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Friday, February 26, 2016

The Spiritualist Movement; D. D. Home

The following is an excerpt from a book discussing the more famous of the spiritualist mediums of the 1800's.

D.D. Home

At the height of the spiritualist movement emerged the era's most talented physical medium, Daniel Douglas Home.  A few things separated Home from his medium colleagues.  For one thing he never insisted on holding his séances in the dark, he never balked at skeptics that would examine his sessions for fraud, he was never publicly caught or denounced for fraud, and he never accepted payment for his séances. The last point is astounding, as Home was the invited guest of the most of the royalty of Europe at one time or another. 
He reportedly conducted séances for the Czar of Russia, the king of France, the king of Naples, the queen of Holland, the king of Bavaria and the German emperor, just to name a few!  He met and married his first wife, Alexandrina de Kroll, the sister-in-law to Count Koucheleff-Besborodka while in Rome. He had Alexandre Dumas as a groomsman, and Count Alexis Tolstoy the writer and Count Bobrinsky, a chamberlain to the emperor, as invited guests to the affair.  And yet he lived most of his life on the brink of poverty, relying on the largesse of devotees, roaming from one country to another as his welcome wore out. 

Daniel Douglas Home (pronounced Hume) was of rather questionable descent.  According to a footnote in Home’s own autobiographical book Incidents in My Life (1863) his father was the “natural son” of Alexander, the tenth earl of Home, and his mother, a lass of the Highlands,  claimed to be descended from the Brahan clan descendants of Kenneth MacKenzie.  From birth, Home was said to have special powers, being able to rock his own cradle.  During his childhood, Home was considered to be of nervous disposition and poor health, and was at times not expected to live to adulthood (19).
He passed his early childhood in Portobello, Scotland, but moved at the age of nine to the U.S. when he was adopted by a childless aunt, a Mrs. McNeill Cook. He lived for a time in Greeneville, Connecticut and Troy, New York.  Reportedly he was a sensitive child with a keen memory and strong observation skills.  He had his first vision at the age of 13, when a deceased school mate named Edwin visited him in his home in Troy.  Four years would pass before his second vision when Home predicted to the hour, his mother’s death.  When strange rappings and tappings started occurring around the house, his aunt first attempted to have Home exorcised and then finally evicted from her home (19, 20). 
Aside from being able to speak with spirits via a spirit guide, he was able to produce rapping sounds on command, strange lights and spectral hands.  One ghostly hand appeared at a séance with Napolean III which was able to sign his name on a piece of paper producing the signature of Napolean I (20). Home was able to call forth music on ghostly guitars and move objects about the room.  Later he was able to elongate his body as much as 11 inches to a height of 6 ½ feet, and then to shrink to five feet while onlookers saw his shoes disappear under his trousers.  He often had onlookers hold his frame to prove that he wasn’t faking it, and he allowed those present to measure the differences, all again in a lighted room to disprove fakery (19). 
At the age of 19 he developed the ability to levitate, at first bobbing up and down a few feet off the ground before gently floating up the ceiling (21).  He later was able to hone his skills and onlookers swore that he could fly. Home swore his abilities were made possible with the aid of friendly spirits, the most frequent of which was Bryan (19). 
Home was as much loved as despised.  He was criticized as being tempermental, with bouts of anxiety and depression, and to have homosexual leanings.  He was also described as vain and somewhat simple. He disdained contact with other mediums with whom he felt he had nothing to learn.  The only medium with whom he had a friendship, ironically, was Kate Fox. His gifts were at times considered sinister.  The Italian populace found him particularly loathsome, accusing him of witch craft and sorcery.
When Alexandrina de Kroll died in 1862, the family attempted to withhold Home’s inheritance. Home was forced to wage a long legal battle, during which time he had no steady income.  He tried to become a student of sculpture, going to Rome for a time to study.  He was forced to leave the city after a somewhat extended scuffle with the Papacy who accused Home of sorcery. He them emigrated briefly to the U.S. to attempt his hand as stage orator. It is said that his recitations of Howard Brownell’s poems were well received by audiences, but he left before long to return to Europe.  Throughout his career there were at least two attempts on his life, and he took knife wounds to the abdomen and the hand.  Certainly it is hard to imagine a psychic that was as famous as infamous, as punished as rewarded for his gifts (20). 
Ill health eventually forced Home to retire. He married a second time, to a wealthy Russian widow, Julie de Gloumeline and declined public séances thereafter. He traveled for the rest of his life, dying of tuberculosis while in Auteuil ,France in 1886 (19).
During a time when skeptics were actively attempting to disprove psychic mediums, there was never any substantial evidence revealed to prove Home a fraud.  Certainly skeptics suggested trickery, often after his death when fraud could not proven one way or another, and yet some of the sharpest minds couldn’t figure out how he produced his great feats.  

