A Message From Beyond from John Thomas. Maybe.

In the summer of 1962, someone passed along a message to J. B. Rhine that was supposed to have come from the ghost of “Johnnie Thomas.” John Thomas was the name of the man who first brought the Rhines to Duke University in order to study communications from his dead wife. Among other things, the ghost claimed that Rhine, “has not advanced much above all of these other material things, and he cannot go on indefinitely in this …”

Rhine was getting a lot of grief at the time about his lack of progress in finding evidence for life after death, and I had to laugh when I read that because apparently even the dead were anxious for progress.


Thomas would have been even more dismayed by Rhine statements in the Parapsychology Bulletin that year. He announced that, “for many years there has been a sharp decline of interest in the survival problem, with a considerable dimming of hope that parapsychology can produce a definite answer.”

That was true of the scientific community, who were never terribly interested in survival in the first place, even if they were, for a time, curious to see what he’d come up with. What Rhine saw was an end to whatever leeway they had extended.

But everywhere else interest was increasing and it’s been increasing slowly ever since. I just checked the most recent Harris and Gallops polls. I’m disappointed that they no longer ask about ESP or telepathy, and now only ask about belief in ghosts, the devil, reincarnation, and so on. Nonetheless, here is what I found:

– 42 percent of the respondents in a 2009 Harris poll said that they believed in ghosts (up from 40 percent in 2005).

– 71 percent believe in the survival of the soul after death (up from 69 percent in 2005).

From the Lab’s “Haunted House File”

In 1958, CBS aired a television program about a poltergeist case that the Parapsychology Lab had investigated earlier in the year. A huge outpouring of letters to the lab followed the broadcast and lasted for months. A woman named Elma Serton wrote them about a haunted house in upper Manhattan. She didn’t give the address unfortunately, but she described the house well enough that I thought there was a chance I could find it.

When I got uptown however, based on the description, the houses on the Bronx side of the river seemed like the best candidates. But the woman had clearly called her ghost a “Manhattan ghost.” I wondered if by any chance this area was once considered Manhattan, and it turns out it was!

I found a house that seemed like it could be the one she described, but who knows what other houses lined the river back then. There’s also another spot that I want to go back and check.

I looked for Elma Serton, who described herself as an artist by training, and I believe I found her, but the Elma I found died in 1992, in Maine. She said that she wrote up the account like a story, but everything in it was true except for one sentence (which I removed) and while her mother was no longer living to confirm her story, her father and sister were. If any friends or relatives of Elma’s are still living I’d love to hear what she was like, or more about this story!

What follows was written by Elma Serton. I’ve included some of the photos I took while searching for the house. The second photograph was taken behind the house I thought might be the one. Although it’s in ruins now, it could have once been a lovely garden.

Ghost in Manhattan

“Quite some years ago we moved in the early fall into the downstairs apartment of a two-family house in upper Manhattan. The house was rather uniquely situated, jutting out high above the Harlem River and overlooking Baker Field and Inwood Park. A bend in the river, where [Spuyten Duyvil] cut off the view, just barely prevented us from seeing where it flowed into the Hudson. One could sit in the garden and see the boats passing. At night one heard their far-off whistle as they rounded the bend, warning the bridge keeper to open the bridge at 225th Street so they could be on their way to the East River piers with their loads of sand and stone.


“The house was built with love because of the view and had been converted into a two-family dwelling. Any Manhattanite was bound to feel fortunate indeed to be living in this spacious-roomed apartment where the smell of ripe grapes came in through the open windows that fall and an occasional ruby-throated hummingbird darted in and out of the vines which grew against the walls to leave a tiny scar on each grape it pierced.

“In the garden there were tomatoes and there were corn, Country Gentlemen and Golden Bantam. There were also peaches and green peppers and, of all things, luscious dark purple figs with their delicate flavored pink meat and beautiful large leaves. In the late summer the day lilies spread burnt-orange petals, like butterflies, all over the garden and cosmos nodded in the breeze.

