All posts by Mike Huberty

Co-Host of See You On The Other Side podcast
Lead Vocalist & Bassist for Sunspot

160 – Texas Chainsaws, Space Vampires, and The Poltergeist Curse: Remembering Tobe Hooper

Filmmaker Tobe Hooper passed away on August 26th, 2017 at the age of 74. Hooper was most famous for being the director on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist, but he also set his indelible mark on great films like Salem’s Lot and (the extremely under appreciated, in my opinion) Lifeforce. While he’ll always be remembered for having a massive impact on the the horror genre with his first big film, his other works have had real life paranormal urban legends and inspirations behind them. Allison from Milwaukee Ghosts, Wendy, and I talk about they recent Mothman investigations (Allison in Chicago and Wendy just went to Point Pleasant, West Virginia) and then we get right into our favorite Tobe Hooper movies.

First of all, we discuss the marketing behind The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, because the original tagline said that it was based on true events – which is completely not true! Of course, that kind of marketing helps sell tickets and makes something even scarier (just think about The Conjuring as a modern example). That little bit of brilliance helped Tobe Hooper turn his $300,000 independent Austin, Texas movie turn into a 146 million dollar (adjusted for inflation) horror juggernaut that inspired sequels, remakes, and even launched the careers of Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger.

But Leatherface was inspired by our own America’s Dairlyand homegrown Psycho, Ed Gein, who created his own masks of human skin from corpses he’d dig up in the Plainfield, Wisconsin graveyard. Ed died in Wendy and my town of Madison, but Allison has a fun story about her college poetry professor who used to volunteer at socials at the Mendota Mental Health Institute here and even got to dance with Ed himself (who was prone to dementia and considered good natured in his old age.) That was about as far as the “Based on a true story”, Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre got. Silence of the Lambs, Psycho, and a little known Roddy McDowell film called It! were also inspired by Ed Gein.

Tobe Hooper made a huge impact on the cultural zeitgeist with his adaptation of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot for television and 11 years before kids were traumatized by IT, it was vampires in Maine that gave them nightmares.

Tobe Hooper
Hooper and Spielberg on the set of Poltergeist

But then Tobe Hooper hit Hollywood pay dirt by scoring the directing gig for Poltergeist. While there was a controversy that Steven Spielberg might have been the real director, our interest comes from the curse that supposedly followed the actors involved with the production.

The story of the Poltergeist curse has been around for at least 20 years and it involves the fact that the two of the actresses died very young, Dominique Dunne was murdered by her boyfriend and Heather O’Rourke (the girl that says “They’re here”) died of bowel obstruction complications during the filming of Poltergeist III. 

Plenty of stories on the Internet and on reality TV try to make it seem like there’s something to the curse, and the actress who payed the mother in the first two films, JoBeth Williams, even added fuel to the fire by claiming that real skeletons were used during the making of the film (that part might be true!). But beyond the coincidental tragedies of the two young actresses dying young, there really is no other evidence of any Poltergeist curse.

Hooper followed up Poltergeist with the awesome Lifeforce, written by Alien‘s Dan O’Bannon, but also based on Colin Wilson’s work The Space Vampires. Wilson was a fiction and nonfiction writer who would often deal with the paranormal and metaphysical and what makes The Space Vampires extra fun is that Wilson wrote the book on a challenge from Wisconsin author, August Derleth. Derleth is the one who kept H.P. Lovecraft’s world and mythology alive after his death, and he challenged Wilson to write a book in the Lovecraft vein. The Space Vampires was the book, and Tobe Hooper made it come alive (or undead!) with his adaption in Lifeforce. It wasn’t a big box office hit, but it’s been critically reevaluated in recent years for the terror-filled science fiction extravaganza that it was.

tobe hooper the saw is family
Tobe Hooper helping out one of Leatherface’s family onset

After the mid-80s and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 not lighting the box office on fire, Hooper did mostly television work and one of his coolest shows was a 1991 TV show (hosted by Leonard Nimoy!) called Haunted Lives: True Ghost Stories where he dramatized the events of the haunted Toys R’ Us in Sunnyvale, California. Now, that story means a lot to me since I saw it on That’s Incredible! when I was tiny. It probably was the first “real” ghost story that I can remember.

