The Worst Ghosts of 2015

hampton court

It has been an entire year since I correctly predicted that Slenderman would be seen in the UK in my ‘Worst Ghosts of 2014’ round up. In that year I created a feature on this blog called The Weakly Ghost Bulletin which morphed into The Spooktator Podcast which examines ghost related headlines on a monthly basis. It’s been busy…

…so, without further ado here are the 5 Worst Ghosts of 2015!

#5 The Ohio Ghost that was literally crap

figure outside Ohio mall

In May, Examiner reported that a woman called Tonya Nester was taking photos of the closed down Randall Park Mall in Ohio and a friend noticed something odd in one of the photos that was quickly concluded to be a ghost.

‘What exactly is the angelic figure in the photo?’ asked Examiner reporter John Albrecht. Well, John, bird crap is what it is.

The photo was taken through a car window, dirt tracks left from rain visible, and the white smudge being called a ghost or angelic is bird poo.

#4 That Samurai Ghost that photobombed a little girl

Samurai-Ghost (2)

In April some people lost their composure over a photo that it is claimed shows a pair of ghostly legs behind a little girl who was on holiday with her family. Taken on a smart phone, the childs father claimed nobody was standing behind her at the time the photo was taken. This, it turns out, is not true.

japan policeDon Cake worked out that it was a guard standing a slight distance away from the child and emailed the Fortean Times (FT332, p. 76) to tell them that the beach in the photograph is a short distance from the Summer palace of the Emperor of Japan, which is well guarded by officers who wear the uniform (pictured), which resembles the legs of the so-called ghost. If you look carefully you can even see part of the light blue shirt beneath the childs left elbow.

 

#3 The grey lady of Hampton Court that was actually… not

hampton court

Many people claimed that this photo taken by 12-year-old Holly Hampsheir in February shows the ghost of Dame Sybil Penn (aka the gray lady of Hampton Court) and that the apparition is wearing period clothing which is interesting because it totally isn’t.

It is, in fact, a panoramic photo that went wrong and what we’re seeing are the distorted features of a fleshy (an alive human.) This is explained by Mick West in more detail here, where he also replicated the photo. West said ‘it’s just the result of taking a panoramic photo in low light on the iPhone. Panoramic photos are done by holding the camera up, and panning from left to right. The camera takes lots of photos and then stitches them together … but because it takes a while to take all the images, if something moves while you are taking the panorama, then it will get distorted.’

#2 That eight-foot-tall Ghost 

Although this photo technically dates back to pre-Christmas 2014 it wasn’t until 2015 that it came to the attention of the media which is why it has been included here. It was taken by teacher Debbie Monteforte and a family friend said “The family insists there was no one standing behind them and there was no place to hang a coat. Even if there was someone standing there, they would have to be 8ft tall to appear like that. It’s beyond spooky.”

However, in Weakly Ghost Bulletin #4 I explained how a quick look around on Google Image Search revealed another photograph taken in the same area of the pub that showed that perhaps a person standing in that position wouldn’t have been 8-foot-tall after all.

Kings Arms Ghost Comparison

#1  Slenderman. Obviously.

It feels right that we finish with the story I opened with. I am awarding the #1 spot on this list to two people: Lee Brickley and Christine Hamlett.

In January 2015 Brickley (who has previously made the #1 spot on this list) generated bizarre headlines by claiming that Slenderman had been seen by many people in the Cannock Chase area. He also made the observation that throughout history people have reported seeing tall creatures and spirits which led him to declare that Slenderman wasn’t created online.

What a genius.

He’s wrong, of course. The fictional creature called Slenderman is an internet creation that probably takes inspiration from real-like folklore. I wrote about this in more detail in a blog post called The Evolution of Ghosts and Monsters in which I point out that ‘many in the Cannock Chase area reported that they saw the so-called Slenderman entity while experiencing sleep paralysis, but if they lived in a different part of the world they might perhaps report that they saw a Grey- an alien considered synonymous with E.T. encounters -rather than a spirit or monster.’

It didn’t stop there though. Enter Christine Hamlett…

Hamlett, a self-proclaimed spirit medium, claimed to have caught Slenderman on camera.

