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This DVD video came to my attention via a Facebook message. Jerry Jones, who follows my blog, sent me a message explaining that he had purchase the DVD after hearing David Weatherly on a couple of podcasts that focused on the Sweet Springs resort. He thought it sounded interesting so he paid $15 (plus shipping) to have the DVD sent to him. After watching the film, Jones told me he made a mistake. He said “if you would like it for review, I would be glad to drop it in the post to you to get the pile of garbage out of my house.” I’m a sucker for such raving reviews, but I also like to judge things (and people) for myself, so I agreed to take it off his hands.

The video is from Leprechaun Productions and stars David Weatherly and Dave Spinks, with special guest Sean Austin. Weatherly is the owner of Leprechaun Productions, Spinks is former law enforcement with the US Department of Justice, and Austin is a musician and self-styled medium. All three also promote themselves as paranormal investigators, with Weatherly and Spinks being members of the Society of the Supernatural, or SOS.

The description on the back of the box states “…there are reports of disembodied voices and strange apparitions in the long-abandoned halls. Are they ghostly echoes of history, or something more? Now, witness footage from the first full investigation ever conducted at this historic site has [sic] SOS uncovers: The Haunting of Sweet Springs”. This had me expecting to see some decent ghostly footage, something that would be well-worth the $15 price tag.

Sweet Springs, named for the sweet taste of the water in the springs, was a 90,000-square-foot resort constructed in 1839 by John Lewis, after inheriting the property from his father. The springs reportedly had healing powers, and doctors at the time thought it could cure things such as arthritis, depression, and sterility. The resort operated until 1860, but shut down during the Civil War and never reclaimed its formal glory. The resort was sold to the state as a tuberculosis sanitarium in 1941 and underwent extensive renovations. In 1945 the complex was converted into the Andrew Rowan Memorial Home for the elderly. The memorial home closed permanently in 1993, and the site was given to the state which had plans to convert the building into an addiction treatment facility. Warren D. Smith, was the owner of Fredericksburg’s Chrismarr Realty and a member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, acquired the property in 2005 and founded the Sweet Springs Management Company. In 2015, the Sweet Springs Resort was auctioned to Ashby Berkley, who is currently working to restore the property.

I grabbed a tall rum & coke, sat down in my favorite spot on the couch and hit ‘Play’. The opening scenes are comprised of aerial footage from a drone with a voiceover describing some of the history. The footage isn’t bad, and gives a good view of the sprawling property. We’re told that the site has long been abandoned and has developed a reputation for being haunted. The narrator tells us “apparitions have been seen in open windows staring out across the green landscape. Ghostly voices have been reported around the property and there are rumors of a strange, Native American connection to some of the ghostly activity.” The reference to Native Americans being connected to an alleged haunted location is a common and overused ‘theory’ from modern ghost hunters. The problem is, there’s nothing to support this idea that a place has ghosts just because it has some connection to Native American people. It’s used, wrongly, to lend credibility to a spooky story. We’re also told that guards have seen strange anomalies on security cameras. This got my attention and I was hoping they would show some of the security footage (more on that in a bit).

We then switch to the interior of one of the buildings, viewing the scene through a handheld infrared camera. The group decide to do an EVP session using a smartphone to record the audio. After a few questions, they listen to the playback and quickly determine there is a female voice on the recording (no females were present), without the slightest attempt to figure out what else might be the cause. The camera operator states “There’s definitely a woman on there”. There isn’t even a hint of analyzing going on here, just a cursory listen and immediate conclusion that a female ghost just responded to them. The viewers also don’t get to hear the alleged EVP, since they only move the camera closer to the phone in an attempt to record the playback on the video camera…which doesn’t work. This knee-jerk conclusion is a constant theme throughout the video.

During this segment, we get our first indication this is an amateur video rather than a professionally produced film. The audio was absolutely terrible, with parts that could not be heard at all and other parts having a distinct echo (from being inside). They were using the on-board microphone of the handheld video camera, rather than a boom microphone or even clipping on lapel mics to any of the investigators. Both my wife and I were having difficulty hearing what they were saying, despite turning the volume up to levels reserved for watching rock concerts. In many cases the speech of the investigators was little more than mumbling due to the camera being a bit too far away. This was a constant issue throughout the film, making for a very unpleasant experience.