“Renters of the apartment usually stayed for many years, just as we did, for where would one find as sunny and airy a place on the whole of Manhattan. One would be loath to leave this house unless forced by circumstances which would give one more advantages. This feeling of not wanting to leave must have been rather strong for we felt at the time that whoever had been living there had left out of necessity and not because they wanted to. This was later confirmed by our landlady.

“Although we loved the apartment and everything connected with it we now and then had the strange feeling of not quite belonging, a feeling as if the apartment was not completely ours, a sense of unrest, almost as if someone had just left the room on hearing one of us enter and resented the intrusion. This feeling persisted and grew stronger as we went into our first summer there. I think it was my mother who first remarked that she heard a sound like the impatient snapping of fingers in the dining room. Our cat would suddenly stop washing her face, her paw in mid-air, to stare around the room as if at someone passing who had rudely distracted her from her task.


“One night my sister woke up because of someone coughing loudly right near her ear. We told her she must dreamt or imagined it but she insisted that loud coughing had done it. However, as we by that time all had heard the snapping of the fingers I started thinking and now and then my mother and I discussed the matter.

“My mother learned [from our landlady] that a family of two sisters and two brothers, all elderly, had lived in our apartment. They had all loved it but the sisters had been compelled to move when the brothers died in short succession. Our landlady, herself well along in her seventies and still full of zestful life, who believed the superstition that where two had died a third must follow, was very reluctant to talk about the former tenants because she did not want to lose us. She first carefully broached the subject of her superstitious viewpoint and when she realized that we did not share it [she] tentatively admitted that she would never live in an apartment where two people died.

“A few weeks after our landlady’s revelation both my parents were awakened in the night by loud persistent rapping on their bedroom window and my father got up to open the front door thinking that an urgent cable might have arrived, but there was no one there. He told my sister and myself rather puzzledly but at the same time with glee about the incident for he still considered it all a joke and he likes jokes.

“All was peaceful for a while and we all enjoyed the warm summer nights coming in from the garden where, a lonely firefly now and the shot through space, into the apartment with all its open windows and the moonlight splashing on the oak floors.

“Then, on one of those warm moonlight nights I woke with a terrific start because the door of my room flew open with a crash. I remember looking at the gaping doorway and seeing the curtains billowing out as if caught in a gust of wind. I heard someone walking in the kitchen and immediately quieted down thinking that my mother was walking around and [I was] expecting her to appear in the doorway. Imagine my shock when a small man wearing a striped bathrobe and something like a turban wrapped around his head peered seemingly curiously at me. “Thieves!”, I thought in panic and my heartbeats must have been almost audible. I caught myself blurting out, “Who’s there!” The figure withdrew and I waited for the footsteps, my eyes riveted on the black space in the door frame … Once more the little man appeared, this time only his head, staring at me from around the corner, then silence … while I was waiting … waiting … for the footsteps which never came.

“How long I lay like that I do not know. The clock striking three gave me the courage to get up and wake my sister in the adjoining room. I told her that there was a thief in the house and we cautiously tiptoed down the hall toward my parent’s room. Like most mothers, my mother had already sensed something or heard us in the hall and [she] came to meet us. We then all three proceeded to the kitchen and then inspected the rest of the apartment where nothing was out of place and no silver was missing, nor were any window screens gone or cut.

“We looked at each other and then we knew … this was it, or whatever it was! “This has got to stop,” my mother said and her plan of action was born on the spot.


