There is something different about Ghost Adventures. For all the quirky star power, the increasingly slick production bells and whistles, the rabid fans, there is an underlying sense of mission to this trio, these Musketeers — Zak Bagans, Nick Groff, and Aaron Goodwin — that transcends show biz trappings and lends weight to their undertakings.
Aaron Goodwin joined the Ghost Adventures team as reluctant cameraman and equipment tech for the ghost hunting sessions of historic Nevada mining towns that led to the award winning documentary, which ended up as the pilot for the Ghost Adventures series on Travel Channel, now in its fifth season.
This week's episode follows the intrepid trio to Old Town San Diego, Friday night at 9 E/P.
But we have seen Aaron transformed into a lean, mean ghost hunting... if not machine (we still can share his outsized emotions via his open and expressive face) then at least, in his own words, a soldier, a lean mean ghost hunting soldier.
I talked in depth with Goodwin about his transformation, his commitment to spirit hunting, and the prices he has paid by phone from his Las Vegas home.
You came into it as the cameraman, right?
I had just been working on UFC and NASCAR and a bunch of things in Vegas, so coming in to shoot ghost hunting was like, "What the hell?"
Did you know Zak and Nick?
I had known Nick. I used to sneak in to UNLV for lectures and tests while I was teaching myself how to edit and use the equipment. I don't know why, but they allowed me to. I got to know this teacher and asked him how to get more involved in film. He pointed to the guy behind me and said, "See that guy?"
It was Nick.
The teacher said, "Help him out with a project, and you two will end up doing a few projects together, and that's how you get your experience." That was 12 years ago. He was exactly right.
I did the documentary and then I quit because I wasn't really into
ghosts and the whole thing spooked me. Then the first version of the documentary started
showing at film festivals and we started doing some more ghost hunts for
the documentary, and then it got picked up by Travel Channel.
Zak and Nick said "Let's do some more!" I said "Let's do it," not having any idea what they were throwing me into!
From that point on for the first couple of seasons I was scared and couldn't figure out if I really wanted to do this. And the stuff that followed me home would mess with me and my ex-wife and family and friends, everyone around me and my home.
So after getting used to it for two years, you kind of realize that if they were going to hurt you, they would have hurt you. So now I've become, not comfortable with it, but I accept it and I don't want to go get "cleansed" or anything because.. I want evidence. And if I go get cleansed then I might not get good evidence when I'm out there.
I got adapted to it and now I like it. When they [spirits] follow me home sometimes it can be really really scary, but most of the time I realize -- and you'll see in season five in a couple of episodes -- that what follows me around may not be bad or me [laughs].
Or sometimes it could be: there's the Winchester Mystery House we did -- I don't know how much I can say -- but we made something happen and it has to do with Mackey's and it all came back full force on me. Usually it's good - sometimes it's bad.
I used to be so fearful, but in season four at Hales Bar Dam something snapped in me that made me more aggressive. I still get scared and I still jump, but most of time now, instead of saying "I need to get out of here," I face it head on.
So when that thing went through me at Hales Bar Dam...
Whoa! That was weird - something just called my name in my house! [pause]
Anyway, whatever went through me -- I believe it was the Indian chief -- I started to feel the veins in my neck tightening and I felt like I was turning to stone. My heart was racing, I really thought that this was the moment where I would have a heart attack and die. I thought, "Crap, I don't want to be stuck HERE."
I got out of there and I was all spooked. Later on that night I went down this tunnel, it's not on the show at all. I went way out of camera range. Sometimes when you're in the mode, you forget about the cameras - you just go.
I kept going down this really dark tunnel and I heard footsteps running at me faster and faster and I don't know what came over me, but I felt like enough was enough. I put my foot down and leaned towards it, I heard this sshhss sound and everything died down and dissipated. That moment I put my foot down, it was like, "Bring it," and everything changed.
I remember walking out of that area feeling like I was walking off a battlefield all badass. That was the moment that changed me. I was done being pushed around. I get afraid, don't get me wrong, but it was time to take a stand. Since then, I get spooked, I jump when something happens, but I'm like "Bring it."
Nick and Zak call it the "Dark Aaron" [laughs].
The emergence of the Dark Aaron, eh?
Yes [laughs]. I listen to the Tron soundtrack to get pumped up, and when the song "Rinzler" comes on, Zak and Nick say, "It's battle time for Aaron!" It's different now, it's way different now.
Everything happens for a reason. In one of the episodes coming up, if I hadn't done that, bad things would have happened to me. You'll see it.
But another time in the new season, I said "I'm out of here - enough's enough." I'm not stupid - if you keep messing with something, eventually it is going to hurt you.
When did you decide all of this is real?
I was pretty sure SOMETHING was going on, but I still questioned it until I got punched in the face at Sloss Furnaces. That blew my mind - that's when I knew. It felt like I walked right into an elbow or a fist. I had these rings under my eyes for days.
