Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Day for All Ghouls...

Break out the soul cakes. It's time again for that mysterious and spooky holiday again. Halloween is here!

Today is a day when many people will party, ring doorbells in expectation of sweet goodies, and look for a few good scares. The history of the holiday is rooted in many centuries-old traditions, beliefs, and ideas. For some religions it marks the end of one cyclical year and the beginning of the next. And many believe it is the time when the boundary between the world of the living and the hereafter is at its thinnest.

Whatever you do today, take a little time to explore the past of the holiday and enjoy whatever you may do. Perhaps spend some time in the dark with a tale or two of fright and horror. I'll be catching up on blogging this week and gearing up for my great adventure so in case you haven't had your fill of strange history and spookiness be sure to check back in the coming weeks as I delve into the wonderous―and creepier―side of Australia

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Digging Up Haunted History...

It was late August of 1895. Author Mark Twain was bankrupt and ill. In an effort to raise money to repay his creditors he began an adventure 'Following the Equator' starting off his trip in Sydney, Australia. It's just a little over four weeks until my own adventure begins to some of the same places. Of course, I'm not leaving from British Colombia nor am I being paid for writing a travel log. But I can certainly understand Twain's financial troubles.

There could be some writing about my trip in the future, though, and I'm already discussing plans for a lecture upon my return. It might provide some new locations for my next book as well. Some people have been asking lately about any work on a sequel. I assure you that it's in the works as we speak. The last book proved to be a challenge to research and discovering relevant places wasn't easy. This time it's even harder.

At this very moment I have 39 haunted locations that I'm researching and digging into for Queer Hauntings II. This is, however, only a theoretical list. Some businesses no longer exist. Many still need a lot more research. And at tis moment, the number of gay-owned businesses with heterosexual hauntings outweighs LGBT ghost stories; something which needs to be remedied before I can proceed in earnest. Then there's another difficulty: stories without names and exact locations. The latter proves most challenging since I want this to be more than just retelling ghost stories. How can someone dig for the true story if they can't even pinpoint an address or last name?

Whenever you look into the past and try to piece together people and places it's not an easy task. But I love mystery, the unknown, adventure, and everything in between. History, especially when it's outside the mainstream, fascinates me. There is so much we've forgotten (or want to forget). Even what we find in textbooks has a certain bias or perspective. Learning the real story of celebrity lives and any country's history can be an eye-opening experience. Undoubtedly my last book raised more than a few eyebrows. The sequel will do the same. And, of course, my trip abroad will certainly shed some interesting light on a variety of topics.

But right now Halloween is fast approaching. After a cemetery stroll this afternoon I'm even more in the mood for it to arrive. That night will mark the official 15-year point since the first time I set off alone at night to look for paranormal activity in a legendary haunted Ohio ghost town. For even longer I've dreamed of seeing Terra Australis Incognita. In just one more month I'll be achieving that dream and exploring the local ghost stories, including (hopefully) what is said to be the most haunted cemetery worldwide. 

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Fate of Hate...

It was announced recently that Britt Griffith was relieved of his duties on paranormal television because of the incident I wrote about a few weeks back on this blog. Chip Coffey and Ryan Buell have each weighed in with their opinions on the incident, the man, and the aftermath. Several other bloggers have chimed in with their thoughts and message boards are discussing both sides as well, from the die-hard supporters to the still-irritated people. As far as SciFi is concerned, it seems to be a closed case, a done deal. As my previous post about the debacle said, it was inevitable.

I don't think you can call this a first strike for Griffith. There was the famous dildo video that came out and had a few people questioning his judgment. I'm not aware of other blunders from the past but considering I don't regularly follow the new wave of ghost programming that's not too much of a surprise. However, I've known plenty of people in the paranormal community blatantly guilty of hate-filled speech and actions. Sometimes it's a simple slip-up of crass talk. Other people devote their entire lives to it.

Britt did recently write a hopefully-sincere apology on his Facebook page. I guess these days that's about standard for a "public apology". It may have been better to do it elsewhere, and while it was good of him to mention The Trevor Project perhaps making a donation himself might have had a bit more of an effect. Of course it wouldn't have needed to be huge since most people on television aren't paid as well as some might like to believe. Consider it the celebrity version of the swear jar, opening your walled any time you open your mouth and something inappropriate falls out.

