Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Journey into Automatons by Bob Curran

Dr. Bob Curran has tackled many subjects over the years. From vampires and werewolves to swamp men and everything in between. With Man-Made Monsters Dr. Bob dives into the what could have been's and might be's of man creating life. Steampunk has become quite popular over the last few years, but few people realize its history dives back further than Jules Verne and Mary Shelly with inventions from Jacques de Vaucason and Pierre Jacquet-Droz. Get ready to be amazed!

Warriors of Brass: Automatons

From the mid-1500s, groups of entertainers were visiting cities, towns, and villages with a show of “animated dolls.” These were tiny metal dancing figures that were powered by internal mechanisms, which performed in many streets and squares all across the Continent. They were, it was said, built in the style of the earlier Chinese figures (known as “karakuri-ningyo”), which had graced the palaces of the Emperors and noblemen there. In Europe they performed short plays and acted very much as animated puppets to the delight of many audiences. As such they became something of a fashion, especially in parts of France where they were to be seen as late as the 18th century.

Jacques de Vaucason

They may indeed have inspired another Frenchman, Jacques de Vaucanson, who had been born in Grenoble in 1709. (It is worth noting that he was simply born as Jacques Vaucanson, the son of a poor glove-maker; the “de” was later added by the Academie de Sciences). Like many of his predecessors, de Vaucanson was something of a mathematical genius, but he was highly interested in mechanical science and planned to become a clockmaker. However, he was also deeply religious and after a Jesuit schooling, he joined a religious Order in Lyon (the Minims, which flourished in France at the time) with the intention of becoming a priest. An accidental meeting with the great surgeon Claud-Nicolas Le Chat (1700–1768) sparked his interest in mechanical devices once more and also gave him an interest in anatomy, and he left the Order to pursue his studies in that direction

At the age of only 18 he received the patronage of a prominent nobleman who gave him a workshop in Lyon. His benefactor asked him to make a series of machines that would be useful around the house and Vaucanson obliged. He may have also seen some of the animated performing dolls in the streets around Lyon, which probably intrigued him. Hearing of their former Brother’s great successes, the Minims decided to pay him a visit, and in 1727, the local Head of the Order together with some government officials invited themselves for a meal. In order to impress them, Vaucanson decided to build some automatons, which would wait the table and supply them with wine. The move proved to be a disaster, for although the automatons were excellent and behaved perfectly the religious leader declared the inventions “profane” and an insult to God, and instructed the officials to destroy his workshop. However, they were unable to stop Vaucanson from creating more mechanical figures. His knowledge of anatomy had ensured that his machines functioned very much like ordinary men, mimicking human activities such as circulation and respiration. Throughout the years, he had refined his techniques and had created almost perfect androids and he was determined to develop his skills further, no matter what the Church thought.

In 1737 Vaucanson made one of his most famous creations: The Flute Player. This was a full-size figure of a young shepherd playing a pipe, which had a repertoire of 12 melodies. The fingers of the figure actually moved, but very stiffly, so Vaucanson procured a large envelope of skin to cover his work and enable them to move more smoothly. The result was presented to the Academie des Sciences in 1738. The automaton created a sensation. Although France was well used to metal toys, this was something far more sophisticated and it earned its inventor great prestige, despite the denouncements of the Church. Vaucanson quickly followed it up with two other automatons—The Tambourine Player and The Digesting Duck (the latter is considered a true masterpiece of mechanical engineering). The duck was able to flap its wings, drink water, eat corn, and “defecate” (the corn was held in one section of its “stomach” and droppings were held in another that were released by a spring mechanism). However, the design for the digestive system was completely accurate and was based of Vaucanson’s knowledge of anatomy. He is also credited as having developed the world’s first rubber tube in order to make the “digestion” more effective. Although he gained great credit for his inventions Vaucanson grew weary of them quiet quickly and sold them off.

The skill of his inventions, however, brought him to the attention of Frederick II of Prussia, who offered to be his patron and to install him at the Prussian Court. Although the offer was tempting, Vaucanson refused, declaring himself to be a “Frenchman through and through.” He declared that he would only work for French patrons. And indeed, he was rewarded in his own country. In 1741, he was approached by Cardinal Fleury, Minister of State for King Louis XV of France and appointed as Inspector for the country’s manufacture of silk. He was to oversee and advise upon the making of silk products all across the country (which had fallen behind the standards of England, Ireland, and Scotland). In his new role, Vaucanson promoted new methods for the spinning of silk thread including designing the first completely automated loom. He also began to work on computerised punch cards, such as those that would be used in the early 20th century, but never completed the project. (His work would later be refined by Joseph-Marie Jacquard—1752–1834—who would revolutionize the French spinning industry with the Jacquard loom.)

It is said that when he had time, Vaucanson continued to make automatons, although largely for his own amusement and the amazement of his friends. There are also suggestions that he was approached by the French Department for War regarding the possibility of making computerized automatons, which might be used in battle. It is said that he submitted some designs, but what became of them is unknown—were such soldiers secretly developed by the French? However, in 1746, de Vaucanson was made a formal Member of the Academie des Sciences. He died in Paris in 1782, bequeathing most of his inventions and his large library of designs to the French king, Louis XVI, and this would become the basis of the Conservatoire des Artes et Metiers in Paris. However, many of his marvellous inventions including the Flute Player were said to have been destroyed during the French Revolution in 1789 when many of his designs were also burned. He had, however, left a legacy of ideas regarding the viability of automatons in general life and in possible military action.

Friedrich Kauffmann

Inspired perhaps by Vaucanson’s work, a German inventor from Dresden—Friedrich Kauffmann (1785–1866) now created a trumpet playing military style figure, which was about as tall as a full-grown man. The figure was both imposing and threatening, although the “music” that it made was said to be rather poor. Its repertoire was rather limited and the sound was of a feeble quality. Nevertheless, it looked very much the military man, and indeed many people who saw it were rather frightened by it. The trumpeter is currently housed in the Deutches Museum in Munich. Such formidable-looking automatons reflects the thinking of the time, which was gradually moving toward a “reinvention” of the mechanical warriors of classical legend; now they were adopting a more sinister and monstrous aspect.

