December 14, 2012

Skinwalkers: Native American Organized Crime?

Since I was a child I have heard stories of the fabled Native American group called Skinwalkers. These stories I have heard from numerous sources, including Native Americans and white people who have lived on or near reservations. I have also heard of a few urban stories where people have attributed strange activity to Skinwalkers.

For those of you who don't know, Skinwalkers are not just another term for werewolves, as you can read in a blog post I wrote a while ago. There is much speculation about the group, including many who claim it is nothing more than superstitions from the past. In fact, some researchers claim that Native American stories about Skinwalkers might have first been told in the early 20th century or late 19th century, although some Native Americans claim the stories have been told for at least a few hundred years.

Just like there is controversy over how long Skinwalker tales have been around, there is also controversy about whether or not the group is organized or comprised of disconnected individuals and small groups. Of course a similar discussion is ongoing about Satan worshipers in Europe, the United States and other parts of the world. Some activists claim there is a highly sophisticated network of devil worshipers hiding among the general populace, while many sociologists dismiss such claims as baseless.

So, too, do some Native Americans claim that Skinwalkers are much more common, especially on reservations, than most people can begin to understand. I have spoken to people in the past who claim that Skinwalkers are excellent at blending in with the rest of the residents of a reservation, where they take up positions of influence. These people also claim that anyone who crosses a Skinwalker or his agenda will become a target of the group. A victim might have things stolen from them, be run off the reservation, lose animals mysteriously or even be murdered. In fact, some claim that the Skinwalkers are more like a Native American organized crime family, like the mafia.

I have spoken with people and read accounts that claim Skinwalkers are highly racist, that they absolutely abhor white people and influence. Supposedly they target anyone who is not Native American who travels through or stays at a reservation at night. They supposedly target clergy from white churches. Supposedly the goal of Skinwalkers is to cut off every bit of "European" influence from the group, giving them greater control.

Shamans are often the target of Skinwalkers. These Walkers (some call them Spirit Walkers) often attack their victims with magic, instead of just putting on an animal skin and waging a physical attack. When a victim falls ill or otherwise suffers from an attack, they often see the shaman for help. The Skinwalkers see the shaman as the old Native American check against their activity, and so seek to intimate or even eliminate them.

Some Native Americans try to protect themselves from Skinwalkers and their dubious activities by first identifying who around them might be a Walker. Those who have immediate family members who have mysteriously died or disappeared are often suspect, since legend says a Skinwalker must murder an immediate family member to be initiated into the group. In fact, some claim that Walkers use different parts of corpses in their magical ceremonies, sometimes turning to grave-robbing to obtain the needed body parts. I have heard from some Native Americans that Skinwalkers supposedly are obsessed with death, choosing to wear clothing and apparel that features skulls and skeletons, as well as wearing dark colors constantly. Others claim you must live near Skinwalkers if you hear footsteps on your roof at night, since Walkers love to walk on rooftops in an effort to travel undetected. There is, thankfully, no Malleus Maleficarum for Skinwalkers, and thus no standard method of detection.

December 4, 2012

Research Proves the Existence of Bigfoot?

Here we go again: someone is claiming to have irrefutable evidence that Bigfoot or Sasquatch is not just a legend, but in fact that the creature actually exists. Sadly, these claims usually are founded on some grainy video footage, a gorilla suit frozen in a solid block of ice or footprints that are easily debunked as a hoax. Many hobby cryptozoologists, or more specifically called Bigfoot hunters, cling to the hope that their next excursion into the wild will produce solid scientific evidence. So far no convincing evidence has come forth.

Or has it?

The Huffington Post, among many other media outlets, are reporting on the shocking claims made by Texas veterinarian Melba S. Ketchum, who works at a genetics lab called DNA Diagnostics. She claims that her team made up of geneticists and other scientists have finally found the key to proving that Bigfoot is not just a tall tale (pun intended). Bigfoot hunters have sent to Ketchum's lab samples of supposed Bigfoot hair, feces, blood and even saliva. Ketchum used these samples to create a genetic map of the creature, and she is claiming some shocking things about it--more than just that it exists.

According to Ketchum, Bigfoot might actually be related to Homo sapiens or human beings. Her research indicates that the Bigfoot race was spawned over 15,000 years ago when a female Homo sapien bred with some sort of a male primate.

Of course Ketchum's claims are controversial, and they await review from her scientific peers. A writeup of her findings are to appear in an unspecified scientific journal, after some peers review her findings. Some skeptics are saying the results of Ketchum's work proves the DNA samples were actually infected by the humans collecting or analyzing them. Ketchum says the claims are baseless, since her lab took steps to screen for contamination and the samples were all handled by robots and not humans.

Other researchers in England are working on some supposed Bigfoot DNA samples. They have not said anything about the results of their work, other than they will be published in a scientific journal in the near future.

Does Bigfoot actually exist? Is the creature's origin tied to the human race, or is it a completely separate species? Will the results of either of these studies show any possible connection between Bigfoot and Yeti? I guess we'll all have to wait and see.

November 13, 2012

The Cunning Folk

A curandero works at his craft.

Recently I was reading a book about both the history and modern practice of magic or witchcraft in its many forms. While there was much information in the book that was of interest to me, especially considering I'm writing a book about some witches, there was one thing that really stood out: the cunning folk.

For those of you who don't know, cunning folk are people who practice magic but don't identify themselves as witches. You could call them healers, midwives, etc. Many of them work full-time as a type of holistic medical practitioner, helping improve people's health through the use of natural remedies. It's likely you have been helped by one of these people at some point in your life, even if it was just your grandmother or neighbor telling you what type of herbal tea would help you through your latest bout with a cold.

One of the big differences between witches and cunning folk is that the cunning folk practice what is termed "low magic." Their magical abilities are limited to folk remedies for the most part, although some cunning folk (such as the curanderos--which I touch on in my book Shadow House) may mix in some "high magic" into their work. The high magic is highly ceremonial and formalized, such as witches reading spells word-for-word out of a book or mixing up a potion with carefully measured quantities of various ingredients.

The folk magic of the cunning folk is more intuitive in nature. Often, practitioners learn the craft from an elder such as their grandmother, uncle or neighbor. Some cunning folk, like some witches, even claim their ability is hereditary or was passed down through their family line. Most of the cures used by the cunning folk are not written down, but instead are kept in the practitioner's memory. There have been cases (both that I have read and have witnessed for myself) of cunning folk who claim to be able to see inside a person's body and detect disease or other ailments.

The cunning folk might use a variety of tools to perform their trade. Some rely heavily on deep meditation to help their patients, while others turn to devices such as divining rods, tea leaves or signs in the natural environment that surround them. We typically think of women falling into the cunning folk category, but men have also been known to be part of the ranks.

