Sunday, 4 March 2012

The greatest story (n)ever told: Brisbane's "2nd Most Haunted" rating...

If you read one ghost story this year that stands your hair on end & drops your jaw, this is definitely the one!  Over the next two weeks, the Haunts of Brisbane will embark on a 2-part article, laying what has been one of the most sordid ghost tales in Brisbane to rest...for good.

This tale anchors its roots all the way back in mid-1998, when a small-time tour company lurched onto the scene in Brisbane.  Registered under the simple, generic name of Ghost Tours by Cameron (a.k.a. "Jack") Sim, local Brisbane "goth clubs" were bombarded with flyer hand-outs to drum up interest, & almost instantly the media's attention was piqued.  Ghost tours in Brisbane were a new concept, a venture that had only existed in southern states like Melbourne, through operations such as the Haunted Melbourne Ghost Tour (established in 1997, & clearly mainland Australia's longest running ghost tours, unlike Brisbane's Ghost Tours claim).  The original Brisbane ghost tour, & there was only one, took tourists on a 60 minute walking tour via a handful of sites in the city for a sum of $10 a head.  In June 1998, local newspaper The Queensland Independent published the first article promoting Brisbane's new tourism venture, detailing a tour that journalist Louise Rugendyke had taken with "Jack" Sim, "decked out in a black fedora hat, a dark pinned-striped jacket and matching pants."

In the article, "Jack" was directly quoted as stating, "Brisbane is probably the most haunted city in Australia" - clearly a massive declaration from a completely inexperienced tour operator who had just launched an untested tour operation, in direct competition with other well-established & successful interstate ghost tours.  It was clear from the get-go that "Jack" Sim was determined to earn long-ranging notoriety for his new tour venture...& the seeds for Brisbane's greatest rumour were finally sown...

At the same time in 1998, American author Dennis William Hauck had embarked upon a bi-monthly periodical entitled the HAUCK REPORT - a small-time web-based journal promoted through his U.S.-focused Haunted Places Directory website.  Both the report & website were comprised of reader-submitted supernatural encounters, book reviews & plugs for paranormal organisations & ghost tours.  Dennis had cut his teeth as an author in the 1970's, writing numerous articles on UFO's & Sea Monsters for various pulp magazines.  However, by the mid-1990's, Dennis was known predominantly for two books - William Shatner: A Bio-Bibliography, & Captain Quirk, which, amongst other things, detailed William Shatner's UFO abduction experience in the Mojave Desert shortly after the cancellation of the "Star Trek" television series - a premise ironically paralleled in the 1999 sci-fi comedy movie Galaxy Quest.  However, in 1999, Dennis began to compile material for a book which would attempt to list as many haunted places around the world as possible.

 The International Directory of Haunted Places, published in 2000.

Released in September 2000, the paperback edition of the International Directory of Haunted Places listed "more than 750 geographically arranged entries on haunted houses, sacred sites, UFO landings & other supernatural locations" around the globe.  14 sites around Brisbane were listed in the Directory - 7 cemeteries & 7 buildings, & virtually not a single ghost story between them.  Even very basic details such as suburb & road names were incorrect for the majority of listings, which begged the obvious question - who on earth had supplied this information on Brisbane for the listings??  The answer was quite simple, clearly stated by the author on page IX of the book's Introduction - "I would also like to thank...[J]ack Sim for the material from the Brisbane Ghost Tours."  So, once again, "Jack" Sim was trying to convince the world that Brisbane was the most haunted city in blindly listing as many potentially haunted sites in Brisbane as he could (all 14 of them, half of which were cemeteries!), in an attempt to get the jump on any other Australian city.

