Ghost Polls

I’ve been collecting polls about people’s belief in ghosts. Everything seems to indicate that it’s going up.

In a 1978 Gallup Poll, just under 11% of the respondents believed in ghosts.  But their most recent poll (2005) found that belief has gone up to one person in three.   Even more people believe in the devil (42%).   41% believe in ESP.

According to a 1950 British Gallup Poll, only 10% believed in ghosts, and only 2% said they saw one.  By 1998, 40% said they believed in ghosts and 15% said they had a “personal experience” of ghosts.

41 percent of the respondents in a 2007 Harris poll said that they believed in ghosts.  69 per cent said they believed the soul survived death.

In 2007, 81% of the people polled on the Larry King website said they believed in ghosts.  

60% of the people in a 2005 TV Guide poll said they believed in ghosts.

This is a picture of an ectoplasmic cat. Most of my pictures come from the library at the Rhine Research Center. They very generously allowed me to spend an afternoon scanning.  I’m going back week to scan some more and I can’t wait!

Thank You For Coming to my Presentation!

Two things I have to apologize for!  One, more people showed up than I expected so I’m sorry there weren’t seats for everyone.  Two, I saw a ton of unused bottles of wine after everyone left and I couldn’t figure out why no one drank.  Then I realized people may not have spotted the two cases of wine behind the table waiting to be opened.  I opened a few bottles and figured people could open the rest for themselves, but I don’t think they realized the cases were there.  I’m such an idiot!  I’m sorry!  More after the first pic.

But I really appreciated seeing all your friendly faces in the crowd.  Thank you so much for coming.  The big fear when you have a party is that no one will come, so the turn-out really did my heart good, and it was a great start to my book launch.  Thank you everyone and thank you especially Parapsychology Foundation, the host of the event!

Another Haunted Boy

In Unbelievable I write about the child who inspired the book and movie The Exorcist.  While I was down in Durham going through the Parapsychology Lab archives I found a similar case.  The events in this one began just weeks after the more famous exorcism ended and only 60 miles away, in the small rural town of Lively Grove, Illinois.  This one involved an 11-year-old boy named Jerome Greten, and it started with a knocking underneath his bed.

The noises began on May 1, 1949 and continued every evening until June.  At times they were so loud it could be heard on the next farm.  Like Bouncing Bertha Sybert [another child I wrote about in the book], sometimes the bed would shake and then levitate, and it couldn’t be brought back to the floor even when Jerome’s brothers and his father Anton would run into the room and climb onto the bed with him.  A crude, handmade hammer fashioned out of sticks was found underneath the bed one night.  The family believed it was made by the spirit.  Jerome’s father Anton kept the hammer in his desk until the day he died.  I tracked down one of Anton’s grandchildren and she told me some more details of the story.  

They communicated with the entity by asking questions, Anton said.  Then they’d put down a blank piece of paper with a pencil or crayons and come back later for the answers.  Why are you here and what do you want, they asked.  Once the spirit sent a pencil flying across the room, and another time it knocked over a bottle of ink.  But eventually it confided that she was a soul in purgatory, with no one to pray for her (the family was convinced the spirit was female).   A housekeeper from the local church had died without a family.  Maybe it was her, the family thought.  Anton was a good man.  Although it was a hardship for the farmer, he went to local church and paid for masses to be said for the lonely spirit.

Reverend Edward Dahmus, a Roman Catholic priest from nearby St. Liborious, was called in to see what was going on.  The 70-year-old Dahmus was a retired seminary professor of Latin and Greek, and according to Rev. Dennis Voss, the current rector, had the reputation of being a very intelligent and holy man.  Dahmus admitted that he had “seen and heard unusual occurrences” at the Greten farm.  The Gretens told reporters that Dahmus said it was an evil spirit, but Dahmus would tell the same reporters that the events, “might have been the work of his [Jerome’s] guardian angel.”  It’s the only case in the Duke archives where a priest attributed events like this to something as tender an angel.  Dahmus believed it was there “to demonstrate the existence of a spirit.” 

When questioned by Father Dahmus, the spirit “wrote” that it loved “Mary, mother of God.”  It also said that it had once lived on the earth in bodily form, which would seem to eliminate the guardian angel theory.  While some people are comforted by the thought that their deceased loved ones are now angels watching over them, that is not, theologically speaking, correct.  Technically, angels are pure spirits—heavenly beings created by God.  They were never corporeal.  Father Dahmus may have suggested an angelic agency in order to calm an already anxious family.  Dahmus submitted a report to Bishop Albert Zuroweste of Belleville, IL, but the church refused to issue a statement.  The report is still in their archives, but more than fifty years later the Diocese of Belleville continues to decline to reveal what’s inside.  I tried and tried to get a look at this report but no go.  I’m still dying to see it!