Sadly, during the witch trials in Europe (and the Salem trials in the U.S.) the cunning folk were often the ones executed for practicing witchcraft. While people respected their ability to heal with seemingly mysterious methods, this extraordinary capability also made people fearful of the cunning folk. Many concluded that if the cunning folk could use magic to heal someone, then they could also use it to harm people. For this reason, the cunning folk were often blamed for unexplained deaths, poor crops and any number of other calamities faced by the people. Sadly, most people fear what they don't understand, and that fear leads them to lash out in sometimes horrific ways. 

I guess some thought that was a fitting way to say thanks for the services the cunning folk rendered to the community.

November 9, 2012

Recent Bigfoot Sighting in Utah

If this is a hoax, it's much better than the Patterson Bigfoot

Some unidentified campers who were in the mountains near Provo, Utah videotaped what some are calling Bigfoot. While some people are shocked to hear of a potential Bigfoot sighting in Utah, I am not surprised in the least.

I'm not necessarily saying the video is authentic, but I will say that Bigfoot sightings are actually quite common in Utah. Sasquatch sightings have been reported in many parts of the state, with quite a concentration in the many rugged wilderness areas of the state. Bigfoot has also been reportedly sighted nearer to population centers in the state, including some motorists on busy I-15 saying they've almost struck a creature that walks upright and is as tall as truckers sitting in a semi.

This new video (see below) was posted by a user who simply goes by Beard Card on YouTube. I can only guess that the user is or at least was a BYU student, since the school requires a beard card for men who must grow facial hair for medical reasons. The user posted that he and some friends were camping in Provo Canyon, somewhere near Squaw Peak and Little Rock Canyon Overlook. While at their camp, the group saw some deer and decided to get closer and videotape them. They then saw what they assumed was a bear (this is where the video starts) until the creature stood up, looking like something much bigger.

As with any claimed paranormal evidence, there are people who are both applauding this video and tearing it apart. Critics are saying the creature really was a bear, someone in a fur coat or a friend in a bear suit who successfully scared the group. Others are claiming the video is not a hoax, pointing out that most hoaxes involve people hamming it up or acting overly dramatic for the camera. The people in the video are pretty quiet, like they are trying to not make noise and attract the wild animal they're seeing. If the person who posted this video is seeking fame and fortune with a hoax video, they're keeping their identity under wraps (which can indicated authenticity). Also, people are pointing out that the fact there isn't a crystal clear view of the creature actually discounts any hoax claims, since most hoaxes give viewers a rather clear view of the supposed Bigfoot.

I'm holding off judgement on this one. Even though there are many indicators pointing to the video's authenticity, it's also possible that whoever put the video together has studied what I and others have written about paranormal hoaxes, and so crafted this video to be more believable than most. I always maintain a healthy level of skepticism, even when I see things with my own eyes, let alone when I see a brief, dizzying video of a supposed cryptid.

Check out the Bigfoot video for yourself:

November 6, 2012

Why People Experience Hauntings

People experience hauntings or paranormal activity in their house, workplace or other places they frequent for a number of reasons. I'm not of the opinion that there is a one-size-fits-all answer or root cause for all hauntings, since I think a haunted location can be a highly complex and potentially impossible event to completely understand. The following is a list of some potential causes or reasons that a location is haunted, including why some people who frequent the location experience paranormal activity while others do not.

Some people just plain have an overactive imagination. I know there are paranormal skeptics out there. Sadly, I think skeptics are more right than wrong for questioning reported paranormal activity at a location. From my experience there are quite a few people who claim to have experienced a haunting, when in fact they just have an overactive imagination. I'll just leave that at that.

The past is playing itself out over and over. Some paranormal experts claim that all hauntings are the product of the past replaying itself over and over. The spirits the living see are not aware of the living because they are not sentient entities, but rather are just spiritual "energy" that is replaying the events of the past. If someone witnesses the same actions going on in a house at routine intervals, then this is a fairly likely cause of the activity.

It's a punishment. Some groups and individuals genuinely believe that people experience a haunting because they're being punished for a sin or wrong committed.I was actually told by someone I knew that the only time he experienced paranormal activity in his house was after he had viewed pornography. Many people think keeping playing cards in a house, drinking alcohol or any number of other activities they view as sinful are a surefire way to be punished with an aggressive and maybe even a violent haunting. The sinful behavior might open the door or cause a crack in the protective shield that kept these evil spirits out of a person's house, or some think a higher power actually sends the aggressive entities to terrorize the sinful until they see the err of their ways. The simple solution to such a problem is for a person to forsake the sinful activity and make amends for their wrongs, according to the religious system to which they belong.

Activity in the home has attracted spirit activity. Sometimes activities performed at a physical location can attract spiritual activity, even triggering a haunting. Performing ceremonies such as a seance, playing with an Ouija board and even taking EVPs can all create an attractant to spirits. It's similar to how sharks can smell blood in the water, some spirits are drawn to these activities like a moth to the flame.There's quite a bit of debate about which activities or devices attract ghosts the most, and what other factors might come into play that determine how many ghosts might be attracted, as well as what they do once they are in the house.

Strong emotions feed the paranormal. Many paranormal experts feel strongly that ghosts feed off people's emotions. Some theorize that negative entities actually gain strength through negative emotions like fear, greed, anger and frustration. This explains why so many people experience such powerful paranormal experiences when they are going through a particularly difficult time in their life, such as a divorce or a loved one suffering from health problems. Of course, the perceived paranormal phenomena could just be the manifestation of a person's stress, which is why independent measurement and documentation of the haunting becomes necessary to substantiate it.

Something attaches to a person. A demon possession would be a prime example of this. Basically a paranormal entity "attaches" itself to a person for any number of reasons (see above for a few potential reasons). If a person experiences the haunting in multiple locations, or if moving does not stop the paranormal activity, it is highly likely an entity has attached itself to a person. Exorcism or other extreme methods of spiritual expulsion or eviction might become necessary in such a situation. Another possible explanation is that the person is suffering from a psychiatric condition and needs professional help.

A spirit is attached to a building or piece of land. This theory has been around for a long time. Some people become very attached to the place where they lived or work, so much so that after they die they refuse to move on. Other spirits might become attached to a building because of the "energy" emanating from it (see the strong emotions explanation) or because activities in the house opened a portal of sorts that the spirits are attached to. We often think of ghosts being attached to an old building, but the fact of the matter is that they can also become attached to a piece of land, especially if an old structure that was standing on the land was demolished to make way for a new structure. 

Spirits are attracted to people who are "sensitive." I've written about this one before, so I won't go too in-depth. Some people are born with a sixth sense of sorts, something that allows them to perceive spiritual activity better than your average person. Whether it's a blessing or a curse, spirits are attracted to these people.