Many people have been asking why this is such a big deal. Well, first just a glance at news in the past month will show you how many recent teen suicides have involved gay kids. We're in the midst of continuing arguments over repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and whether to allow same-sex marriage. Atlanta police have recently been accused of destroying evidence in the brutal raid on a gay bar last year. Obviously hatred and intolerance are still alive and well across the country. Our awareness of it is more heightened.

Most of us have been guilty of saying (or at the very least thinking) mean things about someone, something, or a group of people. Even I've poked a bit of fun at some absurdities and people but I try not to go for blood. No one is perfect. We all can be unintentionally silly, absurd, or worse at times. But being deliberate and direct with your hate doesn't do anything other than make you seem like a bully. And in a time where kids are killing themselves over bullying in school we don't need adults acting like that as well.

If we want our world to change for the better it will only happen through positive action. In that respect, perhaps SciFi shouldn't have bumped someone for using a derogatory word. While he shouldn't have been rewarded for the slip-up, what about making some amends and adding an openly-gay cast member? We're out there everywhere. Anyone who doesn't think LGBT people are in the paranormal community must not network very much. Something like that would have had a better impact than a quick "you're fired" phone call. It's only my opinion, though. I can't speak for executives and what they think is best for their audience and company.

We do have a very long way to go. And I don't just mean trying to make the world a more tolerant place. The same applies to advances in the paranormal realm. When do we decide that working together for the betterment of everyone supersedes "my ghost group can beat up your ghost group" mentality? How can you say you're trying to help people if you promote hate in another breath? When will investigators pool together data and discoveries to help everyone understand the unexplainable? Perhaps when it all stops being a game and starts being a joint effort to get to the bottom of our strange world.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Thinking Outside the Pine Box...

Just one more full week before Halloween arrives. I know I've been quiet lately. It's been an interesting month to say the least. I want to thank Jason, Bobby, and Robyn again for having me on Strange Frequencies Radio this past Sunday. As always the time goes too fast! I had a wonderful time and loved listening to the rest of the show (and I'm glad Bobby was feeling better by the time I went on). They have a great mix of comedy, skepticism, and open-minded discussion. As soon as the archive is up, I'll post it for anyone who didn't get a chance to listen.

In other news my research has hit a few snags and dead-ends with finding more stories. That's the frustration with seeking out the true stories behind hauntings. I've been following one ghost story from Nevada to Washington State and haven't gotten any closer to pinpointing the full story (or the exact location of the haunting). The more ghost books I read, the more I realize most writers only retell the legend and leave it at that. Sometimes, they don't even give the exact name and town of the place in question! From my own experience I can understand why. It's difficult digging through history and tracking down people willing to talk. But the extra work makes for a better result.

I've broken down lately and done the unthinkable: watching old episodes of Ghost Adventures. To be honest, I rarely watch any of the paranormal television shows. Too many people use them as a training ground for paranormal investigation and learn everything from watching a few episodes and becoming instant ghost busters. Still, they can be interesting and amusing at times. I find myself cringing half the time (and laughing at some absurdities) but every so often there's something interesting or intriguing. I will give Zak Bagans kudos for delving into something I've been talking about for years now: ultraviolet spectrum work. Some animals seem to react to the paranormal and they also can see further into the UV spectrum than we do, so it was always a curiosity of mine. Of course, UV light can also cause blindness so that did stop me from testing some of my ideas in the manner I had considered.

That's the real key to trying to make some headway in the paranormal realm. you have to think outside the box, digest different findings, formulate ideas, and implement new techniques. Running around snapping digital pictures of dust orbs isn't actual investigation. But testing out new ideas can become an expensive hobby. UV light isn't the only idea which crossed my mind over the past 15 years of looking for ghosts. I think a few of my ideas could provide some interesting results but it will take a lot of work to figure out exactly how to pull it all off.

Otherwise, I'm about to head out of town for the week leading up to Halloween. I'll still be posting when I get a chance but enjoying the season while it lasts as well. And starting next month, I'll be talking more about ghosts in Australia as we lead up to my first trip "down under." I leave in just over five weeks, so time is ticking away. So much to do and so little time to finish it all in. Yet I am looking forward to this rare opportunity to explore the southern hemisphere and see wonderful things.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Return of the Dead Guy...

