How to Be a Vintage Ghost Hunter

Have you ever wondered if your house is haunted? Maybe you heard a creak on the stairs when you were all alone, or perhaps you saw a shadowy figure at the end of your bed. Possibly you heard some ghostly sounds coming from your darkened basement, or you were certain you felt a chill in that spooky corner of your kitchen last week. When people began spending more time at home over the past few months, many have become convinced that their house is haunted.

For years people have been searching for scientific proof that ghosts exist. They’ve gone to potentially haunted spots with equipment hoping to catch something unexplained in a photograph, voice recording or motion detector. Television shows like Ghost Hunters have popularized modern paranormal investigation methods and equipment. With most tools readily available on the internet, all you need is a lot of patience (and probably a bit of luck) to capture a spirit of your own.

But the practice of “ghost hunting” was around before television and the internet. In fact, for at least 200 years, people have been trying to obtain scientific proof that spirits exist. Most of the paranormal investigation tools we know today are variations on early ghost hunting kits. You might even have some of these items lying around at home.

So, what do you need to become a vintage ghost hunter?

Science and Spirits

For the modern ghost hunter, it may seem like science is the antithesis to spirits and many people believe that science is exclusively used to discredit theories of the paranormal. However, for nearly a century the rise of science was accompanied by a widespread belief in spiritualism. Many scientists actually sought to create technologies that would prove the existence of ghosts and even allow for better communication. Science and spirits haven’t always been opposed in a fight for credibility. In fact, their historic relationship encouraged the development of many technologies used by modern-day ghost hunters.

Thomas Edison, American Inventor

One famous scientist who was especially interested in the paranormal was Thomas Edison. He believed that new technologies, such as the radio and electricity, could assist in communicating with spirits. He tinkered with radios and discussed methods for capturing spirits with fellow scientists. He even developed preliminary plans for a “ghost machine” that would allow people to speak with the spirits around them. Unfortunately, his plans were never carried out and, instead, “direct communication devices” were developed by frauds looking to exploit true believers. Still, in the early 20th century many scientists like Edison spent considerable time thinking about how inventions could assist people in practicing their spiritual beliefs. Instead of developing new technologies, many practitioners simply turned to existing tools to track unseen energies and possibly even capture evidence of spirits.

Raps and Bells

This method requires no tools: you simply need time and silence. People often encourage spirits to make noises to indicate their presence, such as knocking on a nearby table or ringing a bell. When spiritualism’s popularity was surging in the 19th century, the practice of “spirit rapping” also spread. The Fox sisters, often credited with founding Victorian spiritualism, used audible noises to prove to their guests that they were communicating with spirits. Although one of the sisters confessed that the act was a hoax years later, the practice of spirit rapping grew and other devices, such as bells, were also added to the repertoire of mediums and were routinely pulled out during séances.

Whether using a tabletop, door slams or bells, this form of ghostly communication begins with a request to open communication with any nearby spirits. A series of yes-or-no questions are posed and if spirits are willing to communicate, they will use the devices to answer. Be clear about exactly what you want by saying, for example: “please knock once for yes.” Modern day ghost investigators use electronic voice recorders to capture noises, but 19th century spiritualists relied on the memories of multiple witnesses. If you think your house might be haunted, why not ask the spirit to rap or make another noise to indicate their presence?

Dowsing Rods

18th Century Illustration

All you need for this vintage method are a few rods and some practice. The activity of dowsing has been used for centuries to find everything from precious gemstones to ground water. Many people have also used it to demonstrate the presence of ghosts and other unseen beings. Some practitioners believe that the practice may even bring you closer to the spirit world. Dowsing is commonly done with two V shaped rods held in front of someone. Historically, rods were usually made from tree branches, but most modern dowsing is done with metal rods. If you’re looking to make one at home, a metal coat hanger does the trick.