These are not all of the potential causes for hauntings,but they cover a good majority of them. Can any of you think of other potential causes?

October 23, 2012

Hauntings in the White House

With being almost time for the US Presidential Election as well as Halloween, I decided to combine the two subjects into one glorious blog post. As I tried to figure out how I would perform such a feat, I realized that I could write about the most famous haunted house in the world: the White House.

Yes, that's right, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is a reportedly haunted location. Instead of some slack-jawed yokels claiming the resident is haunted, there are some well-educated and respected individuals spread across many years claiming to have had some paranormal experiences in the house.

It's not uncommon for old buildings to manifest ghostly activity. Some think it's the product of spirits who have such a strong connection with the building that they cannot bare to completely leave it behind in the afterlife. Others think the activity is just spiritual energy playing out the events that took place in the building in the past.

So who haunts the White House? Some have reported hearing Andrew Jackson stomping and yelling through the house's hallways (he was known to have a fiery temper). Jackson's old bedroom, the Rose Room, is also arguably the most paranormal active room in the entire house. President Harrison has reportedly been seen and heard rummaging in the attic. Abigail Adams has been seen going toward the East Room, where she spent much of her time hanging the wash out to dry. Harry Truman told his wife he regularly would hear footsteps in the hallways and in the room where he would be studying, and he would even see the drapes in the room move back and forth by themselves.

Lincoln, however, is by far the most commonly attributed to paranormal activities in the White House. In fact, Lincoln has been seen in various rooms for decades, including by a past queen from the Netherlands and Calvin Coolidge's wife. Could it be that Lincoln died so violently and suddenly at a time he felt he had much left to do in this life, and that's why he's been seeing sticking around his former house?

Perhaps some of the paranormal activity in the White House has come about from the practices of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln's wife reportedly was very into the occult, including seances. She would regularly hold seances in the White House in an attempt to communicate with her deceased sons

The paranormal happenings in the White House have not suddenly ceased. In fact, back in 2009 Michelle Obama told a group of kids visiting the White House that she and President Obama had been awoken in the night by strange noises. That's not an unusual thing to experience, especially for anyone who's lived in a house that old. What's weird is that the First Lady also told the children that different members of her family have felt the sensation of someone chewing on their feet. Yeah, that definitely crosses the line into creepy ghost activity.

October 19, 2012

Real Ghost Stories

With Halloween quickly approaching, I know that everyone's minds begin turning to thoughts of ghosts and hauntings, among other paranormal phenomena. My thoughts are on ghosts and hauntings at all times of the year. This is partly because I'm working on a new haunted house novel, partly because I've written hundreds of articles on the paranormal and partly because I've lived in some paranormal active homes and experienced living with a haunting firsthand.

Talking about living with a haunting is not a horribly popular topic of conversation for most people. From my experience, I've found many people are reluctant to talk about their experiences--except with those with whom they have a deep level of trust--for fear people will think they're "weird" or "crazy". In fact, I've learned to be cautious of people who spout off about their paranormal experiences to the point it borders on or even crosses over into bragging. Such people often are desperate for attention or actually do have mental issues 

I can also tell you from personal experience that hauntings can be a highly stressful event for a person to endure. Some hauntings are peaceful and harmless, and those don't stress out most people who experience them. A person feels quite a bit of internal strife resulting from an aggressive haunting as that person wonders if he's really experiencing what he's experiencing. Second-guessing your own senses all the time begins to wear on you. As a person's fear level rises, his stress level shoots through the roof as he feels that his home--the one place he has to completely relax in--has been invaded by something he doesn't understand. Hauntings also place extra stress on the relationships between the people living in a haunted location, especially if one person doesn't believe there is anything paranormal going on in the home. People living in a haunted house also might feel cut off from the rest of the world, and so they're not as diligent at keeping up friendships, etc.

I'm not entirely sure what it means, but since I was a small child I knew I was "sensitive" to these sorts of things. At first my experiences were tame or not scary. It wasn't until I was in high school that I had my first encounter with an aggressive, even violent entity. The experience shook me to the core, especially since nobody really knew what to do about it.

Since then I've had many other experiences with aggressive and violent hauntings. It doesn't matter how many times I experience them, because it always stresses me out. I lived in one particularly active house during a particularly stressful time in my life. I was working full-time and going to school at night, which meant I was up late at night all the time. I constantly felt like someone was standing behind me when I would sit at the desk in the basement. I would also hear noises upstairs like someone walking around and doors opening and closing. When I was home alone in the daytime I would hear knocks on the front door and would catch glimpses of people running past the windows, outside the house. As time went on it became more aggressive as it started calling out for both me and my wife both day and night. At first we thought it was our kids, but they were always fast asleep or not even home. Late one night I heard a voice say "daddy?"crystal clear from the hallway that lead to the bedrooms. When I turned to look, expecting to see one of my kids out of bed and saw nothing, the same voice laughed sinisterly. Just a few days later I began feeling someone lightly placing his fingers on my shoulder or back while I was working or studying. That eventually turned to fingers grabbing my shoulder or poking me hard in the lower back.

The house I live in now is not active at all in the paranormal sense, and for that I am grateful. I run into people on a fairly regular basis who seem jealous of anyone who has experienced a haunting firsthand. These people fail to understand that while some hauntings are harmless and might even be "fun" there are many people who are terrorized in their own home by a force they find hard to deal with, leading to excessive amounts of stress and even depression.

October 5, 2012

What Was Really Behind the Salem Witch Trials?

In preparation for my next book, I have been doing a fair amount of research. The main topic I've been focusing on is witchcraft, since the book will touch on that quite a bit. Naturally when anyone in America thinks about witchcraft, their thoughts quickly turn to Salem and the witch trials that are so famously associated with there. It's a tragic part of our country's history that I and so many others learned about in school.

Even though I already knew about the trials (or so I thought) I started digging into information about them. What I found was that so much of what I learned about the Salem Witch Trials was either inaccurate, incomplete or blatantly false. It shouldn't be a surprise to me, though, since in college I learned that much of what I was taught about World War I was bull.

What have I learned about Salem's Witch Trials? First off, that most of the trials didn't take place in Salem, but instead were held in other areas of Massachusetts. I had been taught that only women were implicated as witches, but learned from my research that quite a few men were as well. I had also been taught that the trials lasted years, when in fact they only went on for several months before those who had not been put to death were pardoned and released.

