September 21, 2011

Movie Review: The Rite

It seems like lately the topic of exorcisms has been popular fodder for horror/thriller movies. One of the latest exorcism movies is The Rite. The story is about a young American man who wants to back out of seminary due to a lack of faith in God. Upon the urging of a priest who has acted as his mentor, the young man attends a training course on exorcisms at the Vatican. Through the course he makes the acquaintance of a priest who is a famous exorcist with some unorthodox ways, played by Anthony Hopkins.

The young man at first tries to explain away the events surrounding several people who are supposedly possessed, but eventually the evidence becomes too much for the man to deny. The way the skeptic vs. believer in the paranormal events played out in the movie almost--almost--reminded me of the X-Files when it was in its early seasons. Any time a movie, book or television series hearkens to such a great work, it is a good sign. By the time the main character in The Rite begins believing the possessions and demons are real a demon has singled him out and begins to wage war on him with a fury the young man has never experienced.

The movie had some promise, but I felt the climax fell a little flat for the building up. Some of the scenes portraying demonic possession can be frightening, depending on your tolerance level. I am a big fan of Anthony Hopkins, and he did not fail to deliver in The Rite, but I could not say the same for all of the actors in the movie. Ultimately, though, The Rite's undoing was a script that was not completely developed, leaving a doughy and half-baked taste in my mouth.

September 15, 2011

La Llorona or the Ditch Witch

Anyone who has grown up in the southwestern United States or Mexico has probably heard of La Llorona. The tale is of a woman ghost who looks for children to take and murder. While La Llorona has fame across the region, the exact story of who she was, how she died, where she dwells and what she does with children changes depending on the area.

I grew up in New Mexico, where in grade school we would listen to scratchy old recordings telling the tale of La Llorona, or the Ditch Witch as she was called in the Land of Enchantment. La Llorona was supposed to have been a woman who lived in or near Santa Fe (if my childhood memories do not fail me). I heard two different versions of what happened to her. One was that she did not want children but her husband did. One day she found out her husband was having an affair, and so in a fit of rage she threw her children into the river so they drowned. After realizing what she had done and crying quite a bit (hence the name La Llorona, which in Spanish translates loosely to "The Crying One") she threw herself into the river and drowned as well.

In another version I heard, she let her children play by the arroyo or ditch in the evening as the sun was setting. One of the children fell in because the child could not see, and the other jumped in to save them. When the woman realized her children had not returned home for bed, she went looking for them and found their bodies floating in the water. Stricken with grief, she jumped into the water to end her own life.

Both versions warned that the ghost of La Llorona did not know she was dead (cue the Sixth Sense theme music) and so she wandered the arroyos and river banks looking for her children still. The tale then went on to tell about kids playing in the arroyos or by the rivers and La Llorona coming up, screaming and whaling, as she tried to take the kids and drag them into the water, etc. Some people claimed she left huge scratches on children's backs and tore their clothing.

Really, La Llorona served a good purpose since we lived in flash flood territory. An arroyo could be dry as a bone one moment, and then have a ten foot wall of water traveling over 30 miles per hour rush down it the next moment. Playing in or near arroyos and rivers was dangerous, without a screaming ghost lady grabbing kids.

If you want to read even more about La Llorona, click here.

August 1, 2011

The Great Salt Lake Phantom

Utah has a surprising amount of paranormal activity. Much of the classic paranormal events are interwoven with Utah’s unique history, and the legend of the Great Salt Lake Phantom is a prime example. Many have heard of the shrieking phantom who haunts the shorelines and islands of the large saline lake, but very few know the history behind the ghastly appearances.

Life in early Utah was different in many respects. The story of the Great Salt Lake Phantom starts with former Utah Governor John W. Dawson, who had been accused of unbecoming advances on a female citizen of Salt Lake City. A group of three “desperados” decided to enact some justice of their own, catching up with Dawson at the stage station in Mountain Dell. The three outlaws - Lot Huntington, John P. Smith and Moroni Clawson – were tracked down three weeks later by a posse lead by the legendary Porter Rockwell. Rockwell shot Huntington to death and the other two surrendered and were brought back to Salt Lake City and the custody of the local police. Soon after the transfer of the two prisoners, they were both shot to death by Salt Lake City police officers after they attempted escape. Clawson’s body was not claimed, so it was buried in potter’s field at the city cemetery. He was buried on the city’s dime, and one of the Salt Lake police officers purchased burial clothing for Clawson.