Alleged photo of Slenderman
Alleged photo of Slenderman

This is quite amusing because Hamlett also claimed to have caught a Black Eyed Child on camera when Brickley made the headlines in October 2014 with claims that Black Eyed Kids were prowling in Cannock Chase (you can read more about that on my blog here)

not slenderman
Alleged photo of Black Eyed Child ghost…
More recently Hamlett made headlines with claims that she caught the ghost of one of the Pendle Witches on camera, but her claims were shown to be historically inaccurate. You can read my breakdown of the Pendle Witch claims here.

So there we have what I consider to be the 5 Worst Ghosts of 2015 – a whole range of bizarre claims that, encouragingly, were investigated and explained by rational researchers.

You can check out previous years Worst Ghosts showcases here, and throughout 2016 I will examine ghost related headlines on a monthly basis on The Spooktator podcast. Be sure to subscribe on Soundcloud or iTunes!

 

London Accountant Claims Business Partners Ghost Changed Life

acrooge

Here is the story that we discussed in the Christmas Special of The Spooktator podcast which you can listen to below

 

Originally reported in The Spooktator by Chuck Dickens

London based accountant claims business partners ghost changed life

PLAGUED BY STRANGE APPARITIONS that warned him of impending doom London-based accountant claims that his brush with the afterlife has turned his life around.

THREE apparitions brought Ebennezer Scrooge warnings of his doom in the days that led up to Christmas, prompting in him a change that his family, neighbours and colleagues just cannot believe. “He’s so generous now and before we were scared to even ask if we could turn the office heating on” one employee told The Spooktator.

Scrooge claims that he was visited by his business partner Jacob Marley who died on Christmas Eve seven years ago. The ghost was swamped with heavy chains which, as punishment for his greedy and self-serving life, his spirit has been condemned to wander the Earth with.

The shocked accountant recalled that Marley informed him that three spirits would visit him during each of the next three nights to stop him meeting the same fate. “I thought I was hallucinating but I know what I saw.”

Mr Scrooge, 56, who has no history of mental health awoke from a heavy sleep to find a child with a GLOWING HEAD at his bedside which whisked him off through time into his past. The accountant, who has a seat on the London Stock Exchange, claims to have watched Christmases from his earlier years replay in front of him. “Nobody could see me, but I could see them and the memories brought up great emotions in me.”

He claims to have visiting the school he attended as a child, the merchants at which he apprenticed in his youth and even saw the tragic ruin of the relationship with his past fiancée, Belle.

The apparitions kept coming. Scrooge, whose nephew Fred is his only living family, claims he was next visited by a JOLLY GREEN GIANT which took him through London to unveil Christmas as it would happen in the days to come. Scrooge claims to have watched the impoverished family of his employee Bob Cratchit living in poverty before zipping through London to his nephew’s house to witness a Christmas party. Was this an other-worldly protest at the London housing problem forcing hundreds to live in unsuitable accommodation? Things took a macabre turn when this ghost revealed two starved children under his coat called Ignorance and Want before vanishing. It was then, Scrooge claims, that he noticed a dark, hooded figure coming toward him.

The accountant claims he was led to his grave. But not before being shown businessmen discussing his riches, vagabonds trading his personal effects for cash, and a poor couple living in a bedsit expressing relief at the death of their unforgiving landlord.

“I didn’t realise at first that I was being shown my own legacy” he claims, “I begged the ghost to tell me the name of the dead man. The next thing I know I’m in a churchyard and the ghost is pointing me towards a grave. Mine. Sent chills right up my spine, that did.”

The Londoner claims that this shock to his system make him renounce his insensitive, uncaring ways and to honour Christmas with all his heart and he found himself back in his bed.

Neighbours claim that they saw Mr Scrooge rushing into the street the next morning. One neighbour told our reporter “he was shouting something about a turkey. It was really odd and I thought he’d gone mad to be honest.” The turkey was purchased with sweetmeats from Fortnum and Mason and sent to the house of his employee Bob Cratchit whose family rely on hand outs from the local food bank despite having a income. Cratchit told The Spooktator “my son, Tim has been very unwell and finances have been tight. It was a huge surprise to find Mr Scrooge on the doorstep with the food. He’s turned over a new leaf.” His son Tim added “God bless us, everyone!”

The city is rife with the talk of the ruthless businessman who has changed seemingly overnight into a kind hearted philanthropist like something out of a Victorian ghost story, but is this a real-life ghost story that proves that christmas really is the season of peace and goodwill, or is there more than meets the eye to these spectral apparitions?