“During one of the ensuing days when I was home I heard my mother walking through the apartment from room to room talking to someone it seemed to me. I felt embarrassed as I knew there was no one there and that she was full of what had happened, so I listened from a distance. She was talking to someone whose name seemed to be Fitz Simmons and whom she frequently accosted as such. I learned that she pressed our landlady into telling her the name of the former tenants. It was Fitz Simmons [maybe it was the last name Fitzsimmons and not a first and last name the way Elma has it written] and there had been two brothers, the one tall, who had been an actor and the other small, who had been rather grouchy because of frequent headaches for the relief of which he used to wear a towel wrapped around his head. He was the one who would often potter around in the kitchen at night cooking something for himself.
“My mother immediately came to grips with Fitz Simmons. She told him in no uncertain term to get out and stay out! We were the rightful tenants now and he was on another plane. He had nothing to seek in our apartment anymore to which even to human law he had no right since both his sisters had moved. If he wished to see them he should go there. This went on for several days.

“Needless to say Fitz Simmons never appeared again as long as we lived there and from then on our apartment was really ours. The atmosphere cleared; no more impatient snapping of fingers; no more staring cat. We lived for more than ten years there, after which we moved into our own home.

“Once in a while we recall with wonder this unusual incident which really and truly happened here in Manhattan, a borough of New York City.”

– Elma Serton

I am now looking in the Inwood or Marble Hill area of Manhattan for a Fitz Simmons, or someone with the last name Fitzsimmons, who lived there long before 1958. The only clues I have are that one of the brothers was an actor, and they had two sisters.

More About the Greten Family Poltergeist

A while back I posted about a 1949 poltergeist case that took place in the Lively Grove, IL home of Mr. and Mrs. Tony Greten and their ten children. The events centered around 11 year old Jerome and only took place after he went to bed. My first post is here.

It’s not the strongest case in the world, but it got my attention because it took place around the time as other cases I was researching (like the more famous case which led to the book, The Exorcist). What was going on in America in 1949??

Two more articles about the disturbances turned up. A June 26, 1949 Chicago Daily Tribune piece said that Rev. Edward Dahmus (a local priest who was investigating) confirmed that he had observed several manifestations of the spirit, which Mrs. Greten insisted was not to be referred to as a spook or a ghost. However, his Bishop Albert R. Zuroweste, would not allow him to discuss it.

In my original post I talked about how the family would ask the spirit questions and then leave paper and pencils and crayons out for the answers. “What do you want,” they’d ask. “Why are you here?” The spirit threw a pencil on one occasion and moved a bottle of ink across the floor in other. In the Chicago piece, when the family followed Father Dahmus’ suggestion to use an indelible pencil the spirit wrote out “Mass.” On another night it wrote “1,000” with a green crayon. There was never any explanation for the cryptic message. And when Dahmus wrote, “Are you a good or an evil spirit,” once again, a pencil was flung in response.

The Los Angeles Times wrote a more light-hearted piece a couple of weeks later titled, Angelic Spirit Forces Farmer to Keep Shoes On. Dahmus was talking a little more openly now. Describing events that took place on May 28, a little after 8pm, “Dahmus said the ‘dreadful’ pounding about the floors and walls was so loud and continuous that the family became alarmed … The noises stopped when they began reciting the Rosary but resumed when they finished.”

“Greten got tired of kneeling and sat on the bed. He took off one shoe and again there was a terrific pounding. He put the shoe back on and the noises stopped. He decided to keep it on.”

Two days later, with Dahmus present, Jerome said to the spirit, “a priest is here who would like to help you: what can he do?” The spirit wrote only, “help.” The priest wrote out, “Did God send you here?” The note came back with a green line drawn through what Dahmus had written. “Do you love Mary, the mother of God.” “Yes.” “Write Ave Maria.” But only the word “Ave” came back. “Write Maria, too.” The spirit did not comply.

Different papers wrote different versions of this story. For instance, in one version, the answer to “Did God send you here?” was “No.” And the next question was “Do you want the priest to pray for you,” to which the spirit answered, “No.” The farm is described as ramshackle in one article and prosperous in the next.

The first time I posted about this case I was pointed to the story of the Lively Massacre. Aside from the location, there is nothing connecting these two events, but I do enjoy when one good story leads to another. Actually, “good” is entirely the wrong word to use to describe this story. I wonder what prompted the Indians to kill this family in 1813? I’m guessing this is a sad story in more ways than one.