Legend says Clawson’s brother George lived out East. When he learned of his late brother’s demise, he went to Utah to collect the body. To the surprise of the authorities and the outrage of George Clawson, when the casket was opened Moroni Clawson was inside, naked as the day he was born and face down. Reportedly George was ready to sue the city and anyone else involved in such a disgraceful act. Salt Lake City Police launched a full investigation, and that was where the story gets truly interesting.

John Baptiste (or in some accounts he is called Jean Baptiste or John the Baptist) had moved to Salt Lake City three years previous. Baptiste was Salt Lake City’s first gravedigger and was known for his strong work ethic. No problems had been unearthed with his work until this point. The police investigation focused intensely on Baptiste. Police went by the Baptiste residence, finding only his wife home. The police also found boxes upon of clothing, all of which belonged to the dead. Henry Heath, one of the police officers, was horrified since he had buried his own daughter not too long before. Heath feared that his daughter’s clothing was “among the motley, sickening heap of flesh-soiled linen… found in the grave-digger's hut."

When police confronted Baptiste, he confessed to the despicable crime of robbing the dead. Some have accused him of robbing the dead of more than just clothing and jewelry, adding further gravity to Baptiste’s crimes. When the news spread around the city, keeping Baptiste safe and in one piece became a hat trick for authorities. The stolen pieces of clothing were displayed for the public to claim, drawing large crowds of horrified grievers.

Unable to convict Baptiste of anything more than a felony, the judge in Baptiste’s trial could not impose the punishment of death so many pressed for. Instead Baptiste was to be banished from the community. He reportedly was branded with the words “branded for robbing the dead” and then left on Fremont Island. The only thing found on the desolate island located in the Great Salt Lake was a shack and some cattle. Officers went to the island several months later, only to find the roof and walls of the shack missing and a cow slaughtered.

Speculation about what happened to Baptiste circulated in the community. Some thought he was successful in making a watercraft and had made it to Montana. Others said he probably drowned in the salty waters, receiving finally his death sentence the law was unable to impose.

Thirty years later, a group of duck hunters found a human skull in the Great Salt Lake near where the Jordan River empties into the lake. Three years later a hunter in the same area came across a headless skeleton, complete with a ball and chain around one ankle. Controversy about whether the remains were from Baptiste or not popped up in the newspapers.

Regardless of the controversy, both Utah residents and tourists have been witness to strange occurrences at the shores and on the islands of the Great Salt Lake. Witnesses have described seeing a man walking along, wailing in pain and agony. The man has been described clutching a wet and rotting bundle of clothing. The south end of the lake, where the unidentified remains had been found, as well as Fremont Island itself have been the sites with the most occurrences reported.

Despite the reported activity, investigations performed by paranormal researchers has generated little to no evidence of paranormal activity. Before anyone decides to conduct their own research on Fremont Island, it is private property. Permission must be obtained from the property owners before venturing onto the island.

July 27, 2011

Old Mill: The Most Haunted Place in Utah?

Tucked between the 215 beltway and the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon is a structure is hidden from casual view. The aging stone and adobe mill sits near the intersection of Wasatch and Fort Union Boulevards. The Old Mill has an interesting past which makes it – some argue – the most haunted site in all of Utah.
Old Mill was first built in 1883 by the Deseret News. Paper was in short supply in the valley so the mill was established to make paper out of logs from the nearby canyon, old paper, and even rags that were collected from residents. The completion of the transcontinental railroad made paper cheap as it increased the paper supply in Utah. No longer needing the mill, Deseret News sold it to Granite Paper Mills Company in 1892. One year later, on April 1, a fire broke out. The employees thought the alarms were part of a bad April Fool’s joke, allowing the fire to spread quickly. The structure was badly burned, especially in the southeast end where only the lower level stone walls were left.

