just a lifelong fascination with the unusual and the unexplained. Yes, I’m convinced that there are ghosts and I’m convinced that there is life after death, but still, how does it work out? How does it happen? That’s what intrigues me. If I had all of these answers, I probably wouldn’t be interested.
Q: What are important items to bring with you on an investigation?
When I started out in this, I had a camera, I had a notebook, and I had a pen, and that’s about it. That’s why I think my belief system on the whole thing has never really changed. All of the gadgets and gear are great, but, for me, I find it hard to use electronic equipment and then offer that as any kind of proof. Only because there are so many things that can go wrong with electronics as far as trying to use them for evidence. Yes, it can be very compelling, but, for me, I’m always looking for the history behind the story. And by that I mean that if I can find a house, and that house turns out to have people who live in it now who claim that it’s haunted, and I can go back through three previous owners and they all tell the exact same story, have the exact same things happening, without knowing that anyone else has ever reported it. For me, all I needed was a notebook and a pen to get what I consider to be “real proof” that the place is haunted. That’s nothing that I [need to] use a magnetometer or a gauss meter or anything else to prove. I was able to do that with a pen and a piece of paper. People are the key behind the story—they are the essential element to all of this. People who get into this and don’t have any kind of people skills are in big trouble. So that’s really why I push with this kind of thing. If you have a video camera, bring it along, you want to remember what the place looks like. If you want to use electronic equipment, definitely use it if you know how to use it. But if you don’t know how to use it, I tell people don’t even bother.
Q: What’s a funny thing that’s happened to you during an investigation?
There’ve been so many things…. I always tell people, never go do this stuff by yourself. But, unfortunately, there have been a few times when I’ve gone and done it by myself. I had gotten a call from these people who were hearing footsteps in their attic every night. They were sure that their home was haunted. And they had actually done some research into the history of the place. The real story behind it was that it had been owned by a farmer who had committed suicide when he lost his farm back during the Depression. He had gone up to the attic and hung himself. They were convinced that it was this guy’s ghost and the footsteps were happening every night—which obviously got my attention. Not only do they have a good story, but they have a good story that was happening every night. So I thought this was the perfect chance to get to really experience something.
So I went out to their house and it got late, and we were all sitting around in the bedroom being quiet and we started to hear footsteps walking around in the attic—I could hear them plain as day. I tried to get this woman’s husband to go up there with me, but he was terrified—no way was he going to go up there. I climbed up into the attic with a flashlight (now a little nervous myself at this point), shined the light around, and I saw not one ghost, but two walking around. They were furry, they had tails—there were two great big raccoons in the attic. And every night, they would wake up when it got dark and go out to look for food. These things were so big that when they walked around up there, it sounded just like a person walking. You combine that with the story and suddenly you’ve got a ghost in the attic. I can laugh about it now. I always tell people you should never jump to conclusions.
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