The picture of St. Libory (the church of Father Dahmus) came from www.stlibory.com. The picture of Bishop Albert R. Zuroweste came from www.stannnashville.org, and the picture of the Lively family grave came from the website I linked to in the previous paragraph.

Letters Received at the Lab

The best poltergeist case I found took place out in Seaford, Long Island in 1958, in the home of James Herrmann and family. Once the disturbances were publicized people started writing the family with suggestions about what to do. Detective Joe Tozzi, who was working the case, went through every letter they received. This is a Life Magazine picture of Tozzi and Mrs. Herrmann going through the current batch of letters.

I enjoyed reading them and I’ve reproduced one below. It’s filled with misspellings and bad grammar, but I’m typing it in as is.


Dear Family:

Concerning your trouble in your house, I like to ask yours some questions, if the answers are true, may be I can clarified your trouble.

My question are if in your family or relatives or may be you had two daughters been dead or kill some time ago, Or two girls that be very friendly to you die or kill some time ago. You think about that if something in this letter are true I know for sure what is happening in your house. Then I can come out to your house and explain you how to cure that. I saw to girls look alike in your house doing all that trouble. Maybe I am wrong but this two girls are dead sometime ago.

Hoping everything goes fine,
Sincerely yours,

I’m leaving the name out, but it was a man who lived in Jamaica, Queens. The last two lines are heavily underlined, by Tozzi I’m sure, who didn’t like the sound of them. It makes me think of the Diane Arbus photo that Stanley Kubrick borrowed from to great effect in The Shining.

Extreme Paranormal and Bonita City

Someone I know has a tv show!  It’s called Extreme Paranormal and it’s on A&E.


(I know the guy in the middle!) What I really appreciated about this show was the new stories. Usually you hear about the same ghost stories again and again.

In one episode they went to Bonita City, New Mexico and the site of a 19th century murder. It was an old mining town that is now underwater, which made for a unique investigation (you have to see it). But I found this story so intriguing I was googling it all night.

On May 5, 1885, this young guy Martin Nelson went on a rampage, killing seven people. He was staying in Bonita City’s only hotel and he started with the family who ran the hotel. They were Mr. and Mrs. W. F. Mayberry, their 17 year old son John, and their 7 year old son Eddie. He also shot the Mayberry’s 14 year old daughter Nellie, but she begged for her life and survived. Also killed was a guest of the hotel, Dr. R. E. Flynn, and two people who came running to help, Pete Nelson and Herman Beck.

I think this story got to me because I’ve been reading Willa Catha lately and her books like O Pioneers. I’m more aware of how hard life was out west back then. For instance, this was Bonita City’s general store. Is this not the saddest general store you’ve ever seen?

And this was the post office.


These pictures don’t even really capture it. The lack of food, losing crops, animals, the meagre protection against the elements. To have to fight the way they did for existence and then suffer this kind of tragedy on top of everything else. Especially the children. It’s always harder when children die. And the two guys who ran to help and were murdered for their kindness and bravery? It must have completely demoralized the small town.

But Bonita City doesn’t exist anymore. The building of Bonita Dam put the town underwater, and the remains of the victims were moved to Angus Cemetery.


I was really hoping to be able to find out what became of Nellie Mayberry. Children who lose their parents at a young age usually carry that pain in some form or another for life, sadly, and she lost her parents—her entire family—to murder. Where did she go? Who took her in? Did she find happiness somewhere, somehow? But I didn’t manage to find out anything yet. Women are harder to track down because they change their names when they marry.

I would also love to find out more about Martin Nelson. What brought him to this sad little place? What was wrong with him to cause him to go off like that? In all the accounts it took everyone by surprise, he was a nice, polite young man until that night. I wish he didn’t have such a common name. It’s going to be pretty much impossible to figure out anything about his past.

