156 – The Unseen Hand: Jenny Ashford and Poltergeists

Jenny Ashford wasn’t a believer. She was always into horror movies, books, and goth culture, but had never had a paranormal experience herself. Interested in fiction and fashion, but never seeing the real thing, that all changed when she met Tom Ross, who was the focus of a poltergeist in his teens. While already a successful author and graphic designer, Jenny seized on the opportunity to start researching and writing paranormal non-fiction. She started with the story of her boyfriend Tom and what his family went through in the 80s, and together they co-wroteThe Mammoth Mountain Poltergeist. Since then she’s written several more books on poltergeist phenomena, The Rochdale Poltergeist and House of Fire and Whispers: Investigating the Seattle Demon House, both with British parapsychologist Steve Mera. Jenny has now compiled well over hundred poltergeist phenomena spanning centuries with her latest work, The Unseen Hand: A New Exploration of Poltergeist Phenomena.

Jenny Ashford
Jenny Ashford

Jenny is a believer in the classic theory of poltergeists having a human agent as its focus (which I also was an adherent to up until our discussion with Geoff Holder.) Allison Jornlin from Milwaukee Ghosts joins us in the conversation as Jenny goes into detail about her own experiences, several of her favorite poltergeist stories, possible hoaxes, possible explanations, the horror that really scares her, and what she and Steve Mera found in the Keith Linder poltergeist case in Seattle that the crew of Ghost Adventures missed.

Check out Jenny’s website right here for more information on her paranormal books, scary horror fiction, and graphic design work. She also blogs horror reviews at Goddess of Hellfire and podcasts with Tom Ross at their show, 13 O’Clock.

For this week’s song, we decided to go into one of the dozens of poltergeist stories that Jenny writes about in the Unseen Hand, the famous story of the Bell Witch, made into a film as An American Haunting and deserving of an episode in its own right, because there is much more than meets the initial eye to it. We take the poem “Queen of the Haunted Dell” from M.V. Ingram’s work, Authenticated History of the Bell Witch from 1894. Ingram knew the Bell family and compiled as much information as he could about it including their own journals and released them after the last of the family who this happened to passed away. He was a journalist and not a poet, but he was inspired to add a poem to his book, and we used that poem as lyrics for this episode’s track, “Queen of the Haunted Dell”.

’Mid woodland bowers, grassy dell,
By an enchanted murmuring stream,
Dwelt pretty blue-eyed Betsy Bell,
Sweetly thrilled with love’s young dream.

Life was like the magic spell,
That guides a laughing stream,
Sunbeams glimmering on her fell,
Kissed by lunar’s silvery gleam.

But elfin phantomas cursed the dell,
And sylvan witches all unsean,
As our tale will truely tell,
Wielded sceptre o’re the queen.

Life was like the magic spell,
That guides a laughing stream,
Sunbeams glimmering on her fell,
Kissed by lunar’s silvery gleam.

But elfin phantomas cursed the dell,
And sylvan witches all unsean,
As our tale will truely tell,
Wielded sceptre o’re the queen.

155 – Buffy The Vampire Slayer: 20 Years of Paranormal Inspiration

It’s no secret that my sister, Allison Jornlin from Milwaukee Ghosts is a Buffy the Vampire Slayer superfan. I had seen the original movie, which I thought was more interesting because it was one of the first  Pee-Wee Herman cameos after his “incident” (and he’s hilarious in the film), but I thought the whole thing was silly and way too lightweight, I was into heavier duty horror at the time it came out and didn’t like what I thought was the “Valley Girl” aspect of the whole thing (which also prevented me from truly enjoying Clueless until I finally read Emma a couple of years later.)

So, when the show launched on the WB network in 1997, well, I had trouble caring. They were more known for 7th Heaven and Sister, Sister, could they really have a sweet paranormal show or was it ust going to be another cheese-fest. After all, The X-Files inspired not-so-great copycat shows like Baywatch Nights (David Hasselhoff instead of David Duchovny, for real!) and Psi-Factor: Chronicles of the Paranormal (which couldn’t even be saved by a game Dan Aykroyd.) Why should Buffy be any different?

While I watched a few episodes back in the late 90s and enjoyed them, I took my paranormal much too seriously back then.  I didn’t start getting into the Joss Whedon-verse until Firefly in 2003, but by then Buffy the Vampire Slayer had become a phenomenon and I missed the train.

buffy the vampire slayer

Our amazing Buffy the Vampire Slayer round table today, however, did not. These are Buffy superfans that know the show inside and out. That includes our friends from the Traveling Museum of Paranormal and the Occult, Greg and Dana Newkirk, Paranthropology author Jack Hunter, and Marquette University professor James South, who edited the book, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy: Fear And Trembling in Sunnydale.

During this conversation to celebrate Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s 20th anniversary, they go into detail on how the show and characters inspired them to take up paranormal missions of their own!

For the song this week, Wendy and I, who are unfortunately not Buffy superfans, but we did some research and came across this Joss Whedon quote:

 So I thought, ‘Well, a TV show needs something that will sustain it, and a California girl fighting vampires, that’s not enough. So I thought about high school and the horror movie, and high school as hell and about the things the girl fights as reflections of what you go through in high school. And I thought, ‘Well, that’s a TV series.’
“High School as Hell”, well, that’s something we can all understand. And our Sunspot song, “Loser of the Year” (a song written in the 90s and a couple decades old in its own right!) perfectly encapsulates that idea!

Remember when you told me,
I’m not worth the time of day?
Remember when you slapped my face,
By just looking away?