Unfortunately for "Jack" Sim & Ghost Tours, the International Directory of Haunted Places was just that - a very long list of "haunted" sites around the globe.  Not once in the book were cities ranked as to their haunted potential, nor was a "Top 10 Most Haunted" list published.  So, imagine everyone's surprise two years later when the Sunday Mail published an article on the 13th of October 2002...just over two weeks before the peak ghost tour date of Halloween.  Entitled, Ghost town! - Is Brisbane one of the world's most haunted cities?, the article stated that, "Brisbane has been voted the most haunted place in the southern hemisphere by international ghost-hunters.  [T]he International Haunted Places Directory and New Zealand association NZ Ghost ranked Brisbane above even the former Tasmanian penal colony Port Arthur for eerie activities.  Their websites list Toowong Cemetery, Boggo Rd Jail, City Hall and former hospital Whepstead Manor, at Wellington Point, as the area's most haunted spots."  But how could this be?!?  The International Directory of Haunted Places paperback had at no stage made any such claim about Brisbane's haunted potential two years previously??

Unfortunately, the "International Haunted Places" section on Hauck's Haunted Places Directory website had...although not quite to the extent of the Sunday Mail's report.  According to said page, "Brisbane in Queensland is the most haunted city in Australia and locations covered from that city will include the Old Government House, the Parliament House, and the Brisbane Arcade, and City Hall, where at least three ghosts haunt the hallways.  One is an elegant woman, another a maintenance man who continually rides the elevator that killed him in a freak accident, and the last is an American Sailor stabbed to death in a fight with another sailor in the downstairs tearoom.  Brisbane cemeteries are also hotspots of paranormal activity."  Very amusingly, New Zealand association NZ Ghost, still a small-time website in 2002, had cut & pasted the exact same statement on their website as if it were their own!  So, no..."International ghost-hunters" had not voted Brisbane the most haunted city in the Southern Hemisphere - Hauck's website had made the outlandish claim that Brisbane was "the most haunted city in Australia," which in turn was blindly regurgitated on a New Zealand amateur ghost-hunting website...a far cry from the Sunday Mail's "most haunted city in the southern hemisphere!"

So, who on earth had supplied this misinformation to the Sunday Mail about Brisbane's "most haunted" ranking??  Once again, the answer was clear - Ghost Tours operator "Jack" Sim, who was extensively quoted throughout the Sunday Mail article, making every effort to promote his business alongside the completely ridiculous claim that, "500 people a month are signing up for night trips to Brisbane graveyards and city murder sites, or sleepovers at Boggo Rd Jail."  Choosing to publish the bogus information they'd been fed by "Jack" Sim, the Sunday Mail clearly ran with the story without making the slightest effort to verify the claim.  However, one choice statement towards the end of the article stands out - a crucially important detail that will play a major part in next week's PART II of this article - in the Sunday Mail report, "Jack" was quoted as saying that, "He has 250 Brisbane sites where ghosts have been reported, on a database." England...the city of York was attempting to earn itself yet another "most haunted" title.  Two years earlier in 2000, York had vied for the title of "Most Haunted City In England," a title it apparently "won" with over 140 hauntings.  However, by 2002, at a time "Jack" Sim was desperately trying to earn a marketable commendation for his Brisbane business, York again was making the news.  In the same year, York was "pronounced" the "Most Haunted City in Europe" by the Ghost Research Foundation International, according to the British newspaper The Guardian, on the 10th of August 2002.  "Sweeping aside the wailing nuns of Rome and a range of marshland manifestations in Scandinavia, York's ghosts are also now in the running for the global "most haunted" accolade. Jason Karl, president of the Ghost Research Foundation International, which awards the titles, said yesterday: "My colleagues and I have travelled extensively for the last decade and nowhere have we found more ghosts.""

So...exactly who was Jason Karl & his organisation Ghost Research Foundation International?  On what grounds was Jason Karl & his organisation qualified to "award" such titles of "most haunted?"  How on earth could York with its 2000 title of "Most Haunted City in England" with 140 ghosts challenge Brisbane with its 2002 claim of 250 ghosts for "Most Haunted City in the World?"  And, most importantly, how the hell did National Geographic get tangled up in all of this mess???

Stay tuned for next week's PART II, when everything will finally be revealed!

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