Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Beyond Belief: Skeptic or Believer?

For a long time now, I've avoided blogging. I haven't had time and have let the daily grind wear me down to the point of apathy and exhaustion. It's hard enough feeling creative enough to research and write new articles for WhoForted? let alone constantly post on here. But this year has had some rough patches and drama that I just can't stay totally silent on. And since I'm sick to death of most social media these days, I figure that here is the best place to hop up on my soap box and openly express my opinions, beliefs, and disbeliefs. While I've done this a few times before, everyone's views and opinions are subject to change at a moment's notice. Life effects our views and stances on everything.

First, I would like to say that I'm still stubbornly clinging to my position on the fence between complete belief and utter skepticism. It's honestly one of the most difficult positions to be in; everyone wants you to choose a side as though this is some grand battle to the death where a winner will emerge victoriously. Unfortunately, that's not what I see happening. Die-hard skeptics will always dismiss anything weird as natural and explainable, even if they don't have the concrete answer to what caused it (which generally ends up being "it's a hallucination, of course"). And the adamant believers will continue to rally behind every absurd nonsensical idea or conspiracy and rally behind the blurriest of photos as concrete proof that every manner of paranormal thing absolutely exists without question. Personally, I try to observe the statements and evidence from both sides before weighing in, and even after that I'm not naive and arrogant enough to claim to have the definitive answer.

Let's face it; both sides can make valid points. But both sides are too busy badmouthing and ridiculing each other to ever sit down like grownups and come to a logical consensus. Why? Because both sides believe they're "right" and won't budge an inch. They're either trying to be the ultimate buzzkiller by eradicating all that's highly improbable but not impossible or acting like gullible lunatics who would probably elect Sylvia Browne as queen of the universe if they had the chance. And both of those extremes annoy me. There is room for skeptical, rational, logical thought and application of science in the paranormal realm. But there is also a need for open-minded willingness to examine the evidence on the side of complete skepticism. "I saw it, therefore it's paranormal" is just as silly as "it can't exist, therefore it doesn't."

But there seems to be a greater divide, and it has everything to do with religious beliefs. Most skeptics are atheists in the same way that most believers are religious. I break that mold a bit; I may be an atheist, but I don't think that removing religion removes all logic when it comes to unexplained phenomena. But it is important to examine things without getting religion all knotted up in the nix. That just clouds the path to definite answers and leads to unsubstantiated conclusions based on mythological concepts.

A lot of people I know are religious and I don't mind what anyone believes. I'm not a militant atheist. Personally, I see religions as antiquated replacements for law and justice giving false hope and promises to people and being used as weapons more often than guidelines for being a better person. But if someone feels comforted by the idea that some deranged puppeteer is messing with the strings and controlling our lives, then more power to them.

For those who don't understand my stance, I can't necessarily expect you to. But we live in a world where gay marriage and abortion--issues that would not be debated were it not for religious beliefs--are still argued over not as basic human rights but political matters of faith. So much for separation of church and state, right? For all my straight friends, family members, and readers, it's not so easy to understand the concept of being hated and told you're a "sinner going to hell" constantly by obnoxiously vocal members of society simply for being your own honest self. People are bullied, attacked, slandered, and even murdered every day for being who they are... and their sexuality would be completely irrelevant were it not for religious beliefs. There is no argument against homosexuality that isn't entirely based on faith and religion. Between the illogical hatred of others by some religious interpreters and the lack of any tangible anything related to faith, I just can't buy into it.

In many ways, I know there are plenty of people out there who would call be a skeptic. And to some extent, they would be right. I do believe reason is important; I agree with the ideals of some skeptics. I even like them. Yet I feel ostracized by them for even acknowledging the possibilities of unexplained phenomena. Because I can't dismiss thousands of cases of unexplained lights and objects in the sky, voices and human images appearing around the world, bizarre creature sightings, and so much more as all misidentification, hallucination, or swamp gas, I'm not following the herd. And it bothers me that people who promote critical, independent thought fail to recognize herd mentality when it's blatantly there.

The brilliant humorist Mark Twain once said, "Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it's time to pause and reflect." I take those words to heart, because Twain really understood people. It's important to ask yourself whether you hold opinions because they are how you feel or you're just falling in step with the masses. Good fences don't always make good neighbors. The fact that no one has a Bigfoot, ghost, or alien spaceship under glass in a lab doesn't mean they can't possibly be real. The final answers to all questions of unexplained phenomena won't be found by shutting the book on them and proclaiming "real" or "fake" without all the facts and evidence laid out on the table.

People on both sides could have a common ground if they would just admit it to themselves. The only honest answer anyone can give to the existence of anything is "I don't know."

Monday, November 14, 2011

Building Momentum (and Foundations)...