But I won’t hold a grudge,
I just wanna see you die (a painful death),
I won’t feel bitter,
It just feels good to see you cry…
Over and over again.
It looks like I have lost again…

I’ll be your loving puppy,
I’ll be your slave for torture,
I’ll be the one you call the
LOSER OF THE YEAR.
I’ll be your willing victim,
I’ll be your favorite scapegoat,
I’ll be your one and only
LOSER OF THE YEAR.

Remember when you tripped me,
Because I looked so lame?
Remember when you laughed at me,
Because I didn’t dress the same?

But I won’t feel hurt,
I won’t break in front of you.
Don’t you think I feel?
Don’t you think I have emotions too?
Don’t you remember gym class?
Looks like I’m chosen last again…

Yeah, you need me.
Yeah, you need me.
I’m the one who makes you feel good about yourself,
So you can go $%^& yourself.

But I won’t hold a grudge,
I JUST WANT TO SEE YOU DIE.
Don’t you think I feel?
Don’t you think I have emotions too?
Don’t you remember gym class?
Looks like I’m chosen last again…

I’ll be your loving puppy,
I’ll be your slave for torture,
I’ll be the one you call the
LOSER OF THE YEAR.
I’ll be your willing victim,
I’ll be your whipping boy,
I’ll be your one and only
LOSER OF THE YEAR.

LET ME BE YOUR LOSER.

154 – Are You Afraid of the Dark? A Conversation with D.J. MacHale

When it came to causing nightmares for the children of the 90s, few people besides the bogeyman himself are as responsible as D.J. MacHale. As the co-creator of Nickelodeon’s long-running Are You Afraid of the Dark? horror series for children, his work terrified a generation of flannel-clad youngsters. In addition to Are You Afraid of the Dark?, D.J. has also authored the ten-volume (!) Pendragon series of young adult science fiction and fantasy books as well as the Morpheus Road ghost story trilogy.

We’re joined in the discussion by Scott Markus from What’s Your Ghost Story? who worked with D.J. on his show Flight 29 Down in the mid–2000s. Scott’s also going to be moderating a panel where D.J. is appearing with some of his Are You Afraid of the Dark? cohorts at Midsummer Scream, which is a festival dedicated to Halloween and horror on July 29th and 30th at the Long Beach Convention Center.

D.J. MacHale Midsummer Scream
Click here to learn more about Midsummer Scream

While Are You Afraid of the Dark? was originally intended as a series of direct-to-video fairy tales that would help beleaguered parents put their kids to sleep, the concept evolved into the campfire ghost story that everyone remembers as D.J. and his co-creator Ned Kandel realized their fairy tale bedtime story series had more possibilities as an anthology television series focused around scary tales instead.

The show ran for seven seasons and produced ninety-one episodes and helped launch the careers of future stars like Ryan Gosling, Eliza Cuthbert, and Neve Campbell. With frequent nods to classic horror cinema, Are You Afraid of the Dark? became one of Nickelodeon’s most fondly remembered programs, but some of the nightmare fuel behind the show came from D.J.’s own paranormal experiences.

d.j. machale are you afraid of the dark
Even the ghosts of classic cinema, like F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, show up in the Tale Of The Midnight Madness

Growing up in an old haunted house in Greenwich, Connecticut, D.J. lived in a home full of weird sounds and feelings. He recalls his mother, someone who definitely wasn’t into the “oogedy-boogedy” side of the world, telling him later on that she had seen a woman in the window upstairs when there was no one in the house. Also, that she would figure out a way to turn off the lights upstairs without having to go through the hallway alone in the dark because she never quite felt comfortable up there.

He remembers two distinct experiences in the house. One, waking up in the middle of the night as a toddler, and seeing a shadow figure floating through the hallway beyond the door. This made such an impression on the young filmmaker that he even recreated it as the opening scene in Are You Afraid of the Dark’s first episode. Art imitating life (or death, as it were!)

Two, as a teenager, while home alone trying to learn “Foxy Lady” bu Jimi Hendrix on guitar, he could hear some kind of weird activity in that same hallway whenever he would put the needle down on the record. When he finally finished the song, he recalls clearly hearing someone in that same hallway sliding up against the wall and sighing. Thinking it was his brother-in-law playing tricks, he searched the house, but there wasn’t anyone there.

D.J. and his mother later theorized that it was the previous owner of the house, a Rose McKeever, who had died on the site, still roaming the upstairs hallway, and “tut-tut”ing young people for their loud music from beyond the grave.

D.J. MacHale Black Sabbath Are You Afraid of the Dark
Where do you think Ozzy and Tony Iommi got the name from?

Gee, ya think Ozzy Osbourne was influenced by this too?

Those experiences and a fateful screening of Boris Karloff’s Black Sabbath at a vintage theater would lead D.J. toward the worlds of fantasy, horror, and science-fiction throughout his career. From his work on Disney’s Tower of Terror film (which we discuss extensively in the podcast) to his latest book series, The Library, which lets the reader help in solving supernatural mysteries, D.J. MacHale is the man behind countless creepy feelings and sleepless nights.

You can find more of D.J. MacHale’s latest works by checking out his website.

The song for this week’s episode is our remix of the “Are You Afraid Of The Dark” theme song. We love how it sets the tone for the creepy stories that follow it, so make sure to listen to Sunspot’s (instrumental) remix of the theme at the end of the podcast!

153 – Amelia Earhart: Debunked Or Disinformation?

Amelia Earhart is back in the news eighty years after her disappearance. The famous aviator went missing over the Pacific Ocean in July of 1937 along with her navigator Fred Noonan and it’s been one of the Twentieth Century’s great mysteries ever since.

tom noonan last action hero
Just for a reference, this is Tom Noonan as “The Ripper” in Last Action Hero, who I kept comparing to Earhart’s navigator, Fred Noonan in the discussion

The reason she’s been the hot topic of conservation is because of a History Channel documentary called Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence. It featured former FBI agent Shawn Henry and his search for new evidence of what happened to Amelia and Fred. The theory that the special espouses is that they crash-landed in the Marshall Islands and were taken captive by the Japanese and later executed, effectively making Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan the first American casualties of the Second World War.