tobe hooper haunted toys r us
The image captured during the seance

The ghost story of the haunted Toys R’ Us in Sunnyvale, California involves a farm hand in the Nineteenth Century named Yohnny Yohanson who was in love with the owner of the farm’s daughter named Elizabeth. He loves her, she doesn’t love him, he dies in a tragic accident. One hundred years later, there’s a Toys R’ Us built on the site and strange things start occurring. Famous psychic Sylvia Browne shows up, has a seance, tells everyone the story, and they capture a photo during the seance of a “ghost”. It’s a classic ghost story made for TV and it had a huge impact on me as a kid. The fact that Tobe Hooper made a dramatized version of the events (that had way more inventive camera work and effects for a time than these shows usually had!) blew my mind!

Check out this great in-depth article about the Yohnny, Elizabeth, and the haunted Toys R’ Us that is well worth the read! 

1991 Haunted Lives True Ghost Stories – Episode 1 (Real Ghosts) from Jonathan Moser on Vimeo.

And it’s the Toys R’ Us story that helped us decide on this week’s Sunspot song. “Broken Toy” is a track full of 1980s’ nostalgia, when Tobe Hooper was in his directing prime. In the Texas Chainsaw Massacre it’s Sally Hardesty’s “innocence” that saves her, which is  one of the most common tropes of slasher films that followed (deftly parodied in the third act of the first Scream film), but still relatively novel back in 1974. The main thrust of this track is how once youthful innocence is lost, nothing is eve quite the same.

I opened a box of toys I broke,
and the ones that have broken me.Cruising in my lego car,
and Jem was my favorite star,
But I fell in love with a girl,
from a galaxy far, far away.
Hey boy, where did you go?
Life ain’t that simple, don’t you know?
And the Duke boys couldn’t get away,
when I painted in shades of grey.Don’t look me in the eye,
I can’t take what it makes me see.
It opens a box of toys I broke,
and the ones that have broken me.
It reminds me too much,
of the way things used to be.
I can’t play with a broken toy,
I can’t live on a memory.

Ronnie’s got a million guns,
Protecting us from Mao Tse Tsung,
but I don’t want to think about,
”The Day After” today.
Hey boy, what did you say?
Can Voltron make it all okay?
Or will my faith that ran away,
bump into me someday?

Don’t look me in the eye,
I can’t take what it makes me see.
It opens a box of toys I broke,
and the ones that have broken me.
It reminds me too much,
of the way things used to be.
I can’t play with a broken toy,
I can’t live on a memory.

credits

159 – Sweet Home Chicago Mothman: Round Table with Lon Strickler, Manuel Navarette, and Tobias Wayland

The Midwest is abuzz this Summer with stories of winged humanoid creatures flying over Chicagoland. Tall dark creatures with red glowing eyes have been spotted all over the city with dozens of sightings this year alone.

Here’s Lon Strickler from Phantoms and Monsters‘ awesome Google Map of the Chicago Mothman sightings.

Now Lon has been collecting these stories, Manuel Navarette from UFO Clearinghouse has been writing up the reports and investigating each site, our friend Tobias Wayland from the Singular Fortean has been following the sightings closely and looking for ties to other cryptid and paranormal cases, and of course, our own Allison Jornlin from Milwaukee Ghosts has been visiting all of the sites and walking through them for her Haunted Road Trip YouTube channel.

The Chicago Mothman is the big paranormal story of the summer and we knew it was time to get a round table together of these researchers to dive into the best sightings, the methodology of investigation, and the similarities and differences from the 1966 and 1967 Point Pleasant, West Virginia Mothman sightings that was a harbinger of disaster for the town.

And unlike this summer’s King Arthur movie, our Round Table does NOT disappoint (zing!) Not only does Lon give us the skinny on Remote Viewing Experiments he’s been conducting, but Manuel tells us why he thinks that there is a cover-up from the local government and media.

Wendy and I also shout out to all the new friends we made at the Michigan Paracon over the weekend in Sault Ste. Marie, we headed north to the Upper Peninsula to party with some awesome Michiganders and meet up with former podcast guests like Week In Weird‘s Greg and Dana Newkirk, Haunt Investigators of Michigan, Ghost Adventures’ Jeff Belanger, and Ghost Hunting 2.0‘s Chris Bores.