The scene changes to some text, telling us the team was given security camera footage from one of the maintenance men. The unnamed maintenance man claims to have seen shadows moving in a particular hallway (featured in the footage). A voice over reads the text to us, but sounds like they’re speaking through a tube; the tone and volume fluctuates. I don’t know what they used to record the voice-over, but I would recommend they never use the process again.

When we are shown the security footage, I shook my head in frustration. Rather than editing in the original footage to the video, they are taking video of a video playing on a monitor. I’m not sure if it’s an actual monitor or a phone screen, but there is no doubt this is what they are doing. The camera wobbles and wanders, as if the camera operator wasn’t paying attention to what they were filming, and he certainly wasn’t using a tripod. There are hard edits while watching the footage as well, going from a wide shot (of just the screen), then cutting to a tighter shot of a hallway. In the wider shots, half the screen is filled with an overexposed view of the wall on the right side. Honestly, whoever set up this camera didn’t put much thought into it, because they wasted almost half of the camera’s view by pointing it towards a blank wall.

The placement of the camera has me doubting this is actually “security camera” footage, in that it’s from security cameras set up by the staff of Sweet Springs. The camera is set very low to the ground, most likely on a small tripod in the hallway. This is a common view seen when ghost hunters set up DVR cameras to watch a hallway.

As to what is supposed to be seen in the footage, they claim to notice “Alot [sic] of strange shadow movement and what appears to be the face of a young woman or girl that appears briefly”. However, due to the low resolution and poor quality of the video, as well as this being video of a video, all we see is constant distortion in the scene. I’m not surprised the ghost hunters believe they see a shadow in the swirling distortion of pixels. This is called pareidolia, which is a psychological phenomenon that causes people to see patterns in a random stimulus. This often leads to people assigning human characteristics to objects (Lenstore 2017). In others words, it’s easy to see shapes (especially when you’re looking for them) in static-like images. Was there something in the hallway? I have no idea, but I didn’t see anything.

At the end of the segment there is on-screen text stating “Is it pareidolia? You decide.” This is a lazy way for investigators to leave a mystery. They are asking the audience, who lack much of the relevant information, to decide whether the shadows and face they think they see were real or a trick of the mind. These guys promote themselves as paranormal investigators, yet they have failed to investigate this mystery. They don’t recreate the scene or explore possible explanations, they don’t investigate the claim. They replay the entire video again, with more wandering of the camera and no commentary – it was very boring and a waste of screen time.

The team heads over to what appears to be the former resort’s main pool, which is filled with extremely dirty water (among other things, I’m sure). We are told “it was reported to us that several people drowned here over the years”. There is no documentation presented to support this claim, nor are we told where the claim originated. We watch the three ghost hunters stand by the pool and talk to a “spirit box”, essentially a radio that continually scans the AM or FM radio bands without muting the sound, allowing you to hear snippets of every broadcasting station within range. Ghost hunters believe that ghosts speak through – more precisely, between – the radio broadcasts, answering questions. Unfortunately, no one ever takes steps to control for the radio broadcasts, such as by using a Faraday box (a well-made one).

HSS Screenshot 3

The team spends a little over ten minutes by the pool (and just inside the pool house), asking questions and allowing a radio to dictate the direction of the conversation. Half the time the audio is so bad that even turning the volume up to my TV’s maximum would not allow me to understand what was being said. In addition, the audio track becomes out of sync with the video, making it look like a dubbed-over foreign film.

A pattern can also be seen in the type of EVP conversation they were having; they ignore many words that can be heard coming over the radio that we – my wife and I – were able to easily pick out. Unless the words seemed to fit their questions, they passed over. In addition, other words appear on screen the ghost hunters don’t react to or acknowledge in any way. These were obviously picked out after reviewing the video later on, adding to the subjective nature of the practice. This is cherry-picking; keeping what fits with what they believe fits and ignoring what doesn’t work. It is not valid experimentation or investigation.