Hollywood is filled with stories of death. There is a long-standing history of tragedy on stage and screen. And with it comes ghostly tales from the earliest days to modern times. Yet not every strange story is of the dead and famous. Sometimes it's the celebrities themselves who encounter things that go bump in the night. Even gay ones.

This was certainly true for actor Carrie Fisher, known best as 'Princess Leia' from the original Star Wars Trilogy. A close gay friend, republican operative Robert Gregory Stevens, visited her in February 2005. He enjoyed a good party and was quite fond of recreational drug use, something Fisher had battled in her past. He slept in her bed, allowing his female assistant to have the guest room of Fisher's beautiful old home in Beverly Hills. On the night of February 25, he returned very late and the two fell asleep after midnight. Bruce Cohen arrived early the following day to take Carrie to tango lessons. To her horror, Stevens had passed away in the night. She woke up beside the corpse of her friend.

Being carted away by the coroner was not the final exit of Stevens from Fisher's home. His death sparked a string of strange phenomena in her home leading her to believe his ghost remained behind. There were footsteps and light switches with minds of their own. The activity gave her another breakdown. Drugs seemed to be her only escape. After some time, the paranormal activity ceased, though Fisher can't be sure he has left for good.

Carrie went on Celebrity Ghost Stories during its first season to tell her story. Her experience is followed by a few other noteworthy people: gay cult filmmaker John Waters and Golden Girls star Rue McClanahan. Here's the full episode. Carrie Fisher's story is first. Immediately after it is Waters and his childhood experience.

Monday, October 18, 2010

When Seeing Isn't Believing...

When most people, especially paranormal investigators, look at hauntings and research, they rely solely on work which validates not only the study of ghosts but parapsychology as well. It can be very one-sided, yet there is a flip side of the coin. To form a truly unbiased opinion, we need to look at what skeptics have to say. Why? Because believing everything just as much of an extreme as believing nothing. If every creak and groan is proof positive of paranormal phenomena there would be no doubt that such things existed. No matter how badly you may want to believe in ghosts, there is no "proof positive" thing which science has said proves something otherworldly is out there.

So what does the other half have to say about psychics, ghosts, etc.? We know a lot of people, including James Randi, staunchly deny anything to be "supernatural" or beyond the known reaches of science. Derren Brown has made a career of showing trickery and psychological influence as a root cause of most phenomena. In his show Derren Brown Investigates he examines various claims of people who possess "paranormal abilities" or have experienced unexplained phenomena in an effort to see what is real and what isn't.

In one episode, he followed the late Lou Gentile (who passed away on June 28, 3009) for a week to see if he could experience something unexplained or something quite explainable. Brown, who came out of the closet publicly in 2007, admittedly was disappointed (even for a skeptic the idea of experiencing something truly freaky and baffling is a bit of a thrilling notion). He watched video of an exorcism, listened to voices of the dead, and even poked around a cemetery in the middle of the night. But everything he experienced had a normal explanation.

The really unfortunate part is that there really wasn't any amazing evidence. No levitating objects or full apparitions. The EVPs were your average garbled sounds, no clear voices. I've seen and heard much better evidence (even recorded better voices myself) so hopefully the subject will be revisited in the future. However, Derren pointed out a lot of things that most people who do investigate claims of the paranormal should take into account. Feel free to watch (and learn) for yourself:

Part 2:

Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Haunted by Gender and Phantoms...

Dark spirits can be buried deep inside the darkened corners of our psyche. What we hide within is often more terrifying than shapeless forms in an old spooky house. When you're gay, lesbian, bisexual, or even transsexual there's an invisible reality within your life, only revealed when you intentionally show your true self to other people. Before that moment you're a hidden ghost haunted by your sexual identity. Perhaps, as one author revealed, you can be haunted by real ghosts at the same time.