One of the pieces of new evidence is a photograph from a dock in the Marshall Islands found by researcher Les Kinney. He was digging in the National Archives and discovered it from the files of the Office of Naval Intelligence. The photo purportedly shows a skinny Caucasian woman sitting on the dock and a Caucasian man, a Japanese ship with what looks a plane being towed behind it as well.

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The photograph in question

Okay, so that photo was the hot news right before the special aired and it was linked and featured everywhere there’s Internet. And then the special aired to huge ratings (for cable, it’s not like “Who Shot J.R.?” or anything, those kinds of ratings only exist for the Academy Awards and the Super Bowl now.)

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Closer up version of the photo

So, just two days later, the story changes when a Japanese blogger who isn’t in love with the idea that the Empire decided to murder an innocent woman as a spy did some digging of his own. He discovered the photo somewhere else, in the Japanese National Diet Library Digital Collection, but according to the collection it was published in a book, a travelogue about the Marshall Islands (which were under Japan’s boot in the 1930s), and that book was published in 1935. Two years before Earhart’s disappearance.

So, the story changed. Blogs and news sites, excited about being able to follow up their original story from the week before, now had an update and it was devastating to the original evidence. The blogger, said that it only took him thirty minutes of Googling to discover the picture in the Japanese archive. So, is this a story of The History Channel not doing their diligence? It makes them and the researchers look stupid, almost like what happened with The Roswell Slides, where those photos were debunked in just a few hours. Well, everyone on the Internet jumped on the story and it seemed like case closed to a lot of people, but that wasn’t good enough for us! There was lots of compelling evidence in that special about Amelia Earhart being captured by the Japanese and eventually dying on the island of Saipan as a prisoner.

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Dick Spink about to jump in the drink!

Allison from Milwaukee Ghosts has a curiosity that can never be quelled. She contacted one of the researchers featured in Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence, Dick Spink (featured in National Geographic right here), and he gave us his thoughts on why he believes the photo is still genuine, that the blogger has it all wrong, why there’s so much more evidence (including first hand accounts from several Marshall Islanders who claim to have seen Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan on the island!) Dick provides a compelling defense (including a statement from the government of the Marshall Islands that the dock in question wasn’t built until 1936, so that date on the travelogue is impossible.)

Here’s Allison’s full interview with Dick Spink if you want to watch the whole thing!

So, next question. Was that date planted or just a mistake? And if someone was trying to create a disinformation campaign around Amelia Earhart, what’s the point? Sure, the Japanese government might not like to be known as the entity that killed an aviation pioneer and hero to men and women around the world, but it’s not like that was their only blemish on a spotless human rights record during the Second World War.

Well, it might not be a foreign power who is interested in keeping the truth buried. Some say the U.S. government covered it up because she actually was on a spy mission One of the pieces of evidence that they talk about is a secret Japanese diplomatic communique that was intercepted by the Americans where the Japanese say they believe the plane went down in the vicinity of the Marshall Islands. The communique was in a code that the Navy was able to break. Because the U.S. didn’t want the Japanese to know that we could break their code, we played dumb.

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The Japanese communiques found by Les Kinney

Sure, the Japanese government might not want to look like bad guys. Sure, the Unites States government might not want people to know that they turned a pioneering female celebrity into a spy. But is that reason to spread disinformation eighty years after the fact?

This new discovery shows that the U.S. was able to break Japanese secret codes in 1937. And if we were able to do that, how much of a stretch is it to believe that we were able to decode their messages in 1941?

Amelia Earhart pearl harbor use arizona
The USS Arizona burns at Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1841

If the United States knew that Japan was going to attack Pearl Harbor and did nothing about it, then that’s something worth spreading disinformation for. Now that’s a reason to change the narrative from Amelia and Fred being executed by the Japanese to just being lost in the South Pacific. That’s a reason to embarrass the researchers involved in Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence. And it’s not like the government are strangers to running disinformation campaigns…

Did FDR know in advance about Pearl Harbor? Prior to the war, a vast majority of the American public was opposed to getting involved in another European war. And the day after, everything changed. Patriotic Americans were signing up left and right to get involved in the war. We could finally help the United Kingdom, whose Prime Minister Winston Churchill had been pressuring Roosevelt for assistance for years by this point.

And Roosevelt was elected to end The Great Depression. Even with The New Deal programs in place, unemployment was at 20% in 1939. What’s a better jobs program than the largest war in history?

While there are several pieces of evidence that suggest, even if they didn’t know the specifics of the attack, they were intent on provoking Japan enough to attack. Robert D. Stinnett’s Day of Deceit: The Truth about FDR and Pearl Harbor details the McCollum memo which is an 8-step plan dated in October of 1940 that would be intended to draw a Japanese attack. Then, in 2011, a memo was found that the White House was warned three days before Pearl Harbor that the Japanese were readying for an imminent attack on Hawaii.

And then, on the other side, NPR ran a story titled “No, FDR did not know the Japanese were going to bomb Pearl Harbor”. The New York Times Magazine even ran an article called “The Weaponization of ‘Truther’” that lumps 9/11, Pearl Harbor, sasquatch, and Area 51 believers into the same bunch.

for amelia earhart war on japan
FDR signing a declaration of war on Japan

Look, in this day and age of “fake news” and “alternative facts”, disinformation has become just another part of the Culture Wars that we fight on social media. There are trusted news sources on the left, the MSNBC, CNN or NPR. And there’s the FOX News and Breitbart sites where Donald Trump’s supporters get their trusted information.