Then, six months later I got scratched on my calf at Preston Castle.
What's happening now is more spiritual/mental. Things are following me home. It's weird - I could go on forever about the stuff that happens at my house and the things that follow me around.
I know you've said before that some of this activity contributed to the end of your marriage. That's a pretty severe consequence.
It contributed big-time to it. When I would leave she would have nightmares. Posters drilled into the wall would come flying off, pulled straight out of its hinges. The toilet seat used to go up all the time. My wife never cared about that, but all the neighbors would yell at their husbands for leaving the toilet seat up. They would swear they didn't leave it up, and come to find out we were all having these same experiences.
So when I was gone, it wasn't fair for her to sit there for a week or two at a time, alone, with things happening to her. Then I would come home. I was living two lives, one out there chasing ghosts and one living a "normal" life at home.
We're still best friends - we still talk all the time and hang out, but I felt like I needed to get that away from her because she didn't deserve to have those things happening to her.
She a tough cookie, but how much can you handle just sitting home alone, not knowing what's going on exactly, but feeling a lot of what I feel on these hunts. I thought that was bad for her. It was a very tough decision we both had to make, but it was best for her to move on and do something new with her life. We're cool, though - I hang out with her and her new boyfriend.
Still, that's an awful lot to give up...
When the decision was made and it was over and done, it was almost like I felt I had to give up everything to go into this war, this battle that no one could understand. It's like going overseas: "Hey, I'm going to be gone for four years." Is that fair?
And once you've given everything up, it changes your mindstate, it focuses your purpose. It lined everything up inside of me to battle these spirits. So, it was good in that way, but it still kind of sucks.
There is definitely a price to pay. When people say, "Hey, that looks like fun. I want to get into ghost hunting!" I say, "Don't! Live your normal life. Don't do what we do. There are consequences to it all." Some people can handle it, but a lot of people who come to these live events with us are traumatized for life by the things that happen. They just aren't used to it.
There are lines you can't cross without consequences.
Yes, my line is a Ouija Board, I'm not sure why. I know it isn't different from doing EVPs, talking to spirits, inviting them in, but that's one thing I won't do. Maybe I messed with it in a past life or something. I used to not believe in past lives, but now I do. There seem to be energies that are passed on. Maybe that's what we're here for - maybe we have certain energies that can handle what we're doing and that's why we can do it.
It really sounds like that this has become a crusade, a mission, for you guys.
I think so. Even if Ghost Adventures was to stop, I would still be doing this. I really think we were chosen for something. I'm looking for answers everyday. I hunt my own house, which you are NOT supposed to do. When things are flying around, you've got to find out answers.
That's why I'm always listening. They could be lying to you, you've got to stay skeptical, but when you hear something that you can verify from elsewhere, then you know.
It fascinates me that you've decided not to purge yourself or your home of these entities - that's, again, a tremendous commitment!
At the beginning I would get cleansed, I would bless myself and do anything I could. But then I realized that's when it got worse. I decided I didn't want to mess with my "natural" state and chase the spirits away and mess with my evidence. Now it's like, "Bring me everything you got," and when it's over I'll get cleansed and blessed but until then, I'm ready, I'm battling.
You're a spirit repository!
I think so. I've got this talisman I wear around my neck. I've got crazy stories for it, I've taken it off and it's literally levitated, but when I wear it I feel safe. Lately I've been taking it off more and not sleeping with it on, I'm not sure why. But last night I heard footsteps walking up to my bed and I started getting really spooked, but instead of getting scared I just said "Okay, sigh, I deal with this stuff all the time."
And then I heard this growl in my ear and opened my eyes, but instead of being freaked out and running out of the house, I just closed my eyes and went back to sleep. That shows that spirit more power, that I am fighting it, than anything. When it's over it'll be time to get cleansed, but who knows what will be going on by then.
We've done a pagan ritual, we had a voodoo hex put underneath us, we became warlocks. Maybe all these things aren't trying to hurt you, they are just trying to wake you up or get your attention. Even throwing a brick may just be out of frustration because they're trying to tell you something and you just aren't listening.
You mentioned showing "power" - do you think spirits respond differently if you show fear?
It depends on the spirit. We did a lockdown where we had to wear masks because the air was so bad. I started feeling my ribs being squeezed, even crushed, and I started panicking, pulling off my mask, freaking out. I felt like I was being attacked, but this was in a place where they used to do surgery.
So then I thought, maybe they're just trying to do their job, working on me. I hung out for another minute and tried to relax and then it felt like it went away. So maybe it wasn't that they were trying to hurt me, but that it was just residually happening.
At the [Halloween '09 Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum] live event I felt this jab in my eye - that was probably just someone doing what they thought they were supposed to do, they did lobotomies there. Who knows if the spirit is evil or not evil. That's why you have to just wait it out.
