Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Bound for the Great Unknown...

Nothing ever stays the same. Change is something we all seem to crave yet fear nevertheless. And fear is the greatest obstacle for life. It keeps most people from deviating away from a typical safe life. More terrifying than any ghost in the room is what could await from changing course and delving into the unknown of life.

I have always made it a point to tell people that life is a journey, something we all should experience and make interesting. Over the past few months I've been caught between the safety of known mundane life and taking a chance on new opportunities. I had to stop myself from weighing both sides and ask, "What would I tell someone else to do? Which is worse: taking chances or always wondering what the outcome could have been?" I finally relented. And it has taken me a while to find the best way to break the news to everyone. It's a difficult time for me full of new possibilities but not without a few tearful goodbyes and letting go of all things familiar.

In a few weeks, I am going on a journey. It's not merely a "finding my way through life and plotting my course" sort of inner spiritual trip through life. There is very real and tangible travel involved. Simply put, I've decided to make a valiant attempt at living in a new place with new social circles and a different climate. For many people this might come as a shock, but to most who know me it's an inevitable thing. I need something different in my life, something that can't come about from a walk down the road or trip to downtown Cleveland. Most of the past five years have lacked adventure and challenge. Last year, I took huge leaps from my comfort zone... and once you start to see what's outside your little world it's impossible to return. "You can never go home again."

Have no fear. I am not abandoning my blog. And I'm not abandoning the paranormal. Quite the contrary: I'm planning more write-ups on haunted places in the next few months and actual visits (possibly with video tours) of interesting spooky places once I'm settled in. This includes a stop at a historic-home-turned-museum written about in my book, Queer Hauntings. As I explore my new surroundings (and the creepy side of new cities), I'll be sharing my experiences and point-of-view with all of you. This is my ultimate "grand experiment" in radical life overhaul. But it's something I need to do. Even if I fail miserably and end up back in northeast Ohio at some point during the summer, at least I'll have tried my best at making my own life something more that I want it to be.

You'll have to stay tuned to find out the exact details of my adventure. A lot of very difficult decisions have been made in plotting out the course of my life over the next few months. Not everything is set in stone, but the basic framework is there. For now, I'm tearing through my belongings and getting down to basics. I'm packing the must-have items and boxing the second most important things for later, in case I need them shipped to where I'll be. A couple of weeks from now I'll be boarding an Amtrak train at this very early hour and heading off to new horizons, following what was once a trail blazed by some of the earliest pioneers in the United States doing just as I am: pursuing a new life with new possibilities. First stop, Chicago. Final destination... well, for now I'll just say "all points west."

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."
Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad

Monday, March 22, 2010

Closeted Beyond Belief...

Some people make a living forming declarative statements without holding back fear of ridicule or offensiveness. But even such individuals can struggle with telling everything. And this weekend, a well-known skeptic and disbeliever in all things supernatural who built a career on being blunt made one of the biggest leaps of his life. It came in the form of two words, written in a post on his blog.

"I'm gay."

It was a major leap for 81-year-old James Randi, best known for his "Million-Dollar Challenge" offering a hefty prize to anyone proving parapsychological phenomena. He has written various books on psychic fraud and paranormal hoaxes and helped found the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP). For some, he's a hero. To paranormal enthusiasts, he's a naysayer. Yet no matter what your stance is on ghosts might be, he is now a brave man. After watching the film Milk and realizing the shift in climate and attitude toward sexuality, Randi broke his 70-year silence.

I applaud Randi for his public announcement. While we may disagree on various points and hold differing views on a variety of topics (and agree on many points at the same time), what he did took a lot of courage. When you're in the public eye making such a simple statement about who you are as a human being can be the biggest challenge in your life. You face ridicule and the possibility of losing disapproving individuals in your life. The world suddenly views you not for who you are but who you love.

Whether you're a skeptic or a paranormal investigator, admitting who you are and saying those two words is the ultimate example of speaking the truth. But it's up to the individual to make such a statement on however public a scale. Some people believe the more visible and famous you are the more important it is to come out of the closet. I personally understand the reservations that come with these things and while I may not be thrilled when someone decides to keep their private life private I can respect his or her reasoning. It's a sad truth that most people decide to keep quiet as not to face the small-mindedness of society which could destroy life as they know it. Like a haunted house, people fear the unknown and that with which they are not familiar. Rumors and misinformation are accepted as fact. Stereotypes are taken to be reality. Fact and fiction blur.