He even cooperated with psychical researcher Sir William Crookes in an experiment.  Crookes could detect no foul play and announced Home’s abilities as true.  The skeptical Frank Podmore grudgingly admitted that, “Home was never publicly exposed as an imposter; there is no evidence of any weight that he was even privately detected in trickery.”  Although Podmore did not concede that Home had mediumistic abilities, he neither refuted his abilities either.  Even the great Houdini couldn’t figure out how he produced the results he did.  Whether truly a medium of outstanding abilities or a very clever conjurer is still disputed.  He remains therefore, the greatest medium of the age (19, 20).


19. Cheung, Theresa (2008). The Element Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Hauntings. Barnes and Noble, Inc. in cooperation with Harper Collins Publishers. pps 211-214.

20. Melton, Gordon, Editor (2001).  Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology; Fifth Edition. Gale Group, Inc. Farmington Hills, MI Volume 1 A-L pps 737-740.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Ghost Hunting 101: Conducting the Session

Teachable Moment

By Robin M. Strom-Mackey
When I started with my first group there was very little training.  We all just kind of bungled around in the dark and tried to pick up tips and tricks from one another. I learned my favorite thermometer technique from one of the directors (two brothers) who I realize in retrospect, were more knowledgeable in investigating than training.  I really wanted someone to tell me how to do it properly, but learned most of what I know in self-study, research and trial and error.  Listening to the audio from the last investigation, I realized that our team still needs to address some very fundamental issues.  A session the team did recently became the perfect teachable moment, a recorded segment to dissect and discuss.
Honestly, a lot of what good investigators do is just common sense – once you think about it. However, you’ve got to run your finger over the microphone a couple of times before you stop causing yourself sudden deafness while  wearing headphones (did it) and not claim someone whispering “flash” is actually an EVP instead of someone taking a photo and announcing it quietly to the team members (also me).  In other words, we learn from the mistakes, and therein lies the teachable moment.

This article is intended to be interactive with links to the soundbites discussed throughout the article.  If the links do not work for whatever reason, all the soundbites with their associated file names are available on - search under Delaware Paranormal Research Group

Evidence Contamination

Let me start by saying one of the biggest obstacles in investigations is obtaining access to a building with little or no outside contamination.  I once went on an investigation to a house whose owners had decided they’d use the opportunity to throw a party – a boo-irthday, as the female homeowner called it, complete with birthday cake and snacks. Children and adults waltzed into and out of the house at will, and ran around the yard with cameras taking flash photographs.  I’m quite sure that at one point I was literally frothing at the mouth.
In a best-case scenario the team would set up the command station outside the building, allowing only 1 team of two or three individuals into a building at a time.  Some investigators will set up recording equipment and environmental monitoring equipment and then vacate the property entirely, at least for a portion of the investigation. I read an account by one investigator that was so determined to catch the “company ghost” on video that he set up surveillance cameras and ran them all night, every night, with a feed at his home,  while no one was in the building. He ran the experiment for a month or so  until he finally caught the apparition on film.  That’s blasted determination. (Lesson one; have patience grasshopper.)

The investigation

So in the situation I’m writing about the team was honored to have the entire building to ourselves for as long as we desired.  It being winter, we were forced to setup the surveillance monitor/command station in one room of the house, with one person left behind to monitor cameras while the two other investigators were performing a session.  All in all, aside from the outside neighborhood noise, we had a fairly pristine environment. 
Two investigators, M. and R., did a session together while I stayed behind at the command post and monitored cameras. Below is an audio segment of the session.
Soundbite 1: Triad of Doom
The team was excited to be collecting evidence, so excited that I don't think they considered the contamination situation they were creating for themselves..   There are at least three areas of contamination in this scenario a veritable chaotic cacophony (I can't resist an opportunity for alliteration, please forgive).

First, the person setting up the audio recorder, not wanting to place it on the dusty floor (understandable) placed it instead on a window sill. The unfortunate part is that the audio recorder picked up street noises (dogs barking, people talking, cars and motor cycles driving by, etc. etc.) Sadly, we can’t really be sure what might be actual paranormal activity and what is contamination.
Soundbite 2: EVP or Contamination
A better alternative would be to set the audio recorder somewhere in the center of the room, perhaps on a box. An even better idea would be to set the recorder up on a box somewhere in front of the surveillance camera.  Entities have been known to move or manipulate objects.  If it’s on a window sill no one can see what might be happening to the machine.  Also most investigators insist that you not use the recorder inboard mic, but mic the recorder with an external mic, as many of the cheaper recorders produce a lot of machine noise that further distorts sounds.