The most fascinating thing I've learned about the trials comes from a book called In the Devil's Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692 by Mary Beth Norton. In the book Norton points out that the two wars between the British colonists and the French with their Native American allies fueled much of the furor over the witch trials in Massachusetts. The horrors of both wars (the first one we never, ever studied about in school) were much worse than I was ever lead to believe. The Puritans already saw the Native Americans as devilish, but these experiences took it to another level. Many of the accused in the trials were accused of performing ceremonies that were similar or identical to the Native Americans' practices. In a way, for many people, putting to death these supposed witches was helping them feel like they had exacted revenge on the Native Americans who so brutally murdered friends and family members. I'm sure there are those who argue against Norton's theory, but she does an excellent job of contextualizing the Salem Witch Trials and showing how the current political climate was ripe for the only known mass killing of accused witches in what is now the United States.

This is why I love writing: researching heavily on subjects I don't know that much about it just a fascinating thing for me. In fact, I'm pretty sure that I will need to give myself a cutoff date on the research, otherwise this could go on for years and the spectacular book I'm going to write would never happen.   

July 6, 2012

Paranormal Fridays: What Lives in the Great Salt Lake?

Photos copyright Steven Symes
The Great Salt Lake, located in the northern part of the state of Utah, is famous for many reasons. It is the largest natural lake in the Western United States, measuring roughly 2,625square miles. Because the Great Salt Lake is not incredibly deep, slight changes in the water level can cause the shoreline to move several miles in some parts.The lake is more saline than the ocean, so little lives in it.

There are some who claim that more than just brine shrimp live in the lake. I wrote before about the Great Salt Lake Phantom, but that technically is not a living creature. There have been past reports of large creatures some call monsters living in the lake.

Around 1847 a man known simply as Brother Bainbridge reported seeing a strange creature in the Great Salt Lake. He was near Antelope Island at the time he spotted what he said appeared to be a dolphin's body.

The next report was from 1877. Workers from Barnes and Co. Salt Works said they saw a large creature with a crocodile-like body and a head that resembled a horse's wading through the lake. The creature made a loud noise and then charged at the workers on the shore, who ran up the nearby hills and hid in the underbrush until morning. The event reportedly took place at twilight. Some have questioned if the workers invented the tale to cover up that they had been drinking on the job and passed out until morning. Others theorize the workers actually saw a buffalo. Locals started calling the creature the North Shore Monster.

It seems much harder to believe that a large, mysterious creature is living in the Great Salt Lake versus other bodies of water given how shallow the lake is. A large creature would be spotted easily and often. Even if it did live on brine shrimp, such a creature wouldn't have much food for long.Still, these tales do illustrate man's gut inclination to be distrustful of large bodies of water and what secrets they might harbor.

June 29, 2012

Paranormal Fridays: The Curse of Livermore

Unless you are from California you likely have never heard of Livermore. It is a city of about 80,000 situated on the eastern edge of the Bay Area. While not as glamorous as San Francisco, it is also much more quiet and affordable to live in Livermore.

Livermore also has an interesting past, including when it was cursed back in the 1960s by Adam Fortunate Eagle Nordwall. Nordwall was a famous Native American rights activist who used to host wild parties attended by the Black Panthers and other radical rights groups from the area.

Nordwall donated a totem pole to Livermore for the city's centennial celebration. For whatever reason that isn't clear now, the city leaders hacked off several feet from the pole before they set it in the city's main park for all to enjoy. Nordwall was not amused by the desecration of his work, especially since Native Americans consider totem poles to be sacred objects. The white city leaders ignored his pleas to restore the pole to its original condition.

Feeling he had no other choice, Nordwall showed up at the city council's chambers to discuss the matter. Instead of a discussion, though, Nordwall ended up putting a curse on the city since the council would not hear him out on the restoration of the totem pole. What was the curse? The death of every firstborn? Crops would not grow? No, it was something much worse.

Nordwall cursed the city of Livermore's sewer system.

I'm sure people laughed at the curse, thinking it was some hokey idiot trying to extort the city into doing what he wanted. The thing was that within two weeks the city's sewer system backed up. The city leaders panicked and hurriedly joined the two sections of the totem pole before replacing it in the park, hoping it would restore the city's sewer functions. Fortunately the sewer waters began to flow once more and everything was fine in the city of Livermore--or so everyone thought.

Several years ago a documentary crew was creating a piece about the history of Livermore. The incident about the totem pole came up, and so the crew interviewed the former city manager as well as another prominent resident and Nordwall. Nordwall declared that he never received an apology for the incident, and so the curse was not entirely lifted. A few weeks after the documentary was released to the public, the former city manager and the prominent resident both died.

Coincidence? Not taking any chances, the mayor of Livermore began pleading with the city council to issue a formal apology. I guess the mayor didn't want to be next in line for the curse.

As far as I can tell, a formal apology was never issued. Will some other tragedy strike the city, such as a Twilight convention being held there? Only time will tell...

June 15, 2012

Paranormal Fridays: Violent Hauntings

When I was a lot younger and less experienced I genuinely believed hauntings were like holographs: you could see the ghosts and activity but the ghosts couldn't touch you or move objects. Hauntings to me were more like watching a scary movie or going through The Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland. That way of think was a cozy way of dealing with a scary subject, and it worked well for me--until later in life.

As I grew older my belief on hauntings being benign started to change. Countless other people I have met can attest that at least some ghosts can move objects, toy with electronics and appliances and even touch the living. There have been cases documented of ghosts (or what some call demons) slapping, punching, biting and even scratching people to the point they draw blood. It's an unsettling thought, but it seems that at least some hauntings can turn violent.

I know there are a lot of theories floating around out there about how ghosts could possibly affect anything physical, but in the end I am comfortable with saying that I don't really understand it myself. The fact that a haunting can pose a threat to people on multiple levels (physical, emotional and spiritual) should be enough for such activity to be taken seriously. Unfortunately, the large number of hoaxes and people's insistence that if something cannot be proven with our current science it does not exist throws up roadblocks.

Naturally most people--me included--usually dismiss paranormal activity at first as our mind playing tricks on us, or some other thing that is causing the phenomena. I don't think that is necessarily a bad thing, otherwise we would all be claiming natural events were really ghosts in our house. Continuing to ignore obvious signs of a paranormal problem could eventually lead to serious consequences, maybe even physical assault.

I'm not necessarily trying to freak everyone out here, but I am trying to raise awareness and maybe get a conversation started. What can be done to combat violent hauntings? What about prevention? Why is it some hauntings can turn violent while others do not? I don't have all the answers.

June 1, 2012

Paranormal Fridays: Was That the House Settling or a Ghost? When Hauntings Aren't Real

It's that time again for my Paranormal Fridays post! I try to keep these posts varied and fresh and the one for today is no exception. As you can tell from the title this one is about hauntings that aren't really hauntings at all. I'm not talking about hoaxes or those crappy videos of hauntings people upload onto Youtube, complete with special effects that look like they were done by a ten year old. I'm talking about the sounds and other "paranormal" phenomena we all experience in our houses during the darkness of the night.

