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Have you ever considered the fact that your neighbor may be a ghost? In a city as old and as storied as Albuquerque, the ghosts of the past far outweigh the number of living, breathing citizens. No matter what your take on the supernatural may be, there’s no denying that the list of allegedly haunted buildings in Albuquerque is large—from the KiMo Theater to Maria Theresa’s Restaurant, from the Hotel Parq Central (formerly Memorial Hospital) to the Albuquerque Press Club. So maybe the odds of a ghost living next door aren’t as astronomical as the scientific-minded among us might think.
Cody Polston has spent more time than most of us thinking about the non-corporeal population of Albuquerque. He is a paranormal investigator, an amateur historian and an author. He is one of the founding members of the Southwest Ghost Hunter’s Association, and since 1985 he’s hunted ghosts in hundreds of haunted locales. You many have seen him offering expert opinion on such television programs as “Dead Famous” (Biography Channel), “Weird Travels” (Travel Channel) and “Extreme Paranormal” (A&E). He’s written 10 books on history and the paranormal including The Complete Ghost Hunter, The Conscientious Ghost Hunter’s Compendium, Hunting the Ghost Hunters, New Mexico’s Most Haunted, Texas’ Most Haunted, Haunted Tombstone, Wicked Albuquerque and Ghosts of Old Town Albuquerque. His latest nonfiction book, Haunted Albuquerque, was released on Aug. 23 through Arcadia Publishing’s “Haunted America” series.
“If you have read about a haunted location in the American Southwest,” says Polston, “there is a big probability that I have at least visited there.”
So what does it take to become a professional ghost hunter? “It depends on what kind of ghost hunter you want to be. The vast majority of people are ghost hunting for entertainment, and it is this type that folks are most familiar with, as it is portrayed on all of the television shows. Basically, it is a form of legend tripping. It consists of taking various gadgets to ‘haunted’ places and having some sort of experience, either personal or one derived from what your gadgets are reading. However, it is important to understand that this type of ghost hunting is not scientific. It relies heavily on pseudoscience and generates results that are quite questionable. In short, it is just done for the fun of it,” contends Polston. His form of ghost hunting involves a lot of research and a lot of history. “If you wish to take the hobby more seriously, it quickly becomes one that requires a lot of homework. You need to be familiar with what others have done in the past, especially in the field of parapsychology. It also requires critical thinking skills and the ability and patience to do proper research.”
So what got him into the ghost hunting field? “I love ghost stories. The reason is that, like horror movies, they provide a temporary sort of terror, yet you know that you are safe. People go to horror films because they want to be frightened or they wouldn’t do it twice. You choose your entertainment because you want it to affect you. I can watch a horror film like Nightmare on Elm Street and enjoy the movie, even though I know that Freddy Kruger isn’t real. The same is true with ghost stories. I do appreciate them, especially if there is some historical element that is attached to the story. However, like horror movies, if the conversation changes to a discussion about if the stories are true, that is another matter.”
Polston’s philosophy is that the question of “Do you believe?” belongs to the people that are telling or listening to a story of a paranormal experience. “They decide to want to believe or even if they’re going to engage with it concerning any belief at all. What I do is take the paranormal narratives seriously. I pay attention to them and treat them analytically. It is that love of ghost stories that gives me additional insight. I became fascinated by the elements of the stories themselves. How were they created? Why do some last while others are forgotten? How do they morph over time as they pass from one storyteller to another? It is the combination of these interests that drew me into the hobby of ghost hunting and, eventually, my ghost hunting team, the Southwest Ghost Hunter’s Association.”
The SGHA was founded by five people: Two were very skeptical, two were hardcore believers, and somewhere in between was Polston. “The idea of this group was to utilize these different viewpoints, skeptic and believer, to investigate haunted places from a perspective that could lead to an unbiased conclusion.” The believers became the ghost hunters, while the skeptics became the investigators. “From day one, we have never believed that ghost hunting and investigation were the same things, so the different terms were used to differentiate between the two kinds of methodology. This was essential as each group approached the mystery differently and had different criteria.”
According to Polston, “People have ‘paranormal’ experiences all the time, and most are explainable through psychology due to the effects of one’s belief system, worldview and the bias that they create.” While this systematic approach “cannot be used to prove a haunting, it can be used to eliminate the common factors that create legends and myths. If the standard is met, the mystery will still remain—as does the possibility of a paranormal-oriented cause.”
Over the course of his unusual career, Polston has written books about New Mexico, Texas and Arizona and has participated in investigations as far away as Japan and Guam. But he feels that Albuquerque has a particular supernatural allure. “New Mexico definitely seems to have more ghost stories, especially when you compare its population to other states. I believe that has to do with our state’s diverse culture and age.”
So does the longtime seeker of the supernatural have a favorite local ghost story or urban legend? “I think that ghost stories and urban legends walk hand in hand. If I had to pick one, I would say it is the ghost stories that surrounded Casa Esencia when it was the Maria Teresa Restaurant. There were so many ghost stories associated with that building. In fact, when I started the ghost tour of Old Town, its primary focus was on that historic property. The tour would arrive at their door after closing and the lights were dimmed to give it a creepy ambiance. Besides, who doesn’t love a piano that plays by itself?”
Haunted Albuquerque is available now at local bookstores and through online retailers. To learn more about Cody Polston and the art and science of ghost hunting, go to codypolston.com.