Pierre Jacquet-Droz

Kauffmann, of course, wasn’t the only inventor working in the field of menacing automata. In 1772 a Swiss watchmaker, Pierre Jacquet-Droz (1721–1790) and his son Henri-Louis (1746–1866) had created an android that could actually write. The “robot” was in the form of a small boy, seated at a desk that could write a few simple, pre-programmed sentences onto a page in front of it. It was composed of more than 600 parts, and is generally regarded as an early form of computer. It was so lifelike that people were at pains to tell it from a real child, and once more were rather frightened of it. Pierre Jacquet-Droz then created an even more complicated mechanical tableau, which was presented to the visiting King of Spain (the inventions had attracted the attention of visiting heads of state from all over Europe, China, and India). The display consisted of a clock in which a Negro servant spoke the time while a shepherd played a series of tunes in the background and a dog approached and nuzzled him. Jacquet-Droz then asked the King to offer the dog an apple, which he did, and the mechanism barked so loudly that the monarch’s own dog responded in kind. The Catholic courtiers were terrified and suspecting witchcraft crossed themselves and tried to withdraw. The King, however, asked his Minister to enquire the time from the Negro servant, but gave no reply. Jacquet-Droz quickly observed that the mechanism had not had the time to learn Spanish.

These mechanisms were so lifelike and complex that although a wonder to the aristocracy, they were beginning to bring fear among the serving and lower classes. They were now being looked at as mechanical monsters, and there was the start of a widespread fear that they might one day become so complicated that they would turn upon their masters and overthrow the human race. The idea of a monstrous army of automatons was already being born in the common mind.

Other Stories

And there was little doubt that the idea of a mechanised man had now entered the public consciousness in a big way, and was being reflected by popular culture. They were already being written about in adventure stories for teenage boys. One of the earliest writers in the genre was Edward S. Ellis (1840-1916) who, well before the development of steampunk, wrote of another “steaming” character, The Steam Man of the Prairies, now widely regarded as the first science-fiction dime novel. This was largely an action novel in the style of James Fenimore Cooper (whom Ellis admired) and dealt with a great steam-powered robotic man fighting Red Indians and overcoming natural disasters. It was hugely popular, first appearing (in Beadle’s American Novels No 45, August 1868), and then being reprinted no less than six times throughout the years—something akin to a science-fiction best-seller. It also paved the way for another adventure series featuring robots—the Frank Reade stories. These, too, were adventure tales and used the concepts that Ellis had developed. The first was written by Harry Enton and was entitled Frank Reade and his Steam Man of the Plains (seemingly a direct connection to Ellis’s work). The stories appeared in the juvenile fiction series Boys of New York during February to April 1876 and were high-action tales primarily based around inventions, most of which were steam-powered robots.

Having created a market and an interest, a long series of similar novels were published by Irwin’s American Novels, which featured the son of the inventor Frank Reade—Frank Reade, Jr. These were also aimed at adolescent boys and were written by the reasonably celebrated writer Luis P. Senarens (1865–1939), but using the pseudonym “Noname” to disguise who he was. Under his authorship there was a Stem Man Mark II and a Mark III, and later an Electric Man as well. Once again, the series was immensely popular and spawned a number of imitators and similar themes. The idea of steam and mechanical robots were now included in what was to become known as “invention fiction.” But such stories were also establishing the robot—whether it was powered by steam or an internal mechanism—as a huge and monstrous figure, which might run amok and threaten those around it at any time.

And there was another element in thinking about machines as well. In 1822, a British inventor named Charles Babbage had invented what he called a “Difference Engine.” In all actuality this was something of an extension of Jacquard’s automated loom. Jacquard had planned a series of slotted punch cards in order to activate and power the looms that he designed, but had never really brought this plan to fruition. A skilled mathematician, Babbage (1791–1871) developed the same cards to slot into and power functions of the Engine, which was in fact a giant calculating machine. (The term computer was already in use in Babbage’s day, but it specifically referred to human beings—those who “computed” calculations and equations. The human process was, inevitably, widely open to continual error.) Using a system of finite differences (methods for the numerical solution of differential equations and value problems) Babbage used his Engine to calculate without really using multiplication, addition, or division. The machine stood 8 feet tall and weighed 15 tons, and for 1822 when it was built, it was one of the most complicated devices of its day. It was, in effect, an early computer (Babbage is credited as being the “father of the modern computer”), and was supposedly more accurate in its deliberations than many of our calculators today. But once again, it was rather menacing and unwieldy. Babbage designed a “Difference Engine Mark II,” but this was never built during his lifetime—in fact it was not built and put in action until 1989-1991.

What Babbage had created was a “thinking machine,” and this was swiftly linked to the idea of automatons in the general mind. If complex machines like Babbage’s computer could think for itself then so could automated warriors. The idea of the monstrous machine, specifically designed to help man but ultimately turning on him, began to resurface again (if it had ever gone away). The word robot was not used, but it would be in 1921 in a play by the Czech writer Karel Capek entitled R.U.R. (Rosum’s Universal Robots). Capek always credited his brother Josef, an artist, with the “invention” of the word (robota) with relation to metal beings. Originally, the word was similar to the German arbeiter meaning a life of mindless drudgery, and was used in the Czech tongue to denote serfdom and servitude. Capek had originally intended to call the automatons in his fictional work labori (meaning “labour”), but thought it sounded “too bookish” and, on his brother’s advice, opted for the word roboti instead. In the public mind he created a thinking robotic serving class, who had been created to serve Mankind but, like their human counterparts, and as history had shown, might one day rise up and overthrow human institutions. Indeed, Capek’s play suggested the end of the human race at the metallic hands of the automatons. The menace of the monstrous thinking machine had now entered human perception and it was probably worse than anything that had gone before, as it signalled the very end of all human things. And what seemed even more monstrous was the fact that those human beings had actually built the machines, and so were, in effect, the authors of their own destruction.

Capek’s idea of menacing robots, whether individual or as a rampaging group continued throughout the years and dominated the plots of many science fiction books and films. Humanity, it appeared, seemed to be continually waging a war against the advancing machines, whether it be in the present, the far future, or on some distant planet similar to our own. Images of the looming, menacing robots have assailed us in both television and film, from the hulking Gort in Robert Wise’s celebrated 1951 classic The Day the Earth Stood Still (based on the short story by Harry Bates entitled Farewell to the Master); through the out-of-control androids in Michael Crichton’s Westworld (1973) to the menacing machines of the Terminator series, culminating in Terminator Salvation (2009). All of these films have contained an underlying menace from the machines, which has become deeply rooted in the public psyche throughout the years.

Excerpted from Man-Made Monsters

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Weird News of the Week

UK Schools Practicing UFO Crash Drills

Researchers Seek Proof of Near-Death Experiences

The Hundred Year Starship: NASA Plans Mission to Colonize Planets

Click here to read more

Monday, October 25, 2010

Man-made Creatures - Are They for Real?

Artwork Courtesy of Ian Daniels

Frankenstein, the Golem, the homunculi of the ancient alchemists–-were they real or imagined, myths or science?

World-famous for his investigations of the mysterious and the arcane, from Celtic lore and Irish fairies to zombies and vampires, historian and psychologist Dr. Bob Curran has written a new book, Man-Made Monsters: A Field Guide to Golems, Patchwork Soldiers, Homunculi, and Other Created Creatures.