The mill was renovated and used as a dance hall in 1927. The club was popular until the 1940’s, when it failed for a number of reasons. Since it has been used for various purposes, most notably as a haunted house. Tales have circulated about former caretakers of the mill who have died violently, piquing peoples’ interest in the site.

Many who have visited Old Mill have reported strange events. Cold spots, growling, and a general creepy feeling are commonly reported. One woman, Kelly*, had some strange experiences while working for a film crew that was shooting at the location over the period of several days. Kelly and others in the crew thought the building seemed “heavy” and “filled us with dread.” Equipment failures, which happened from time to time, occurred “much more than on any other shoot I had ever been on, before or since,” said Kelly. One night, after the whole crew had exited the building and all the equipment had been packed up, lights came on inside the mill. Baffled, the crew made extra sure upon returning to the warehouse that all the lighting equipment was accounted for. More baffling was the fact the building had no lights nor electricity running to it for lights to turn on. Kelly said everyone seemed glad once they finished filming at the location.

Old Mill was condemned by the City of Cottonwood Heights in 2005. The current owners have stated they have no plans to renovate the building. Old Mill is private property and there is no trespassing allowed.
Have you had any experiences with Old Mill or know anyone who has? Post your comments below.

* name changed to protect identity.

July 25, 2011

Movie Review: Insidious

It's been a while since I have seen a paranormal movie that really took me by surprise. Normally when I see one, I set my expectations low--especially after the huge disappointment of Paranormal Activity. It was with these low expectations that I viewed Insidious recently. I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised with how good that movie was.

Insidious tells the story of a family that has recently moved into an old house (sound familiar?) where strange things start to happen. The mother hears strange voices on the baby monitor, the baby won't sleep, things go missing, etc. Even more disturbing, though, is that the oldest of the two sons falls into a coma the doctors cannot explain. One day while changing her comatose son's sheets, the mother finds a red hand print on the sheets, complete with claws.

Things start to go crazy from there as the paranormal activity in the house skyrockets. The family makes the difficult decision to leave the house in hopes of starting afresh. At first the new house seems fine, but then the strange activity picks up again, leading the family to reach out for help. I don't want to give away too much of the plot, but the family learns that their old house was not haunted, but rather that their son is the one who is haunted. Even worse is that the son's spirit has wandered far from his body to a place called the Further, and he can't get back to his body. The body-less spirits are circling the abandoned body like sharks, eager to enter and taste life again.

What makes Insidious such a great movie? The acting is wonderful, for starters. The movie does not try to go from 0 to 60 in no time flat, like so many horror movies, choosing instead to build the tension slowly while filling you with a sense of dread about what ultimately will happen. The plot does not follow the standard Hollywood formulas, choosing instead to strike out on its own and blaze a new trail. Being original carries a certain amount of risk, but Insidious wears this uncertainty quite well. I hate watching a movie, knowing exactly what will happen next. This happens to me a lot, but Insidious went in a direction I did not see.

I will say that Insidious is not a movie for those who are easily frightened. I do not get scared easily, and Insidious did not frighten me, but the movie did have its parts I would classify as "creepy" that would have had others diving behind the couch.

Buy or rent Insidious from Amazon by clicking here.

July 23, 2011

Hauntings at This is the Place Park

From its position at the mouth of Emigration Canyon sits a piece of Utah history. This is the Place Heritage Park marks the spot where Brigham Young and company first entered the Salt Lake Valley. At first a wooden marker was erected in 1917, but was later replaced with a stone monument. It was not until 1971 that a plan was put in place to create a living history museum at the site. In 1975 the first building was moved into the park – more on that later. The park now is a recreated pioneer village, complete with historic buildings, unpaved roads, and guides dressed in the garb of the pioneers.

Many have visited the park over the years. Some visitors may not be aware the living are not the only ones who walk the historic streets and buildings. The park is a hotbed for paranormal activity. Numerous employees and volunteers have experienced strange and unexplained phenomena while working in the park’s buildings.

