Seared into my childhood memory is a particularly terrifying episode of the show Tales from the Darkside. Titled Ursa Minor, it aired when I was eight, and I've never forgotten it.
In the episode, a young girl gets a teddy bear for her birthday under somewhat mysterious circumstances. While she loves it, she's soon blaming it for various mischief about the house. Flowers knocked over? "Teddy did it." Muddy paw prints on the wall? "Teddy was playing."
Mom thinks her daughter is just lying about her own misbehavior, but nope, the teddy bear is actually quite possessed, and quite dangerous. After being told by an "expert on magic" that teddy bears "have strong magic," the mom tries to get rid of the bear, throwing it out and getting her daughter a doll, but the bear comes back, destroying the doll and unleashing its terrifying power.
The episode ends with a shot of a massive bear paw smashing through the family's door. I've never forgotten how much that Tales from the Darkside episode terrified me as a child. And now, three decades later, I've invited a different disturbing teddy bear into my home.
His name is BooBuddy Jr., and he sees dead people.
BooBuddy Jr. is built by GhostStop, a company based in Florida that sells equipment for paranormal investigators and ghost hunters. In addition to offering a wide range of audio and video recorders (to capture orbs and ghostly voices), thermometers (to measure for cold spots), motion sensors, and other gear, GhostStop sells a wide variety of Electromagnetic Field (EMF) meters. Originally built to detect harmful radiation in your home, EMF meters have become popular among paranormal enthusiasts under the theory that ghosts can affect electromagnetic fields.
There are dozens of EMF meters for sale, many tailored specifically to ghost hunters, but sometimes the meter alone isn't enough. Enter BooBuddy Jr., who in addition to sensing electromagnetic fields, is also what ghost hunters call a "trigger object"–something with emotional or psychic resonance that can further entice ghosts to communicate. Trigger objects can be related to the deceased individual you're trying to contact (a lock of hair, say, or a photograph). Or, more generally, they can be something welcoming, something a child (or a child's ghost) might respond to. Like a teddy bear.
When you turn him on, BooBuddy Jr.'s belly glows green, but if he's near an EMF field of any kind (or, presumably, a ghost), his paws will light up red. Curious, I acquired myself a cuddly EMF meter, to see how good he was at finding ghosts.
As soon as he arrived, my wife Nicole and I began adopting the mannerisms of the girl from the Tales from the Darkside episode, blaming BooBuddy Jr. for anything we could. "It wasn't me; BooBuddy Jr. made a mess in the sink," "BooBuddy Jr. forgot to take out the trash," "BooBuddy Jr. didn't pay the electric bill." He was also, in short order, re-christened as "Deady Ruxpin." I took Deady throughout the house, looking for spirits or dangerous appliances. We found nothing, but I soon realized this wasn't a proper test of his abilities. So I recruited some friends and took him to a haunted-ish place to try him out.
The place was Brooklyn's Morbid Anatomy Museum, a building that, in addition to being one of the more spooky places in the city, used to be a nightclub and, before that, a bodega. So, I figured, there'd be plenty of spirits at hand. After hours, Nicole and I, along with a few friends, were allowed to go upstairs to the library, where we put Deady Ruxpin on a table and gathered around him. We dimmed the lights and clasped our hands together in a circle.
At that point, we realized none of us knew how to conduct a séance. So, we turned to the most reliable source we could find: Wikihow. We followed Wikihow's instructions on "How to Conduct a Séance" as best we could (no candles, though, because that's a fire hazard). We gathered our participants, clasped hands once again, and then began to chant, summoning the spirits. "Spirits of the past, move among us," we intoned, looking at our cuddly medium. "Be guided by the light of this world and visit upon us."
Deady Ruxpin did nothing. No red lights lit up, nothing moved. We tried again. Still nothing. We began asking simple yes/no questions: "Is anyone here? Would you like to speak with us? Are you in pain?" Deady Ruxpin remained mute. If any unseen spirits flitted about the room, none were triggered by our furry pal.
We tried using the ol' Good Medium/Bad Medium tactic: "Look, Deady, I'm on your side here, but my friend, she's a bit more impatient. You think you could cough up some spirits before she has to get mean?" Deady Ruxpin stonewalled. His belly glowed bright green, but his hands remained unlit. Immune to our cajoling, the bear would not, no matter what we did, light up. Finally we gave up.
Perhaps we were simply unworthy mediums. Perhaps the spirits felt we weren't taking them seriously. Perhaps the Morbid Anatomy Museum isn't really haunted. Certainly, I can say, the museum is free of harmful electromagnetic radiation—which, given its location in Brooklyn, is fairly uncanny in itself.
As we drove home from our failed séance, my wife and I put Deady Ruxpin on the dash of our car, just out of curiosity. And sure enough, for the entire drive, his paws lit up constantly in intense, unceasing flashes of red. Maybe this is because AM/FM radios will set off EMF meters—as will cellphones, fast-food restaurants, and anything else with a microwave.
Or maybe, as I prefer to believe, the city truly is filled with ghosts.
Follow Colin on Twitter.