CNN and NPR both covered the Amelia Earhart photo “debunking” like the case was settled. Don’t believe it? Well then, you’re probably an Alex Jones-style conspiracy theorist and you’re just crazy. Alex Jones is the boy who cried wolf and the world no longer cares. He’s not a dangerous truth-crusader standing up against a cruel government conspiring to remake the world in an elitist image, he’s an Internet comedy meme now (this video of him ranting over a Bon Iver song got over a half-million hits in 4 days alone).

Disinformation has always existed but now stories can go viral and reach millions of people all over the world in an instant. We don’t know claim to know the truth about Amelia Earhart and we don’t know the truth about FDR and Pearl Harbor. But we do know that the official story isn’t usually the whole story. Everything we read has an agenda. Whether it’s as obvious as an editorial telling you who to vote for, a conspiracy theory blogpost, or a clickbait listicle that just wants to show you Viagra ads, always remember it’s our job to question everything.

descartes amelia earhart disinformation

Amelia Earhart’s determination made us think the perfect song for her would be this track about trying to determine your own fate. You’re never going to be able to control what’s around you and things never turn out like you think they will (the best laid plans and all that.) But you do pray that you do fail, you can do it with some dignity. Even if you’re going to go down in flames, that you get to do it your way. Here’s “Way I Fall” by Sunspot.

Overdone and overhyped,
I’m disappointed all the time,
These buildups always end up,
Letting me down.
I wanted the Himalayas,
I wanted to be part of the tribe,
I wanted an entourage,
And an overwrought sense of pride.

When I stop looking for,
What I thought was my dream.
When I want for something more,
The less it glitters the more it gleams.

Held up to a different light,
Altered and anesthetized,
Holed up and fenced away,
Unseen by prying eyes.
Like Scientology,
An exercise in idolatry,
Flash bulbs and rolling tapes,
Make me better than all the other apes.

When I stop looking for,
What I thought was my dream.
When I want for something more,
The less it glitters the more it gleams.
If I could save the world,
it wouldn’t matter at all.
I only want to choose the way I fall.

Karma smacked my across the face,
Free will led us to this place.

When I stop looking for,
Than I thought was my dream.
When I want for something more,
The less it glitters the more it gleams.
If I could save the world,
it wouldn’t matter at all.
I only want to choose the way I fall.

152 – Haunted History in New England: A Conversation with Jeff Belanger

Jeff Belanger is one of New England’s premier haunted historians. Well known for his work with Ghost Adventures (he was one of the guys who found the haunted places and looked for witnesses willing to discuss their experiences), Jeff also hosted the online show Thirty Odd Minutes, has written fourteen books on hauntings, and was Emmy-nominated for his work on the PBS series, New England Legends (now available to watch on Amazon Prime!)

jeff belanger ghost adventures
Jeff Belanger looking like a total badass!

Growing up in Connecticut near Ed and Lorraine Warren (he even got to hang out at their house!), Jeff found himself fascinated with the paranormal at an early age. He started the popular ghost story site, Ghost Village in 1999 which is easily one of the largest paranormal resources on the Internet. Since then, he’s been writing books, hosting TV shows , and even climbing Mount Kilimanjaro (which we get to in this episode).

Jeff Belanger 30 odd minutes zombie t-shirt
Jeff on 30 Odd Minutes, with an awesome t-shirt!

In this conversation Jeff shares his first real-life ghostly encounter in the Catacombs of Paris, some of his favorite New England ghost stories and legends, the inspiration behind his mountain climbing in Africa, and why Sandy Hook Truthers are sadly mistaken.

One of the stories that Jeff told us that really resonated with me was the story of Mercy Brown, a girl who died of tuberculosis in Exeter, Rhode Island in 1892. Her mother and older sister also died of tuberculosis and  then brother came down with it, so the people of Exeter believed that there was a vampire that was cursing the family. They dug up the bodies to see, but since it was wintertime and Mercy was being kept above ground (they had to wait for the ground to thaw to bury her), she was not as decomposed as they thought she should be. Also, as her body was more fresh so it still had blood in the liver and heart, which made them believe she was a vampire.

jeff belanger mercy brown vampire ghosts
The grave of Mercy Brown

They believed that they could end the vampiric curse and save her brother by ripping out her heart, burning it, and feeding him the ashes, so they did. And it didn’t work, two months after eating his sister’s burned heart, Edwin Brown succumbed to the disease as well. That seemed like an excellent inspiration for a track, because looking at it from today’s perspective, the whole adventure seems so misguided. All they did was drag Edwin and poor Mercy’s father through Hell by digging up the bodies of the people he loved and make him believe that his daughter was a hellish abomination. Let the dead rest. Things are better left buried in the past. Mercy’s father went through all that turmoil, he made his son eat his own daughter’s burned out heart and it was all pointless anyway. That’s the inspiration for this track, “Digging Up The Dead”.

Rusty nails and rotten wood
And earth in every seam
I spit the dirt out of my mouth
I wake up from a dream to
Be thirsty like I’ve never been
A constant agony
With the black dog that walks at my back
And damns my memory.
Lord grant us mercy from afar,
forgive the prayers we should have said,
Oh you can burn up my heart,
and eat the ashes that are left,
But you’re just digging up the dead.
You’re just digging up the dead.
The things that should be left alone
They’re not for man to touch
The past is just a shallow grave,
That’s best left in the dust.
We keep kicking the pale horse,
’til the blood just turns to rust.
No, you can’t beat the Devil,
By remembering too much.
Lord grant us mercy from afar,
forgive the prayers we should have said,
Oh you can burn up my heart,
and eat the ashes that are left,
But you’re just digging up the dead.