What makes the park attractive to spirits of the dead? One possible explanation has to do with the pioneer graveyard. Llocated in a remote corner of the park, many visitors have mistakenly thought it was a reproduction of graveyards from times long since passed. Instead real pioneer remains are interred below the small collection of stone markers.

In 1986, during construction work in the area that was once known as Salt Lake City Block 49 (200 West to 300 West, 300 South to 400 South) workers stumbled across unmarked pioneer graves. Starting in 1847, the area had been used as a makeshift cemetery but these graves were long forgotten. The graves were uncovered most unceremoniously. Some of the remains were identified, but those that were not ended up in This is the Place Heritage Park. A very nice cemetery was constructed, including a fence, trees, and statues. Most of the unidentified bodies were children. The grave markers remain blank to this day, a reminder of the mystery surrounding who is buried below. The small markers are for the pioneer children, while the few larger markers are for the adults.

Some wonder if the relocation of these forgotten dead is not at least partly responsible for the activities in the park. Is the sound of children playing in some of the homes these unremembered children staying so near their new place of rest? Do these spirits wander the park, causing mischief and startling workers?

It seems fitting that the first building relocated to This is the Place Heritage Park was Brigham Young’s Forest Farm House. It is one of the most popular structures in the park, both with the living and the dead.
Paranormal activity was reported before the house was relocated in 1974. Park employee Brian Westover has taken an interest in the paranormal phenomena surrounding various buildings, putting together a log of different events. He reveals how previous owners of the home claimed Young and others visited the house, telling them even how to decorate it in 19th century d├ęcor.

Since the home was relocated to its quiet abode in the park, employees have reported numerous incidents while working inside. Numerous reports of doorknobs rattling on their own, footsteps sounding on the wood floors, and the noise of children playing upstairs have been recorded. Are these the sounds of Young’s children or the children in the nearby graveyard?

The paranormal events do not stop at sounds alone. Many have smelled foods of all types cooking in the kitchen. The kitchen along with the upstairs have been hotbeds of activity.

Most chilling is the experience of long-time park employee Stephen Shepherd. He claims he was a skeptic of the paranormal until his experience while working in the Farm House. In 1975, when the Farm House was new to the park, Shepherd was busy in the basement. He distinctly heard footsteps walking around the first floor of the house, even though supposedly he was the only one around. He checked the building to find no one around. Shepherd returned to his work, only to be disturbed once more by the footsteps. He went upstairs to find no signs of anyone, then checked outside. Fresh snow was falling, but Shepherd said no footprints could be seen anywhere outside the house. Shepherd locked the doors again and set the building’s alarm system, then returned to his work in the basement. The footsteps returned once more, yet the alarm system’s motion sensors detected nothing.

Does Brigham Young or his wife Ann Eliza keep watch over the home? Do their children still play in the second story? Many claim to have had experiences that lead them to believe they do.


July 21, 2011

Psychic Remote Viewing

Remote viewing is a controversial branch of parapsychology (the study of psychic phenomena). The psychic who performs remote viewing has the ability to experience a target location or object, giving feedback about various characteristics of the target. Some psychics reportedly can even can taste or smell during the remote view experience. Other psychics in the past have combined remote viewing with associative writing.

Experiments have gone as far as giving a psychic latitude and longitude coordinates and letting the psychic describe what is at the location. The target for a remote viewer may be an object contained in a box or envelope, or it could be a far-away location (including celestial bodies). Remote viewing has been criticized by some in the scientific community, but has been supported by others who have studied the phenomena (including former skeptics).

Many in the field of parapsychology believe there are individuals who can perform remote view who are not aware of their ability. Others in the field believe remote viewing can help a psychic view not only happenings and installations that are geographically distant, but also view events and places that are distant in time.

The government became involved in remote viewing during the Cold War. Concern about the possible ability of Soviet spies to observe secret US installations and practices fueled the CIA and other groups to research the possibility of such a threat. As in the scientific community there was a mixture of opinions on the validity of remote viewing. In 1995, under the Clinton Administration’s efforts at transparency in government, several documents from remote viewing experiments were declassified for public view.

