There have been ghosts in the machine, it would appear, ever since the machine was invented.
In 1920, Thomas Edison announced his intention to communicate electronically with the dead, while Tesla built a "spirit radio." More recently, creepypastas tell of haunted game cartridges, psychoactive arcade games, and cursed jpegs that stay with you in nightmares.
And then there are "ghost cams," 24/7 camera feeds of apparently haunted buildings, streamed live on Geocities-style websites. The ghost cams aim to crowdsource proof of the supernatural through screen captures, or at least find another explanation for any apparitions, shadows or "light anomalies" that viewers find.
Though it has since given way to shows like Most Haunted, "armchair ghost-hunting" found popularity right around the time X-Files fandom reached its peak. Sites like UK Paranormal Tavern, Paranormal Network, and Ghost Haunts come from an era when every site needed a custom web banner and a couple of flashing gifs, preferably of alien heads and glittering New Age fairies.
The ghost cams seem spookier with age, and all the more so when you find that many of them are actually still working. Below are a few of the enduring examples, creepy both in their content and their creaky old-web graphics. You are advised to suspend your disbelief and preferably turn off all the lights before proceeding.
Shadowy camera feeds capture the staircase, the dressing room and, creepiest of all, the top floor children's ward in this haunted Welsh castle, which was at one point a sanatorium for people suffering from TB. The castle was home to 19th century opera prima donna Adelina Patti and her second husband, the tenor Ernesto Nicolini, who now apparently haunt the castle in a ghostly love triangle with Barber of Seville composer Gioachino Rossini.
This camera is watched best by night, apparently, the better to see phantom lights and cannon fire (though by day it appears to be all blue skies and rolling fields). Known as one of the most-haunted locations in the US, YouTube is full of apparitions captured at Gettysburg. Skip to the comments for a whole lot of debate and reassuring explanations about how they definitely, definitely faked it…
Not its real title–that's "The Leprechaun Fairy Watch"–but Leprecams should totally be a thing. Anyone who has read children's book series Artemis Fowl will know that the fairy people are not to be fucked with, and in Ireland they're a serious enough business to divert the building of motorways. This camera is placed in a field in the Irish town Tipperary known for its banshees, pookas and a fairy ring, though a certain Ice-T film will likely make for more exciting viewing.
A friend of mine from Lincolnshire once told me it's "where people go to get glassed in pubs," so apparently the English county is a scary place. It's also home to an old theatre where the BBC set up this ghost cam. The building is known as a hive of paranormal activity, including the ghost of an ice-cream lady who once walked the aisles.
No ghosts, but it seems a shame to miss out on the chance to check in this "Bat House" located in Michigan and live-streamed by the non-profit Organization for Bat Conservation. The bats get right up close to the screen and show their darling little vampire faces. It's the next best thing to keeping bats in your own home.
Apparently the last resort of someone renting a New York apartment plagued by problems far worse than cockroaches and rising damp, this camera streams from a grimy, half-lit hallway. Turn off the lights, watch it for a minute or so, and wait for the undead tenants to appear.
Unlike the other ghost cams on this list, the dollhouse has little explanation attached. What we know is that the setting is a haunted farmhouse, the toys are all independently haunted, and the doll "family" was assembled by Knight Paranormal, a team of ghost hunters based in the Endless Mountains of Pennsylvania. There's a forum full of people who claim to see faces in the mirror and a ghost girl on the stairs, as well as the option to adopt a doll with the warning that "these porcelain beauties are not just ordinary dolls, they MAY have human spirits attached to them."
There's something uniquely creepy about the ghost cams: regardless of what they capture or not, they are the otherworldly survivors of a long-forgotten era, an alternate online reality. And yet they're still running, whether anyone is watching or not. They're a time-consuming way to creep yourself out (the internet Ouija board offers more immediate thrills), but they're fascinating as a kind of internet antique.
As with the haunted doll house, these neglected sites have "taken on a life of their own:" tranquil on the surface, but with the potential to turn sinister any minute.
Homepage image: Craig y Nos Castle. Charles Pritchard/Flickr