The Toys We Love

Second, there is a ghost box running, performing its endless amount of white noise, which is basically what the device is designed to do, as it scans the radio waves in the area. Honestly, I have to admit, I don’t have a lot of faith in this piece of equipment.  I think anything that purposely scans radio frequencies (i.e. radio stations) is prone to produce false positives by its very design.  

The author on an investigation using her dousing rods.
Now, I use dousing rods during investigations, though I know many investigators don’t approve of their use. I like to think of it as ghost hunting for those with ADD. The rods give me something to do with my hands during long hours of talking to empty rooms.  I do feel they help me find hot spots, which I can then probe with more reliable pieces of equipment. For example the rods may be active in an area, so I move in an EMF detector and voice recorder or snap off some photos… But I never go to a client or homeowner and tell them I think a place is haunted or not because of what the rods told me.  So, while I understand wanting to experiment with the Ghost Box, I wouldn’t call its burblings reliable evidence.  For that to happen it would have to be shockingly clear, like a ghost saying, “Hey, I’m a ghost and I’m talking to you through this device. Believe it B^%#!.” So while I understand wanting to experiment with such a device, I wouldn’t suggest using it for long sessions and consider it as collecting reliable evidence.

Soundbite 3: Workmen Clear As Day

Third, one of the team members decides to play music loudly, and for a really long time. The entire music/ghost box/EMF session goes on for over 30 minutes.  And during this time one of the members decides to attempt to dance with the entity while holding onto an EMF detector.  Now, here’s one of those teachable moments, the idea of playing music is a good one.   Trigger objects such as a toy car or doll, old coins from the time when the building was erected, revelry calls on a battle field, and music of a certain era, any of these might help to fuel paranormal activity. 
However, the playing of the trigger object shouldn't become the focus of the session.  If you’re going to play music at an investigation, choose a segment of a song, or one whole song and then go quiet. We use these objects as a starter to the paranormal conversation, not the conversation itself.  Do realize that the sound you’re broadcasting might be destroying your evidence. After the song is over, shut down and go quiet. Scan the room with eyes and ears to see if your trigger has caused any reaction. 
 t may not be a good idea to "dance" with a spirit while holding an EMF meter either, and here is why.  Holding this instrument and moving it vigorously around the room can cause false positives as you inadvertently move close to and then away from electrical sources.  Honestly, we need to reconsider our absolute faith in these devices.  They were designed to detect either natural electromagnetic fields that the Earth produces or man-made electromagnetic fields such as our toaster uses.  The Trifield Gauss meter which is a natural EMF detector is actually so sensitive it can detect thunderstorms several miles away.  
Remember, one stray EMF spike does not a ghostly encounter prove.  During set-up the EMF meters should be used to determine areas in a room which are giving off EMF so as to avoid putting meters in locations that will give off readings. Then during a session it’s a better practice to set the meter down in a location away from these sources and invite something to interact with the meter. If necessary, an investigator can hold a meter in their hand and slowly sweep an area for hot spots.  Also keep in mind your other senses, if you’re staring constantly at the EMF meter in the center of the room, you’ll possibly miss the dark shadow moving on its own down the stairs.  It’s a tool, but it’s not the only tool in the arsenal.

The Spirit Arrives

When the team finally did go quiet, things got really interesting!
EMF Soundbite4: EMF Conversation 12-15
I almost feel like this spirit may have been jumping up and down trying to get some attention.  The detector is going off quite consistently. This is the perfect opportunity for a yes/no question and response session.  For example, M. asks, “Do you have a favorite color?”  M. notes she sees the color red.  R. says she thinks yellow, but that’s because it’s her favorite color.  Neither ever ask the spirit.
This is how the question/response might have gone. The team members come up with their color choices and then one of the team members puts it to the spirit, “Is your favorite color red?”  Wait 10 to 15 seconds for a response. Then ask, “Is your favorite color yellow?”  Wait 10-15 seconds for a response.   If a response is noted, it’s always a good idea to ask for confirmation, such as, “We think you said your favorite color is red. If that’s true can you make the meter go off again?”  If you get no response to either red or yellow try other colors like blue or purple. 
Joni Mayhan, author of Ghost Voices also suggests designating someone as session leader (Mayhan, 2015).  This person would designate who would be asking the questions for a period of time.  When that person had asked their questions they would "pass" the questioning to the next person.  This system would alleviate the problem of team members talking over one another.  During the controlled Q and A, she also suggests team members find a place to sit down, as people standing will inadvertently make shuffling noises and other sounds which might during review be interpreted as being of a paranormal nature. It's a good idea to also put the EMF detector down also, often a few feet away from investigators, lest a spirit be disinclined to come too close.  If there is an extra voice recorder or other type of sensing device it can be placed next to, or near, the detector.   Now you've hedged your bets. If you get an EMF spike that's one small piece of evidence. Get an EMF spike and an EVP that's two pieces of evidence. Get an EMF spike, an EVP and note a temperature fluctuation or a change in barometric pressure, now you've got 3 sources of evidence and your case is stronger yet.
Some topics during a session will elicit a greater response, probably because it’s a subject that’s important to the entity.  In this Q and A the members got a quick and vehement response on the subject of her fine Sunday clothes, but no response to the question of hats. 