Hold the rods slightly away from your body and keep as still as possible. After learning the feel of the rods, people who practice dowsing believe subtle movements indicate the presence of unseen energies. Like with rapping, people normally encourage nearby spirits to make themselves known and even answer questions with the rods by asking an unseen presence to point in certain directions. This method definitely requires some practice, but after a while you might be able to sense the spirit in your home.


Nearly everyone has access to some form of camera nowadays, but this wasn’t always the case. Before cameras were widely accessible, capturing an image of a spirit was rare but people were up for the challenge. Shortly after the camera was invented in the early 19th century, many eager photographers tried to capture the images of a spirit on film. It was even popular for Victorians to pose with deceased relatives or even unknown spirits during family portrait sessions and an early version of “photo manipulation.” The desire to capture visible proof of spirits has led to many hoaxes and myths over time, but plenty of spooky pictures remain unexplained. For some people, photographic evidence is one of the most compelling indications that spirits do exist.

As cameras eventually became transportable, people took photography equipment to their paranormal investigations. Technology evolved further to allow for low light photography and eventually moving images with audio. While high-tech cameras likely increase your chances of capturing something unexplained, plain cameras with some low light technology are more than enough. Next time you hear something spooky, turn your camera in that direction and take a snap: you never know what you might capture!


If you want to pull out some true vintage technology, why not try out a compass? Before electro-magnetic field readers (or EMFs) were used by ghost hunters, people relied on other technologies for signalling a change in magnetic fields. One of the most basic tools is an old-fashioned compass (not the kind on your smart phone!). A sudden movement on the needle or a more dramatic spinning motion could indicate the presence of something paranormal. Ghost investigators of old would often pack their handy compass to find their way to spooky locations before the invention of GPS and also to alert them to something unseen and unexpected. Keep a compass beside you, away from any other interference, while you are using some of the other methods. If you see that needle start to shake, you could be picking up on some curious unseen energies.


The modern radio was invented during the peak of spiritualism, so we shouldn’t be surprised that many practitioners tried to use the new technology to communicate with spirits. Fraudulent mediums, called out by Houdini, also caught onto the practice and employed the new radio and microphones to convince participants that they were speaking to deceased loved ones. Even though they received a dubious reputation as a paranormal communication tool, tuning the radio to a static station and listening for unexpected sounds is still a common practice for communicating with the other side.

Many modern-day ghost hunters use a radio scanner, such as a ghost box or spirit box, for the same purpose. However, you don’t need more than a static radio station to try out this method. Like most communication, begin with an introduction to speak with nearby spirits and then ask a series questions with plenty of drawn out pauses in between. Supplement your radio with a separate voice recorder so you can play back the static and listen for anomalies. If you do catch something strange you can also share it with your skeptical family or roommates and prove, once and for all, that your house may be haunted.

Your Body

But let’s not forget one of the most accessible ghost hunting tools out there: YOU! One of the best investigative tools is your own body, so it’s no wonder that people have been using their senses for paranormal investigations since the beginning. Sudden sounds, changes in temperature, moving shadows, feelings of dread and cold touches are all potential indications of unseen spirits. You can always use technology to assist you in being aware of these changes, such as thermometers, humidity gauges and motion detectors. However, it’s the experience of these senses that will be your ultimate proof.

Unfortunately, the things we sense and feel with our bodies are often impossible to capture with technology. So, if you truly want to capture something unseen, let your senses guide your investigation and then pull out your handy equipment.

The next time you find yourself at home and wondering if those strange sounds or flickering lights are something paranormal, grab some of the vintage equipment you have at home and be an old-fashioned ghost hunter. It doesn’t take high tech gadgets to capture spirits and you probably have enough tools around you to do a preliminary investigation. If you find something really strange and become the next internet sensation, your house might even be featured on a future episode of your favourite ghost hunting television show.

Be sure to join us on our new BUBBLE GHOST TOURS in KingstonOttawa & Toronto. A safe and fun way to get some fresh air and enjoy some great ghost stories.

Written by:

Brittney Anne Bos, PhD
Haunted Walk Tour Guide & Host

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