151 – Return to the Mississippi: Haunted America 2017 Recap

For the third time, we return to Alton, Illinois to do some paranormal business. The first, we did a live podcast and hung out at the haunted Maeva’s Coffeehouse. The second we went down to the Haunted America conference which was their Twentieth Anniversary.

This time, we went down in force to the Haunted America Conference to not only check out the speakers, but to hang out at a See You On The Other Side booth as well as play a few songs to kick off the conference (and thanks to the awesome Lisa Taylor-Horton for making that happen!)

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Sunspot Acoustic Duo at Haunted America

The booth this year was Lisa Van Buskirk from Madison Ghost Walks, Allison Jornlin from Milwaukee Ghosts, Scott Markus from What’s Your Ghost Story, and then Wendy and I. So, we had a full boat and it was a great opportunity to meet a whole bunch of cool people.

haunted america see you on the other side booth
Looking good at the SYOTOS booth

We were right across the way from Greg and Dana Newkirk’s Traveling Museum of the Paranormal and Occult, so seeing the different attendees get to play with their various haunted and cursed items was a lot of fun throughout the day.

Some of the highlights of the conference were Troy’s introduction, the speaker panel on Friday night, Paranormal Sarah’s discussion of paranormal belief across cultures, Greg and Dana’s presentation on living with cursed objects,  and Rosemary Ellen Guiley on interdimensional beings.

It’s really amazing what Troy and Lisa pull together in Alton, it’s a small Mississippi River town that for a weekend each year becomes a paranormal hotbed with some of the finest speakers in the field attending and discussing topics of all stripes (except UFOs, for some reason Troy doesn’t like them, but don’t let him know that we love ’em!) I joke a little about Alton in the discussion, but that’s because the years I spent living in La Crosse, Wisconsin made me understand how these cities that grew up along the Mississippi River have gone through some rough times, and to be able to bring people there and create a successful fun event year after year is no small feat.

haunted america troy taylor
The gang with the man behind Haunted America, Troy Taylor!

One of the things that I thought was interesting was the people at the booth right next to ours (the South Pivttsburgh Hospital in Tennessee) had never been to a conference before and they were so cute. The manager of the hospital said that she felt out of her element, like a “faker” because she wasn’t a “paranormal person”. I completely understand because this community can sometimes feel extremely insular and it’s very protective because outsiders in the mainstream love to be judgmental about the things that we think are awesome.

I told her that you didn’t need to be a “paranormal person” to appreciate everything, you just had to have an open mind. No one really knows the answers and anyone that tells you that they do is lying to you or they’re deranged!

This is an area where we’re all just taking our best guess. But that’s just not the world of the paranormal, that’s everything in life. We’re all just doing our best out there, no matter what it is. And everyone feels like a fraud sometimes, that they’re “getting away with something”. As long as you’re okay with yourself, that’s all that matters. We’re all just trying to get by, and all the things that we make ourselves believe that are so important, or things we torture ourselves with, in the end don’t really matter to the universe. Have fun and be your best, because it’s just “Smoke and Mirrors” anyway.

When you feel like you’re a fake
and you just want to run away
and the little mask you’re wearing breaks

Well, it’s okay. Yeah, it’s okay.

when you think they’re giving you the eye
something in you wants to die
when you’re just living a lie

Just know, it’s smoke and mirrors anyway

Well you’ve got your cross to bear
Don’t you know, that we all got our weights
And It’s not right and it’s not fair,
don’t you know, it’s gonna be okay
It’s smoke and mirrors anyway.

a target on your back
and always under attack
maybe that facade is gonna crack,
But it’s okay, yeah, it’s okay.
Feeling like a big phony
questioning your sanity
don’t worry what they believe

it’s smoke and mirrors anyway.
Well you’ve got your cross to bear
Don’t you know, that we all got our weights
And It’s not right and it’s not fair,
don’t you know, it’s gonna be okay
It’s smoke and mirrors anyway.

150 – The Close Encounters Man: A conversation with Mark O’Connell about UFOs and Dr. J. Allen Hynek

It’s always a pleasure when we can bring Mark O’Connell to talk on the show. Not only did he grow up in the same town as Allison Jornlin and I, so it’s always fun to reminisce about growing up a little different in our tiny hometown of Big Bend, Wisconsin, but he’s a science fiction screenwriter who’s got the same interest in the paranormal as we do here on the show. He’s written for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, he blogs on UFO subjects at High Strangeness UFO, and he has just released a biography of Dr. J. Allen Hynek, an astronomy professor who became the main investigator for the United States’ Air Force’s Project: Blue Book.

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Mark O’Connell at the 2016 Milwaukee Paranormal Conference

The Close Encounters Man: How One Man Made the World Believe in UFOs is the fruit of Mark’s research and interest in Hynek that we talked about all the way two and a half years ago in our 23rd episode. 

While  Dr. Hynek famously started off skeptical, even his New York Times obituary mentions that he was proud to be associated with advancing the field of UFO research into something more scientifically respectable. And he wasn’t afraid to criticize the Air Force’s UFO study methods when he found them less than scientific.

j allen hyena close encounters
Dr. J. Allen Hynek cameoing in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind

He developed a classification system for UFO encounters in his book, The UFO Experience, that Steven Spielberg famously used as inspiration for the sci-fi mashed potatoes classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The movie poster even used the scale itself:

Close Encounter of the First Kind
Sighting of a UFO
Close Encounter of the Second Kind
Physical Evidence
Close Encounter of the Third Kind
Contact

Since the book was written, others have tried to add more levels to the scale to include everything from abduction cases (the fourth kind) to alien/human hybrid fertilization schemes (the seventh?), but those are more controversial because they involve some research that cannot be quantified. UFO researcher and Hynek’s friend Jacques Vallee has said a Close Encounter of the Fourth Kind could involve “high strangeness” (a term that Hynek coined) where reality itself seems to be altered during the encounter(and that’s something we’ve been talking more and more about lately!)