The engaged investigator will follow the Sunday clothes line of inquiry, as it appears to be of interest to the entity.   And if you are a self-proclaimed medium, please remember; even the very best sensitives are only accurate around 50% of the time, according to Parapsychologist and author Vince Wilson (Wilson, 2012).  An impression, feeling or sensation is only that unless it’s tested and verified.  M. said she visualized red, but she never seeks confirmation that her visualization is correct. 
The clothing questions were on the surface fairly shallow questions.  When the team gets to the question about who else might be in the building – now I’m on the edge of my seat…and the team drops the subject almost immediately.  ¡Ay, caramba! This portion of the session might have gone something like this…
”Is there another entity that lives in the basement?” Wait 10-15 seconds.
“Is it male?” Wait 10-15 seconds.
“Is it female?” Wait 10-15 seconds.
“Did she or he live here?” Wait 10-15 seconds.
“Is she/he hiding in the basement?” Wait 10-15 seconds.
“Is she/he angry?” Wait 10-15 seconds.
“Is she/he confused? Wait 10-15 seconds.
“Lost?” Wait 10-15 seconds.
“Does she/he ever come up from the basement?” Wait 10-15 seconds.
“Is that the shadow figure that the workmen reported seeing?” Wait 10-15 seconds.
“Let me confirm that there is a male that is living in the basement because he’s hiding from someone.” Wait 10-15 seconds.
Oh, and also, make sure to entreat the entity to also speak into the recorder by saying their name, tell you the year etc. 
I think you get the point. When you’ve got an entity actively engaged, you need to dig, dig, and dig. Rack your brain for questions. Have the patience and persistence to really communicate.  And ride that pony till it bucks ya! In other words don’t stop the session and walk away until you’re sure you’re not getting any more responses.  Remember Minerva's words in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, "If you're going to understand the living you have to commune with the Dead (Berendt, 1994)."  By all means, please commune.
Teachable Moment Positive
On the positive side one of my members had the brilliant idea of comparing sounds in the building.  She found a segment of audio recorded in a room where the investigators were present and banging on a wall. Then she found the same segment on another recorder that was actually stationed in the attic of the building.  She edited both segments so the team could compare the sounds, i.e. figure out what banging on the walls in the bedroom sounded like when recorded in the attic.  In this way the team had a much better idea of what sounds were made by the team, and which sounds might actually be paranormal.  I intend to work this into our setup protocol in the future.  During set-up when we’re taking readings we’ll also bang on walls and stomp on floors and walk up and down the stairs meanwhile verbally tagging the audio as to our movements and then compare the sounds during evidence review, contrasting them to any sounds that don’t appear to fit.  Now that's good investigating.  
Soundbite 5 and6: Renne short audio knocking, and,  Renne knock attic audio

So here is R. knocking in the room.

And this is what the same knock sounded like on the other side of the building in the attic.
Mayhan, Joni (2015) Ghost Voices.  Available on

Wilson, Vince (2012). Ultimate Ghost Tech; The Science, History and Technology of Ghost Hunting.  Cosmic Pantheon Press.





Monday, October 26, 2015

How to Edit EVP's for Beginning Paranormal Investigators

By Robin Strom Mackey

Sometimes I think the worst part of paranormal investigating is trying to learn all the new technology, especially if you’re not naturally tech savvy.  My new team has been struggling with their introduction to evidence review and audio editing lately, and the growing pains have been...painful. When I had three new team members try to send me hours of raw, unedited audio. I realized I had a big problem, a really big problem, because if they didn’t review their audio, it left me to do it, and I don’t have twenty free hours to spare!
So I decided to put some training together to help them, me, and perhaps you, through the process. This is an article for beginning investigators and much of the information is rudimentary or just plain common sense. But trust a former broadcast and radio production instructor, sometimes the rudimentary needs to be explained, and common sense vocalized.