It's been another long gap between posts for me. Part of that has been the usual busy autumn I've grown accustomed to (which usually means Halloween falls by the wayside and isn't the fun experience it once was), but added to that has been a heavy bout of depression accompanied by apathy. I guess this difficult year caught up with me finally and hit me harder than I had anticipated. All this led to a very unproductive period. I've been doing loads of historical research, but writing or any other productive behavior has escaped me.

Even so, it wasn't until today that I started gathering together the general thoughts, questions, and ponderings of the past few months and realized that overall, it hasn't been entirely in vain. It's been something far more than just feeling melancholy and unmotivated. There has been a shift from deep inside me, and the whole picture is finally coalescing into something approaching a definitive result. I still have some wrestling to do, sorting out the little details that conflict with one another, but it's reaching toward... something.

A lot of this has come about from asking myself a few simple questions: What do I believe? What do I enjoy? What's right (but mostly what's wrong) with the status quo of paranormal investigation? Of course, after finding out all my answers, it takes quite a while to tally up results and figure out what pieces can be fit together into something resembling a final product. Believe me, some of my answers mix together about as well as air and sand. Nevertheless, I do believe that some cohesion can be found in the building blocks of each of my convictions.

One thing is certain: I'm full of complexities, opposing forces, and attitudes/viewpoints that contradict what most people might expect in someone who considers himself a paranormal researcher and/or investigator. But I don't see that as a handicap; too many people fail to look at things from other perspectives and completely miss blinding faults because they follow along with mainstream ideology. I think in this sense writing for Who Forted? has helped me tremendously in just being myself. Surprisingly, I feel a lot more at home there than in most paranormal circles. At least I know that if I bring up something rational, logical, or sensible that thought won't be met with an icy glare or immediate blacklisting as a "difficult" person.

Does this all mean that this blog will suddenly stop being relevant? Does it mean that I'll never tackle writing about the paranormal ever again? Absolutely not! I enjoy playing a minor role as a modern Charles Fort gathering the strange, bizarre, unexplained things from history. I still find visiting reputedly haunted places for entertainment. And I think there's still a lot to learn about unexplained phenomena. There is also a lot to be learned from previous researchers (both in the paranormal and scientific fields) which sorely needs to be addressed by more people. I'm sure some of my thoughts might be met with hisses and boos from plenty of people, but I'm quite used to going against the grain. In the process of all this, I'll probably continue neglecting this blog, avoiding social media, and falling behind in a lot of other things, but hopefully the end result will be worth it.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Spooky Stays in Port Clinton...

I was talking with one of Ohio's many ghost hunters earlier this week, and he mentioned to me some paranormal activity he had experienced firsthand near Port Clinton, Ohio. He had been an employee at Sleep Inn & Suites, just off State Road about four miles east of Port Clinton, between 2005 and 2007 where some unusual phenomena was reported: the sound of doors opening and/or closing, strange banging sounds in vacant rooms, footsteps, shadows, the elevator moving on its own accord, and other "phantom sounds." The majority of activity seemed centered around the third floor. It's not an old building (being built in 1999), but age isn't always a factor in allegedly haunted locations.

Because of all the activity and some of his own experiences with it (including hearing a child near the pool), he believed the hotel may have been "built over a cemetary [sic] or some type of weird place because that place is a portal for spirits..." I'm not sure about portals or vortices (not "vortexes") or any of those "gateways to another world" people often insist places with many supposed ghosts must have, but most places—even in the most remote areas—have an interesting story to tell. Sleep Inn is near a freeway and smack dab in the middle of unassuming rural Ohio. At first glace, it would be the last place you might expect to find anything of historical significance. I can safely say it wasn't built on top of a cemetery, but the land has some connection with the earliest days of Cedar Point Amusement Park and the rather sad story of Benjamin Dwelle.

Although the history of Cedar Point (so named for the cedar trees once covering the area) goes back much further, Cedar Point Resort started its first season in 1870. It consisted of a bathhouse, beer garden, and dance platform with a few refreshment stands, seesaws, and swings scattered around for the enjoyment of visitors. It was the handywork of German immigrant Louis Zistel who transported locals to Cedar Point on two boats he has built during the Civil War to transport Confederate prisoners to the prison at nearby Johnson's Island. The property was leased in 1882 to Captain William Shackleford and Benjamin F. Dwelle who added picnic tables, new boat docks, a dance hall, more bathhouses, and wooden boardwalks along the beach. The first roller coaster, the Switchback Railway, didn't open until 1892.

Throughout the 1880s, the park continued to expand and improve, making it a popular tourist attraction. The original lease ended in 1887; Shackleford was too sick to keep up with the business, so Dwelle joined forces with the other land owners (Louis Adolph, Adam Stoll, Jacob Kuebeler, and Charles Baetz) on the peninsula to form Cedar Point Pleasure Resort Company. In 1897, the park was acquired by the newly-formed Cedar Point Pleasure Resort Company of Indiana headed by George Arthur Boeckling who helped turned the park into the successful venture we know today.

