You know it’s the Halloween season when the local news stations spend time on fluff pieces of suddenly haunted stores. Such is the case when KGW8 in Oregon City reported on a spooky video from a local marijuana shop, Five Zero Trees. When this story first popped up on my social media feed, I must admit that I giggled; I mean, come on … it’s a marijuana shop, and they’re claiming weird stuff was happening. Never fear, my inner child soon calmed down and I clicked on the link in my newsfeed to take a closer look.
According to the story, “Andy Gomez was working at the counter of the marijuana store by himself when surveillance video shows a glass tip jar slowly slide off the edge of a level counter” (Cook 2018). Even before watching the video, we learn that the events featured in this video took place two months ago on August 28. That’s a long time to wait to mention it, unless you’re trying to coincide with a major spooky-themed holiday (the news loves these type of fluff stories). The issue here is that the alleged paranormal activity doesn’t seem to have been addressed immediately after the “strange” events occurred. It is crucial to be able to investigate such claims as soon as possible. Conditions can easily change in that amount of time; furniture could be rearranged, replaced, or modified; the particular tip jar could have been replaced. Timing is always critical.
After reading the article, I clicked on the video and watched the event unfold. We see Gomez (the employee) moving a digital scale, a cup filled with pens, and tip jar from the cashier’s counter to the counter top of a display case beside it so he can clean the first counter. As soon as he puts the tip jar down, the video is sped up and the reporter’s voice over tells us “watch the glass tip jar on the counter, slowly it starts to move.” This is true, it slowly starts to move—really slowly; even though it only takes us about eight seconds to view the footage, the counter at the top of the screen tells us that an entire seven minutes has passed (11:42:12 to 11:49:12). The footage is sped up significantly, so the movement of the jar is more easily noticed (and dramatic, and to fit the whole clip in the short time segment). As you can see from the image below, the countertop was not much wider than the jar itself, which I’m estimating to be no more than a foot wide.
Gomez first places the tip jar on the display case counter top.
Gomez tells the reporter “As it happened, I kind of felt like someone was standing next to me like somebody was right here” as he waves his hand over the area in front of the display case, the side where a customer would stand. The issue I have with his statement is that in the surveillance video when the tip jar falls over the edge, Gomez is not actually next to the area indicated and even more importantly, he’s not even paying any attention to it. He can be seen holding onto both sides of a digital scale on the cashier’s counter, preoccupied with staring at the display/buttons. He only reacts (looks up) after the jar falls over the edge. He doesn’t act like someone who felt like an unseen presence was standing next to him; he was acting like a normal person trying to figure out how a gadget (the scale) worked.
So, what could have caused the jar to slide across the countertop and fall over? We can see from the video that there wasn’t any strong force behind the movement. The jar didn’t shoot off the display case and across the room; it didn’t vomit pea soup or emit a spooky hellfire. It just tipped over the edge and landed on the cover about few inches below, rocking softly on its side and coming to a stop. The most likely cause is a combination of vibration and a slanted countertop.
We can see that this particular display case has several lights inside of it, possibly three or more. There’s also an outlet on the lower rear corner of the case with several cords plugged into it to it, although we can’t see what the power cords go to. These display cases can often create vibrations from the interior lights (the ones with that low buzzing sound), fans, motors, or other devices that may be on the lower shelves. Of course, without being able to check the display case myself (it’s about 2,800 miles from me), I can’t say with any certainty what could be causing it.
Looking at the various images provided by the news crew and surveillance video, the narrow counter top on the display case appears to be slanted, rather than “the level surface” the reporter describes. I took a screenshot of the video as the news camera was positioned parallel to this counter top. When compared to the other counter in the background, this display case top is slanted toward the front—exactly where the tip jar headed during its seven-minute journey to the floor (and into internet infamy).
View of the back of the cabinet, showing an electrical box with four outlets and various power cords. We can also see the interior is illuminated from inside.
Gomez pointing to where he believes he felt someone standing next to him. We can also see the slant of the counter top he is leaning on.
As the video continues, we see two more short clips, recorded eleven hours after the initial event, in which a few pens and a pair of scissors kind of jump inside of a cup (there are a bunch of pens in the cup). The first clip honestly looks like they were in the cup but not completely settled, and a little vibration made them settle down. The second clip appears a bit more staged; three pens jump from one side to the other. When I played the video over and over several times (because that’s what I like to do), I believe there is a small light reflection off a line attached to one of the pens. It appears higher than the height of the pens and is only there for a fraction of a second. These video clips are already cropped down, causing a decrease in image quality. Screenshots were not suitable to point out anything clearly. Is this proof of a hoax? Certainly not, but it does makes me suspicious.
The reporter continues, “If you think the video has been doctored, as a cannabis shop, that would be against the law.” I’m happy that they at least addressed one angle, since comments like “they probably used CGI” are bound to come up. Rest assured, one doesn’t have to “doctor” the video to create these effects. Many practical effects with thin string or fishing line attached to a pen of scissors, would be enough to cause the “spooky” effects seen in the video. We’ve seen similar effects with a viral “haunted hotel room” video I wrote about last year (Biddle 2017). Such practical effects would not be tampering (doctoring) with the video itself.
The reporter then interviews Rocky Smith, a local historian and paranormal investigator (Smith 2016) who happens to work down the street from Five Zero Trees. Smith claimed, “The activity that happens in downtown is because of all the rebuilding over the top of old buildings.” This, honestly makes no sense whatsoever. If that were the case, there would be a hell of a lot more haunted buildings in every city and town across the globe. Rebuilding over top of older buildings is called progress not paranormal.
When we take a closer look at the video, without any thoughts of Halloween, we don’t see much more than a jar (very) slowly sliding off a slanted counter top. Vibrations from the display case, or even the street outside (trucks rumbling by) probably helped it along. The pens and scissors in a cup probably just settling, or they might have had some help. Whatever the actual reason, we need to keep in mind that this news coverage did nothing to investigate the claim; they simply promoted a fluff piece for the coming holiday. It would be nice if one day, a reporter of one of these stories spent a few minutes to investigate and maybe—just maybe—solve a mystery.
- Biddle, Kenny. 2017. The “Haunted Hotel Room” Hoax. Available online at https://anomaliesresearchsociety.wordpress.com/2017/08/05/the-haunted-hotel-room-hoax/.
- Cook, Katherine. 2018. Is an Oregon marijuana shop haunted? Watch surveillance video. Available online at https://www.kgw.com/article/life/is-an-oregon-marijuana-shop-haunted-watch-surveillance-video/283-608226136?fbclid=IwAR3zOnTmHcRh4apTIV-pjhB078swJwG0bHmCggRC17w1CZ6H_WrytwLJALc; accessed on October 26, 2018.
- Smith, Rocky. 2016. Your guide into Oregon City’s Haunted History. Available online at http://www.nwghosttours.com/.