In this rollicking conversation, we talk about Hynek’s scale, his gigantic influence on how we investigate UFO phenomena today, his infamous “swamp gas” denial that set off a decade of tension between him and the UFO enthusiasts of the 60s and 70s, and also how Mark O’Connell himself has been branded a “skeptic” and what that means in today’s UFO community.

the close encounters man mark o'connell j allen hyena
Click on the book to pick up your copy!

One of the most important aspects of Hynek’s impact on UFOlogy was how his  beliefs evolved over time. He followed the evidence where it led without pre-conceived notions which is one of the reasons we’re still talking about him today. Evolution isn’t easy and adjusting your beliefs, whether it be about yourself or the universe,  when you discover new truths, isn’t easy. And some people can never change.

That’s what this week’s Sunspot song, “Archaeopteryx” is about. The dinosaur with feathers, we think of the archaeopteryx as the link between those cold-blooded monsters and our modern birds, and how it sucks to be stuck in the middle, belonging to neither generation. The key line is “Evolve or die”. That’s how natural selection works and that’s how science works. If you aren’t willing to change, then you are willing to go extinct.

I’m lost in time,
a relic of some forgotten past.
Where is my kind? I guess they just couldn’t last.
A reproductive dead end,
just more carbon left to waste.
Another life form couldn’t keep up in the race.

I missed out on the Golden Age,
too young to fit in and too old for this decade,
anyway.

A live oxymoron,
like an unexploded bomb.
An unwelcome guest who never,
knew where he belonged.

In this God-forsaken pit,
it’s just survival of the fit.
There is no why, evolve or die,
Archaeopteryx.

Adapt or be selected against,
but don’t get left behind.
The march of progress has a very tight deadline.

I missed out on the Golden Age,
too young to fit in and too old for this decade,
anyway.

A live oxymoron,
like an unexploded bomb.
An unwelcome guest who never,
knew where he belonged.

In this God-forsaken pit,
it’s just survival of the fit.
There is no why, evolve or die,
Archaeopteryx.

To all you boomers and the world that you screwed up,
I want to eat you like a Titan,
Beat you like I’m Tyson.
And you millennials who never can shut up,
Make me wish that Y2K,
Flushed you all away,
And my kind goes extinct.

A live oxymoron,
like an unexploded bomb.
An unwelcome guest who never,
knew where he belonged.

In this God-forsaken pit,
it’s just survival of the fit.
There is no why, evolve or die,
Archaeopteryx.

149 – UFOs: Reframing The Debate Part 2 with Robbie Graham and Mike Clelland

Last week, we covered the concept of “high strangeness” with Robbie Graham and Mike Clelland as we talked about the book, UFOs: Reframing The Debate, a collection of essays on modern UFOlogy conceived and edited by Robbie.

UFOS Reframing The Debate
Try checking this image out with 3-D glasses!

This week is the second half of that conversation between myself, Robbie Graham, Mike Clelland, and  Allison Jornlin from Milwaukee Ghosts and we talk about healthy skepticism. I think that skepticism is just as important as belief when it comes to handling therse phenomena.

If you’ve seen a UFO, it’s always going to be a “your word” vs. “someone else’s beliefs and experiences” kind of thing. If that person hasn’t had a UFO encounter, they’re going to have a more difficult time believing yours. So, what are we trying to do? Make it more believable to convince skeptics that this stuff isn’t just hoaxes and hallucinations? Or help people who have had these experiences come to terms with them and be able to handle when they believe something has happened to them that they cannot understand.

It was in April of 2015 where we interviewed UFO researcher, Don Schmitt, about the “smoking gun” that was supposed to be the Roswell Slides released on May 5th of that year at a special pay per view event in Mexico City. If you didn’t see it, the slides were supposed to be a 1950s photograph showing a dead alien body, but really is just a mummified human. A small group formed on social media to take the investigation into their own hands and debunked the slides in a matter of a few days. Cliff Collins writes about it in UFOs: Reframing The Debate.

It’s an awesome example of why skepticism is so important. This small group ended the debate on the Roswell Slides. We’re not subjected to endless TV specials or internet sites dedicated to discussing the “controversy”, people won’t be writing books about the slides in 50 years and talking about “the unsolved mystery”. It’s debunked and now we can move on to the next thing.

But even if we could make UFO experiences more “believable”, does it matter? While Internet discourse has created an atheist skeptic vs. religious believer debate where you either fall on one side or the other, the skeptics have already lost.

A 2015 poll shows that 56% of Americans believe in UFOs and 45% of them believe that extraterrestrials have visited earth. That’s a majority of Americans who think that there is something real to that UFO phenomenon and just a little less than half believe in the “Extraterrestrial Hypothesis” (that it’s aliens coming to visit).

Carl Sagan popularized the saying “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Healthy skepticism and scientific rigor is important, not just to debunk and rain on everyone’s parade, but to find out the cases where things that are happening are truly unexplainable and are truly weird. It’s been seventy years since Roswell and are we any closer to the truth? It’s been over fifty years since Betty and Barney Hill were abducted, over forty for Travis Walton, almost thirty since Communion

Nothing has changed. We’re not any closer to the truth. Maybe we’ll never be – in this discussion, we talk long and hard about the futility of disclosure and at length about Tom Delonge’s Sekret Machines project that’s supposed to blow the cover of the whole UFO thing.  

