As the readers of this blog will note, I am the first person to admit when I am wrong, and sometimes, I do it happily. Such is the case upon viewing the first two episodes of H2′s Haunted History, a series, so far, which has avoided all of the hokeyness and nonsensical over-exaggeration that plagues current ghost shows. I was fully expecting this to be the case, since that is the direction television has taken. I knew the series would take us to historic places, but I figured that would be the extent of the “history”. Instead, aside from a much-needed modernization of special effects and camerawork, this series is modeling the original in that it actually combines a decent amount of historical background information intermixed with ghost stories, all while shying away from those hilarious and obviously staged “ghost hunts”, put on for the camera crew. While I must say that the first episode, dealing with ghosts surrounding the various locations of Charles Manson and his murders, suffered from a lack of direction and identity (it did not know what it wanted to be: a ghost show or a documentary on the Manson Murders; sometimes I thought it had too much information, and not enough ghost stories), this episode on Gettysburg hopefully brought the series into its own, setting the stage for what is to come. Below is my breakdown:
- Even though I did enjoy the show, what I did not appreciate was the lifting of battle scenes from previous History Channel specials such as Gettysburg and America: The Story of Us. Granted, I was not expecting them to shoot new battle footage, but given the many reenactments that have been filmed over the years, the video of which is probably public domain, they would have been better off using that and fixing it with additional effects. Instead, we get to see a pretty tacky costuming job, with kepis full of those darned crossed-rifle insignias which did not exist until 1870, but happen to be available in every single gift shop in town (hmm…maybe that’s where the wardrobe department did their shopping?). I am also still trying to figure out why so many of those soldiers were wearing cowboy hats. Did the production run out of kepis? Okay, enough about the clothing…
- The other thing that became pretty redundant was the over-emphasis on gore. The 51,000 number which was noted as being only dead in the commercial was now changed to “dead and dying”, within the episode itself—still very misleading, because not every wounded man succumbed to his injuries. They also showed the same clip over and over and over again of a bullet ripping through a solider, sending blood flying out his back. There were plenty of bloody scenes like that. Yes, the battle was ferocious and the carnage should be mentioned, but it got to the point where it seemed they were only using it for shock value.
- Now to the actual ghost stories themselves. The beginning of the episode showed video footage taken by a woman on the battlefield that appears to show Confederate soldiers marching up an incline in the forest, as we can see them partially covered by the trees marching and turning. While the quality is not great, I have seen this video on several other specials, and no one, myself included, has been able to debunk it. I do not think she is lying, nor do I think it was intentionally faked. The only thing that comes to mind is that she mistook the ghosts for reenactors, but this was late at night, so the odds of that are slim. We then move to another story of a man who decided it was a good idea to play “Dixie” on his jaw-harp at the spot where many Union soldiers died. He then reported to have been dealt a debilitating blow, as in yes, being “shot” by a ghost. This is definitely a first for me, and while we know ghosts can cause pain or any number of feelings, I think we may have a slight exaggeration here. Speaking of shooting, it seems many of the ghosts in the Devil’s Den area are a bit hostile. A different woman captured an EVP of a Confederate soldier saying to her, “I am going to shoot you.” Maybe it was the same one that shot the other guy…
- Haunted History did a great job of getting inside of these creepy locations, not like that’s a hard thing to do, given how desperate a lot of these places are for ghost business. But anyway, the Soldier’s National Museum, we find out, was actually an orphanage at the time of the battle, with a very brutal head-mistress at the helm. This building was the site of many atrocities, leading to the various ghosts and hauntings they experience. The stories were quite chilling, and all of it was new information to me, as I have passed the museum many times and never went inside. Other locations explored in the episode were the Jennie Wade House (my favorite tourist trap) and the Farnsworth House, which I believe to be one of the most haunted houses in the country—I know a couple who stays there annually, and they always experiences something while in their room.
- Lastly, I just want to discuss something mentioned here that I am not sure if it is actually true. While discussing the relevance of the Jennie Wade and Farnsworth Houses to the battle itself, the assertion was made that the bullet that killed Wade was actually fired by a sharpshooter from the top window of the Farnsworth House. Now, I know that location is famous for being a “sniper’s lair” during the battle, but in all my years visiting, I never once heard someone make the connection. Maybe I just never paid attention or never delved further, but to someone out there who may know, was this just an assumption made by the people on this show, or are there some facts backing it up? I also was always under the impression that Wade was killed accidentally, but the vibe I got after watching this last night was that the shot may have been fired into the house intentionally. If someone has any more information on this, please leave it in the comment section.
- Overall, I thought this was a very good episode despite some of the shortcomings. The camerawork and editing gave it a very in-your-face feel, as noted by the person I was watching it with. I thought the balance between history and ghosts was more than fair and this makes me excited for the episodes to come.