When it comes to paranormal TV shows, there is none more globally recognised than Ghost Hunters. Jason Hawes is the co-founder of The Atlantic Paranormal Society, more commonly known as T.A.P.S, based in Rhode Island, and has been investigating on the show along with Grant Wilson and Steve Gonsalves for over 12 years.
The Roto-Rooter plumber and dedicated family man has so much more experience and diversity in the field of the paranormal than Ghost Hunters could every portray, so Spooky Isles’ Irish editor ANN MASSEY spoke with Jason Hawes and find out more
Jason Hawes interview
ANN: Many may not have been aware that prior to Ghost Hunters, T.A.P.S was already a well-established paranormal team working with those in need of legitimate help and clarification of ‘paranormal’ occurrences within their homes and businesses. How did you decide to make the leap to T.V and was it a difficult decision to make?
JASON HAWES: Well first I am a firm believer in the paranormal, although at least some 80% of claims can be disproved. It was the unknown 20% ‘what if’ mentality that led to production companies asking us to work with them behind the scenes on such programmes as ‘Scariest Places on Earth.’
We were offered our own show numerous times and turned them down as we were hugely concerned with whether the viewers would really understand what we did and would our passion translate on camera. It was a real fear of people not understanding what we were doing and trying to accomplish. We did not want to become a mockery and not seem professional. What if we ended up harming the field of the paranormal?
I’m not scared of being judged, I don’t give a damn if people like me or not, I am who I am and I’ll always be that person. This was about more than me.
Things changed when a guy called John Leland wrote an article based on an investigation with us for the New York Times. We told him from the outset the odds were well against finding something supernatural. In this case it turned out to be a problem created by mixed prescriptions. The article took off as we were not afraid to debunk an alleged haunting and it showed that we were serious about our work.
A small company called Pilgrim contacted us (now a major production company) and said they wanted us to be ourselves and they would just follow us with cameras. They pointed out that if we didn’t do it someone else would because of the attention we had brought. How would they represent our field?
I sat down with Grant (Wilson) and Steve (Gonsalves) and we decided to give it a go with serious reservations, particularly as we all had good day jobs and Steve had the added pressure of being a police officer at the time.
So, you made the decision to go ahead with the show. How was it at the start?
JASON HAWES: Well firstly we were never casted. My crew is my crew and it was important the team ran as it always had. Mainly we carried on as we always had, however there were a few people we brought in who began to behave differently when on camera and that was addressed.
Tonnes of shows have come and gone and the reason is simple. The people in it were cast specifically for the shows in question and had no prior involvement in the paranormal. In our case we had never wanted to be on television and we had the production team working around us. People make TV, TV does not make people.
The only thing out of our control was the name, Ghost Hunters. We hated that name as it did not reflect what we did. It drew people in though and got them to watch – they then realised what we were about.
The TV show took off and became a huge success both in global attention and ratings. How did this impact on you and your team and how did you feel about the changes to the show format as the seasons progressed?
JASON HAWES: At the start the team worked together and our families were very much involved. That was so important to us as our families have always come first. Of course, while this was who we are and what we wanted to portray, it also came at a price.
There were stalker issues to deal with, people who felt they ‘knew us’. It got so bad that there were individuals who knew where I would be and when my family was alone, pretending to be me. To the point in fact I had to get involved with law enforcement agencies to get it dealt with. It takes months out of your life and you live in fear for your family.
For a show that we thought was only going to last a season and call it quits this was something I never dreamed of having to deal with and for that reason I began to withdraw my family from the spotlight.
The success of Ghost Hunters became mind-blowing. Even at the start we would arrange meet and greets with over three thousand people showed up to a mall and the fire department had to shut it down. Even a book signing in Rhode Island with thousands in attendance caused a main road to be closed.
Ghost Hunters led the channel to be in the Top 10 most watched. But this success would lead to change.
OK, prior to Ghost Hunters T.A.P.S was a longstanding investigation team and before that was your own introduction to the paranormal which included the guidance of John Zaffis. Tell us more about your own situation and the work of T.A.P.S. off camera.
JASON HAWES: Well my own initial experience opened me up to the possibilities of the paranormal. Before this I didn’t even think about the paranormal and figured 99% of it was bogus. I met John Zaffis shortly after. We look at a lot of things differently but I have the utmost respect for him and off camera we worked some pretty crazy cases together.
At one point on a investigation we discovered we were set up by occult members who had the intention of running us off the road so we had to stop and wield tire irons to protect ourselves!
In fact, what people didn’t realise is that while we were filming we always had a home team operating. There was a whole side of T.A.P.S I kept off camera. My working with law enforcement, government officials, covering occult type cases, satanic type cases. I also worked with numerous religious type organizations.
We’d get sent in to write up preliminary reports on so called possessions of which 99.9% are most definitely not. They would be over individuals who were over medicated, under medicated, over religious, something like that.
We always kept it from TV for the fact that a lot of these cases showed troubled families, whether physical, emotional or sexual abuse, drug abuse or alcohol abuse. We just never wanted to portray that. We didn’t want to show anyone on camera like that. There was no need for us to show a family’s issues to boost ratings. It just wasn’t about that.