Public speculation on the government’s involvement with parapsychology has been building since the 1960s. It is now known remote viewing has been employed in hostage situations, military operations, and intelligence gathering among other applications. With the declassification of government documents, the release of programs named Star Gate, Sun Streak, and Center Lane associated with remote viewing have helped sustain recent fascination with the subject. Several portrayals of remote viewing have appeared in popular culture, including the season seven opener of the TV show the X Files and Stephen King’s book Hearts in Atlantis.

For more info: see the International Remote Viewing Association's website -  a non-profit remote viewing organization.

Click here for some interesting information on H.E. Puthoff's involvment with the government sponsored remote viewing experiments at Stanford Research Institute.

July 16, 2011

Do You Have a Poltergeist?

Movies and other forms of popular culture have portrayed the event known as poltergeists.  These portrayals are not always true to reality, as is often the case in the entertainment industry.  It is important, then, to establish what a poltergeist is.

The word poltergeist comes from German, and loosely translated means “noisy ghost.”  Classic activity attributed to poltergeists include inexplicable moving or falling objects, knocking on walls or doors, malfunctioning electronic devices, and objects being stacked by an unknown force.  It is common for paranormal activity in a building to be attributed to ghost activity when a poltergeist is the cause.  This calls up the question of whether paranormal phenomena taking place in someone’s home is caused by a haunting by a spirit or a poltergeist.

William G. Roll ( a prominent parapsychologist) provides a means for distinguishing the two.  Roll claims that noises, knockings, and object movement  all occur much less often in ghostly haunting than in poltergeist scenarios.  Hauntings also occur over a longer period of time than poltergeist activities and do not center on a single person but rather an area.  In poltergeist activities, the paranormal phenomena occur when a certain person is present.  In other words, if this person were to say go on vacation for a week all paranormal activity in the residence would cease, but then start up once this person returned.  

Some parapsychologists call the people at the center of poltergeist activity “agents.”  This stems from the belief that poltergeist activities do not involve spirits of the dead, but rather psychokinetic energies put off by the agent.  In other words the strange activity is being produced by the agent, often without their knowledge it is them causing the activity.  Agents often are adolescents, but sometimes adults have been poltergeist agents.  Many have theorized puberty or severe psychological distress can be triggers for poltergeist manifestations through an agent.

Many wonder if poltergeist activities can be similar to spirit activities, just how easily can they be differentiated.  The truth is poltergeist phenomena sometimes can mirror ghostly activity so well even seasoned paranormal investigators may mistake one for the other.  Sometimes poltergeist activity can go on for quite some time.  It may involve aspects many attribute to demon activity such as physical violence towards the living (i.e. hitting or scratching).  One historical case some have theorized may have been poltergeist activity is the Bell Witch.  Others still feel the case was the product of black magic or demon activity.  

On a side note, there are some who feel other triggers are responsible for poltergeist activities.  One college professor in New York state feels geomagnetic increases are responsible for poltergeist activities.  As with many paranormal phenomena there is a wide range of theories trying to explain what seems inexplicable. 

If you suspect poltergeist activity is going on in your home, there are some steps to take for a resolution.  The agent should receive counseling to help resolve the stresses in their life.  Roll describes tests parapsychologists may use to determine who the agent is that needs to be treated.  The best rule of thumb is to involve professionals if poltergeist activity is suspected, whether it is a therapist or a parapsychologist. 

July 11, 2011

Skinwalkers and Spirit Walkers

Lately I have been doing some interesting research on the paranormal group Skinwalkers,which have been documented to an extent mostly amongst Navajos. I've written before about how white people have mistakenly said Skinwalkers are just Navajo werewolves, since there are major differences between the two groups.

Even deeper study on the subject has now shed more light on the subject for me, clarifying what a Navajo I once met meant when he told me that "us Skinwalkers prefer the term 'spirit walker.'" At the time I thought he was just trying to be contrary and to show that I didn't know much as a white person. The more I have dug, the more I have seen why some Skinwalkers would want to be referred to as spirit walkers.

Some Skinwalkers will perform their work in spirit form, instead of just in a physical form more or less resembling the animal whose skin they wear. This spirit form will allow a walker to perform task he would normally not have the ability to perform, even wearing an animal skin. The walker will make spiritual objects mean to harm others, which vary in form and function.