We have a good laugh about disclosure as well, talking about how Donald Trump would never pass up the opportunity to be the one to let the world know about extraterrestrial and giggle about an alien wearing a Make America Great Again hat.

But how we deal with the aftermath of experiencers can improve. That is something we can change. I don’t think everyone is lying or hoaxing and if we can help people come to terms with the experiences, to process it in a healthy way, then we’re doing something tremendously important.

That’s where modern skeptics can really improve. Sympathy, understanding, a psychological perspective. That’s something that the Church has a superior handle on as compared to psychiatrists. The Catholics have been trying to figure out whether miracles have actually happened for two millennia and even have a system for it, it’s certainly not completely applicable here, but it’s much more sympathetic than the Phillip Klass or James Randi approach, that just suggests experiences are deceiving or delusional.

UFOs: Reframing The Debate challenges the core notions that I had about UFOs, ETs, and even faeries and owls that I’ve had all my life. It’s the kind of book that this field needs to break out of The X-Files mindset we’ve been living in (at least until Tom Delonge proves us all wrong!) It doesn’t take sides or come in with an agenda. And if your ideas about UFO phenomena are the same when you’re done reading the book as when you started, then you’re just as closed minded as any skeptic.

One of the themes of this week’s conversation is disappointment. Whether it’s the blowup with the Roswell Slides or the fact that so many have waited with baited breath for full government disclosure to no avail, disappointment is as much a part of UFOlogy as little green men. This week’s Sunspot song is called “The Breach”, when something important to you, and breaks and it hurts, but you keep going back.

I can still taste you on the tip of my tongue,
I’m trying to hold your breath inside my lungs,
Draw me away.
Draw me amazed.
We stand outside ourselves,
so please don’t move
When I scream fire inside a crowded room.Mediocrity surrounds me,
To the point of tragedy.
And we can walk along the breach,
walk along the breach.Consumed by a devouring,
Convinced by an overwhelming.
Draw me afraid,
I watched you draw me flayed.We stood outside ourselves,
and then you moved.
When I screamed fire inside a crowded room, a crowded room.

Mediocrity escapes me,
when I hear your voice.
Barely avoiding tragedy,
We made that choice.
I closed my eyes so hard,
I didn’t know the water from the sea,
As we walked along the breach.

The crack was deeper than it seemed,
I could not cross the yawning,
that opened in my chest cavity,
The frailty that tore,
Still led us once more unto the breach.

Mediocrity escaped me,
When I heard your voice,
To the point of tragedy,
When you made your choice.
I closed my eyes so hard,
I didn’t know the water from the sea,
As we walked along the breach.

Mediocrity escaped me,
When I heard your voice,
To the point of tragedy,
When you made your choice.
I closed my eyes so hard,
To shut out the uncertainty,
Against the husk of a dream,
As we stand astride, stand astride the breach.

148 – UFOs: Reframing The Debate Part 1 with Robbie Graham and Mike Clelland

Last time we talked with Robbie Graham, he had just released Silver Screen Saucers, a brilliant tome on how Hollywood and UFOlogy have influenced each other over the past 70 years. In the meantime, Robbie’s star has quickly risen in the UFO field (or is just the planet Venus?) thanks to his thorough research and an academic approach.

His latest endeavor, UFOs: Reframing The Debate is a collection of essays written by some of the greatest modern UFO researchers, bloggers, and even skeptics. It features some of our favorite former See You On The Other Side guests like Joshua Cutchin and Ryan Sprague as well as great podcaster Micah Hanks, and even Canada’s leading “UFO guy, eh” Chris Rutkowski.

With thirteen (of course!) essays, there is plenty to agree with, disagree with, things to make you mad, things to make you think, and lots to learn.

One of the contributors to the book, Mike Clelland, is the blogger behind Hidden Experiences and the author of The Messengers: Owls, Synchronicity, and The UFO Abductee. He’s not only a researcher into the field, he’s an experiencer as well and he and Robbie both join the discussion (along with Allison from Milwaukee Ghosts) as we do some deep diving into why we need to rethink everything we think we know about the UFO phenomenon.

That’s one of the reasons we wanted to split this podcast up. It seemed like the conversation naturally moved halfway through and we wanted to make sure that we gave each topic the thought space that they deserved. The first thing for me that changed the way I feel about UFOs was the concept of “high strangeness”.

No, high strangeness isn’t the lost Cheech & Chong movie, it’s a phrase from the great UFO researcher and Project Blue Book leader, Dr. J. Allen Hynek. He used it to describe the absurd and surreal nature of the phenomenon. And people use that term now to describe how once they’ve seen a UFO, their lives change and they start seeing weird stuff in their life all the time. Mike Clelland illustrates the point with several of his stories, as he has been collecting them for years on his blog, as well as having a few experiences of his own (like seeing gray aliens outside his window, missing time as a teenager, etc…)

You see a UFO, then you might see Bigfoot, then you might start experiencing poltergeist activity. It’s like that original sighting opens the door to everything paranormal. But why would that be?

I always thought the people who have more than one kind of experience made them sound even more unbelievable, ya know? The higher the number of experiences, the higher the chance of crazy. But so many people report more than just the UFO sighting. As Mike says in his essay:

Life, death, sex, dreams,spirituality, psychic visions, genetics, expanded consciousness, mind-control, channelling,mysticism, miraculous healings, out-of-body experiences, hybrid children, personal transformation, powerful synchronicity, portals in the backyard, distorted time, telepathy,prophetic visions, trauma, ecstasy, and magic. It’s as if our brains just aren’t big enough todeal with the overload of so much weirdness.