Audio Editing Software

I recommend the free Audacity Audio Editing download to my new members. The price is right and software easy to learn and use.  Recently one of my new members asked in despair whether he should buy a sound board and expensive editing software package because his audio quality was so poor.  I’ve worked in broadcasting and radio in the past, and I use the free Audacity software. It produces good quality audio, as long as the initial audio is of  decent quality. So, I suggest you save the money for expensive software packages and instead buy a decent audio recorder.

Voice Recorder

I’ll reiterate, buy a decent audio recorder in the first place and you’ll not need a whole lot of editing savvy on the back end. When looking to purchase an audio recorder, make sure it either has a USB port onboard, or comes with a USB cable. In other words, you need to have some way to move the raw audio in the voice recorder to a computer.  Some of the cheaper voice recorders are all in one units, so beware.  Avoid dictation recorders and recorders that use proprietary software, as they won’t play well with other file types. 

One of the team members recently purchased an Olympia unit that was very easy to use, recorded six hours of audio without a hitch, and which she was able to purchase off the shelf at Walmart. You gotta love it when devices actually do what they’re supposed to do.

On the higher end of the price range, I love my Zoom unit, and I realized after I purchased the machine that Zoom recorders are what the T.A.P.S. team uses for their wireless audio.  My unit produces excellent quality audio that is a breeze to transfer to the computer. My only complaint is that the playback function on the unit has malfunctioned, which forces me to review the audio on the computer.  But then, you really ought to do your audio review on the computer anyway.

Audio Recorders in the field
  • It’s a good idea to record a short segment and play it back to make sure the unit is working as it should.
  • On an investigation it’s better to put the unit down versus carrying it around. Any clothing or fingers rubbing across the speaker will cause noise and/or distortion on the recorder.
  • If you’re using an audio recorder outside on a windy day, use a windscreen if one is provided, and know that depending on the amount of wind the audio will likely be un-useable. Mics and wind don’t mix well.
  • Every time you move rooms or locations get in the habit of tagging the audio as to time, location and team members present.
  • Tag any sounds, by making a verbal comment,  that might be mistaken for an unexplained audio.

Beginning the editing process

Create a new folder on your computer with the name of the investigation or date in a location you will remember. I usually put all of my audio files in my Music Folder.

Dump all of your raw files into that folder. Your unit will number them. I suggest you leave them numbered as is, for simplicity’s sake.

If you have one gargantuan file of several hours duration it will probably be far easier to break the file up into chunks of an hour or two at a time and save them as separate files.

Get the best quality headset you have and find a quiet place to begin the listening session.

In order to catch anything anomalous you will have to listen to the audio from the beginning all the way to the end, ever minute, every second.  EVP’s often show up when an investigator least expects it, like during setup or break down, or when you leave the room to get a snack.

The video below will help acquaint you to the Audacity workspace.  There are other tutorial videos available on YouTube as well.

Your first EVP
As you’re listening you find something you feel might be an EVP. You,

A.      Get up and do a happy dance, it’s Christmas and you’ve got a little package under the tree

B.      Jot the file number and location of EVP using the timecode at the bottom right hand of the screen as a guide.

C.      Isolate the area by highlighting it and playing it several times

D.      Copy and paste the highlighted area into a file of its own and export it as a useable file type to share with team members and possibly client.

E.       Continue on with the listening process, you’ll return to it later when you have more time

F.       All of the above except E

Sadly most beginning investigators do E, and then have no idea where they heard what they heard! It’s very aggravating and a terrible waste of time.
The correct answer is F. My first suggestion is get a small notebook and use it to jot notes, impressions, evidence, timecodes etc. And if you do feel you have an anomalous sound recorded, don’t just continue on! It will take you twice the time to find it again. Instead listen to it several times. Try to be objective. Have as many other people listen to it as well. If you feel it’s the real deal, highlight the area and copy it over to a file of its own.

See the video below for how to isolate clips.


Sunday, October 4, 2015

2011 PRG Study: Transliminal Personalities and Paranormal Experiences

By Robin M. Strom-Mackey
The young man on the phone seemed distraught. He had left one residence where he had experienced paranormal phenomenon only to move to another residence where he began to experience strange phenomenon. “Why did these things always seem to happen to him?” he asked.  I wasn’t sure he’d like the answer. But if you, like me, have ever wondered whether there was a type of person that seemed more prone to believing in and/or experiencing paranormal phenomenon, the answer according to a recent study appears to be yes.