You might think this would secure all of these men financially for the rest of their lives, but that wasn't the case. Although Benjamin Dwelle was one of the founders of the resort at Cedar Point, he has largely been forgotten. Perhaps it was his financial trouble which had a hand in that. Part of the reason for the 1897 change of ownership was that Dwelle defaulted on his portion of the loan payment. In May of that year, Dwelle was taken to Erie Circuit Court by several of his creditors. The ruling ruined him; Dwelle lost his land in both Ottawa and Sandusky Counties, much of his personal property, and all financial interest in the company at Cedar Point. He died just a few years later in 1903. His body was laid to rest at the family cemetery on part of the land lost just six years before.

If you look to the southeast across State Road from the windows of the upper floor at Sleep Inn & Suites, you might be able to catch a glimpse of a pond. On its northern shore are the gravestones of Dwelle Cemetery. The farm to the east was once Dwelle's farm; in fact, the land on which the hotel stands (along with the land on the opposite side of SE Catawba Road) was also Dwelle's property until it was taken by the Second National Bank of Sandusky shortly before his death.

If Sleep Inn & Suites is, in fact, haunted by someone from the past, who is responsible? Could it be Benjamin Dwelle and his family reclaiming their lost land? Or perhaps there are other secrets from this part of Ohio still undiscovered? This place isn't far from where the War of 1812 began with the Battle of Lake Erie. Apparently, a construction worker did fall to his death while the hotel was being built, which could account for some of the noises. Be it from the distant history or recent past of the Port Clinton region, we can only hope that someone finds the key to unlocking the strange incidents at this Lake Erie hotel.

1874 Map of Ottawa County (click to enlarge)
(Dwelle's land is in red with the cemetery in blue. The red "X" marks the present site of Sleep Inn & Suites.)

Friday, September 30, 2011

A Recipe for Autumn...

I absolutely love cider; nothing says fall like it. I also happen to enjoy baking and tinkering around with recipes any time I get the chance. Just last week, I had a creative spark and made something that turned out very good. Of course, I don't always measure things exactly, so it can be tricky to make something exactly the same way all the time. But still, I figured I'd change things up and share this recipe with all of you. Here's something unique to make for breakfast on those cool autumn mornings.

Mulled Cider Pancakes

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup apple cider
1 tablespoon apple butter
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon grated orange peel
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder

1. Heat a large skillet brushed lightly with oil or butter over medium heat.
2. In medium mixing bowl, combine all ingredients and blend with a wire whisk just until thoroughly mixed. (For a thicker batter, add an additional 3 tablespoons of flour.)
3. Pour approximately 1/3 cup of batter at a time onto hot skillet. Turn pancakes over when large bubbles begin to burst at the surface (1-2 minutes) and pancake is nicely browned. Cook an additional 1-2 minutes on the opposite side. Serve immediately with butter and maple syrup.

Yield: 6 medium-sized pancakes

(If you don't have apple butter, you can try substituting with 1 Tbsp. applesauce and 2 drops lemon extract.)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Spirited Spirits...

If there's one bad habit I refuse to get rid of, it's enjoying a cocktail or glass of beer/wine from time to time. Now that doesn't mean I down gallon after gallon of it. (Maybe a few times back in my early college days.) But it's a nice way to unwind. Believe it or not, paranormal-themed spirits have been slowly making their way into stores across the nation. Here are a couple of them, just in time for Halloween.

Back in early spring, I had the pleasure to enjoy some of Dan Aykroyd's Crystal Head Vodka. It boasts a few different things, like being made with pure glacier water, quadruple distilled, and filtered through Herkimer diamonds (to give it some added boost of psychic energy). It comes in its own glass skull decanter which is actually quite nice and useful long after the vodka ceases to exist. And as far as the alcohol goes, it's not bad at all. And if you're all for things without any additives, this is your vodka. The price tag is a bit steep, but it's a neat conversation piece... if it lasts that long. You can hear the whole story from Dan--including the tale of the crystal skulls--in this video:

But there's another booze on the market, and this one supposedly has some haunted history to it. According to the website for Frozen Ghost Vodka, the spring in Western Canada where the water used in the production of this vodka comes from was the scene of a murder. Tobias, the victim, was buried in the ice at the site by a neighbor; the man confessed after being haunted by the ghost of Tobias. Rumor is that Tobias still keeps watch over his spring. Of course, we can only take their word for it. They don't reveal the exact location.

Even so, this booze boasts a spooky bottle to go with its watery contents from a haunted site. And at half the price of Crystal Skull, it's a bit more in reach of anyone who doesn't mind paying for premium vodka. And there's also Kraken Spiced Rum. While it's not "ghostly," it does involve a cryptid creature from myths. And it's actually rather good too. I'm sure there are whiskeys, rums, and other liquors out there with a supernatural twist, so keep your eye out as autumn gets into full swing.