Wendy, Allison, and I also sported some sweet new See You On The Other Side t-shirts with a special new design made by Brent Simpson, and here you can see Allison modeling the shirt with some of our friends from the Paracon!

And you can check out one of those shirts for yourself on Amazon right here!

Now for an episode like this, you know we just couldn’t resist working on a song by the man who sold his soul at the Crossroads himself, Robert Johnson (who we covered in detail in our first episode, “Making A Deal With The Devil: The Musicians Who Sold Their Souls To Satan”. ) Everyone from B.B. King to The Blues Brothers have done their versions of this song, and we thought we’d leave our mark on it. It’s also the last song that Stevie Ray Vaughan every played, at Alpine Valley Music Theatre in Wisconsin in 1990. It was an epic jam with Stevie, Eric Clapton,  Buddy Guy, Jimmie Vaughan, and Robert Cray – August 25th, 1990. So we also thought it was appropriate because this wewas the 27th anniversary of his death. And here’s our little blues jam, Sunspot with “Sweet Home Chicago Mothman”.

Oh, baby don’t you want to go?
Oh, baby don’t you want to go?
Back to the land of winged humanoids
To my sweet home Chicago

On Roosevelt and 59th
perched right on the light,
Flying off to the air
after flapping its wings twice,

Oh whoa,
honey don’t you want to go
where the mothman flies
Sweet Home Chicago

At Humboldt it’s an owl,
they call it Lechuza,
eyes of glowing red,
and they’re staring right through ya

Oh Baby,
Honey don’t you wanna go
to the land of the were-owl
Sweet Home Chicago.

Went to Lollapalooza
wanted to see the bands
But he had to fly away
everyone yelled at the mothman

saying Baby
Honey don’t you wanna go
to the land of man sized bats,
Sweet Home Chicago

The Tribune is silent
but City Hall knows it’s true
the Police won’t do nothing to
Make Godfather look a fool

And they say Baby
Honey don’t you wanna go
to where nobody’s seen nothing
My Sweet Home Chicago

Oh, baby don’t you want to go?
Oh, baby don’t you want to go?
Back to the land of winged humanoids
To my sweet home Chicago

158 – Fool Us: Magic and Mystery with David Parr

Magician David Parr’s recent appearance on Penn & Teller: Fool Us ended up with David performing a neat card trick with Alyson Hanigan (Willow from Buffy!) that not only amazed the crowd, but managed to fool both of the title stars! The show is based around the famous magic duo trying to figure out tricks by other magicians and if they can’t figure your trick out, you get to perform with them at their Las Vegas show! On the August 7th episode, David Parr was the only one who managed that feat!

You can watch the segment in its entirety on David Parr’s YouTube Channel

In addition to just being an incredible performer, though, David brings a cast knowledge of magical and mystical history to his show. He has a special Spiritualist-type magic performance in addition to his stage show (which you can see in Chicago at The Magic Cabaret) where he delves into the history of the seance as well as the spectacle.

David Parr
David Parr looking like he wants to trick you!

In this episode, Allison from Milwaukee Ghosts joins Wendy and I as we talk to David Parr about his favorite tricks, the whole experience of being on the Penn & Teller: Fool Us program, the problem with modern skepticism, non-staged and unexpected paranormal experiences during magic shows, and of course, miniature guillotines that kids used to get as presents (WHAT?!)

David Parr and the Miniature Guillotine
David Parr and his Miniature Guillotine

Well, one of the things that we discussed in the podcast with David Parr was that humans really love mysteries! That feeling of wonder and “not knowing” helps keep life interesting and fun, and magic is definitely part of that. We all love being fooled a little bit, whether it’s willfully getting engaged in the suspension of disbelief during a movie or watching a lady being sawed in half onstage, or even in our relationships. There’s what’s real and what we want to believe, and often, it’s just more fun to say to the person we love, “Lie to Me”.

Tell me I’m the biggest,
tell me I’m the best.
Tell me how hard I feel
and I’m better than the rest.

Let me know how good my kisses taste,
You’ve never felt this way before
Tell me how every other boy,
left you wanting more.

I can smell the bull$&^% on your breath.