The next segment starts with more on-screen text, with a few typos, “David and Sean head up to the second floor were [sic] an apparition of a woman has been sighted on numerous ocassions [sic]”. We are presented with the same routine from the pool; more spirit box sessions with the ghost hunters talking to a radio and picking out words that fit their questions and beliefs while ignoring a plethora of speech that can be heard as well. Once again, there isn’t the slightest effort to rule out radio broadcasts. The crew are focusing on any spooky words, such as “devil” and “coven” (which they claim to hear, but I could not verify) and spinning them into the idea they are communicating with ghosts.

While David and Sean are on the second floor, Dave is doing his own ghost box session near the main entrance to the building. Dave is using camera that skips and freezes quite often while listening to another ghost box. He begins arguing with the ghost box after apparently thinking it told him to use a Ouija board. The on-screen text says “Try the Ouija” when the ghost box allegedly says this, but Dave states it just says “Ouija”. Honestly, neither can be heard over the audio. Nevertheless, Dave continues to argue with the device about this while noting that a Rem Pod is “going off like crazy in here”.

HSS Screenshot 4

The Rem Pod uses a theremin circuit which includes a radio frequency oscillator. While the device uses an antenna, it is not used for receiving or transmitting radio waves. It creates a ‘pitch field’ that will vary with the distance of a user’s hand. The electric signals from the theremin are amplified and sent to a loudspeaker, which is played as different tones (Wikipedia 2018). Unfortunately, the Rem Pod is a novelty and is of no use in this type of situation, having no supporting evidence that it has anything to do with ghosts. The crew also failed to set up controls for variables that will cause false-positives. We are not told, nor do we see, any bases line readings taken to set normal limits within that particular area. In addition, we know that stray radio frequencies can interact with the device, causing it to light up. I’ve done my own simple experiments whereas I was able to get a rem pod to light up/make noise from over thirty-five feet away, using a two-way radio I picked up at Walmart. The crew of this video has taken no precautions to guard against false-positive readings, therefore any ‘results’ are completely invalid.

As with the EVP session by the pool, there are many times words popped up that I could hear but the ghost hunter didn’t acknowledge or perhaps didn’t think were significant at the time. This is a common issue with these types of investigation methods; the interpretation of what is being heard and whether it is significant if left up to the ghost hunters. Their biases take charge and they accept any remotely recognizable sound as a response of spirits…instead of the radio broadcasts they are.

The video switches back to Dave and Sean, who follow the same routine again – playing a ghost box and believing they are having a conversation with it (or the ghosts). After a full ten minutes of this, which became extremely drawn-out, we move on to “Night 2.” Another ghost box session, this time in a small building that was used as a jail. Unfortunately, it’s not any different than the previous night. The audio is still out of sync and the handheld camera is annoying as it constantly moves, shifts, and shakes.  The ghost hunters pick out words that I couldn’t hear, even after replaying the scenes several times and turning the volume up.

Next we’re subjected to long, uneventful walk back to their car that takes over a minute – with absolutely nothing going on. This is just bad editing/directing and a waste of the viewer’s time. Moving on, we are told by on-screen text that “As we were taking a break getting ready for our next session, all three of us heard a woman’s voice. I handed David a camera, he did a quick walk around the immediate area. This is what he captured”. He captured nothing. I was surprised by how unexcited they all were; as Dave walks calmly around, another guy is listening to recordings on his phone (playing them aloud), while the last guy is doing something else on his phone. None seem excited or enthusiastic about allegedly hearing a woman’s voice from nowhere.

HSS Screenshot 5

They do claim, via on-screen text, that a “Disembodied womans [sic] voice captured on camera’s audio.” I didn’t hear anything. Even when they increase the audio (through editing), little more than a distant mumble can be heard. This is most likely coming from the two guys playing on their phones in the nearby room. Keep in mind, one of them was listening to previous recordings over the phone’s speaker. We’ll never really know what they heard because there were no controls in use during this recording.

The last segment of the film starts off with yet another ghost box session (I was seriously tired of this routine). The audio and video is pretty bad, with the video speeding up, skipping, and freezing many times. The audio is grossly out of sync with the video, making it difficult to watch. The two ghost hunters focus on a mirror, claiming it is their “doorway” of some sort. They begin using devices such as a Rem Pod and Mel-meter, both of which are blinking occasionally. Again, the main issue here is the lack of controls for these devices. For example, they are using other electrical devices that can interact with both the Rem Pod and Mel-meter (which is an EMF meter). Although they believe the mirror is giving off strange readings, they make no effort to establish whether or not their own equipment is the cause…or search out any other possible cause.