For those of you who don't read my blog on a regular basis, I'm not the kind of person who thinks all hauntings are fake. Experience has taught me that fairly often there is actually something else causing phenomena that freaks people out, making them think their house is haunted when it really isn't. Just read on and you'll begin to see what I'm talking about.

Houses settle, both new and old, and everyone knows a settling house can cause all kinds of noises. You can sit in your house at night and hear the creaks and pops generated by the settling. Sometimes the settling can sound like knocking or footsteps, especially to someone who is easily spooked or half asleep.

Plumbing problems can also make noises some people mistake for ghostly activity. If a water pipe is not secured properly, it can shake or vibrate as water flows through it, making a loud knocking sound against a wall stud, etc. A leaking toilet tank can even make the toilet appear to flush itself (called phantom flush).

Rats or mice can actually make noise that sounds like footsteps. As the little rodents scurry through your house's subfloor they make noise that can cause you to think someone is walking in the next room or directly above you. Of course there are signs of rodent activity, such as chew marks on your walls, ceiling or floors as well as droppings.

Natural gas leaks can cause people to hallucinate, under the right circumstances. Gas companies put a scent in the gas so you can detect a leak, or you can buy a natural gas detector if your nose is usually plugged up (or you have a really poor sense of smell). Natural gas leaks can lead to other health problems, as well as cause explosions or house fires, so once you know of a leak contact your gas provider immediately.

Interestingly enough, high levels of radon (which naturally emits from different parts of the earth) have also been shown to cause hallucinations. You can buy a test kit at your local hardware store to test out this possibility, since there are no positive signs of a high radon levels. Radon is also tied to cancer, so it is definitely worth testing for.

Hallucinations can also be caused by poor electrical wiring in homes, some people think. This is one reason why some ghost investigators carry electric field detectors with them. There is a healthy chicken-or-the-egg debate about electric fields, with some paranormal investigators arguing that ghost activity is the origin of some strong electromagnetic fields. Scientists have argued that the electrical fields can stimulate different parts of the brain to cause a person to hallucinate, such as getting the feeling someone is standing behind them.

Finally, some "hauntings" are the result of someone who has a real psychological disorder. I have run across this before, not with me but with other people who have contacted me. Most of these people experience the "haunting" wherever they go, including while driving. If you are experiencing a haunting and are afraid that people will think you are crazy, you should know that everyone I ran across who had that fear seemed psychologically well-adjusted. Of course I am not a psychologist, so that is just in my opinion.

May 29, 2012

Movie Review: The Woman in Black

I recently saw the Daniel Radcliffe movie The Woman in Black, which is based on the book. It was an interesting and entertaining movie, but to be honest it was not as scary as I was expecting. My wife thoroughly disagrees with my assessment, even though it was her idea to watch the movie (as it is her idea to watch most of the scary movies I see, and then refuse to go to bed afterward).

It was refreshing to see Radcliffe in a movie that did not involve him wearing round glasses and a lightning-shaped scar on his forehead. He plays a much older and more mature character than in the Harry Potter movies, a father who is also a London attorney. In the vein of a true creepy ghost movie, the tone is dark and mysterious.

I wasn't expecting too much from the movie, not because I thought it wasn't going to be very good, but because I somehow escaped the marketing campaign for The Woman in Black. I really didn't know much about the plot of the movie, just that it was British and it was supposed to be about a haunted house.Without ruining anything, The Woman in Black tells the story about a young attorney who is sent to a remote part of England to settle a deceased woman's estate. He is tasked with going through all of the paperwork in the house to ensure the lady did not leave an updated will in the house. So what's the catch? The house is located on an island, with a single road leading to it. Each time the tide rises, the pathway is underwater, leaving the house completely cut off from the mainland. To make matters worse, the house is haunted by a woman's vengeful spirit bent on revenge for wrongs done to her in this life.

I can say The Woman in black is genuinely creepy. The movie features some of the scariest toys ever made, including dolls that looked possessed and toy monkeys I would personally burn before putting in my house. The plot takes some twists and turns that are a little unexpected, which kept me engaged even though I could see the end coming from far away. Instead of going for a lot of the current horror movie cliches, The Woman in Black offers a different flavor that is refreshing and unique, without being so out there viewers cannot relate to it. Daniel Radcliffe shows off his acting chops by giving an excellent performance that does not show even a glimmer of the Harry Potter character he played so well. The other cast members play their roles very convincingly as well. Along with the excellent cinematography, period dress and props (including a beautifully restored Rolls Royce Silver Ghost) I was immersed in the world the movie had created.

Would I recommend The Woman in Black? Absolutely. It was well worth the time and a rental.

***Spoiler Alert**** 

I wanted to say something about the end of the movie. The ending theme of the destructive power of not forgiving, even beyond the grave, was a nice touch. It gave me something to think about long after the end credits rolled. I saw the ending coming from afar since it kind of reminded me of The Ring. The Woman in Black is definitely a superior movie that does not have all of the huge holes The Ring has, but I could tell Radcliffe's character and his boy were going to die in the end.

***End of Spoiler***

Here is the trailer for the movie, in case you want to get a taste for what it is like:

May 25, 2012

Are They Aliens or Followers of the Devil?

People's theories on different alleged paranormal phenomena really interest me. I don't mean to say that I don't believe in anything paranormal, nor do I simply laugh at anyone who does. Sure, I have run across a fair amount of people who have really overactive imaginations or might even need some medication or institutionalization, but they are often the exception. In fact, I have found most people are embarrassed to share what they have seen or heard because they fear being labeled an idiot or a lunatic.

In any case, I was reading about a book called Paranormal America: Ghost Encounters, UFO Sightings, Bigfoot Hunts, and Other Curiosities in Religion and Culture. The review I read quoted some of the statistics from the book. There were some that were not horribly surprising to me, like that women are much more likely to believe in ghosts and hauntings than are men, while men are much more likely to believe in UFOs and aliens than are women. One of the most interesting pieces of information I read over had to do with religious belief and aliens.

I am going off of memory here, so this is not a direct quote, but the review essentially said that people from more fringe religions (Evangelicals, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, etc) had less excepting viewpoints on the paranormal than members of more mainstream religions (such as Catholics). These people from less popular religions were far more likely to see pretty much anything paranormal as a manifestation of evil, or as a tool of the devil. For example, many people from these religious groups that were surveyed for the book expressed the personal belief that aliens were actually the devil's angels in disguise.

I had heard this theory many times before, both when I was a child and as a teenager. What was always explained to me by people who held this aliens-are-the-devil's-henchmen belief was that the devil was trying to distract people from God by making it appear that aliens were visiting the Earth.

