Joe "Jiggy" Webb is talking to dead people. He's standing on Boston Common at 10 o'clock at night; the moonlight glints off his shiny bald head and the gold dog tag around his neck. He's staring at his hand-held Ghost Meter Pro, which is buzzing and flashing.
"Are you buried somewhere right below us?" he asks. "Can you make the lights blink, please?"
The red light on the Ghost Meter Pro blinks once.
At 42 years old, Webb has formed an intimate bond with death. He's been shot in the leg, and once walked away from a totaled car with no more than a bruise. And after his last brush with mortality — a brain aneurysm in 2006 — Webb started working outreach for the other side.
By day he runs his own security firm — working bouncer gigs and bodyguarding stars like Faith Evans, Naughty by Nature, and Gavin DeGraw. But he spends nights immersed in supernatural research. He's a paranormal investigator — a ghost hunter — and he calls his operation ParanormalHood.
Thanks to TV shows like the Travel Channel's Ghost Adventurers, ghost hunting has become a national obsession. And it's particularly trendy in historical New England. Massachusetts alone boasts 70 paranormal operations, with plenty more in New Hampshire, Maine, and Connecticut — and, of course, the Syfy reality show Ghost Hunters is based in Rhode Island. All these groups have two things in common: they have a fascination with the supernatural, and, overwhelmingly, they are white.
That lack of diversity is one of many reasons Webb is shopping his own ghost-hunting reality show, also called ParanormalHood. He wants to investigate ghosts in communities of color.
"Who gives a fuck about Lizzie Borden's house? That's nothing new," says Webb, impugning the limited scope of major-network ghost-hunting shows. "You don't see anybody go to the 'hood. They're not gonna go to Dorchester, Roxbury, Mattapan, to ask them what they've seen, what might be haunted over there. It's not their territory . . . and frankly I don't think they give a fuck."
>> WATCH Paranormal Hood: Episode 1 <<
I first met Webb at a bar back in June, during a networking event held by Press Pass TV, a local organization offering media training for Boston's underserved youth. Within minutes of introducing himself, Webb began describing life as the head of his own personal security business, name-dropping famous clients whose bodies he's guarded. Then he asked if I believe in ghosts.
"People say YOLO, but how do you know?"
So here I am, out on the Common with Webb and tonight's paranormal crew of four — all of whom are people of color. We huddle beneath hazy moonlight, near the six-point footpath intersection at the base of Flagstaff Hill. We linger on a grass patch not far from a plaque memorializing a now-deceased Great Elm. We're here because the tree was once used for hangings.
And we're not alone.
"Are you frightened of us being here?" Webb asks the entity. I gently encourage it not to be afraid. The light on one of our ghost detectors suddenly turns on.
It's a warm night, but I can't shake the chills.