Professor Chris French of the Anomalistic Psychology Unit who studies paranormal claims at Goldsmiths University believes that this could all be a product of Sleep Paralysis – a disorder which affects around one in twenty people. ‘Our research confirms the results of previous studies in showing that sleep paralysis in its most basic form is surprisingly common, associated symptoms include a strong sense of a presence, difficulty breathing due to pressure on the chest, intense fear, and a wide range of hallucinations.’

When asked if he thought this could account for his experiences Mr Scrooge looked doubtful and said ‘Bah, Humbug!

My grandfather died

On November 1st 2015 my lovely grandfather- Pappy, as we called him -died.

We knew he was going to die because he had dementia and had suffered two strokes, that didn’t make it any easier, but what did help was knowing that he wasn’t truly gone. Maurice Stevens hasn’t vanished and ceased to exist.

I know that he lives on because the first law of thermodynamics tells us that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. This is where the idea of ghosts comes into play for many, but I know that all of his energy, every joule of heat, every wave of every particle that was him remains here, somewhere. All the hundreds of billions of particles that encountered him have continued on their way, directed by his mere presence. Still.

As Aaron Freeman says in the Physicists Eulogy ‘according to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you’re just less orderly.’

This may have troubled Pappy slightly because he liked everything to be “ship shaped and Bristol fashion. A place for everything and everything in its place”, his career as a chef in the Royal Navy never truly left him. But look up at the stars, look at the world around you and know that this is our place and we are all in it.

Many of my geeky friends recite the lovely fact that “we are all made of stardust” because our origins are pretty inspiring, and so too is our destination. This is why I take comfort from the nature of the universe and our existence because deep down, beneath the feeling of loss, I know that I am statistically fortunate to have ever known Pappy and that his existence lives on in our genes, our memories, in his actions and in the universe.

Life is extraordinary, it’s bigger than any one of us which can be a bit overwhelming at times but, as Pappy would say, ‘it’s good here, isn’t it?”

Pappy

The Misery Industry

psychic

On December 27th the ITV drama about Harry Price hits our television screens in the UK. I am quite excited about this because I’m a bit of a fan of Harry Price and although he wasn’t squeaky clean himself and was prone to exaggeration, it cannot be denied that he plays an important part of the history of paranormal research. You can’t talk about ghosts without Price coming up in the conversation.

Rafe Spall who plays Harry in the drama has caused some tension after speaking out about his skepticism. He called the psychic industry ‘the misery industry’ and said ‘… these mediums are making – as Harry Price said – a fat living preying on bereavement. It’s the misery industry – you’re making money out of people’s misery, which is very questionable’.

He went on to say ‘Even if you are a believer in the supernatural, or religion, I think if you are of rational mind, you would know that [mediumship is] nothing more than bollocks. It’s a trick.’

Rafe Spall, you’ve gained a huge fan in this fellow skeptic.

The admin of the Facebook page of the Society for Psychical Research wrote in response to Spall’s comments ‘because of course now he’s an expert’ and it’s a sentiment I have seen echoed elsewhere… but you don’t need to be an expert to see that there are huge issues with people who claim to be psychic or mediums. There are never a shortage of headlines about how people claiming to be psychics aren’t the lovely people they claimed to be and have abused the trust placed in them by their clients.

Not to mention the fact that many people who claim to be able to communicate with the dead demonstrate questionable behaviour. Sally Morgan, anyone?

In Episode 3 of The Spooktator Podcast which will be released on Thursday morning (on Soundcloud here and on iTunes here) we discuss a recent flurry of cases of alleged possession that ended up with vulnerable people being killed during so-called exorcisms, or treated in an unethical manner as a result of people with superstitious minds becoming involved in their situation rather than trained medical professionals.

Although these cases are the extreme end of the scale they are not rare. The story I chose to discuss in Episode 3 focusses on a family who live in Grimsby.

The Loche family claim they’ve been tormented by ghosts with a whole host of troubling activity allegedly happening at their home. When their story made the headlines in early November the family pleaded for help and Steve Kneeshaw got in touch with them claiming that he could help get rid of the ghosts. Kneeshaw calls himself a hypno-exorcist and on November 18th he performed what he calls a hypno-exorcism on the 16-year-old daughter of the family. Steve induced the child into a state of relaxation before he urged the spirit to communicate to him through her. He told reporters that he received strong signals from the exercise, but a clear message from any paranormal presence was not recorded.