Personally, I think the theory is a little convoluted. Sure, there are some people who have set up UFO churches, which seems to only support such theories. There are also people who seem to seek God out even more because they figure he is over the aliens and them, and that they need his protection from any aliens who might be hostile. Just like anything in life, I think a belief in aliens affects people's belief in a superior being in the way people allow it. After all, some people after a huge natural disaster stop believing in God, while others are strengthened in their belief of one who can help them through the aftermath.

I haven't read Paranormal America yet, but I plan to in the near future. Perhaps the findings published there will shed more light on why some people think aliens are really of the devil. If I do figure out more about the theory I will post about it on here. I honestly have never fully grasped the theory, other than people are afraid of the unknown and want to label it as bad so they don't have to give it any more thought, but can simply cast it away as rubbish.

What do you all think?

May 18, 2012

Paranormal Fridays: Parapsychology in the News

Happy Friday, everyone! As you all know, today is when I post about the paranormal. I had trouble deciding on the exact topic of this post, since there have been so many interesting items about parapsychology floating around in the news lately. In case you missed some of these things, here is a sampling of parapsychology in the news:

Skeptico recently posted an interview  with Dr. Daryl Bem, a Cornell University emeritus professor, about his research in parapsychology. Bem talks extensively about attempts by skeptics to discredit his research, including talking about the unethical and potentially dishonest methods used by other academics. I can tell you from personal experience that academics can be particularly crafty at discrediting others' work by leaving out information, or analyzing statistics in just the right way. In any case, the interview is interesting if you have the time to read it over.

Speaking of academics, parapsychology and skeptics, SF Weekly ran a profile on Stanley Krippner, who is a well-known parapsychologist. Krippner's response to critics is particularly interesting, as he says he agrees with much of the criticism leveled by the critics of parapsychology. The profile also goes into some detail about Krippner's sometimes bizarre experiments, such as when he involved the attendees at a Grateful Dead concert in an parapsychological exercise.

Finally, I ran across this very interesting piece from the Las Vegas Sun, which talks about remote viewers who assisted in a murder case in California. The story helps counter claims made by some that psychics have never helped in any way solve a crime. While I personally believe there are a million scam artists posing as psychics, along with people who have mental issues or good intentions but not good methods, this article points out there are a few psychics who have used their abilities to genuinely help others. It's an interesting story that is most definitely worth the time.

May 15, 2012


It was a hot night in June of 2005 when my wife and I slipped into a sparsely-populated movie theater just up the street from our apartment. The only reason my wife was there was to be with me. I was there to witness the cinematic rebirth of my childhood hero: Batman.

I grew up on a fairly steady diet of Detective Comics--for you non-comic book folk, that is a Batman comic book. When I was in my early teens, I was in awe as I read Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One. I was not a fan of Tim Burton's Batman, which was too plastic and comedic (in a twisted way) for my tastes. I won't even talk about the other Batman movies of the 90s, they were all so awful.

When I heard Warner Brothers was working on a new Batman movie, I was a little skeptical. until I read an interview with Christopher Nolan. Nolan's philosophy on Batman lined up right with mine. Instead of being some freak sideshow good for some cheap thrills, as the character had been used by other directors, Nolan saw him as a complex vigilante who seeks what most of us want: true justice.

Needless to say, I walked out of the movie theater after seeing Batman Begins completely satisfied and wanting more. Even more surprising, my wife was totally shocked at how good the movie was, since she was expecting the same cheese as before.

When we saw The Dark Knight, also on opening night, it was a completely different scene. We were in a huge theater in downtown, where almost every screen was playing The Dark Knight. We had to buy tickets weeks in advance and the theater was packed as everyone clamored to see Heath Ledger's final performance. I was blown away with how intense the movie was, and Heath's performance nailed the Joker I always loathed. It was pure cinematic beauty,

As we draw close to the release of The Dark Knight Rises, I hope we are not in for a disappointment. Nolan's track record as a director is phenomenal, so I think it will turn out. It even looks like he might have managed to squeeze a good performance out of Anne Hathaway. I have a really good idea what the movie will involve, but I'm going to keep my mouth shut so I don't ruin it for anyone else. After all, I successfully predicted everything that happened in the second Star Wars movie (among many other movies). But Nolan is good at throwing some incredible curves, and being the final movie this will probably be one hell of a ride.

If you haven't had the chance to see the trailer, watch it here:

May 11, 2012

Paranormal Fridays: The World is Going to End... Thanks to a German Guy!

Well, we're screwed.

No, really, I am talking about the end of the world as prophesied by the Mayans. Those dastardly Mayans apparently foresaw the stupidity of a German lab assistant, which has ultimately doomed society to alien invasion, a large asteroid hurtling toward Earth or maybe even a huge volcanic explosion the likes of which have not been seen since the time of the dinosaurs.

Brace yourselves for December 21, 2012--its going to be a bumpy ride, people.

As reported by German news website The Local, a Mayan skull that was carved out of volcanic rock was accidentally dropped during a photo shoot. An eyewitness blamed the incident on the lab assistant, who might have placed the skull on a wobbly surface, causing it to fall. A piece of the skull's chin chipped off as a result.

So what's the big deal, you say? Well, the skull was designed apparently to protect mankind during the end of the world on December 21, 2012. Don't worry, though, because there are supposed to be another 12 protective skulls out there. Hopefully no butter finger lab assistants get a hold of any of those skulls.

The really interesting part of the story is how a guy in Germany ended up with the Mayan skull. Somehow it was transported from Latin America to a monastery in southern Tibet, where it was stolen by Nazi German soldiers (sound like an Indiana Jones movie plot to you?). After the end of World War II, the skull was found in the collection of Heinrick Himmler, the same Nazi official who was famous for collecting pagan magical objects.

Before you cash in your 401k and buy a private island in the Caribbean, you should know that the skull's owner claims "a lot" of the other 12 skulls have "superficial" damage. See, don't you feel better about the end of the world already? I know I do, but mostly because I'm confident I can get a job mixing up alien drinks on a space cruiser.

May 4, 2012

Paranormal Fridays: Is Highway 666 Haunted?

I used to travel on highway 666 on a fairly regular basis as I went from Salt Lake City, Utah to Albuquerque, New Mexico. 666 was a desolate two lane road in the middle of the isolated desert, with few places to stop for gas or food. I made that drive myself a few times, but never at night for a number of reasons. There have through the years been numerous complaints about the name of highway 666, seeing as it has a connection with the antichrist described in the Book of Revelation. Government officials have since renamed the highway, bowing to the pressure from various western states.

