There are about as many ghost-hunting shows on TV these days as there are spooks in Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, and the genre’s format is about as predictable as the ride: knock around in dark, creepy places with a night-vision camera and act frightened/surprised occasionally. So it’s good to know that our homegrown contribution to the genre—Zak Bagans and his Ghost Adventures crew—is at least bringing some Las Vegas swagger to the mix.
Bagans is the spiky-haired antagonist of the netherworld. He isn’t there to coddle spirits like Psychic Kids’ Chip Coffey on A&E, or comfort rattled homeowners like the plumber buddies from SyFy’s Ghost Hunters; he aims to piss off the specters. “I want people to wake the hell up and know this is real,” he says.
And that’s made for four seasons of interesting TV. In an Iowa house where eight people were hacked to death in 1912, Bagans waived an ax and hurled accusations in the dark, provoking the spirit of the murdered to call for his own blood. (Or so goes the Ghost Adventures interpretation of the audio they recorded.) At an old inn near Boston, he jumped into bed hoping to be accosted by the amorous spirit of a woman said to sexually harass male guests. (In something of an anti-climax, she tapped him on the leg a couple times in the middle of the night.)
Season 5 kicks off Sept. 23. Unfortunately for local paranormalists, the only Nevada-based lockdown is at the newly reopened Mizpah Hotel in Tonopah, in an episode set to air Sept. 30. Bagans says he and his crew encountered the famous Lady in Red, the spirit of a prostitute murdered in the 1920s who has the endearing habit of leaving a single pearl on a nightstand or pillow to announce her presence. The boys came across a mysterious carpet stain near where the woman was killed that reportedly resists all removal efforts. Is it mold or the blood of a dead call girl? You be the judge.
It isn’t that Bagans is ignoring Southern Nevada; more like he’s already torn through our inventory of readily available scary buildings: a mob mansion in the Scotch ’80s, Bonnie Springs Ranch, Goldfield and the Amargosa Opera House, which isn’t in Nevada but close enough. He actually considers Las Vegas to be one of the most haunted cities in the world, what with all our mob murders and desperation suicides. Those who associate hauntings with oldness fail to realize that while you can raze a building, you can’t erase its past, he says. “There’s a residual in the land.”
Messin’ with spirits has turned into a tidy cottage industry for Bagans. In addition to Ghost Adventures, he’s also the host of Travel Channel’s Paranormal Challenge and the co-author of the soon-to-be-released Dark World: Into the Shadows with the Lead Investigator of the Ghost Adventures Crew (Victory Belt Publishing, $25), a book about the pitfalls of being the point man for abusive spirits.
And he’s also doing his part to make his hometown a little creepier. Hidden behind a bookcase and 20 feet below his southwest Valley house is a dungeon—complete with prison cells and an altar—where he locks away the spirits that follow him home from his adventures. He’s carved their names into the walls. “Batman has his bat cave with the nice normal house above, but deep down inside you find out his true character,” he says. “Down here you find the true character of who I am.”