He writes, “(We) revisit some of the enduring myths concerning creatures that have been brought about by science or alchemy to haunt the world. Some have their origins in science, some in pseudo-science and some in magic and legend.”

The creation of life by humans outside natural procreation lies beyond the bounds of religion and the general order of things, and except in stories, anecdotes and myths, are considered unthinkable, even impossible. Or, is there some basis in reality? Exactly how could such creatures as Frankenstein and ancient robots have been created? Could they have been built in the same way as a ship or a house? And, can we duplicate humans today?

What about bringing people back from the dead and reanimating their bodies? If they exist or did exist, are they as terrifying as we imagine?

Following a long list of his best-selling titles, Curran explores the history and the truth behind the myths. A few of the fascinating details in Man-Made Monsters:

§ The 19th-century scientist who tried to bring the dead back to life—the model for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

§ The Man of Clay who lumbered through the streets of medieval Prague at the command of early rabbis

§ Robots that may have existed in the ancient world and threatened Greek and Roman warriors

§ Figures in the shadows – the Jewish Golem

§ The thing in the jar – homunculi and simulacra

§ Cloning and the artificial creation of life in today’s world

Bringing us into the 21st century, Curran discusses genetic experiments and urban legends about genetic manipulation and the creation of supersoldiers to fight in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. Are these indeed myths or are they closer to reality than we know?

Man-Made Monsters is essential reading for anyone who is fascinated by the idea of artificial beings, and for those interested in early and modern science, and how the idea of the creation of life has evolved. Frankenstein buffs will love this book, too, as will conspiracy theorists and lovers of magic and myth.

Known throughout Europe and beyond as an author, lecturer and broadcaster, Dr. Bob Curran is a history teacher and folklore expert from Northern Ireland. He has acted as advisor to the Cultural Committee of the Northern Ireland Legislative Assembly.

His many books include:

Vampires: A Field Guide to the Creatures That Stalk the Nightp
Lost Lands, Forgotten Realms: Sunken Continents, Vanished Cities
Werewolves: A Field Guide to Shapeshifters, Lycanthropes, and Man-Beasts
Zombies: A Field Guide to the Walking Dead
Dark Fairies
Encyclopedia of the Undead: A Field Guide to Creatures That Cannot Rest in Peace
Celtic Lore & Legend: Meet the Gods, Heroes, Kings, Fairies, Monsters & Ghosts of Yore
Walking With the Green Man: Father of the Forest, Spirit of Nature

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Ghost Tour, no time like the present

Photo taken by Jesper Rautell Balle.

Visiting the Chicago area?

Take a ghost tour with Ursula Bielski’s Chicago Hauntings Tours!

Chicago is one of the most haunted cities in the world, boasting a colorful but disturbingly dark and violent past. Many of the sites on our tours are notorious for their ghost sighitngs and paranormal activity. Others are not as well known. The stories behind many of these hauntings range from the truly chilling to the light- of heart. We've found that some spirits of our beloved but haunted Chicago seem to beg loudly for recognition and remembrance, while others remind us of their reality in a more subtle fashion. We think a few wish to teach lessons, while others remain playful. All, we believe, wish not to be forgotten.

Courtesy of

Book your tour today!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Ghosts of War - Shadows of the Queen Mary

Once again ghost legends from history - this time from the open seas. Ghosts of War is a history book told through the eyes of witnesses who have experienced the ghosts who still haunt the locations where their lives were lost. Filled with modern first-hand ghost accounts, Ghosts of War travels back in time to put the ghosts in the context of the battles and the wars that changed the world and left ghostly impressions that can still be experienced today.


War: World War II (1939–1945)
Launched: September 16, 1934, Clydebank, Scotland
Size: Length: 1,019.5 feet; Beam: 118.5 feet; Displacement: 77,400 tons
Service locations: North Atlantic and Pacific Oceans
Crew: 1,101 crew; 2,139 passengers
Current location: Since 1967, the RMS Queen Mary has been permanently moored at 1126 Queens Highway, Long Beach, California.

RMS Queen Mary: a noble tribute to the imagination of man.
—H.M. Tomlinson

The RMS Queen Mary was built as a transatlantic ocean liner by the Cunard White Star Line. Why would a cruise ship be in a book about the ghosts of war? This is no ordinary ship—the Queen Mary was one of several passenger liners pressed into military service during World War II. She was painted with gray paint to help conceal her from enemy planes and boats and was given the ominous nickname “The Grey Ghost.” Built to hold about 3,200 passengers and crew comfortably, she sometimes ferried over 15,000 servicemen across the Atlantic and even into the Indian Ocean—a move that would prove deadly. Today the Queen Mary is a permanently-moored floating hotel in Long Beach, California, but she’s also one of the most haunted places in the world.

The Queen Mary was a hot target for German U-boats and bombers. Adolf Hitler offered large cash rewards and the Iron Cross medal to any U-boat commander who could sink her. Because she often had little or no military escort when crossing the ocean, the ship ran in a zig-zag pattern with orders to never stop until port in order to avoid becoming an easy torpedo target. During one such run on October 2, 1942, the Queen Mary was being escorted by the HMS Curacoa, a World War I-era light cruiser. The Curacoa crossed in front of the Queen Mary and was practically sliced in half by the giant cruise liner. All 338 British sailors perished when theCuracoa quickly sank to the bottom.

During one over-laden voyage, the Queen Mary was carrying more than 15,000 troops across the Indian Ocean in sweltering heat. The ship was meant to be a North Atlantic liner so there was little that could be done to circulate cooler air throughout the decks of the ship. Dozens of men died from suffocation or heat exposure because the conditions were so difficult.

After World War II, the Queen Mary returned to her civilian service, but transatlantic ocean liner travel was becoming a thing of the past. Airplanes were becoming the way to cross the ocean post-war, and vacation cruises took place in the warmer climes of the Caribbean and through the Panama Canal. The Queen Mary was too big for the Canal, and she wasn’t made for the heat—something she’d already proved. On December 11, 1967, she made her final docking in Long Beach, California, where she became permanently moored and now serves as a hotel and banquet facility.

With so much death in and around “The Grey Ghost,” there seems to be some residual hauntings left over today. Psychic medium Peter James, who was the resident psychic on the television show Sightings, has been investigating the ghosts of the Queen Mary since 1991. He’s conducted many tours of the ship, spent countless overnights there, and believes there are at least 600 active resident ghosts. When asked about the Curacoacollision, James said, “To this day, you can hear the collision—the residual sound effects and also the water splashing and many screams for help.”