The big question many people have is if highway 666 was or still is haunted. There are claims that a higher proportion of accidents occur on the highway, that more people die on it than other highways in the west and that paranormal activity on and near the highway is common. For several years I have tried to find official, hard data that shows that U.S. 666 had a disproportionate number of fatalities, and I have not been able to find any such data. I do know that the road being only two lanes in most areas with only a painted line between them, has seen its share of very gruesome accidents.

Many people have claimed that they have been driving 666 at night when a semi trailer going the other direction has crossed over the line, heading for a head-on collision. While that might not seem odd, the fact that these people describe the truck as being on fire and disappearing at the last second before impact should seem at least a little strange. Those who have stopped on the side of the road in the night have reported seeing hell hounds with glowing yellow eyes, running in packs.

And then there are the hitchhiker stories. Throughout the years many a driver has reported seeing a young woman in a flowing white robe walking down the side of highway 666 in the middle of the night. If anyone stops to see why the woman is walking on the side of the road, she dematerializes into the night air. Other motorists have claimed that a man hitchhiking on the side of the road has no face.

Ghost lights have been reported by drivers trekking along highway 666 at night. Others have reported seeing floating orbs of light, which people have debated are either spirits or UFOs that are for whatever reason attracted to the road. In many cases people have gone missing on highway 666, only to turn up later and not be able to explain where they have been. Time loss like has commonly been associated with alien abductions, so were those people taken away while traveling 666?

Although not as common as some other rural highways, people have reported skinwalker activity on highway 666. Drivers have seen strange-looking animals running alongside their car that is traveling 55, 65 or even 75 miles per hour. Others have reported something opening their back door, while a few unfortunate drivers have actually seen in their rear-view mirror a skinwalker sitting in their back seat.

So now U.S. 666 is named U.S. 491, but historic markers are still visible as a reminder of the highway's infamous past. Some feel such reminders still bring with them a curse, meaning the strange activity on the highway will not magically cease.

To read an official explanation of how U.S. 666 originally got its name, read about it on the US Department of Transportation's website.

April 27, 2012

Paranormal Fridays: Will a Good Ghost Scare You?

Many people have thought that their house or place of work is haunted. You can turn on the television and watch a myriad of shows with paranormal investigators trying to either validate or debunk claims of hauntings using methods such as EVP (electronic voice phenomena) or thermal imaging. I personally am of the belief that hauntings are not a scientific phenomena, or at least not of a type of science we really understand. For many who view hauntings in a "scientific" light, they are of the opinion that ghosts are not good nor bad, but that they just are.

Try telling that to someone who has experienced what many call demonic activity.

This is my blog with my opinions, so that is exactly what you are about to read. I personally believe that there are indeed both good and bad ghosts, just like there are good and bad people. A subject that has come up in my mind periodically, and one that people bring up with me on a fairly regular basis, is whether or not a good ghost will try to frighten someone.

I don't think a good ghost will intentionally try to scare anyone. I have met people who at the slightest sign of paranormal activity become deathly frightened, like a small child who is afraid of a puppy the size of a grapefruit simply because it is a live animal. If you are such a person (be honest with yourself) then whether of not you are frightened is probably not a good gauge of a ghost's intent.

I have lived in multiple places I believe were haunted. From my own experience I have come to the conclusion that most good ghosts are curious but are cautious to not intrude too much. However, there are some rude ghosts (just like there are some rude humans) who are not malicious and just need to be told firmly to be respectful of the living.

And then there are the bad ghosts. I have had the misfortune of being around a few, and I can tell you that anyone who directly experiences their activity will be shaken sooner or later. If you are a tough person who does not scare easily (like me) then they will up the ante to frighten you. They get a kick out of making people uncomfortable. I personally believe they feed fear, heartache, fighting, violence and anger almost as if it were a drug. They engage in activities to stir up these emotions in the living who have the misfortune of living in "their" house. I can also tell you that such ghosts are not to be toyed with. If you feed them enough with negative feelings or behavior, or if you become aggressive with them, you can risk putting yourself in a very dangerous situation. I also highly advise against trying to communicate with these ghosts since they are manipulative and dangerous. Would you go have a nice talk with Charles Manson? I didn't think so.

So will a good ghost scare you? I don't see why one would do so intentionally. I have experienced and read up on many hauntings where evil ghosts (usually of the worst kind) will masquerade at first as something good, such as a spirit of a small child. But any good ghost, no matter who it claims to be, will not try to severely frighten the living or give poor advice (such as killing other people). Such ghosts need to be treated the same way you would a rude and manipulative person.

April 20, 2012

Paranormal Fridays: Aokigahara, the Haunted Forest of Japan

At the base of Mount Fuji in Japan sits a forest named Aokigahara. It is the second most common place for suicides in the entire world, and many think the souls of those who have died there continue to dwell in the forest. Japanese mythology teaches that demons populate the forest, and it has the looks to back such a claim up.

Aokigahara features large trees and dense foliage that nearly block out any sound, including the wind. You could say the forest is deathly quiet, giving it an ominous and eerie feeling. The trees' gnarled roots snake through volcanic rock left over from when Mount Fuji was an active volcano, adding to the strange ambiance of the forest.

Like in other areas near dormant volcanoes, under Aokigahara are numerous old lava tubes. These tunnels were formed by the lava from Mount Fuji eating its way through the forest's floor. Some of the tunnels are covered in ice, making them very popular tourist magnets.

Countless people have taken their lives in Aokigahara over the centuries. In modern times, Japanese officials claim several dozen suicides are successfully carried out in the forest each year. In fact in 2010 there were 247 attempted suicides in Aokigahara, with only 54 leading to deaths. Most of the suicides happen at the ned of the Japanese fiscal calendar, and are theorized to be caused by people's financial shortcomings. To curb the suicides, the Japanese government has put up signs discouraging people from taking their own life. Some legends also claim that in feudal times people would take the elderly to the forest and abandon them there to die of exposure, rather than waste resources on them.

Aokigahara is not a particularly large forest, measuring only fourteen square miles. The thick vegetation in the area, the numerous caves and the fact that compasses do not work inside the forest combine to make it a foreboding place to visit. An abnormally high level of iron in the forest's soil is what causes compasses to not work properly.

April 13, 2012

Paranormal Fridays: Curse of the Poltergeist Movies

Curses and the entertainment industry is nothing new. Any serious student of Shakespeare knows the Macbeth is considered a cursed play, with some actors even refusing to say the name of the play out of fear they will have a mysterious accident. It has been documented that actors have been seriously hurt or even killed while preparing for or acting in a production of Macbeth.

Up until recently, I had never heard of the curse phenomena crossing into the movie industry. I read this article on Fear Net about the Poltergeist movies and their supposed curse. It appears that the Poltergeist movies were not only scary to watch, but were also scary for the actors and production crew during filming.