So now, the skeptic community has James Randi and Derren Brown. But who do we have in the paranormal community? Well, Ian Shillito makes one. Where are the others? Where are the big-name paranormal celebrities in the North America? Does the predominance of straight, white, Christian males on ghost hunting programs make coming out too terrifying? Quite possibly. Hopefully, that too will change. As Harvey Milk said in his final audio recording, "If a bullet should enter my brain, let the bullet destroy every closet door..."

Monday, March 15, 2010

What's New and Unusual...

So much has been happening, both in my life and worldwide, and I haven't had much chance to compose a long update here for quite some time. I thought about writing several individual posts on the various things but thought it best to condense it all into another "news in brief" moment for today. As for my own personal life, well... that major upheaval is best likened to the plate tectonic movements in the past several weeks. Major, major changes are happening too quickly at times. But once the dust settles, I'll give a more thorough update on those matters. For now, I'll focus on what's been going on while I've been asleep at the wheel of my blog.

Last week, director Tim Burton made the not-so-shocking admission that he does believe in the paranormal. Burton has had a few brushed with the unexplained and believes many people have had unusual experiences, yet they often don't discuss it or do their best to ignore it. He also mentioned that he finds cemeteries "peaceful" instead of creepy. As for his work, word was also announced concerning his newest venture. Plans are being discussed to turn Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (authored by Seth Grahame-Smith of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies fame) into a feature film. The new book follows the former present into his fictitious secret life pursuing blood drinkers. While the tale is odd it's quite well-crafted, not deviating from real history too far to make it absurd.

There is other book news to report as well. Stacy Horn's wonderful book Unbelievable: Investigations into Ghosts, Poltergeists, Telepathy, and Other Unseen Phenomena, from the Duke Parapsychology Laboratory telling about the history of parapsychology at the Rhine Research Center has been released in paperback. While I still prefer the hard-bound editions of books for my own shelf (when they're actually available) it's nice to have the option of paying less in our current economy.

Some Massachusetts residents are up in arms over maple syrup. In at least three cemeteries both in and around Lancaster, maple trees were found with sap buckets hanging off. The culprits weren't zealous manufacturers but Lancaster Cub Scout Pack 9, who was given permission to tap maples for a special project. The town officials, however, were unaware that cemetery trees would be targeted. Perhaps it sounds a bit creepy, but I would think it a harmless act. People might even pay more for the spooky syrup! It's not the only time anyone realized that a quiet spot such as a cemetery would be superb for undisturbed sap harvesting. In Quebec, a Google Earth view revealed similar sap buckets at a Sutton cemetery.

Finally from the southern hemisphere, selling spooks has once again made the headlines. A woman in Christchurch, New Zealand auctioned off two bottles containing "ghosts" on Trademe. The spirits, said to be those of a little girl and an old man, were "captured" during an exorcism and placed in bottles of holy water, presumably to keep them fresh? After their containment on July 15, 2009 no further activity was reported in the house. The glassed ghosts sold for nearly $2000.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Calamity of Corpsewood...

Two years ago, I wrote about Corpsewood Manor and the murders which took place at this now-rumored-to-be-haunted site. I honestly never intended my brief synopsis to become a spark of heated debate. But it remains the one post here on Spooked! which receives the most comments. And most of them are not very positive. Nevermind the fact that two people lost their lives in a double homicide at the northern Georgia site. Everyone wants to talk about whether or not they were "homosexual demon worshipers" and second-hand information reinforcing that claim.

There has never been any evidence that Scudder and Odom were ever in direct cohorts with Anton LaVey of the Church of Satan, but people still carry on about it. They also carry on about the "artifacts" housed in the home as direct evidence of these men being "evil and wicked" creatures. I hear so many rumors. I'm surprised I never heard someone claim that they roasted babies over a fire, but someone will probably suggest it at some point. As someone who knows a bit about a variety of religions (and possesses various objects which could probably be misconstrued to mean that I was a "devil worshiper") I'm not very impressed by the stream of ignorance I read. But when a paranormal organization takes this to an ignorant extreme, it makes my blood boil.