Other ghostly reports aboard this ship include phantom smells such as cigar smoke, which Tony Mellard, a California resident, once experienced while on one of Peter James’s ghost tours on the Queen Mary. The Winston Churchill suite is said to be among the most haunted on the ship, and smelling phantom cigar smoke is often a prelude to something more significant. “That night, my wife and I started exploring the hallways of the ship,” Mellard said. “We walked into the strongest smell of cigar smoke you could imagine. It just seemed to come out of nowhere, and it was literally as if someone were standing right in front of us blowing smoke right in our faces—yet we could see no visible smoke. The oddest thing about it was that the smell seemed to linger in one certain area in the middle of the hallway, and if you took one step away in any direction, it would disappear. And as soon as you stepped back, bam, it would overcome your sense of smell. In all our excitement, we really weren’t paying attention to where we were on the ship. But in the midst of our chattering, my wife looks over at the wall and says, ‘Oh my God, look!’ There was the big, golden plaque on the door—’Sir Winston Churchill Suite.’ It sent chills up our spines.”

Mellard has also heard voices on board. Could they be the voices of those who died aboard theCuracoa or perhaps those who perished in the sweltering heat? “I have heard the voices,” he said. “They seem to almost reverberate out of the ship itself—almost like a clanging of metal that forms itself into words. It’s really bizarre.”

About the Author:

Jeff Belanger has been studying and writing about the supernatural for regional and national publications since 1997. He’s the founder of, the largest supernatural community on the Web, and the author of more than 10 books. Belanger lectures throughout the United States and has appeared on more than 100 radio and television programs worldwide, including The History Channel, The Travel Channel, Living TV (UK), The CBS News Early Show, National Public Radio, The BBC, Australian Radio Network, Coast to Coast AM, and The ‘X’ Zone. He currently haunts Massachusetts with his wife, Megan, and daughter, Sophie.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Weird News of the Week

Have Scientists Found Evidence for Psychic Phenomena?

Space Tourism Set to Launch Soon

New York City, El Paso Have Similar UFO sightings in the Same Week

Love is a Painkiller, Not a Battlefield

Click here to read more

Monday, October 18, 2010

A tale of the Ghosts of Gettysburg

Ghosts can be found wherever tragedy left its mark, where men’s and women’s lives ended so quickly that their spirit may not even realize that they’re dead, where soldiers, so focused on duty, still patrol the front lines of long-finished wars.

This week we're sharing historical ghost stories from wars past.
Enjoy this excerpt from Ghosts of War

Chapter 14 - Gettysburg

War: United States Civil War (1861–1865)
Dates of battle: July 1–3, 1863
Location: Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
Participation: 97,000-man Union Army of The Potomac under
General George G. Meade against 75,000-man Confederate
Army of Northern Virginia under General Robert E. Lee.
Casualties: Over 51,000

[W]e can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.
—President Abraham Lincoln, excerpt from the “Gettysburg Address,” November 19, 1863

In the database of our collective psyche, we simply cannot cross-reference “ghosts” and “war” without seeing one word at the top of the list: Gettysburg. Certainly there have been no bloodier three days in American history, and only the weapons of mass destruction the United States dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, during World War II rival the loss of life in such a short time period during an act of war. But the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki took only minutes with the aid of a single atomic weapon dropped on each. Gettysburg’s carnage was brought with cannons, muskets, pistols, swords, and even bare hands at times. Today the impressions, the history, and the ghosts are all that remain of the carnage.

For the Union Army of the North, Gettysburg was a critical victory considering their recent losses at the battles of Fredericksburg, Virginia on December 13, 1862 and Chancellorsville, Virginia, May 1–5, 1863. At both battles, Confederate General Robert E. Lee outmaneuvered his Union opponents, though the North initially held the upper hand in each conflict. Lee left the Northern Army humiliated. In early summer of 1863, General Lee proposed to the Confederate government that an invasion and victory in Pennsylvania—on enemy soil—would break the back of the Union Army, bring an armistice, and, ultimately, Southern independence. But Gettysburg was not the predetermined site for this historic and potentially war-ending battle to take place. So how did the infamous battle get here?

It must have been the shoes.

In the first two weeks of June 1863, the Confederate Army—now divided into three corps by General Lee—moved north through Virginia, across the Potomac River, into Maryland, and then Pennsylvania where they raided and plundered the livestock, food, shoes, and other supplies from towns they encountered along the route. The Southern troops were so in need of basic supplies that their tattered and torn uniforms, swollen and callused feet, and partially emaciated physiques made certain units look like the army of the undead. They were fighting to be free of the Union, but as they invaded deeper into the North, they also fought for their very survival. Word of the invasion spread quickly to the Union Army in the south, who raced home with renewed vigor as their homeland was now being invaded. For the Union Army, there was an opportunity to cut off the Confederates from their home base and finish them off in Pennsylvania. Both sides were betting the war on this invasion. General Joseph Hooker, who led the Union Army, was panicked at the thought of taking on General Lee’s army that currently outnumbered his own. President Lincoln knew Hooker was no longer the man to lead the Union soldiers, so he accepted Hooker’s resignation on June 28. Major General George Gordon Meade was promoted (much to his surprise, considering he was fourth commander of the Army of the Potomac and others had more seniority) because of his impressive record as division commander and his superior tactical skills.

Meade and his men were heading into southern Pennsylvania and were in a position to potentially separate two of Lee’s Confederate Corps and strand the southern army in the north. On June 28, Lee learned of the Union Army position and progress from a spy—he immediately sent scouts to amass his divisions.

So what about the shoes? The legend says that Confederate Major General Henry Heth and his division marched toward Gettysburg on June 29 because he was chasing an alleged mass supply of shoes in town for his men. Historians point out that Gettysburg had only a few shoemakers—no more or less than any other town of that size (Gettysburg’s population was approximately 2,400 people in 1863)—and there was never a large supply of shoes. But the shoe story may still hold, because it is possible Heth may have used the shoe excuse after the battle was over as his reasoning for charging into an enemy position and starting a battle that handed a devastating loss to the South. But Heth marched his men into the sights of John Buford’s Union cavalry division, who had arrived the day before on word the Confederate Army was marching close by. Buford decided Gettysburg’s hills and ridges offered the best position to hold off his enemy, so he sent word to Major General John Reynolds, who was commander of the Union Army’s first infantry division in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Buford called for the reinforcements and in doing so determined the epic battle would be fought in Gettysburg.

On July 1, Lieutenant Marcellus Jones of the 8th Illinois Cavalry, Company E fired the first shot at Heth’s Confederate marching mass of gray. Lt. Jones retreated to Buford’s front line on Herr Ridge and the battle was on.

By the end of July 3, more than 11,000 soldiers were killed, 10,000 more were either missing in action or captured, and 29,000 were wounded. Confederate casualties are estimated between 25,000 and 28,000 and Union casualties totaled 23,000. The streams near the battlefields literally ran crimson with the blood of the dead and wounded. The battle was one that could never be forgotten; historians, preservationists, and the myriad of ghosts insist on that.