Lie. To. Me.
Lie. To. Me.
Tell me I’m your big daddy,
Everything you’ve ever dreamed.
Lie. To. Me.
Lie. To. Me.
I’m the only one you need,
The only man who can compete.

I love it when you fool me baby
I love it when you fib
I love it when you make me feel
I’m just the best that there is

I’d rather live a fantasy
then suffer through the truth
And your sweet little fictions
Are all I need for proof

I can smell the bull$&^% on your breath.

Lie. To. Me.
Lie. To. Me.
Tell me I’m your big daddy,
Everything you’ve ever dreamed.
Lie. To. Me.
Lie. To. Me.
I’m the only one you need,
The only man who can compete.

157 – Monsters Among Us: Cryptids and More with Linda Godfrey

It’s no secret that we’re big fans of Linda Godfrey, the author who first brought the world’s attention to the Beast of Bray Road in the early 1990s.  We interviewed her all the way back in Episode 51, brought her to our cryptid round table in Episode 67, and couldn’t wait to get her back to discuss her latest book, Monsters Among Us. I mean, of course we’re going to love Linda!

linda godfrey
Linda Godfrey
  1. She’s from right down the road from where we all grew up.
  2. She co-authored the book Weird Wisconsin which is sadly out-of-print but it was the Fortean Bible of America’s Dairyland in the 90s.
  3. She is a great storyteller who keeps things believable. I don’t have to mention that there’s a trend in this field to just jump and exaggerate outrageous details to juice up a paranormal story. Linda das managed to keep a good deal of her journalistic integrity for over a quarter of a century, now that’s something to be proud of!

To kick off the show, Wendy and I use our trashed voices to talk a little about our musical weekend, including a show at a haunted club in Middleton, Wisconsin, the Wisconsin State Fair, and an afternoon show on the Sugar River (which has its own UFO sightings and ghost stories) and then Wendy also tells a couple highlights from her trip to the Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas at the beginning of August. Including her two favorite cosplayers as Captain Kirk and Mister Spock!

STOP THE PRESS! I found Captain Kirk AND Mr. Spock! 🖖🚀 #startrek #startrekconvention #captainkirk #mrspock

A post shared by Wendy Staats (@sunspotwendy) on

Then, Allison from Milwaukee Ghosts joins Linda and I for a discussion about the latest news about the Beast of Bray Road, her favorite new cryptid stories,  a little Native American lore from Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, and even a cryptic preview of what she’s working on right now!

YOu’re going to want to get more info on Linda by checking out her blog and get the latest on the Chicago Mothman, dogmen, werewolves, skin walkers, bipedal canines, and more at her Twitter feed (@lindasgodfrey).

Considering that our first interview with Linda about her book, American Monsters, inspired our EP of the same name, we knew that another conversation with her would spark some musical creativity.  Her titles just lend very well to tracks laden with symbolism. When we thought about “Monsters Among Us”, we thought about our neighbors. Your neighbors seem like they’re great people and you have fun with them, you have them over for a barbecue, and you really like them.  But then you see what they write about on Facebook. You see what kind of beliefs they have and in today’s Internet and political climate, it seemed that writing a song about how people that usually like each other as neighbors who connect through their locations or families or sports teams, might hate each other if they knew all about each other’s political beliefs.

Are other people’s differing beliefs in this world of outrage, forces for and against political correctness, and fake clickbait so offensive that we discount how they are when you’re hanging out with them in person. So we thought that lent itself to an interesting song idea, “The Psychopath Next Door”.

Watching through the windows
Peeking through the cracks
Waiting for their moment
So don’t you turn your back.

They act like they’re your friends,
But don’t you be a cuck,
They’re worshipping the Devil,
And it’s your soul they’ll suck

Sometimes the truth
Is just a metaphor
To think I barbecued with
The psychopath next door

The monsters live among us,
I see plenty everyday.
I don’t know who I can trust.
So I’ll send you all away.

So I don’t want no bumperstickers,
And I don’t want no big red hats.
I’m so sick of disagreeing,
So I’ll just hang out with my cats.

Sometimes the truth
Is just a metaphor
To think I barbecued with
The psychopath next door

Sometimes the truth
Is just a metaphor
To think I barbecued with
The psychopath next door

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?

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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.

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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!)

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.