This is the case with Paranormal Task Force, a Missouri-based investigation team with (as they claim) a "well formulated, balanced tactical approach to paranormal investigations and research." There is an article on the website written by the president, Greg Myers, entitled 'Corpsewood Manor: A Pandora's Box Waiting to be Opened' that honestly left me dumbstruck and beyond mildly annoyed. It revolves around an individual who contacted PTF about a box he would soon be in possession of containing personal belongings from Scudder and Odom once housed at Corpsewood Manor. An exciting find for anyone fascinated by the case, haunted locations, or historical memorabilia... but the overall tone of the article bothered me:

The person contacting us had actually met Dr. Scudder many years ago while in the Chicago area through an association with the doctor’s son. Dr. Scudder’s mansion was clad with decor from a darker side of faith which included elegant stained glass windows with demonic representation, a library containing ancient books (some possibly bound with human skin), rooms with red velvet lined walls, a bed encrusted with carved satanic faces and emblems made during the renaissance era in Italy, a very valuable golden harp, and a variety of other ritualistic items representing a faith and belief in the darker realms.

Let's start with "a darker side of faith." That statement alone bothers me along with its implications. "Demonic representations" is a vague term concerning the stained glass. If it meant horned beings, a plethora of religions and cultures have contained such creatures, and not always in an evil sense. "Ancient books... possibly bound in human skin"? Give me a break! I know the movie Hocus Pocus involved a book of spells "bound in human skin" but this is the stuff of legend. Real witches or Satanists don't possess such things. And since when did red velvet on walls become a crime (unless it's a fashion faux pas)? Then we come to the Italian Renaissance bed. Someone seriously needs to brush up on his Renaissance art and understand it was common to depict scenes of heaven and hell (although surviving photographs taken of the bedroom show it was not, in fact, a peculiar bed). As for the harp, Scudder was a harpist and did possess a valuable gold harp, but last I checked harps weren't viewed as evil. The fact is that Scudder was a collector of artifacts of all religions and early civilizations. The skull found on his desk was said to belong to a Catholic saint.

But we haven't even gotten to the best part yet. After a few more paragraphs of misinformation and propaganda painting these two people as wicked, wicked meanies and a warped synopsis of the "cold-blooded doubled [sic] murders", we get to the important part:

I talked to the individual who was expecting the box of relics and learned that the items were still sealed in the box they had originally been stored in... I learned, too, that “power” could be felt radiating from the sealed box. All this information led me to realize that given these items known history with Dr. Scudder they did not need to be studied or handled by anyone. I was convinced that they potentially were some sort of key connecting one’s soul to a darker element...

As such, in closing, I recommended to this person that the items should be left in the box they came in, bound with a cross, and then dropped in the middle of a very deep river or body of flowing water. This was the same advice that a prominent demonoligist and paranormal researcher initially gave when I contacted him on this odd situation. Being the oversized Pandora's Box that I believe this situation is, I would further recommend that an actual rite of exorcism and/or other blessings and rituals of a positive or good nature be performed upon the entire property and ruins where Corpsewood Manor stood.

What? Dump it in a river? Are you kidding me? Someone's been watching too much Jumanji. These are items from a famous murder scene, some of which are likely antiques or other ancient artifacts of great historical value. And because someone "senses power" from them and people believe Scudder was a Satanist they should just be thrown into a lake??? This is what bothers me about so many paranormal groups: an utter lack of common sense and respect for historical objects. When dealing with the paranormal, the idea is to keep an open mind. That isn't limited to supernatural phenomena. If you have a client who is Wiccan you don't throw holy water on them and try to cast out the demon. Right? I sure hope so.

I am also insulted by his use of a Twain quote at the end. Mark Twain was one of the great satirists of all time and to take his words out of context is ultimate blasphemy. So to balance this I feel the urge to quote from Mark Twain's Autobiography: "I have always felt friendly toward Satan. Of course that is ancestral; it must be in the blood, for I could not have originated it." But even in closing, Myers continues the misinformation. he directs people to two websites for further explanation of "Spiritual Satanism", one hosted by angelfire.com and the other on freewebs.com. For those of you interested in a RESPECTABLE source, I recommend religioustolerance.org. In reality, what is often called Satanism doesn't involve demons or a devil or anything of the sort. From these definitions, I concluded there there is a chance Scudder practiced "Satanic Dabbling" but also a possibility he may have practiced some form of Neo-Pagan religion such as Wicca.

Let's not forget that the Corpsewood murders were part botched robbery, part hate crime. Two men died unjustly that fateful day and as a society we should not attempt to condone murder by implying that anyone deserves to die. I am truly disappointed when a paranormal group apparently appears in any manner to force their belief system upon other people. I sincerely hope whoever was in possession of these items ignored the advice given and at the very least passed the things on to another individual who would respect them and not toss them into the trash or the nearest river. Objects shouldn't be destroyed, but ignorant and reckless words should.

(**While the above quotations were taken from "copyrighted material" the use on this blog falls under the Fair Use doctrine of copyright law.**)