In Jennifer Finney Boylan's book I'm Looking Through You: Growing Up Haunted: A Memoir the transsexual English professor writes about her early life in the Lemuel Coffin House outside Philadelphia. Coffin and his business partner Joseph B. Altemus purchased 400 acres around 1881 to create the town of Devon along the Pennsylvania Railroad route. Lemuel passed away in 1895. Boylan's family moved there in 1972. I'm looking Through You chronicles her early life in the haunted house as well as a 2006 return visit to what remains her mother's home with a paranormal investigator named Shelly from Batty About Ghosts whom she found on Meetup (where, as we know, all knowledgeable ghost busters can be found).

In her youth (then known as "James"), Boylan had experienced several unexplained phenomena in the house. The tower, removed in 1944, had been the sight of the death of "some kid" according to a neighbor. There were footsteps coming from the creepy attic, a woman she dubbed "Mrs. Freeze" who appeared in the bathroom mirror before impending disasters, foggy forms, and doors opening and closing by themselves. As a teenager it proved less frightening than humiliating to explain to friends staying overnight, "Now don't worry if you see a blob come out of that closet. Usually it will go away if you whistle Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. If that doesn't work, try the Ninth."

During the revisit with the ghost hunter they may have discovered the ghost of her father in the bedroom where he passed away. Even with all she has experienced, Boylan does not believe in ghosts. "You don't have to believe in ghosts to know what it means to be 'haunted.' I think we all have ghosts of one kind or another. When we're young we're haunted by the people we may become; when we're old we're haunted by the children we used to be." Her book draws parallels between growing up a gender-confused youth seeking acceptance internally as well as societally and the ghostly glimpses from the past making their presence known to a few people. It's a look at what "haunted" truly means.

I'm Looking Through You is a delightfully humorous and fascinating read. For many of us who know less about transsexuals than we do about hauntings it proves to be very educational as well. Watch a brief video tour from the author here:

Friday, October 15, 2010

I'll Be Looking at the Moon, But I'll Be Seeing You...

There's a bit of sadness as this week draws to a close in Las Vegas. A landmark in the city for decades faces the final hours of its existence. After 31 years, the Liberace Museum will be closing its doors indefinitely on Sunday due to low turnout.

The memorabilia, including his glitzy disco ball of a Rolls Royce and famous piano housed within it, will be placed into storage for now. Although the museum, which was opened by the famous pianist himself on the day I was born, will no longer serve the public the organization will continue channeling its money into the Liberace Foundation.

Over 2,700 students have been given scholarships since 1976 when Liberace began his foundation "to help talented students pursue careers in the performing and creative arts through scholarship assistance and artistic exposure." It was a scholarship which first allowed Liberace to attend the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music and helped launch him into the musical career for which he became famous around the world. The foundation relies largely on donations to sustain its collection and grant programs. For anyone interested in donating please visit their website.

The adjacent Carluccio's Tivoli Restaurant formerly owned by Liberace will stay open, thankfully. After Liberace's death in 1984 the building stood vacant for a year until the Carluccio family purchased it and re-opened the musician's restaurant. It remains largely as Liberace left it which could be why his ghost has been witnessed on many occasions. The museum might be saying goodbye but Liberace--his legacy and, perhaps, his apparition--still lives on in Vegas. If you have a chance to stop by the museum before the doors close for good drop in for a bite to eat at the restaurant. You may have a chance to pay your respects personally to the glittery former owner and world-renowned entertainer himself.

You Can Hang Out with All the Boys...

College towns are a hotbed of spooky stories. Cambridge, Massachusetts is no different. But one of these stories is a bit different from what we're used to hearing. Furthermore it could quite possibly be one of the earliest televised mentions of a not-so-straight ghost. Perhaps the greatest irony is the location of the haunting. It's found off of Central Square in a building that houses the local Young Men's Christian Association, better known by its abbreviation: YMCA.

The Cambridge Family YMCA was organized on September 6, 1883 (according to the 1890 book History of Middlesex County, Massachusetts Volume I by Duane Hamilton Hurd (page 77), though their website claims 1867) and the following year they purchased the "beautiful and well-located building on Central Square". Durrell Hall, the Victorian theater housed in the building, opened in 1897 within the building and still is opened today. Property records indicate the building was built in 1905 which would be impossible if the theater existed 8 years before it was built. Although there is some confusion about the structural history, the haunted history is a bit more certain yet still as mysterious.