You can't run out the door - you have to go with it. I've run out before because I was so scared, but now I realize you have to keep in the moment, keep asking - I might be getting choked out but why not throw that EVP up there? The truth is if they are choking me out, they are going to follow me out that door and choke me out still. Me staying there is battling them and gaining respect. It's like smacking the dog that's growling at you - ghosts and dogs respect you when they can't bully you around.
Why do you think Ghost Adventures is so popular and successful?
I think the core of it is that we have been hunting together for so long and know each other so well that when you put all three of us in a room, all hell breaks loose. It's not only what we're there to hunt, but stuff follows me home a lot after lockdowns. Who's to say that what we have [attached to us] doesn't come along to amp up the energy?
So, the more we've done this and the more we keep doing this, the more it seems like we bring stuff with us. When we're in a place, what ever is there is going to sniff me out right away. Sometimes ghosts don't see you. The ghost could be walking through a bar and not see anyone...
[Laughs] That sounds like a joke: "A ghost walks into a bar...
[Laughs] But if a ghost walks into a bar and there are lots of people sitting there, he may only see one person. Just like only one person may see that ghost. The more we go in there and the more we keep doing this, the more the ghosts can sense us because of the energy we have and the stuff that follows us around. We become more sensitive to them and they become more sensitive to us. It shows this season, trust me.
After all this time hunting, what is your worldview now on these things?
It's a real touchy subject. I'm a Baptist Christian and have been all my life. I never thought twice about ghosts before all of this, but after doing this for years this is my assumption: there's heaven, there's hell, and there's something else. There are definitely three areas.
All kids are supposed to go to heaven, so why are there "spirit kids" roaming around these places? It really does mess with your mind. I believe there's God, there's the Devil, but there's something else that no one talks about. The Bible even mentions ghosts, so there is something else.
It makes me wonder. It makes me question things, but I still have faith. I wonder why we leave that "third thing" out of the equation. That's the part I'm trying to figure out.
What do you think this "third realm" is? Is it temporary or permanent? Why do spirits go there?
There is a third thing, and that third thing is the main thing. There are too many spirits that roam, we're hunting too many kids and dogs - don't "all dogs go to heaven"? We catch dogs and other animals on EVPs often. If there are ghosts and demons does that mean there could be aliens too?
I'm hanging on to some of what I think about this third realm because I'm writing a movie about it.
Can you tell us a little about the movie?
I'm working with an artist who paints my nightmares - they look just like my dreams. Two are finished and we're working on five more. When we're finished with those you'll be able to see a visual outline of the movie. It's a different way of doing it.
I'm realizing these dreams might be "it." It seems like every time I have one of these dreams or nightmares, two weeks later I'll see proof of it right in front of me. It's really weird.
A lot of it has to do with things I do on my own, not just for the show. If you're a therapist, you probably still help people in your off-time. I hunt my own house, I do my own research. I figure things out so that they seem whole to me and I can actually put them into experiments to see if I was right. Whoa, that's the most I've ever said about the film!
So this is scripted, not documentary, right?
Yes, fully scripted - it won't be cheap - it's badass [laughs]. Lots of effects and CGI and stuff.
I have another one I wrote ten years ago, and it's really weird: How did I know all of that stuff before I had ever hunted? I think maybe I have told all this since I was a little kid. I was kicked in the face by a horse and almost died. Well, technically I guess I did die, and I came back and ever since them I've been that guy who would know when something was going to happen: "This pack of baseball cards has a special limited edition guy in it." In high school I just stopped thinking about it because it was too weird, but these last few years it's all started to make sense.
That's another reason why I don't want to cleanse the place: maybe I'm being told a message or told a story. That's what Anne Rice did and the person who wrote Twilight [Stephenie Meyer] - they were told stories in their dreams and they wrote them down.
So you don't want to chase them off.
Right. People send me stuff to cleanse me all the time and are always concerned. They're praying for me. I tell them, thank you but I don't want to mess anything up. I want to stay in the funk and flow of things right now. My life may be hell and shit may happen all the time and it may be scary as f*ck, but at the same time I don't want to mess it up until it's all over.
It's like I'm going to war: when you're a soldier, you BE the soldier until it's all done. There's no half-assing it.
Ultimately, what's so fascinating about all this is these are the biggest questions.
And the only way you can really find out is by passing on. That's what we're trying to do: find out before we pass on. I'm sure that when I pass on I'll be hunting humans instead of hunting ghosts!
I'm also worried that when I pass on, all these ghosts and demons that we've taunted and messed with will be waiting there: "Welcome to our world, Aaron, what's up!" I'll probably join forces with them and say, "Let's get Nick and Zak - cool!"
Or, what if instead of coming after you: with me for example, they follow me home, they follow me around. I usually know what lockdown they're from because you sense their energy there, then I get home and sense and smell the same energy. Maybe they'll be happy to see me.