Not convinced? Well, the article details how the scene in the first Poltergeist with the skeletons in the pool might have been where all the trouble started. Apparently those skeletons in the pool were real and not fake plastic reproductions. Using real bones was cheaper, and so to save on production costs they were used. Will Sampson, who played the shaman in the movie, was actually not really acting since he was a real-life shaman. Things on the set got so bad that Sampson actually at one point performed an exorcism on the set. Apparently the exorcism did not stop the strange occurrences. In the clown attack scene the actor who played the son was actually choked by a malfunctioning clown robot, and the production crew had to wrestle him free after her started turning blue.

Death is also a part of the Poltergeist curse, just like the curse of Macbeth. Sampson died after a kidney infection caused complications. Two of the three children died mysterious deaths. Richard Lawson escaped death by a narrow margin several times, including him surviving a plane crash through pure luck.

Perhaps the use of human skeletons in the production of the Poltergeist did lead to a curse hovering over the franchise. Many believe that Macbeth is cursed because the incantation the witches use at the beginning of the play was lifted by Shakespeare directly out of a book of magic, meaning the witches are actually performing black magic. 

So what do you all think? Are some plays and movies cursed?

April 6, 2012

Paranormal Fridays: Vacationing for the End of the World

I thought I had heard of everything, and then I ran into this blog post on ABC News' website about people flocking to a small French town in anticipation of the end of the world (aka Doomsday or Justin Bieber's next live performance).

Someone, somewhere, has decided that not only did the Mayans predict the end of the world this December, but that the aliens who are going to bring about the end of the world are going to show up in this little French town. It sounds like some of these people (whom I suspect wear stylish hats made of tinfoil, live in their mom's basement and collect toys as "investments") claim that the mountain next to the town houses numerous alien spacecraft.

One of the big questions I must ask is if the diner in the town validates for alien-inside-the-mountain-parking? The nut-job conspiracy theorists (I know, what do I really think?) are overrunning the town so much that the French army has been called in to deal with the situation, especially once December rolls around and the amount of visitors is expected to increase dramatically.

On the plus side, there are some people who are smart enough to benefit financially off the end-of-the-world vacationers. Some travel agencies are selling one-way travel packages to the town. Won't that be embarrassing when these people have to buy that return plane ticket and show back up at home without an alien at their side? Also, a nearby town is producing a special wine for the alien invasion (after all, it is France).

So, my question now is where are you vacationing to for the end of the world on December 21st, 2012? Better book your one-way plane tickets today!

April 3, 2012

Book Review: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

I just finished the children's horror book The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. For those of you who are not familiar with the book, it is about an orphaned toddler boy who is raised in a graveyard by a bunch of ghosts. Below is my official (i.e. posted on Goodreads and Amazon) review of the book.

I will just say upfront that I started this book by almost stopping after the first chapter. The target readership is kids between ten and twelve, and the first chapter starts off with a fairly graphic description of a triple murder and the toddler (later called Bod for "nobody") escaping the aggressor. Gaiman even goes so far as to describe how the man wipes the blood off his knife--kind of heavy for a middle reader book if you ask me.

Fortunately I pushed on and continued reading. The rest of Gaiman's book is rewarding. At first I was skeptical that Gaiman could pull off a compelling story about a boy who is raised by a group of ghosts in a graveyard. I was afraid the story would be too off-the-wall for readers to relate to it, and fortunately I was wrong. Gaiman's ghosts have diverse personalities (as they should) and the boy does grapple with some unique challenges brought about by his unique upbringing. At the same time, though, the whole book does not center of the uniqueness of the boy's upbringing, with many normal challenges of growing up thrown in.

I absolutely loved the level of imagination in Gaiman's world of ghosts and other paranormal creatures. Kids should be fascinated by the level of intrigue with ghoul gates and alternate worlds, the Sleer that lives deep below the graveyard and the mystery that surrounds the boy's guardian, Silas. The mystery of the man who killed the boy's family and what he is all about is compelling as well, and it kept me turning the pages rapidly to pursue the ending and a sense of resolution.

Gaiman does deliver a degree of resolution, but like any good author he does not spoon-feed all the answers and tie up all the loose ends. He does leave things tidier at the end than with a book that is written for adults, but kids probably will finish the book with some unanswered questions. Gaiman definitely leaves the option of a future book open, and as a reader I would be open to reading more about Bod and his future adventures.

March 30, 2012

Paranormal Fridays: The Puerto Rican Vampire Killings

I first heard about this very bizarre string of events back when I was doing my undergrad. In one of my classes (I believe it was a Latino literature course) my professor told us a little about a Puerto Rican gang in New York City called the Vampires. It was the late fifties, and Latino gangs were in an upswing in the city, and would inspire the writing of the musical West Side Story.

A kid named Salvador Agron went from being a member of the Mau Muas to the Vampires. Agron was known for taking his gang's namesake to a theatrical level, wearing a Dracula-style black cape with red lining inside everywhere he went. He also got a kick out hiding in the shadows on New York's streets, and then jumping out at people walking by to scare them half to death. Gaining a rising street reputation for his wildly unpredictable behavior, Agron was called by some "a creature of the night."

One late summer night the Vampires, along with members from a few other Latino gangs, went to Hell's Kitchen to rumble with some members of an Irish gang called the Norsemen. Upon entering a park where they expected to find the rival gang members, Agron and the others spotted two white kids sitting on a bench. Despite the fact that the two kids did not seem to know what was going on, the Latino gangsters viciously attacked them with broom handles and bottles. Another of the Vampires members, Hernandez, carried a large umbrella with a long and sharp tip he used to stab the victims. Agron upped the ante and pulled out a silver-handled knife. He stabbed one kid in the back and the other in the chest, killing both within a few short minutes.

The murders sent the city into a complete uproar, since two other kids in New York City had been killed by gang violence in the same week. You could fairly say it was the camel that broke the straw's back, and the kid who wanted so desperately wanted to strike fear into the hearts of the city's citizens that he dressed like a vampire found he was being treated just like a monster.  After his capture, though, Agron did not seem phased by the public's disdain for him. He even famously said "I don't care if I burn; my mother can watch."

In the end, Agron--who was then 16 years old--became the youngest person in United States history up to that point to have been sentenced to death, but later his sentenced was commuted to life. Agron was called by the press "The Capeman" while Hernandez was called "The Umbrella Man" as if they were comic book super villains of some sort.

Later, a musical called "The Capeman" was made. After Agron was released from prison in the late 1970s, a television movie was made about his life, as well as a book was written. Agron used the funds from his royalties to support his victims' families. He campaigned against gang violence until his death at the age of 42 from pneumonia and internal bleeding.