The basement houses the former locker room where people have reported lights being turned on and off and other pranks said to be caused by a male ghost who enjoys frightening people. His spirit, which sometimes takes the form of a glowing green apparition, has been sighted by employees and visitors at all hours of the day or night. The most popular story revolving around the ghost of the YMCA is that he was either a patron or employee who suffered a heart attack in the 1930s (others believe the 1970s). Some people believe he was gay and hangs around to spy on the young men as they change. Thanks for perpetuating the stereotype, mister ghost.

In Haunting Across America, an hour-long special released in 1996, they discussed the bizarre ghost story and invited Reverend Dr. Erle Myers, a minister with the Spiritualist Church, to uncover more information about the shamrock-colored specter. According to author Arthur Myers (October 24, 1917 - April 8, 2010) who was interviewed in the show regarding a ghostly encounter relayed to him in 1991, the ghost is of a male teacher who abused his male students. A séance was conducted to make contact with the spirit. Dr. Myers picked up on "a tall, thin man... probably in his 50s" dealing with repressed homosexuality. He encouraged the ghost to leave and "go into the light" and stated afterward that he believed the spirit had moved on and left the building for good.

But has he? According to YMCA president Jeff Seifert in the 2005 interview for Cambridge Day it sounds as though the phantom still lurks in the old basement. Many times when psychics, investigators, and paranormal groups go into a haunted place and claim to remove a spirit or "make him/her go to the other side" absolutely nothing changes. An that's understandable; would you leave some place you enjoyed simply because some stranger walks in and tells you to go? Not likely. So it's very likely that the gay green ghost of Cambridge still hides in the shadows of a place the Village People said was "fun to stay at" admiring the scenery and scaring the pants off other men.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Spectral Sapphic Sheila...

I am very happy to say that as of today I officially have my flight booked for December's two-week odyssey in Australia. Those of you who know me will surely remember my unsuccessful past attempts to realize the trip. That's not to say that even this time I haven't hit more than one snag as time passes. But it's happening at long last. As Mikey said in the movie Goonies, "It all starts here."

Originally, my plan was to feature some Aussie ghost stories next month. But why wait? Well, to be honest I stumbled across a wonderfully fitting tale that I couldn't wait to tell. It is the Halloween season, after all. Often the homosexual hauntings I find involve gay men and I do want to better balance the two sexes. So when I stumbled across an interesting story of a ghost hunter and his run-in with an angry female ghost, I couldn't pass it up. After all, it's set in the land which became the penal colony of New South Wales in 1788 (which was Britain's second attempt at creating a place to send its undesirables and criminals... take a wild guess where the first one was).

This story begins in 1992 with paranormal investigator Drew Sinton, proprietor of The Haunted Bookshop, when he received a call from Melbourne asking for assistance with poltergeist activity. The female same-sex couple resided in the suburb of Burwood and had been plagued by falling kitchenware, rattling doors, security alarms malfunctioning, and other unsettling phenomena. According to one of the women, similar occurrences happened at her previous residence which led her to believe it could be the spirit of her uncle following her to her new address. Sinton brought with him psychic medium Kelly Roberts to help find the cause of the supernatural experiences.

Kelly wandered the house picking up objects to sense their energy—a divination technique known as psychometry. After a short time she realized the spirit the women were dealing with was female, not male. As she picked up a small porcelain figurine, she was overcome with a strong sense of resentment. She immediately asked the women who had owned the object, but the couple grew quiet and declined any response. After some time they confessed that it had belonged to the ex of one of the pair, a woman by the name of Beverly. According to Sinton, they told him and Kelly that Beverly "died from a blood clot caused during a jealous rage when she ran into a coffee table and injured her leg."

Upon revealing the identity of the woman who the medium believed was behind the paranormal activity, the atmosphere in the room changed. The temperature quickly dropped nearly 45 degrees. A black shadow appeared, witnessed not only by the four people present but also the owner's cats, and moved from one side of the room to the other before disappearing without a trace. "Many times I have tried to rationally explain what I saw," Sinton recalled in an interview 8 years after the event, "but I have come to the belief that it was definitely a ghost."