And that made me reconsider my assumptions on aliens, that they’re just interplanetary travelers (albeit with a taste for experimenting on the wildlife) and that it’s purely a physical materialist happening, something we can understand with our current models of the universe. But I’m stuck in the 90s X-Files/Independence Day conspiracy mode of thinking, when the new evidence points to what might be an even weirder explanation, almost like Twin Peaks. Indeed, the owls might not be what they seem. (And the Richard Jones evil doppelgänger story from Kansas last week certainly made me think of the denizens of The Black Lodge!)

But that’s the idea of the book, to challenge your former beliefs, to find room in the UFO tent for perspectives ranging from materialist to spiritual to hallucinatory to anywhere in between. We’re talking about a field where even the best evidence is scoffed at (and we’ll be talking about the importance of skepticism in Part 2 next week) so to advance the study of UFOs we’re going to have to be ready to embrace opposing points of view something too often avoided in the Internet Age, because a friendly perspective, the easy path, is only a click away.

Click here to grab UFOs: Reframing The Debate new book on Amazon.

Now after seventy years of flying saucers, to change people’s entrenched beliefs on the weirdness that we’re seeing in the skies is no easy task, you might say it’s “Sisyphean”, the mythical Greek King who was damned to eternally roll a boulder up a hill as a punishment for his defiance of the gods (he was always tricking them!) So, we thought that our Sunspot track, “Sisyphus’ Rock” might be the perfect capper to the first part of our epic discussion.

Like Sisyphus and his rock,
I roll our love up a great hill.
Hoping for a chance to reach the summit.
And as the gods of thunder bowl,
I watch the light show in the sky.
But you are frozen, terrified, and weakened.

I know the reasons for your actions.
I know you’ll answer for your tears.
But who will ever be my rock?
when you decide you’re on your own,
and I still draw you rainbows in the night.

I would steal fire from the gods,
if I thought it’d make you smile.
I’d sacrifice my liver for your heart.
Look out in Hades down below,
because I’ll not look back this time.
Now I’m armed with Schwarzenegger, two gats, and a nine.

FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT.
You’re the Achilles’ Heel of my soul.
FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT.
Yours is the only pain I know.
But little angel don’t you fear,
when you felt me you fell from grace.
But we are all Immortals in the end.

I will decline Pandora’s Box,
but I think I’ll see what’s in yours.
I’m clawing for the hope that’s at the bottom.
I’ll fight off snakes on Gorgons’ heads,
and I’ll take thunderbolts for you.
But please don’t leave my whispers to myself.

But angel don’t you ever fear,
when you felt me you fell from grace.
But we are all Immortals in the end.

147 – She Talks To Angels: JD Cross’s Garden In Heaven

I don’t know about you, but when I’m afraid of something, I make a deal with God. When I’m faced with an unknown or something that I can’t control, or something that’s too late to have any effect on, I pray. I beg, I plead, I deal. What was the last deal you made? What were you willing to sacrifice and what did you want?

That’s baked right into the Judeo-Christian faith and really baked into religion as a whole We sacrifice something so the gods will smile upon us, whether it’s Nicolas Cage being put into The Wicker Man or God telling Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac or the Aztecs slaughtering their prisoners of war at the tops of their pyramid.

But really, does it seem like God cares about your sacrifice? When you suffer, does God seem to care? No. People who don’t deserve things get them all the time. It’s not about deserving, it’s not about sacrifice. Can you alter your future? Absolutely, through making good decisions in your past. Miracles seem to happen, but why do they happen to some people and not others? Who determines who deserves what?

We’re never going to be able to answer that question and that’s okay. Faith isn’t about believing so you get better stuff than the other guy, faith is accepting the universe as it is, hoping that it’s all for a greater purpose and just hoping the if you do your best, things will work out but understanding that it doesn’t always happen and being willing to roll with it.

I make bargains with God all the time, sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t, but the thing is…he never talks back to me. But certain people claim to have had contact with the Almighty. People like author J.D. Cross.

J.D. Cross’ first angel appeared to her when she was four years old and when she went to sleep, her soul would travel to a “Garden in Heaven” where she would spend time with Jesus. She had an out of body experience and died on the operating table when she was 19. God has blessed her with the gift go prophecy and the ability to talk to angels and she shares those prophecies, her experiences of soul traveling, and what it’s like when God warns you about not going to a keg party in this interview!

J.D.’s books include Soul Travel In Heaven: The Day I Died and Prophecies In The Light of Christ and you can find her official website right here.

We couldn’t pass up playing this Black Crowes song for this episode. We thought a stripped down version of their bonafide classic, “She Talks To Angels” would be perfect for an episode about a woman who’s talked to them all of her life.

She never mentions the word addiction
In certain company.
Yes, she’ll tell you she’s an orphan
After you meet her family.

She paints her eyes as black as night now.
Pulls those shades down tight.
Yeah, she gives me a smile when the pain comes.
The pain gonna make everything alright.

Says she talks to angels.
They call her out by her name.
Oh yeah, she talks to angels.
Says they call her out by her name.

She don’t know no lover,
None that I ever seen.
Yeah, to her that ain’t nothing
But to me it means, means everything.

She keeps a lock of hair in her pocket.
She wears a cross around her neck.
Yes the hair is from a little boy,
And the cross from someone she has not met, not yet.

Says she talks to angels.
Says they call her out by her name.
Oh yeah, angels
Call her out by her name
Oh angel,
They call her out by her name
Oh she talks to angels,
They call her out, yeah yeah
Call her out,
Don’t you know that they call her out by her name.

A rock band's journey into the afterlife, UFOs, entertainment, and weird science.

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