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The Hilton or The Shining: Who Decides?

Jul 15, 2008
Hotels seem to be ripe with stories of paranormal goings-on. There are countless legends and first-hand accounts of mysterious and chilling activities. When you think of a 'haunted' building you tend to imagine something dark and victorian. Mahogony furniture, grand staircases, high-ceiling rooms and dark corners. And so it is that most hotels reporting ghostly noises and sightings are those steeped in history. Buildings that have been standing for decades, through the world wars, maybe being used as a hospital or shelter for the wounded at some time; buildings that have stood through enough history to have witnessed at least one emotionally horrifying incident.

Guests report the noise of children crying in the middle of the night despite no children staying at the hotel, footsteps clip-clapping down hallways despite the hall being carpeted, cold chills inexplicably emerging from rooms with all its windows shut.

It seems strange how the vast majority of these stories seem to centre around such similar incidents and also how the imagery described is often very similar. Ghosts are commonly reported to be wearing either victorian-era clothing; women in long black or white dresses (they didn't have colour in those days) and men in suits with hats, or in army uniform. Experiences are usually noises that cannot be explained or of silent figures melting through walls. It seems to me that the familiarity of all this is perhaps a trigger for more 'experiences'. If our heads are filled with ideas of what the paranormal is, we are more likely to dream up a similar vision or paranoia.

Ghosts are usually sighted in the afore-mentioned attire and aliens are usually sighted as being a bit stunty and grey-ish. I would have thought the chances of another species looking just like a small person would be even slimmer than them visiting us in the first place. You never hear of someone claiming to have seen an alien with three legs and no eyes. I blame TV for this stunted imagination. I think our brains are very capable of playing tricks on us. Our own imagination, memory and bodily state can fool us into believing odd things. We can pick out the familiar shape of a figure in complete blackness and be surprised by the slightest sensation when we are focused on it intenesely. A small breeze become a chilling gust of wind, a bounce of light becomes a diamond white figure at the end of the hall.

That's doesn't account for the more detailed visions people describe though. I like the stories where someone has started talking to a person before suddenly seeing them disappear before their eyes, or they've asked somebody else who they were with upon approach before being told that actually they were completely alone. I like these stories because it shows that the person wasn't looking for something unusual and therefore, I think, is a far more genuine experience. But I still think these can be explained without a need for ghosts or aliens.

Hypnosis to the point of transforming a person's behaviour into that of a chicken scares me a bit. Personal friends have been to shows of this kind and explained that people they know have been hypnotised into doing things they would, otherwise, have never dreamt of. I have to take their word for it really, in which case the incredibly easy manipulation of our brains is very scary. And I think it hints at what our brains are capable of without us enforcing a conscious decision.

Maybe the next time I stay in a hotel that claims to be haunted I will look at the dark corners with a bit more suspicion and see if I can convince myself of something. I'm sure though that, as with hypnosis, some people are more susceptible to these things than others, and I'm just one of those people who is never likely to bump into Casper or E.T.
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