HSS Screenshot 6

Then the video suddenly ends. No ‘fading to black’ or even a summary of the ghost hunt. One second the team is focused on a mirror and the next second the film is over. I was left with the thought “seriously? THAT’S how they ended it?”

The bottom line; the film is an amateur video, at best. There is one camera used for the majority of filming, with supplemental footage from what I believe is a webcam. It’s no better than if any other ghost hunting team just pieced together random clips from a particularly uneventful investigation.

The main issue that is relevant from the beginning are the audio issues, which goes from acceptable (for an amateur video) to non-existent to out-of-sync and back again. I would suggest that in future productions, the crew invest in lapel microphones so we can hear what’s going on and what they’re saying.

Another big issue is the lack of original data. The alleged ‘security footage’ that was shown to us consisted of recording video of a video on another screen, which is poor methodology and degrades the quality of detail. If they were given the footage, as it states on-screen, then it should not have been a problem to edit the original footage into this video. Another example of this is the scene at the beginning of the video, when the crew claim to have captured an EVP from a female. Instead of inserting the original audio clip into the video, they get the camera close to the phone (recording device) and try to record audio of an audio file being played over a small speaker. This easily changes the tone and quality of the sounds.

They also follow along with the practice of most TV shows by using an untested, unreliable, and invalid device throughout much of the video; a ghost box. Although a popular novelty, it is a useless investigation tool. There is no science behind it, nor is there any logic in its use. Yet the crew relies on the device and accepts random snippets of radio broadcasts as proof of communication with ghosts, through nothing more than confirmation bias.

All in all, I would not recommend this video to anyone. I found it boring, drawn-out, and hard to watch due to the ongoing technical issues. I’ve attend many ghost hunts over the years, and this video tended to show the low-lights of an uneventful ghost hunt. I’m not trying to be mean when saying that, even though that’s how it sounds. This just wasn’t quality investigation or entertainment. They didn’t solve any mysteries or resolve any claims, they basically walked around talking to broken radios for two days.

I hope the other videos promoted by these guys have improved over time. At the very least, perhaps they will consider the issues I’ve brought up if they come across this review.

It was not worth the $15 my friend, Jerry, paid for it. And it didn’t live up to the bit of hype on the back cover of the DVD case. My wife summed up the video in one line, spoken as the credits finished rolling – “I can’t get that time back”.

 

References

Austin, Sean. 2018. Facebook About page. Accessed on June 12, 2018.
https://www.facebook.com/pg/seanaustinmusic/about/?ref=page_internal

Cahal, Sherman. 2017. Sweet Springs Resort. Accessed on June 12, 2018
http://abandonedonline.net/location/sweet-springs-resort/

Clauson-Wicker, Su. Sweet Dreams: Longtime mineral-springs spa resort is being rejuvenated.” Free Lance-Star 8 March 2008. Accessed on June 12, 2018
http://www.fredericksburg.com/town_and_countycover_story/sweet-dreams-longtime-mineral-springs-spa-resort-is-being-rejuvenated/article_376be305-7209-561b-8870-91d1873063c2.html

Lenstore. 2017. Pareidolia: The science behind seeing faces in everyday objects. Accessed on June 13, 2018.
https://www.lenstore.co.uk/eyecare/pareidolia-science

Spinks, Dave. 2018. Facebook About page. Accessed on June 13, 2018.
https://www.facebook.com/DaveSpinks1569/about?lst=705198299%3A100001507231233%3A1528917838&section=education

Todd, Roxy. 2015. Jeffersonian Springs Resort in W.Va. Sells for $560,000. West Virginia Public Broadcasting. Accessed on June 12, 2018
http://wvpublic.org/post/jeffersonian-springs-resort-wva-sells-560000#stream/0

Weatherly, David. 2018. Facebook Home Page. Accessed on June 12, 2018.
https://www.facebook.com/david.weatherly.31?lst=705198299%3A100003202684668%3A1528826919

Wikipedia. 2018. Theremin. Accessed on June 21, 2018
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theremin

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