“Transliminality, Paranormal Belief and Paranormal Experiences at a Reportedly Haunted Location” is the summation of a year-long study conducted and published by Dave Schumacher, Director of Anomalous Research for the Paranormal Research Group. Schumacher notes that his study supports the increasing body of evidence that people who report experiencing paranormal phenomenon tend to be transliminal personalities.

 Transliminality was a term coined by the late Dr. Michael Thalbourne, Parapsychology Professor, University of Adelaide. The term was first used in Thalbourne and Delin’s 1994 paper where the researchers described a personality type that appeared more in tune with both external stimuli and their own internal subconscious (see also the article Transliminality, August 2010).
This type of personality was able to pick up environmental cues more easily, and was also able to move information more easily from their unconscious to their conscious minds. In other words, a transliminal personality would be able to pick up on things in the environment that others wouldn’t perceive. Certainly we all pick up environmental details all the time, thousands of tidbits of information such as the sound of the train going by, or the wafting smell of popcorn from the kitchen, or the influx of heat once the furnace kicks on.  The transliminal personality might also note the scratch of a skateboard out on the sidewalk and the spider in the corner. 

A study conducted at Goldsmith College, London, found that those who scored high on the transliminality scale were able to perceive flashed subliminal messages far more frequently, than those who scored low. (An interesting aside, high transliminals did not score significantly higher on ESP scores, than their low transliminal counterparts.)

As pointed out earlier, someone who scored high on a transliminality scale would likely pick up on subtler environmental clues than those who scored low and they would be able to move that information more easily from the unconscious to the conscious part of their brain.  Thalbourne noted that these people had, “an openness or receptiveness to impulses and experiences whose sources are in preconscious (or unconscious) processes (Thalbourne, 1991).”
In a 2007 interview, Thalbourne went even further, noting that high-transliminals had a “hyper-sensitivity [my emphasis] to psychological material coming from the unconscious…and stimulation from the external environment (Williams, 2007).” These two traits led to a set of personality characteristics that are very specific to the highly transliminal, including creativity, a belief in magical ideation, a tendency toward eastern philosophies, new age ideas and a belief in the paranormal and assertions that they have personally experienced something paranormal.

Houran and Thalbourne suggested that highly transliminal people may be characterized by a hyper-connectedness of the temporal-limbic structures with the sensory association cortices of the brain. Lying deep within the lobes of the cerebral hemispheres, the C-shaped limbic structures are the older and more primitive structures of the brain associated with more visceral emotions, memory and motivation. Specifically, the amygdala attaches emotional significance to sensory input. Also, olfactory input is processed in the limbic system, which explains why certain smells elicit an immediate emotional response.
Therefore, a person scoring high on a transliminal scale would not only be extremely sensitive to sensory stimuli in the environment, but would also be more likely to attach emotional or symbolic significance to the stimuli. Schumacher notes that, “the limbic system has been postulated to be the source of material for apparitional and visionary experiences (Schumacher, 2011; Houran & Thalbourne, 2001lb; Thalbourne et al., 1997).” This would explain why those scoring high on a transliminal scale would be more likely to believe they experienced something paranormal.

Podmore & Tyrell; Theories as to how one Perceives Ghosts

Schumacher notes that the theory of transliminality may also help explain older hypotheses of how people perceive hauntings.  Society of Psychical Research member and author, Frank Podmore, speculated that apparitions were the result of a telepathically received hallucination.  G.N.M. Tyrell, psychologist, paranormal researcher and author, elaborated on Podmore’s theory, suggesting an “idea-pattern model” The “idea” is created by the ‘agent’ and sent telepathically to the percipient. The information is perceived first in the subconscious or unconscious mind, where it undergoes processing, becoming an apparitional ‘drama.’ 
Tyrell suggested a mid-level of consciousness that did the processing, and that was “responsible for elaborating on the basic telepathic message. This would eventually lead to the construction of an appropriate visual image to convey the message. This is the point when the material moves from the subliminal/subconscious to conscious awareness (Schumacher, 2011, Tyrell, 1953).”

2011 Study

The year-long study conducted by the Paranormal Research Group basically primed, taught and studied groups of volunteers in paranormal research.  Small groups of volunteers signed up. They were then indoctrinated in the basics of paranormal research via a classroom session. Afterwards they were set loose to investigate a purportedly haunted location with the only caveat being that they had to submit to a battery of three tests later in the evening. Being thus primed, it’s not surprising that the majority of participants reported having had paranormal experiences. Again, the experiment was designed to test the theory that people who scored higher on a transliminal scale would report more paranormal experiences than those subjects that tested low on the scale, when both groups investigated a site that was purportedly haunted.