Steve Kneeshaw shared his disappointment that a spirit didn’t communicate through the teenager after he put her into a so-called trance state and it’s deeply disturbing that it seems as though her welfare was not considered a priority above her potential as a communicative device. I find that extremely troubling and unlike Rafe Spall I have over ten years experience of paranormal research.

Psychics, mediums and ghost hunters who are led by their belief in ghosts routinely put their need to find evidence to show that they are right above the wellbeing of the people they come into contact with and it’s disgusting.

The illusion that exorcisms, spirit clearings work is a result of the placebo effect and the power of suggestion. The positive hits that psychics and mediums produce are often the result of cold reading and cognitive biases.

The Misery Industry is an issue we have to admit exists and although people have a right to believe what they want they also have a right to not be ripped off, abused or killed as a result of the actions of others who are making questionable claims and asking us to take their word on them. Anyone taking umbrage with Spall’s comments ought to ask why. It certainly isn’t because his observations are inaccurate.

‘A cold, angry bunch’

Backlit_keyboard

Vice has published a great feature called The Real ‘X-Files’? It’s a mini-documentary about Roswell and the legend that still lives on and it’s fascinating to watch because of the insight Joe Nickell provides to the whole thing.

For those not in the know, Nickell works for the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) and is (possibly the world’s only) full time, salaried paranormal investigator. He has a history as a detective, journalist and more. The perspective he can bring to a case is amazing as I witnessed when I visited Windermere with him in 2012 to briefly investigate the Bownessie lake monster reports.

One thing that he says in this documentary in particular really struck a chord with me which has promoted this blog post. Joe talks about how it can be difficult to talk to someone who is a true believer and points out that ‘some of the flying saucer people are mostly male and when they get hysterical they start to threaten you and shriek… they’re a pretty cold, angry bunch.”

This is also true of ghost hunters posing as scientific investigators, conspiracy theorists and PSI proponents too and it’s heartening (in a selfish way) to know that other skeptical investigators also witness this hostility.

Two weeks ago I wrote a blog post called ‘the problem with militant debunkers‘ which was about some pretty dismissive stuff a blogger was writing about skeptics (aka militant debunkers) and this prompted quite an angry backlash in the comments section of my blog. The bitter, hateful language being used to describe me and other skeptics and our so-called motives was incredible to see. One guy even decicated a whole blog post on his website to what was wrong with me. These people all essentially accused me of having ulterior motives and of being dishonest and scared to face the truth. They couldn’t be more wrong.

Usually people only get that angry when they learn that you’re an atheist who thinks their god is make believe and the last time I checked Rupert Sheldrake (whom I dared to criticise) is not a god. Theirs was the sort of anger that hurts the person who is expressing it more than it hurts those they lash out at. I didn’t approve all of the comments (which is totally my right) but here are some of my favourite statements:

‘… you blythely parroting that bunch of vicious crap without investigation of your own…’

‘… constant rain of malignant big-money manipulated bullshit convincing mainstream media-suckled morons and so-called skeptics…’

‘I’m talking to you, inexplicably self-righteous militant skeptic. For shame!’

‘… the term ‘skeptic’ is not completely appropriate; instead they behave as little more than paradigm jihadists.’

Back to ‘The Real X-Files?’, the journalist, Casey Feldman, briefly talks to Stanton Friedman who refers to Joe as a “nasty, noisy negativist” which was rather confusing because the Joe Nickell I met back in 2012 was a lovely chap and a brilliant detective.

As Joe himself says in this documentary “when I see ghost hunter types saying they’re paranormal investigators I think no you’re not. They don’t want it solved. They want to sell the mystery. A detetctive’s motivation is to solve the mystery” and perhaps that’s why people like Freidman and those guys who got worked up in the comments section of my blog don’t like skeptics? Because skeptics don’t settle for what’s convenient or comforting, they want the truth and for some people the facts aren’t mysterious or magical enough.

This means that they have to find a way to dismiss the skeptic so that they don’t have to counter the criticisms and the best way to do this is to call them pseudo-skeptics, paradigm jihadists, militant debunkers and accuse them of having agendas.

The trick is to keep on keeping on. It’s easy to get sidetracked by the negativity of others (as I myself am probably guilty of here) but when someone refers to you and your colleagues as jihadists I guess you’ve got to recognise that now is the time to rise above it and Joe Nickell the hell out of some mysteries.

featured image: backlit keyboard by Colin