Ghosts have become synonymous with Gettysburg. Sightings have occurred for more than a century. Many have heard of people spotting phantom divisions of Civil War soldiers marching through Devil’s Den or the Wheatfield. The witness assumes they’re seeing some kind of reenactment that so often takes place in Gettysburg—but the division soon disappears.

One of the more predominant locations for sightings is at Iverson’s Pits. It was at a stone wall on the side of Doubleday Avenue where Brigadier General Henry Baxter and his brigade stopped an entire North Carolina brigade led by General Alfred Iverson. Hundreds of Confederate soldiers were cut down before they could advance on the Union brigade. The fallen were buried in a mass grave at a nearby farm field that became known as Iverson’s Pits. In 1873, the mass grave was exhumed by a Confederate memorial association who took the remains to North Carolina for reburial. Locals insist the association didn’t (and likely couldn’t) find the remains of everyone, and every year on July 1, the ghosts of those who weren’t taken home to North Carolina rise from Iverson’s Pits and march the fields before disappearing into the ether. But ghost sightings here don’t only happen on July 1.

On September 5th of 2000, then-38-year-old David Hoover was visiting Gettysburg for four days. He made a stop on a self-guided tour at Iverson’s Pits around 1:45 p.m. and even recalls what he was wearing—a khaki baseball cap, gray shirt, and blue shorts—potentially looking similar to either Union or Confederate at a quick glance. I spoke to Hoover about his experience there. “After passing through the barrier of several feet of cornstalks, I reached a wide-open field,” he said. “I looked over at the cornfield to my left several yards away and I noticed an area that was only sporadically strewn with corn, and I headed in that direction.”

Once Hoover arrived at the clearing, he said he saw some of the corn stalks wavering in front of him. At first he thought it was the wind or some animal, but soon he saw something else. “I put my camera to my eye to take a photo,” he said. “As I looked through my viewfinder, I saw two black objects side-by-side. I lowered my camera to make sure it wasn’t something on my lens, but there they were—about 20–30 feet away in the middle of the clearing. I took one step backward with my right foot; as soon as it touched the open field behind me, the two objects seemed to grow in size, as if they were coming in my direction. I fumbled with my camera, and as I did, the two objects seemed to turn quickly outward, as if back-to-back.”

He explained how the two black objects shrunk again and then disappeared into the underbrush. “Just seconds after they had started moving, I could hear the sound of rustling leaves on the ground and the hitting of the stalks in the direction of where the objects went.” But this wasn’t the end of Hoover’s unexplained experience at Gettysburg.

Shaken after the initial encounter, Hoover laughed out of relief, then snapped a picture of Iverson’s Pits before heading back to his car, being careful to watch for animals in case some critter had stirred the cornstalks earlier. He said, “I began to walk back parallel to the field to where I had initially entered. After one or two steps, I noticed something in the corn out of the corner of my eye. I turned and looked, and it was the figure of a soldier moving parallel with me. He was perhaps 20 feet away. I immediately stopped. He kept going, accelerating and gliding as he went on his way to where my only access back to my car was. He was wearing a full-brimmed hat and looked like he had a knapsack on, and he was holding a rifle at port-arms. His color was mostly black, but a grayish-blue seemed to come and go as he moved. The same happened with his outline¬¬—at times it was full, then it would nearly disappear, then would grow back to full-size. I could hear him hitting the stalks, not just as a man walking or running through them, but as loud as a man swinging at them with a baseball bat. All of this time, not a single stalk was moved or stirred by him gliding through them. The sound was as if someone were chopping them down. Because it also sounded as if it was strong enough to take a person’s head off, I ducked my head down and away, and said, ‘Relax, man!’ At this point, I had forgotten about my camera, an error which I regret to this day. I may also have been subconsciously wary of possible reprisals from this apparition at having his picture taken. It might have been 20 or 30 seconds until this figure finally disappeared. I crouched down and looked into the stalks and thought I could see bluish-gray trousers with a wide, white stripe down the side. They were untucked and hung freely on top of black shoes. This part may have been my imagination, because the image was gone as quickly as I had seen it.”

Hoover figured the specter was one of the fallen Confederate soldiers, so he announced to the presence that he was in fact born in North Carolina and now lived in Florida. He was having trouble finding his path through the tall corn stalks and back to his car, so he asked for help. “I said, ‘Will you let me pass?’” He said, “A few seconds later, I heard that rustling sound again to my right, as the corn leaves near me moved. Then it stopped. I paused, then made my decision; I spoke out, ‘I’m coming through. Hold your fire.’ About halfway through, I lost my way along the broken path, and while looking for it, I was also glancing to my right, hoping that the swinging sounds and the force behind it wouldn’t come back. I soon found it, made it to the marker, and as I walked slowly into the clearing between the corn, I said back over my right shoulder, ‘Thank you.’ I didn’t panic, but once I reached the 88th Pennsylvania Monument, I sat at its base for about 30 minutes to collect myself. I kept looking at the ground and then to the corn where I had seen it all, trying to make some sense of it.”

For David Hoover, Gettysburg offered him one of the most profound experiences of his life. He practically touched history. Iverson’s Pits is by no means the only hot spot in town. Sachs Bridge is another supernaturally active location.

Built in 1854 by David Spooner, the bridge was commissioned at a cost of $1,544 and was originally called Sauck’s Bridge. The 100-foot covered bridge crosses Marsh Creek and connects the Townships of Cumberland and Freedom, and it served as a critical retreat route for half of Robert E. Lee’s army on July 3 and 4 as the Southern army filed out. But the bridge also has a darker side—three men were hung from the rafters of the bridge, and a field hospital where many wounded soldiers drew their last breath was also nearby—lending to the ghostly reputation the area has now.

Today, the red-painted covered bridge is a quaint image set across the water and at the edge of the woods. Only foot traffic is allowed to cross the historic landmark now. The clip-clop of horses and the metallic grind of wagon wheels is long gone, but certainly not forgotten.