In another Extreme Paranormal episode they went to the now abandoned New Mexico State Penitentiary, where 33 inmates were killed in 1980. It amazes me that 33 people were killed and I never heard about this either. Congratulations on the show guys! And keep up the great work uncovering these stories!

UPDATE: I didn’t google enough! Fiona Broome researched and wrote up this story and you can read it her website, Hollow Hill. She did an amazingly wonderful job! Now I have to browse the rest of her site!! Thank you, Fiona. I know a lot of people were curious to learn more about this.

ANOTHER UPDATE: A descendant of Nellie Mayberry has responded in the comments section. Apparently the stories that have been published both here and elsewhere are riddled with inaccuracies. I’m sorry for my part in perpetuating them and I would love the opportunity to post the real story.

Photo credits. I found the General store shot here. The Bonito City post office shot is from the book, Ghost Towns and Mining Camps of New Mexico by James and Barbara Sherman (the picture is from 1904). And the grave shot is from Find A Grave and the photographer is listed as Ron.

A Few Things …

There’s a few things I wanted to post about today. First, this new book, Queer Hauntings: True Tales of Gay and Lesbian Ghosts by Ken Summers. So many ghost books seem to just retread the same material we’ve heard about again and again, so it’s great to see something that looks so completely new! Also, I addressed this a couple of times in my book, but not in depth and I hope Ken gets more into it in his, but there’s a connection, at least some of the time, between the paranormal and sex. You can visit Ken’s blog here.

Second, I went to Michael Jawer’s lecture about his new book (with Marc Micozzi, M.D., Ph.D.), The Spiritual Anatomy of Emotion, and I was really impressed. I mean really seriously impressed. J. B. Rhine and the scientists at the lab (and Eileen Garrett) recognized that emotion was a factor in their ESP experiments. Years later physicist Freeman Dyson went so far as to say that he believed ESP is real, but would be forever out of reach of science because “The experiment necessarily excludes the human emotions that make ESP possible.” I haven’t read the book yet, but it focuses on the science of emotion. Which, by the way, Jawer said was not even a valid area of study until recently, but apparent now it’s all the rage. We really need like a grand unification theory of emotion, consciousness, the body and the brain, and it looks like this book is a start. There’s a website for the book here.

Last! The New York Post sent a couple of ghost hunters to the Morris-Jumel Mansion, the site of a famous haunting (which I’ve written about, too). One of the investigators I know, Dan Sturges, who hosted a lecture of mine recently.

I wanted to recommend checking out the video of their visit. It’s fun! And they got an EVP! I think the link for that may only be in the article which you can find here.

Pictures of Elizabeth Bullock’s Grave

Nancy Wallace very kindly sent me pictures of the grave of Elizabeth Bullock, whose strange story I tell here. Nancy had grown up nearby and on a recent visit home she drove to the St. Patrick’s Cemetery at Table Bluff and found Elizabeth’s final resting place.

While there she visited with John Davy, who had prepared her grave, and his wife Doris Davey, who was the organist at the church where they conducted Elizabeth’s funeral mass. John was the one who had scratched Elizabeth’s name into the concete base at the bottom of the cross. They told Nancy that “the day after Elizabeth’s ashes arrived by UPS Father Devereaux and an assistant were to go to the small town of Fortuna to pick up the cross. They waited for Father Devereaux to wake up but he slept till after 10:00AM saying that he hadn’t slept well with Elizabeth with him.”

They also said that the following Sunday, when Elizabeth was mentioned at mass, the lights in the church went out and it was so dark Doris couldn’t play.

St. Patrick’s Cemetery at Table Bluff.


The grave of Elizabeth Bullock.


The base and the inscription (it was barely legible, Nancy said).


Another view of Elizabeth’s grave.


A view to the left of the grave. It gives you an idea of how pretty this spot it.


And a view to the right.


Thank you so much for sending me these pictures Nancy, and for allowing me to share them with everybody. I believe the post with the story about Elizabeth Bullock is my most visited post.