The Tests
The PRG team gave the groups a battery of survey tests that measured for slightly different belief subsets. The first was the Rash-Revised Transliminality Scale (RRTS).  The original Thalbourne survey was a survey of 29 true/false questions.  Many of the questions have been eliminated due to age and/or gender bias. Thus the Rash-Revised scale is a 17 question survey with the more “yes” responses indicating a higher transliminal personality.

The group also administered The New Age Philosophy (NAP) and the Traditional Paranormal Belief (TPB) Subscales of the Revised Paranormal Belief Scale (RPBS). The Paranormal Belief Scale was designed so that separate scores could be categorized into different categories of paranormal belief, which included: traditional paranormal belief, Psi, precognition, witchcraft, superstition, spiritualism and extraordinary life forms.

The final survey was an EXIT Questionnaire which consisted of 20 items which measured whether specific anomalous sensations had occurred to the participants during their investigations.  The responders were allowed a three point scale from which to answer which included a 0=Never, 1=occasionally, 2=frequently. These were tallied for an overall score.

What is not remarkable is the fact that people primed to believe they were investigating a property reported to have paranormal activity actually experienced paranormal activity.   What is interesting in noting is that the types of experiences were differentiated into two groups. 

The Results

The experiences were roughly broken down into physical phenomenon and psychological impressions. The physical phenomenon includes measurable phenomenon such as temperature changes, auditory experiences, physical manifestations, olfactory experiences and objective events in the environment (Persinger and Cameron, 1986, Houran et. al. 2002 ).

Among phenomenon under the psychological category are feelings of being watched or sensed presences, physical sensations, emotional responses, visual apparitions and related visual imagery.  Psychological experiences might be viewed as more subjective and less measurable.

Undoubtedly the two categories include much grey area. Schumacher notes that many of the phenomenon could be listed in both categories, but that the differentiation depends on whether there was an environmental cue for the experience or whether it correlated instead with “perceptual-personality variables (Schumacher, 2012).” Is a smell, for example a psychological experience or a physical experience?  This may depend on whether more than one person experiences the smell and whether there were verifiable environmental cues, i.e. smells. For example if several people report smelling a strong perfume and someone present is wearing a strong perfume then smell would be categorized as a physical experience.  If only one person reported the smell of strong perfume while no one present was wearing such and no one else present smelled perfume, then the phenomenon would be listed in the psychological category instead. 

What the PRG noted during the year-long study was that those who scored high on a transliminal scale, while conducting paranormal investigations tended to report many more experiences in the second category, i.e. feelings and impressions of entities, and far fewer in the first category of measurable phenomenon. The study did not correlate the experiences with evidence collected recording devices. Overall, those scoring higher on the transliminal scale did report more experiences after an evening's investigation, thus supporting PRG's premise that that they would.  Schumacher concludes, "Despite the limitations of this study, it does add to the overall evidence that transliminality and belief play a role in paranormal experiences at a reportedly 'haunted location (Schumacher).'"
Hesselink, J.R. MD, FACR. The Temporal Lobe & Limbic System. Retrieved November, 3, 2012 from
Houran et al. (2002). European Journal of Parapsychology. 17. 17-44.
Persinger, Cameron (1986. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research. 80, 49-73.
Schumacher, D. (2011) “Transliminality, Paranormal Belief and Paranormal Experiences at a Reportedly Haunted Location.” Paranormal Research Group, Red Lion, Pennsylvania www.paranormal
Strom-Mackey, R. (2010) “Transliminality.” The Shore. Delaware Paranormal Research Group.
Thalbourne, M.A., Delin P.S. (1994) A Common Thread Underlying Belief in the Paranormal, Creative Personality, Mystical Experience and Psychopathology. Journal of Parapsychology, Vol. 58, March 1994.

Thalbourne, M.A., Delin, P.S. (1999) Transliminality: Its Relation to Dream Life, Religiosity, and Mystical Experience. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion. 9-1 (pp.45-61)

Thalbourne, M.A. Interview with Robyn Williams.; Radio National. June 4, 2006. Retrieved August 12, 2010.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Helen Ackley's Haunted House on the Hudson

By Robin M. Strom-Mackey

“’Ackley is estopped to deny their existence and, as a matter of law, the house is haunted (The Honorable Israel Rubin, N.Y. Sup. Ct. App. Div. 1991)(Trull, Kachuba).’” 