In the early morning hours of Saturday, May 8, 2004, Stacey Jones, founder of Central New York Ghost Hunters, and members of her group were visiting Sachs Bridge as part of a Gettysburg ghost investigation. I spoke to her about her experiences there. She described the night as unseasonably warm considering it was early May, and the night was clear, but that quickly changed. “All of a sudden this fog came in,” Jones said. “And then we started seeing lights.”
“What kind of lights?” I asked.
“They were coming from the field across from Sachs Bridge. These orange lights were coming from the ground and going up in an arch about 12 feet in the air and then coming back down again. That went on for quite a while in this fog. We stood there and watched it and then we started hearing horses [she imitated the nasally, lip-flapping sigh of a horse] and then we started hearing rumbles—the only way I can describe it is like a cannon being shot from far away. That lasted about 20 minutes, and then the fog disappeared and everything stopped.”
Stacey and her team returned to Sachs Bridge around 10 p.m. that same day and had a second encounter. After an hour of taking photographs, video, and trying to obtain spirit voices on audio tape, Jones and six others from her group sat on the stone wall that separates Sachs Bridge from the open field where they witnessed the strange lights the night before. She felt that sitting quietly offered the best opportunity for experiencing something supernatural. Her hunch would soon be proven correct. “We turned everything off and the only thing we had going were tape recorders,” she said. “After about 15 minutes I started seeing shadows in the field—they were between 5 and 6 feet tall and they were moving in the grass. Then one of my other people piped up and said, ‘Do you see those shadows?’ And I figured, okay, it’s not just me. So we stood there watching this and then the lights started again—the lights were arching from the grass. Meanwhile, this cold came in—it had to be in the high 70s that night but that cold made it feel like 30 or 40 degrees. And the cold would come in and then leave and then come in again. Then everybody else except me started to smell flowers. So people are smelling flowers, we’re watching the shadows and seeing the lights, and then it got quiet again. There were no more shadow people and no more lights, but we heard men’s voices out in the field.”
“Could you hear what they were saying?” I asked.
“We couldn’t make out what they were saying; all we could tell was that they were male voices. And we could hear movement in the tree line. At this point I thought someone was out there trying to mess with us, so one of my people went out and walked out there with a flashlight, but there was nobody there. The voices came right up beside us on the tree line and then things got quiet and we started hearing the horses again. The horses were coming from the other side of the bridge, and then we heard a growl right behind us where the water was—it sounded like a man growling. I turned and said to my people, ‘Did you hear that?’ And someone in my group said, ‘What, that growl?’ And we hit the ground running and we jumped in our van to leave.”

The aftermath of the battle at Gettysburg was hellish. Bodies, spent weapons, and carnage were strewn everywhere. Tillie Pierce was 15 years old at the time of the battle, and she published her memoir of the battle 26 years later. On July 5, 1863, Tillie and some of her friends went to Little Round Top to survey the post-battle field. She wrote:
As we stood upon those mighty boulders, and looked down into the chasms between, we beheld the dead lying there just as they had fallen during the struggle. From the summit of Little Round Top, surrounded by the wrecks of battle, we gazed upon the valley of death beneath. The view there spread out before us was terrible to contemplate! It was an awful spectacle! Dead soldiers, bloated horses, shattered cannon and caissons, thousands of small arms. In fact everything belonging to army equipments was there in one confused and indescribable mass.

The ghosts who haunt Gettysburg came from the south and they came from the north. Brothers and kin were locked in mortal battle against one another in the once-quiet fields of this rural town. Their spirits have proven President Lincoln correct—we never will forget what they did here, where they walked, and why they died.

About the Author:

Jeff Belanger has been studying and writing about the supernatural for regional and national publications since 1997. He’s the founder of, the largest supernatural community on the Web, and the author of more than 10 books. Belanger lectures throughout the United States and has appeared on more than 100 radio and television programs worldwide, including The History Channel, The Travel Channel, Living TV (UK), The Maury Show, The CBS News Early Show, National Public Radio, The BBC, Australian Radio Network, Coast to Coast AM, and The ‘X’ Zone. He currently haunts Massachusetts with his wife, Megan, and daughter, Sophie.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Lore of the Ghost - Tales of Ghosts of the Famous

Hey everyone! Since we started off the week with an interview from author Ursula Bielski about children's experiences with the paranormal we thought we'd end the week with tales from times past. Please find an excerpt from author Brian Haughton's - Lore of The Ghost.

Unlike the vast majority of books on the subject, Lore of the Ghost is not a gazetteer of ghost sightings or a ghost hunter’s manual, but an investigation into human belief in the supernatural and its effect on the nature of ghosts worldwide. Please find an excerpt for your reading pleasure.

Chapter 4—Ghosts of the Famous

From a quick perusal of the literature devoted to hauntings it is obvious that it is the spirits of famous people, more than any other class of ghost, that have had the habit of returning from beyond the grave to visit the places and people they loved in life. These particularly restless specters include English kings and queens, American presidents, and Hollywood movie stars. But are reports of such illustrious ghosts really more prevalent than those of, for example, run-of-the-mill servant girls or laborers? Or is there some kind of bias either in the reporting of such phantoms or in the expectations and needs of witnesses?

As far as the United Kingdom is concerned, the wives of King Henry VIII (1491–1547) are probably the most frequently reported of royal ghosts. The former royal residence of Hampton Court Palace, located in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames, is purportedly haunted by two of Henry VIII’s wives. Jane Seymour was Henry’s third wife (1507/9–1537). She died of septicemia just 12 days after giving birth to the future King Edward VI of England. The ghost of Jane is said to walk, clad in white and carrying a lighted candle, down the stairs and through the Silver Stick Gallery in the Palace. In stark contrast to Jane’s peaceful spirit, is the tragic phantom of Katherine Howard. Katherine Howard was Henry’s fifth wife, and was beheaded for treason and adultery on Tower Green on February 13, 1542, when still only 21 years of age. Katherine’s haunting is a re-enactment of the desperate scene said to have taken place was she was arrested on November 12, 1542. Katherine managed to break away from her guard’s clutches and ran through the gallery to the chapel where Henry was at Mass, screaming his name and pleading for mercy. Her pleas fell on deaf ears, however, and she was taken by the guards and confined to her rooms in Hampton Court to await execution. The sounds of wild shrieking and the desperate beatings of Katherine’s fists against the chapel door were said to echo though the corridors of Hampton Court Palace, until the gallery where this tragic scene took place was reopened in 1918, and the haunting apparently stopped.

Red Lion Square, a small square on the boundary of Bloomsbury, and Holborn, London, is reputedly haunted by three leading Parliamentarians—Oliver Cromwell and his colleagues John Bradshaw and Henry Ireton. The Red Lion Inn, on the Square, is said to be the place where the bodies of the three men were kept overnight before being taken to the gallows at Tyburn to undergo the ritual of “posthumous execution.” Cromwell, Lord Protector of England from 1653 to 1658, Bradshaw and Ireton had shared the responsibility for the execution of King Charles I of England on January 30, 1649. After the Restoration of King Charles II in May 1660, the remains of Cromwell (who had died of natural causes in 1658) and his colleagues were removed from Westminster Abbey, and after the macabre post-mortem ritual their heads were placed on poles at Westminster Hall as a warning to others. The ghosts of the three Parliamentarians are said to walk diagonally across Red Lion Square, apparently deep in conversation.