Ten children grew up in the Greten house where these events took place and three unmarried sons continue to live there today.  Jerome married, had a family and retired from managing a grocery store in a town eight miles away.  Lively Grove has only five homes now, one general store and a church.  They had a post office in the 1880’s, but that’s long gone.  As far as Anton’s granddaughter knows, the hammer the spirit used to get their attention is still in the desk where she left it, and where her uncles live today.  To this day, Jerome refuses to talk to anyone about it, even his wife can’t get him to tell her what happened all those years ago.  When asked, his older brother Urban, who was 21 at the time, said, “I’d rather let a sleeping dog die.”  The kids were told never to talk about what happened.  “That might bring her back.“

There were a number of these cases at the time, and Rhine wrote the various priests involved, but few wrote him back.

The picture was taken from the roof of the Alexian Brothers Hospital, where the exorcism that inspired The Exorcist took place.  I say another “haunted boy” in the title of this post because that was what the newspapers called the boy from the exorcist case at the time.

Warren Weaver

One of my favorite statements about the experiments of the Duke Parapsychology Laboratory came from Warren Weaver. He was a famous scientist and mathematician and the Vice President of the Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research at the time. He got up at a conference at Dartmouth about consciousness and said:

“I had rather hoped that this would be introduced by one of my youngers and betters, but since no one else has, I’m going to mention what is obviously a controversial topic … I am in fact referring to that embarrassing, partially disreputable but nevertheless challenging body of phenomena known as extrasensory perception.”

“I would like to mention the fact that I find this whole field intellectually a very painful one. And I find it painful essentially for the following reasons: I cannot reject the evidence and I cannot accept the conclusions.”

I like what he said because it shows a lot of integrity. Most scientists were very quick (and relieved) to reject the lab’s results on the basis of things that are not true, like fraud, sloppy controls, etc.. But Warren Weaver went down to Duke and studied their work and concluded that those objections weren’t valid. He couldn’t accept telepathy, but he wasn’t going to dismiss their work unfairly either.

Scientists and Animals Take Two

Yesterday, I posted about J. B. Rhine and his feelings about baby rats, so I thought I would post a couple of pictures I have from other animals studies that were undertaken at the Duke Parapsychology Laboratory.  

The first is of Gaither Pratt, who had a grant from the Office of Naval Research to study homing in pigeons, and whether or not they used ESP.  I found a funny little exchange between Gaither and Laura Dale from American Society for Psychical Research.  “I hope all goes well with your pigeons and that they are simply oozing psi,” Laura wrote Gaither in 1953. “The pigeons are oozing something alright,” he wrote back, “but we are still not at the point of being able to say whether it is psi.”

The picture immediately following is of Karlis Osis who conducted experiments to find evidence of ESP abilities in cats. 

“Symphonies in Innocence”

“Rats can become fascinating—a handful of cottony, fluffy, clean-as-silk little baby ratlets, pink and white symphonies in innocence, with clean little soft paws that cling to your fingers so timidly, and tiny soft ever-inquiring little pink noses touching your skin so lightly that you know, only thus, how faeries feel.”  

That was from a letter from J.B. Rhine (the man who ran the Duke Parapsychology Laboratory) to his sister-in-law.  It really warmed me towards him.  Who can resist someone with such tender feelings towards those small, helpless creatures?  Rhine had conducted years of experiments based on Jean-Baptiste Lamarck’s theories of evolution. This is not an area I know a lot about, but I do know that Darwin’s theories have ruled the day and Lamarck’s ideas have been generally rejected.  But according to this Scientific American article, some neuroscientists at Tufts University (my alma mater) are taking another look at Lamarck’s ideas.

This is one of my favorite pictures of Rhine.

Cold Cases and Seances

I had planned to research the ghost story surrounding the 1955 unsolved murder of “financier” Serge Rubenstein because it brought together two things I love to do: play amateur sleuth and fact-check the information from a seance. (More below …)

Rubenstein’s murder was a big case at the time due to his supposed millions, the many beautiful women that surrounded him, and his connections to the New York underworld. A year after his murder, Rubenstein’s mother contacted ghost hunter Hans Holzer because there were disturbances in the New York apartment where Rubenstein lived (and where she continued to live). Holzer conducted a seance and Rubenstein’s spirit supplied Holzer with the names of people who were supposedly involved with his murder. Holzer wrote up what happened and ended his account with him handing transcripts of the seances over to the police, but without being able to say if the names had any relevance to the detective’s investigation.  The case went cold and it and Serge Rubenstein were eventually forgotten.

It wasn’t always possible at the time to verify the information that came out of a seance. They didn’t have the internet and all the million tools, databases, etc., that we have now. So I planned to see if any of the names Holzer supplied were any good. I know where the police case files are. Also, Serge had a daughter, Diana Elizabeth, born May 12, 1945.  I thought I’d try to find her. But for now it’s all still on my to-do list. I am working on another ghost/seance story that I’ll post about when I’m done.  The dead person in this story got to me more than Serge Rubenstein did, her story was sadder and more poignant and so I started on hers first.

That’s Serge dressed as Napoleon in the picture. Doesn’t it have such a feel of old New York, of a time gone by?