This week, Vice ran an article by MJ Banias in which he visited Skinwalker Ranch, the onetime site of Robert Bigelow’s hunt for airborne extraterrestrial poltergeists and now the set of a History Channel pseudo-documentary series. Although not explicitly stated, the article serves as a promotional vehicle for the upcoming series and the anonymous owner of the ranch’s proposed efforts to turn the imagined paranormal hotspot into a tourist attraction and vacation destination. I want to say that the article contained dramatic revelations about the ranch and its supposed interdimensional alien portals, but instead all we really got were a few spooky campfire ghost stories and some photographs of a made-for-TV “command center” (built in 2016) that monitors cameras spread across the ranch. Everyone involved teases revelations—but only if you tune in to the History Channel series. If they had anything real to share, we would have heard about it.
The spooky stories are your standard campfire fare. One man claimed that while he was sleeping, he felt a thump on his bed, but no one was there. That happens to me sometimes, too. Arms and legs can jerk around in sleep, which can be startling. That doesn’t make it a ghost. He also claimed to see a light hovering in the sky, which he thought was a drone until the History Channel film crew convinced him otherwise. “I don’t think I can talk about this. It sounds insane. All the sensors we have went crazy,” he said. Be sure to look for a “blurry light” alien in the first season of the show. Oh—and the not talking about it thing: That isn’t the man being overcome with emotion. As his repetition of the claim later demonstrates, it’s most likely him remembering that the History Channel production company made him sign an NDA.
Another man’s paranormal experiences involved feeling like he was being watched, getting scared, and then imagining he heard a voice ordering him to leave. His emphasis on being scared out of his mind before he had his supposed paranormal aural experience tells you what you need to know.
A third example seems ripped straight from an Evil Dead movie. The ranch’s superintendent, Thomas Winterton, said he and his wife were visiting the ranch to download computer files one night when they heard banging in a bedroom, and naturally began to panic rather than investigate what it was. “So we are freaking out at this point. I sit down back at the computer and the download is taking forever. Then, all of a sudden, like someone was standing between us, I hear, ‘Leave now.’ I look at Melissa, she looks at me. Then it happens again, ‘You need to leave now.’” They claim to have run away at top speed like Shaggy and Scooby in an old Scooby-Doo cartoon. Amazingly, despite the ranch having cameras covering every available angle, this apparent folie à deux failed to appear on tape.
I, however, was struck by the fact that all of the paranormal events detailed in the article take place at night. Are alien ghost-demons allergic to sunshine? I wonder if they also recognize daylight saving time. The point, though, is that there is no logical reason that the paranormal should favor the nighttime, but there is every psychological reason that these experiences occur when people are tired, hovering between wake and sleep, or have reduced sensory input.
It’s also interesting that the paranormal events discussed here are just standard-issued ghost stories, most of the poltergeist variety, no different than any of hundreds of similar tales of supposed spectral encounters dating back centuries. The Skinwalker Ranch incidents, though, are notable for being less interesting and less extreme than many poltergeist cases. Most of the activity described in Banias’s article is surprisingly parallel to the 1851 poltergeist allegations in the French lawsuit of Thorel v. Tinel (known among ghost enthusiasts as the Cideville Case), in which M. Tinel’s pupils claimed to have experienced strange rapping sounds, objects that moved by themselves, apparitions, and disembodied voices. A psychic was brought in who claimed that the raps were from an incorporeal intelligence. That intelligence, however, did the ranch’s space poltergeist one better. It could play popular music, including Au clair de la lune! The ghost also performed its feats in the daylight in front of witnesses. It was, as scholars of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries knew, a fraud, like all poltergeists, but it is significant that the “phenomena” of Skinwalker Ranch mirror so precisely the fraudulent phenomena invented for Victorian ghosts.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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