Kensington Palace, a royal residence near Hyde Park, in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in London, is the haunt of King George II of England (1683–1760). The German-born King was the last reigning monarch to use the 17th century Palace. He was confined to the building due to illness and longed to return to his native Hanover, but severe storms prevented any ships from reaching England with news from Germany. King George II died at the Palace on October 25, before the messengers arrived with word from his homeland. The ghost of George II is sometimes seen staring fretfully out of a window of the Palace watching the weather-vane above the entrance for a sign that the winds have changed.

In the United States there are a number of stories of hauntings surrounding various presidents of the country. Andrew Jackson, the seventh President of the United States (1829–1837), was heard stomping and cursing around the Rose Room of the White House after his death by Mary Todd Lincoln, the wife of Abraham Lincoln, and a woman with a keen interest in spiritualism. The ghost of Abraham Lincoln himself, U.S. President from 1861–1865, is the most often reported of White House phantoms, perhaps because of his melancholy bearing and the fact that he was the first President of the United States to be assassinated. The first person known to have witnessed Lincoln’s ghost was Grace Coolidge (1879–1957), wife of the 30th President Calvin Coolidge. The First Lady apparently saw a tall figure she thought was Lincoln gazing out of the Oval Office window over the Potomac River, as he was wont to do when President. When Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands was visiting Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt at the White House in 1945 she heard a knock on her bedroom door in the dead of night. When she opened the door she found herself face to face with President Lincoln, in a black top hat and traditional dress. Queen Wilhelmina, who also had a prior interest in spiritualism, promptly fainted and when she recovered found herself lying on the floor with the strange figure nowhere to be seen.

Mary Eben, Mrs. Roosevelt’s secretary, reported seeing Lincoln’s ghost sitting on the bed in the Lincoln bedroom, pulling on his boots as if preparing to go somewhere. Various members of the White House staff during the Roosevelt administration also claimed to have seen Lincoln lying on the bed. Others at the White House in later years, such as Liz Carpenter, press secretary to Lady Bird Johnson, First Lady of the United States from 1963 to 1969, believed they felt Lincoln’s presence in various rooms of the building. There is also a legend that Lincoln, like a modern day King Arthur, still watches over his nation, returning to haunt the hall of the second floor of the White House whenever the United States is in danger.

Ghosts associated with show business personalities appear to be particularly active, especially in the United States, though there is one interesting early example from the U.K. British actress Lillie Langtry (1853–1929), led a high profile and somewhat scandalous life, she was at one time mistress to the Prince of Wales, Queen Victoria’s son Albert Edward, the future king Edward VII. Her ghost has been reported from various places including the Edward VII Suite at the luxurious Cadogan Hotel, Sloane Street, London, where Lillie’s liaisons with the Prince of Wales took place.

The haunting occurs on Christmas Day when the hotel is quiet. Langtry’s ghost, in the form of a Grey Lady, was also seen in the late 1970s at the Langtry Manor Hotel in Bournemouth, on the south coast of England. The hotel, originally called the Red House, was built in 1877 by the Prince of Wales as a home for his mistress
On Wednesday, August 25, 1926, an estimated 100,000 people lined the streets of New York City to witness the funeral of Italian born actor and romantic idol Rudolph Valentino, who had died of peritonitis two days previously, aged only 31. Understandably for such a huge and charismatic star, there have been numerous reports of Valentino’s spirit. His ghost has been reported from various places throughout southern California, including his beach house in Oxnard, the Santa Maria Inn (where he has been seen reclining on the bed), the costume department at Paramount Studios and his mansion Falcon Lair, located above Beverley Hills. Valentino’s much travelled ghost has also been witnessed near his final resting place in the Cathedral Mausoleum at Hollywood Forever Memorial Park, on Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood. One of the entrances into Paramount Studios, the Lemon Grove gate, is only a few feet away from the cemetery and the Italian star has been seen by security guards walking into the studio through this gate.

The original “blonde bombshell,” U.S. actress Jean Harlow is said to haunt the home she shared with her mother and stepfather on Club View Drive, west Los Angeles. Born in 1911 in Kansas City, Missouri, Harlow shot to fame in the early 1930s with films like Platinum Blond and Red Dust, but died tragically in June 1937 of uremic poisoning when still only 26 years old. The home Harlow shared with her second husband, MGM executive Paul Bern, at 9820 Easton Drive, Benedict Canyon, Beverley Hills, Los Angeles is also haunted. Bern committed suicide by shooting himself in the head (or was murdered by his deranged ex-common-law wife—accounts differ) in the couple’s bedroom of this house. His bloodied ghost was allegedly seen in the house by actress Sharon Tate who was staying there in 1966 with Hollywood hairstylist Jay Sebring. Tate not only claimed she saw the apparition of someone she believed was Bern but also “a human form tied to the stair rail, bleeding from slashes to the throat and quite obviously dying.” The latter image has been interpreted by many as a premonition of the brutal slayings of Tate and Sebring at the hands of Charles Manson’s followers in August of 1969.

The Oatman Hotel in Oatman, Arizona is said to be haunted by Hollywood stars Clark Gable and Carol Lombard, who spent the first night of their honeymoon there. Lombard, who died tragically in a plane crash in January 1942, is also said to haunt the penthouse suite of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, on Hollywood Boulevard, where she once stayed with Clark Gable. In fact, the Hollywood Roosevelt is home to a plethora of old Hollywood ghosts.

Originally opened in May 1927 and financed by a group which included movie celebrities Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Mary Pickford, the hotel was temporary home for a number of movie stars during Hollywood’s Golden Age. Perhaps the best known story from the Hollywood Boulevard involves Marilyn Monroe, who stayed there early in her career for a magazine shoot. A full-length mirror which now stands in the lobby outside the elevators on the mezzanine level, once hung in suite 1200, when Monroe was in residence there. There are one or two tales that guests staring into the mirror have seen the glamorous actress’s image reflected in its glass, only to turn around and find no one there. Another movie star whose spirit remains at the Hollywood Boulevard is Montgomery Clift, who lived there for three months in 1952 during the last stages of filming From Here To Eternity. Guests and employees have occasionally reported feeling the tragic actor’s presence (he died of a heart attack on July 23, 1966, at the age of 45), others have heard bugle playing coming from his old room, Room 928, or seen him roaming around the hallways of the 9th floor.

The many legends and reported sightings of famous people, only a few of which have been touched on in this chapter, show clearly how deep an impression their lives have made on people’s minds. Many of us would like to have met or been close to great Queens or famous movie stars, and when the death of the icon removes that possibility, for a few of us a posthumous visit by their phantom is the only way to have any connection with them. If someone walking through an English stately home catches a glimpse of a misty vision in what appears to be a long flowing gown, it is somehow more satisfying to think they have witnessed the ghost of Anne Boleyn rather than an off duty tourist guide or even the spirit of a lesser mortal. As is usually the case in ghost lore, those who have died tragically young or have suffered a particularly violent death are more likely to come back as ghosts; this is especially true when considering the stories of celebrities returning from the grave. Some psychical researchers are of the opinion that because many famous people possessed forceful personalities or single-minded devotion to their objectives their spirits are more likely to linger on after death. However, it is more probable that, in the case of Hollywood celebrities and English Royal Ghosts at any rate, hotels are cashing in on the association with cultural and national icons by exaggerating or even creating legends and tales to bring in the tourist dollar.