Perhaps Beverly never let go of her rage from the day of her death. Or perhaps the new relationship angered the jealous spirit causing her to act out her disapproval. We may never know for sure. Hopefully the couple has found some peace with the former lover. Though it is possible that somewhere in Boroondara there's a lesbian ghost still wandering rooms, seeking some attention from the woman she knew or anyone who will notice her.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Weirdness Around the World...

It's time again to explore some of the strange news stories plucked from the headlines across the globe.

They Were Dirt Cheap...

Judith and Mitchell Fletcher of Tampa love to find a good bargain at a yard sale. While in Brandon they spent $8 on a Halloween decoration skeleton in a box but upon returning home they realized it wasn't made of plastic or ceramic. They alerted the police in Hillsborough County and a detective had the bones examined, determining they were from a real for-medical-use anatomical skeleton valued at $3000. It is illegal in Florida to own real human bones so the couple has lost out on their bargain purchase. The local sheriff's department is contacting area universities with the serial number found on a femur in an attempt to find the rightful owner. The box of bones remains unclaimed.

Dial P for Paranormal...

A recent examination of West Midlands Police records in Coventry, England found that burglaries and altercations aren't the only reason local residents call for help. Over the past five years they have received calls concerning UFOs, ghosts, aliens, and other anomalies. Three calls were even received by people experiencing "paranormal thoughts". A total of 18 calls involving the supernatural are documented, most involving ghost sightings. So when you see a spirit, who you gonna call?

Yeren Hot Pursuit...

The search is back in China as scientists gather once more to search for the regional Bigfoot-like creature known as the Yeren, or "wild man". The Hubei Wild Man Research Association is seeking volunteers and benefactors to help raise $1.5 million for their new expedition. With over 400 sightings of the hairy creature and previous expeditions in 1977, 1980, and 1981 yielding hair and stool samples along with large bipedal footprints they are eager to find conclusive proof.

Bewitching Times...

Two 15-year-old boys were arrested in India for the murder of Nanika Hesa, 40, on Friday. The pair, who believed the tribal woman was a witch and had killed their family members through the use of black magic, hacked Nanika to death with a bhujali, decapitated her, and threw her head into a river in Kalinga Nagar. Both boys confessed to the crime and are being held at a juvenile facility in Berhampur.

Death by Fear...

A man in Milwaukee was sentenced to 9 years in jail and 5 years probation for the murder of Marzella Woodson by scaring her to death. Following an argument where Justin Owen, 21, accused his friend of stealing a handgun, the man fired several shots into the house where he lived back in May. Marzella, 58, heard the gunshots and hid on the floor with her grandchildren and suffered heart failure from the frightful experience.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Haunting the Media and a Buell Book Giveaway...

What's happening on October 17th? A couple things, actually.

For starters, Strange Frequencies Radio will be interviewing author and parapsychologist Loyd Auerbach at 4:00 PM EST. Following his interview, I'll be on the show starting at 5:00 PM EST to discuss the paranormal and my book Queer Hauntings. I was already looking forward to it but once I learned I'd be following someone I not only greatly admire but have read books authored by for two decades I was even more enthralled! It'll be a fascinating show so be sure to tune in Sunday evening.

Then later that night if you're still in the mood for something spooky tune in to A&E for the series premieres of Paranormal State with Ryan Buell at 9:00PM Eastern and Pacific time followed by Chip Coffey on Psychic Kids. Paranormal Research Society (PRS) kick off the new season with "The Death Room" where Buell leads his team back to his hometown to investigate a haunted plantation and "They Only Come Out at Night" where the family of a police officer is being terrorized by alleged demonic activity. Here is the teaser:

I've mentioned Ryan's book Paranormal State: My Journey into the Unknown previously here and do commend him for his bravery and honesty about his personal life. Now, 25 lucky people will win an autographed copy of the book by going to Facebook and entering the Paranormal State Book Giveaway. Be sure and follow the link to enter for your chance to win! The sweepstakes ends on October 19, 2010 at 11:59:59AM EST and winners will be notified on or about October 21.

So take a little time to enjoy the creepy side of the season. Listen in and watch some paranormal entertainment... and maybe even with a book!

Video and information on Paranormal State and the contest provided by enter: new media.