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‘Proof’ of a haunted comic shop? A paranormal investigator says, not so fast ….

It’s actually nothing we haven’t seen before.

Earlier this week, The Comics Beat, one of the most respected comic sites on the internet, ran a story called “Haunted comic shop captures proof on video.” With a headline like that, you HAD to know the hard-nosed evidence-seekers here at AiPT! Science would have to take our own look, so we invited Kenny Biddle, paranormal video investigator extraordinaire, to give a second opinion.

It’s not every day that I’m asked to investigate a haunted comic book shop. In fact, it’s never happened before!

So when the opportunity came up, I jumped at the chance – my inner geek was thrilled. The cleverly named Strange Apparitions comic book shop, located in Spalding, Lincolnshire, England, is said to be haunted by a glowing ball of light … and they have the proof on their Facebook page. Let’s put on our Batman detective caps and take a closer look at what’s going on here.

Alex Hunt, owner of Strange Apparitions, and Alan Barnsdale, owner of Uptown Vinyl Records, closed their shops (which share the same space) on August 28 and went home for the evening. Around 9:30 that night, the motion sensor security camera sent an alert to both owners. Someone — or something! — was moving around the store.

When they checked the footage, they were amazed at what they saw. Barnsdale told local news outlet Spalding Today, “I looked at the security feed at home and I saw this tennis ball-sized orb floating around. At first, I thought it was nothing, but then the alarm kept going off, and I was sat there for hours watching it. There is no explanation.”

Actually, there is. But it has nothing to do with ghosts, superheroes, or aliens from a galaxy far, far away.

Spalding Today offers a short clip of the security footage showcasing the mysterious orb. Curiously, the footage starts at timestamp 22:23, almost an hour after the first motion alert was sent to the owners. At just over a minute and a half long, the viewer watches a white dot (the orb) make its way around a small section of the top portion of the video.

Although at first glance it appears to be floating, I highly doubt it is. In fact, it appears to me as if the anomaly is crawling, like a bug. The movements are at a slow pace, and we can see that the anomaly is more oval-shaped than circular. Due to this oval shape, we can observe that it turns about in its travels, rather than simply “floating.”

Security cameras like this use infrared light in order to “see” in the dark. Viewing the footage, we can clearly see the area illuminated by the camera’s IR lights, the records bins and desk area. I searched through images on the Facebook pages of both the comic book and vinyl record stores until I found a photo showing the security camera. I can’t tell the exact brand, but we get the idea of the model type.

 

These have a camera lens in the center, with a ring of infrared LEDs surrounding it. Light from the LEDs can reflect off objects on the lens, overexposing things like insects that land on the camera. This overexposing means that objects very close to the LEDs will be washed out, reflecting so much light that they become a bright spot that loses all details. It’s also important to note that very thin details, like insect legs, would likely not be visible under these conditions.

Something else suspicious is that the anomaly doesn’t change size. If it was moving around the shop, we’d expect its perceived size to change, getting smaller as it moved away and larger as it came closer. We don’t see this at all, indicating the anomaly is at one fixed distance from the camera.

This distance is most likely where the protective cover is. On security cameras of this type, there is a plastic or glass protective cover that sits in front of the lens and the infrared LEDs. Sometimes this cover is a dome, and other times it’s flat. We can see from the reference image that the comic shop camera has a flat protective cover. A small insect crawling around it would remain at the same distance from the lens. Also keep in mind we’re talking about an area of an inch or two in diameter.

To demonstrate the expected change in size, I’ve set up an example using a plastic gear. The anomaly is described as being about the size of a tennis ball, which are usually between 2.57 and 2.87 inches or 6.54 – 7.30 cm. The gear I’m using is slightly larger at 3.20 inches or 8.1 cm. I set the gear three inches (8 cm) from the camera and took two shots, moving the gear only two inches (5 cm) further back. You can see the difference in perceived size in just that short distance.


The intensity of the light from the anomaly also doesn’t change. Just as the size should change with distance from the camera, the anomaly should dim as it moves away from the LEDs, and become brighter when moving closer. In the entire clip, the light intensity doesn’t change, again indicating the anomaly remains at a fixed distance.

One might argue that the anomaly is emitting its own light (glowing). If this were the case, the light would be reflected in the many plastic bins and glossy comic book covers within the scene, which can be seen reflecting the light of the camera. At one point the anomaly seems to hover just above several albums and shiny plastic lids — no reflections at all. Even as the anomaly appears to float near the ceiling, we see no illumination of the ceiling tiles.

On the Facebook page for the comic shop, Emma Black, a professional visual artist and illustrator who also works at the store, posted an additional video clip. Starting 29 minutes after the original video, it shows the same anomaly still wandering about in the same area. This would be the first time I’ve heard of a “ghost” hanging out in one place for such an extended period of time (over half an hour).

Although Barnsdale mentions buying old records from an estate of a man who’d died, I see no reason to connect the two ideas together. I have no doubt many of the records in the shop once belonged to people who have since passed on. The data collected so far points to the most likely conclusion — a bug.

Perhaps it was attracted by the infrared LEDs, landed on the lens cover, and simply crawled around trying to get at the lights. The bug anomaly has been seen many times before, yet still manages to capture the attention of ghost enthusiasts. Ben Radford, deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer magazine, investigated a similar video from a courthouse in Santa Fe, New Mexico. More recently, in 2017, I did a quick video addressing this very topic as it related to another home video clip featuring what I concluded to be a bug.

According to the Spalding Today article, both owners have been contacted by “ghost hunters” and paranormal investigators. The comments of their Facebook page do show many viewers expressing an interest is having a “ghost hunt” at the store. With Halloween approaching, I can see this expanding into a costume party. I’ll show up as The Fly.

AiPT! Science is co-presented by AiPT! Comics and the New York City Skeptics.

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