Brian Haughton
is a qualified archaeologist and researcher, with an interest in the strange and unusual. He is author of Hidden History: Lost Civilizations, Secret Knowledge, and Ancient Mysteries, and Haunted Spaces, Sacred Places (both published by New Page Books) and Webmaster of, devoted to the lives of enigmatic people. He has written on the subjects of ancient mysteries and the folklore of the supernatural for a variety of print and Internet publications, including the BBC’s Legacies Website, Doorways Magazine, New Dawn, Awareness, and Paranormal Magazine in the U.K. He currently lives and writes in Greece.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Weird News of the Week

Animals are Able to Have Spiritual Experiences According to Scientists

A Horse is a Horse, of Course…Unless it’s A Unicorn

Witness Claims A UFO “Supership” Over Texas Was 7,500 Feet Long Click here to read more

Monday, October 11, 2010

Chicago Historian, Author, and Paranormal Researcher shares her Story

Ursula Bielski is the founder of Chicago Hauntings, an author, historian, and parapsychology enthusiast. She has been writing and lecturing about Chicago's supernatural folklore and the paranormal for nearly 20 years. Here she shares some thoughts about her interest in the paranormal and her new book There's Something Under the Bed. This book differs from many others on the market in that talks to parents specifically about helping their children with instances of the paranormal and urging them to not dismiss these events out of hand.

New Page: I know you've recently published There's Something Under the Bed. I'm very excited to talk about that, but first can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Bielski: I’ve been investigating the paranormal for more than 20 years, but my interest started as a little girl growing up here in Chicago. I really learned about Chicago history, which I love, through the ghost stories surrounding some of the city’s past events, both famous and little known. There’s Something Under the Bed is my seventh title, and the first title I’ve written for a national audience. I first began writing for practical reasons: to document the largely word-of-mouth stories I’d heard since my childhood. As an historian I was concerned that the stories might be lost. My expertise thus far has been in local haunted history and paranormal experience, so I am now branching out to reach a wider audience. For the past seven years, I have co-owned and operated Chicago Hauntings Ghost Tours, which takes passengers on tours of Chicago’s most actively haunted sites. A lot of my insight comes from my academic background. I hold an MA in cultural and intellectual U.S. history, and much of my work in this area centered on the history of paranormal experience, religion and science, and how the relationship among these has changed in American culture over the past 400 years.

New Page: There's Something Under The Bed centers largely on children's experiences with the paranormal and how they are often much more intense than those of adults. What do you feel was the most interesting story or experience you discovered while researching for the book?

Bielski: By far the most fascinating body of research for me is the work done by the late Dr. Ian Stevenson, who spent decades interviewing children who [had] memories of past lives—in particular, [I’m thinking of] the presence of birthmarks on…children at the site[s] of the death wounds of the people whose lives and deaths they remember[ed]. For example, one child remembered dying by having his fingers amputated by a farm implement. The child was born with stunted growth in his fingers to the point that his fingers appeared to have been lost in an accident. Similarly, children who remembered dying from gunshot wounds had birthmarks at the point[s] of entry—and sometimes also at the point[s] of exit—of the bullets. [When he tracked] down the medical records of the people named by the children, Stevenson often found detailed evidence of the deaths remembered by the children.

New Page: What was the most frightening paranormal experience of your own childhood?

Bielski: As a child, the earliest memory I have is of being literally woken up by the sound of footfalls on the stairs leading from the foyer to the second floor, where our bedrooms were. This sound—without an apparent source—went on every night for almost 12 years, so the paranormal was sort of always with us. Many people say, “Oh, so you were used to it, it wasn’t scary.” But no, it was very frightening, very destabilizing, and we never got used to it. I do credit that experience with giving me a unique take on life in general. I grew up never quite knowing what was normal and what was paranormal, what was real and what I was supposed to see as unreal. It really helped me in my ability to empathize with people who were afraid to share their experiences for fear of being laughed at or discredited. It really gave me the insight to be able to look at things with an open mind far beyond childhood.

New Page: You're the founder of Chicago Hauntings, Inc., which has a reputation for hosting one of the most authentically creepy ghost tours in America. Can you tell us a little bit about the sites on the tour route?

Bielski: We are so proud to have been named one of the top 10 ghost tours in America for years running. We think a lot of our success comes from focusing on the history behind the ghost stories. I have always felt that the true events of the past are a lot more unsettling and frightening that most ghost stories, and so we say that our guests always leave “haunted,” if not by paranormal experiences, [then] by the true stories of Chicago’s history. Our tour guides are great historians of Chicago and…sincere students of the paranormal, and each has his or her own unique take on the tour. However, we do try to hit the hot spots on each tour: the site of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre; the site of the Eastland Disaster; the site of the Iroquois Theater Fire; the death site of Chicago’s most famous ghost, Resurrection Mary.

New Page: What advice would you give to people who are interested in getting involved with parapsychology or paranormal investigations, but may not know where to start?

Bielski: It was tough when I was starting out, due to the stigma surrounding paranormal research at the time, and also due to the lack of means to finding similar-minded people, even in a big city like Chicago. Today, would-be researchers are so fortunate to be living in a climate of great hospitality toward ghost hunting, and also to have access, via the Internet, to others who want to learn more about it. A great place to start learning is online, with organizations such as the Rhine Research Center,…and also popular sites like, a clearinghouse of information about everything paranormal, including information about amateur ghost hunting and research groups all over the world. Another great way to start out is by joining one of the Meetup groups in your area, which you can find by just Googling “ghost Meetup groups” for your city. Most of these groups welcome beginners and are very friendly and encouraging to all.

New Page: On a more personal note, is there a specific book or author you've read that had a substantial influence on your life or the way you view the world?

Bielski: One of the most unlikely: Jack Kerouac. I was so intrigued by him as an undergraduate discovering his work. His ability to be “in the moment” and to appreciate the way people—all sorts of people—were living in any particular moment: interacting, enjoying, learning, expressing, just being. He had a profound respect for the experience of the moment, and that’s what it feels like to have a paranormal experience: time stops and all of the universe is captured there, sometimes for a split second. I often think of him when I listen to others tell of their experiences. There is a joy and wonder of the moment which Kerouac was so good at. I try to think of him when I retell the experiences of others.

Interview by Kristen Zimmer

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