The show did mean you got to travel and you made here to Ireland! How was that experience for you?
JASON HAWES: Ireland is the kind of place if you don’t have a haunted house you’re kind of a weird person. Such history, your buildings, waking into a castle that’s thousands of years old. Here in the States a building more than 50-year-old is incredible.
In Ireland the supernatural is embedded in your culture, you grew up with these beliefs and I think here in the US they are a lot more closed minded than that. I have so much respect for your belief systems, you guys are very much in tune with it, whereas America is ‘if I don’t see it it’s not real.’
When I was in Ireland you could be talking to some big tough guy in a pub and the minute you bring up fairies or ghosts he gets protective and won’t talk because he is a firm believer.
When we were at Leap Castle and talking to the owner Sean Ryan about the demonic entity I asked him “what do you do?” His response was “Ah I leave him alone he leaves me alone.” Anywhere else they’d be flipping out, trying to get in every priest they could, but for him it’s normal.
In America we decimated our main history when we decimated the Native Americans. In Ireland you can be walking through a field and come across a 2000-year-old tomb you can go into. We just don’t have that here in the US, we just don’t. You guys have so much more respect for your history because you have so much of it and had to fight for your nationality and freedom time and again. I am delighted to have Irish blood running through my veins!
So public interest in the paranormal has snowballed. Why do you think this is and what have you experienced yourself?
JASON HAWES: I think there are multiple reasons and I think one of the biggest is that most people, whether they’re religious or not they are terrified of what happens when they finally close their eyes forever. They want and need to know if there is something on the other side. They want some sort of assurance that when they pass on there is some place they are going, that it doesn’t just end.
The thing is they want to know this from the comfort of their own couch, they don’t want to investigate because they are terrified so they want other people to do it and show them that there is something there.
As someone who has taken on the role of investigating and trying to bring answers to the masses, what have been your own personal experiences and what are your opinions on possessions?
JASON HAWES: Personally, I have experienced everything from objects moving on their own to full body apparitions. Not to mention so called possession cases where people are speaking a language that hasn’t been spoken in over 3000 years.
Those I would chalk up to paranormal, as in these are things outside our boundaries of what we consider normal and explicable. We have been able to disprove a lot of these cases as everything from hypersensitivity, high magnetic fields which have physical ramifications and can create paranoia to over religious individuals.
Have you ever heard of anyone who has no religious ties becoming possessed? No, you don’t! It’s only people who are religious who become possessed, so you must draw a conclusion on that. Two factors come into play – don’t become religious and you’ll never have to worry about becoming possessed, or because you are religious, you have so much belief that you are opening yourself up mentally to believe that something is going on when it is not.
There have been too many occasions where people have thought labelling these instances as actual demonic possessions it will do better, sell better and boost ratings. If you’re in it for that you’re in it for the wrong purpose.
Having said that, what is your take on the Ouija board?
JASON HAWES: I don’t believe the Ouija board has any power, but I feel the danger is in the fact when you put an Ouija board down or even mark your own on the ground, you are asking and allowing something to use you and channel through you. You are letting yourself be a speaker, a device to communicate. It can open a can of worms, whether something is truly happening or its psychological and that can be just as devastating.
What have your experiences and all the seasons of the show taught you?
JASON HAWES: It is important to remain true to who you are, always. When Grant, Steve and myself first agreed to do Ghost Hunters we had a written agreement, which might sound silly but was very important to us back then. We agreed that if any of us changed, then the others would walk away, forcing the show to stop.
We were genuinely afraid of becoming Hollywood stereotypes and that isn’t who we were, who we are or ever wanted to be. We just wanted to keep real. Personally, I must stay grounded and be with my family, everything else can just drop away as long as I have that. I’m the kind of guy who prefers to hang on the couch with my kids than anything else.
I’m also not the kind of guy who tells you what I think you want to hear. I’m going to tell you what I think and bottom line you either accept or you don’t. If you think your house is haunted and we discover it’s not we will not appease you, I’m going to be honest. You’ll either appreciate that or hate me, but hate me for my honesty, don’t hate me because I’m dishonest, that’s the most important thing.
Being true to myself is also one of the reasons I stopped doing conventions, as I couldn’t talk to fans or people with the same interests for more than five seconds as there was always such a huge line. It was a case of shaking hands, take a picture and have a nice day and I hated that because I couldn’t connect and I was doing both myself and them an injustice. How do you have time to discuss an experience they might have had and give advice? It was disconnecting me from everything I was trying to accomplish.
So, what is next for Jason Hawes?
JASON HAWES: Currently I am doing nationally syndicated radio ‘Beyond Reality Radio’ which is accessed across the US five days a week. I’ve been offered numerous TV shows which I’ve turned down because of the amount of time required on the road. I have filmed pilots of a couple of my own creations so we will see where that all leads.
I love being home and take it one day at a time. I am still very much involved in the paranormal, I love it and I’ll be involved as long as my body allows me to be.
You can follow Jason Hawes and his paranormal adventures on Twitter @jchawes