A person may not detect the presence of a spiritual walker as easily, and will also need to deal with the walker on the spiritual plane. This means physical blocks such as locks, security systems and even weapons will be ineffective against a walker in spiritual form. The walker has left his body behind and so has gained capabilities he would not have in his body.

This viewpoint of the Skinwalker as a spirit walker will challenge some people's way of thinking since the concept is so much more abstract than a guy who dresses in a wolf skin and becomes a "werewolf." Stepping out of one's ethnocentric circle comes with vast rewards as you are able to see the world from a different viewpoint, and begin to develop the ability to see the same thing from various viewpoints. I would argue that for anyone who wants to study the paranormal on a serious level, such an ability is absolutely essential.

February 6, 2011

Bigfoot, Yeti and the Wild Men Archetype

There are some obvious parallels between the North American Bigfoot and the Himalayan Yeti, despite the two legendary creatures being separated by thousands of miles and the largest ocean on the planet.Both creatures have been described by many witnesses as being ape-like, taller than at least most if not all humans and being elusive to contact with most humans. More parallels between the two creatures exist, but I will not bore all of you with a long list.

Interestingly, the Eskimos have tales of a creature they call Saumen Kar, or "Man of Snow." Saumen Kar tales have a striking resemblance to Yeti, especially since both are snow-bound.

Why do the tales of Bigfoot and Yeti endure to this day? Entire organizations have been created, dedicated to proving their existence, academics have spent a good portion of their careers studying supposed evidence and collecting eyewitness accounts of encounters with the creatures and numerous books have been written about both.

One possible explanation has to do with the existence of wild-men stories in the lore from many civilizations, including the Celts, Native American groups and the early Mesopotamia region. These wild men are always described as hairy and savage and often are larger than most humans, adding to the fear and wonder that swirls around the wild men tales.While Bigfoot and Yeti are said to not really engage humans, these wild men are marauders who will take goods, crops, animals and even people's lives. Perhaps our wild men who live in fear, hiding in the shadows where they do not dare to assault us say something about us as a society.

Just because we shape the tales surrounding Bigfoot and Yeti does not necessarily mean that they do not exist. What I am arguing is that the way that we view these creatures tells an awful lot about us and our values.

January 14, 2011

Movie Review: The Last Exorcism

I wish I could see more grown-up movies when they first come out in theaters, but good sitters don't come cheap, greatly inflating the cost of going to the theater for anything other than Toy Story 3 or How to Train Your Dragon. For this reason, despite my strong desire to see The Last Exorcism when it first hit theaters, I just saw the movie a few days ago.

If you are anything like me, then you have probably seen a fair amount of exorcisms as portrayed in the media. Those exorcisms are almost always performed by a Catholic priest and go through certain motions that seem like requirements in order to portray an exorcism properly. The Last Exorcism breaks a lot of the rules, providing a fresh take on the exorcism movie. Patrick Fabian's character, Cotton Marcus, is an Evangelical minister who essentially has lost his faith, and yet has kept preaching. He recruits a film crew to document him doing an exorcism simply to prove that exorcisms are a hoax, since he believes exorcisms have harmed many innocent people, including children. The movie starts out with a pretty light mood considering the subject material, sometimes becoming comical.

Like the movie Full Metal Jacket, The Last Exorcism almost pulls the rug out from under you as it makes a hard and emotional transition from comedic and lighthearted to dark and sinister. You can see coming from a mile away that the girl Cotton Marcus goes to exorcise really is possessed by a demon. I don't want to give away what happens after that, but I will say one thing about the ending without going into detail. Like Frankenstein's monster, the ending of the movie seemed like a body part or piece of another movie sewed in, morphing the movie into almost something else entirely without warning or foreshadowing of any real sort. The ending would have worked better for me if the jump had not been so abrupt, which is a real shame since the movie starts off so promising. I would definitely recommend renting The Last Exorcism, but this movie will not make it into my home collection of DVDs.

Have you seen The Last Exorcism? Post your thoughts below!