 The Ackley’s Haunted House on the Hudson

When George and Helen Ackley purchased a rambling 18 room Victorian on the end of a dead-end street in Nyack, New York, they undoubtedly knew that they would have a challenge on their hands.  The ramshackle mansion measuring some 5000 square feet, not including full attic and basement, which afforded a view of the Hudson River, had been standing vacant for seven years.  The old house, which sits 20 miles north of New York City, must have seemed like a wonderful place to bring up the family’s several children. Granted, pesky neighborhood children warned the family as they were moving in that their house was reputedly haunted.  That didn’t stop the family from taking up residence.  And it was soon after moving in, according to Helen Ackley, that the family realized the house was inhabited by a host of rambunctious spirits whose acquaintance the Ackley’s were soon to make.

During her tenure there, Helen Ackley made no secret that she believed the house to be haunted by “poltergeists.”  She even went so far as to write and submit her own article to Readers’ Digest describing the haunting experiences.  Unfortunately, the 1977 article by Helen Ackley entitled “My Haunted House on the Hudson” is difficult to locate, as the library system in Delaware only retained magazines starting from the 1980’s..  However, an article by Helen Ackley’s son-in-law is still available online.

The second husband of the Ackley’s daughter, Cynthia, recounts second-hand sources and describes his own experiences in the house in the article entitled, “The Ghost of Nyack.”   Mark Kavanagh, makes no excuses for the area’s haunted history noting that Tarrytown is directly across the river.   Just outside of Tarrytown is the famous Sleepy Hollow, the area made famous by the Washington Irving story, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Kavanagh notes that many of Irving’s stories were based on legends originating around the lower Hudson Valley, an area of reputed paranormal activity.

The Ackley’s Unseen Guests

Even before the family moved in, according to Ackley, a plumber working in the basement reported hearing footsteps on the floor above him when no one else was in the house. On windless days light cords would swing for no apparent reason, and then stop in mid-swing, defying gravity.  Apparently a set of French doors was also known to burst open for no apparent reason. Guests of the family were often surprised when windows would slide up on their own.  And, of course, the ubiquitous voices and ghostly footsteps were reported. Helen Ackley enjoyed telling the story about seeing a ghost who looked on with approval, as she painted the living room. The spirit, she felt, approved of the color choice.

Cynthia Ackley, Kavanagh’s wife, reported that her bed would often shake on school days seconds before the bedside alarm was set to go off.  When spring break arrived, Cynthia informed the ghost before going to bed that tomorrow was spring break and she did not have to get up early.  Reportedly, the bed did not shake that morning, allowing the young student to sleep in.

Helen Ackley told stories of “gifts” that appeared and then disappeared. Cynthia Ackley apparently received a pair of silver sugar tongs.  The grandchildren received baby rings. An older brother’s wife received coins.

Ackley went on the say that three ghosts had from time to time been observed about the house.  The trio included a woman in a red cloak who was often witnessed descending the stairs, a sailor in a powdered wig and an elderly man who was often seen levitating four feet off the floor in the living room. Ackley believed all three spirits were from the Revolutionary War era. She went on to describe one of the ghosts as being, “cheerful” and “apple cheeked,” noting he reminded her of Santa Claus.

The family took their houseguests in stride.  Ackley is quoted in the Reader’s Digest Story as saying, the ghosts have always been, “’gracious, thoughtful – only occasionally frightening – and thoroughly entertaining…Our ghosts have continued to delight us (Perkins, 2003).’”

Apparently the sprawling structure became somewhat of a family compound, with adult children moving in with their spouses and children.  Kavanagh reports that he moved into the house with his fiancé several months before their marriage.  Supposedly the spirits were concerned with Kavanagh’s fitness for marriage to Cynthia, and decided to check him out.  He recounts the first instance on Christmas Eve. He had been left alone in the house to put together toys for the younger children.  According to Kavanagh, “…I kept hearing muffled conversation coming from the dining room,” which was around the wall from the living room. He reports that he got up and inspected the dining room several times, finding no one.  Beyond the muffled conversation he also felt a compelling sensation that he was being watched.  In response he turned on every available light, but to no effect. The low sound of talking continued, unnerving the poor man, until his future brother-in-law started pounding on the front door; a resounding sound that nearly sent young Kavanagh out of his skin in alarm (Kavanagh, 2010).

The second encounter for Kavanagh occurred in the bedroom he shared with his fiancé Cynthia.  Apparently Cynthia was already asleep. Kavanagh, who was drifting, was lying on his side with his back to the door. He recounts hearing the door creek as if opening and then hearing the floor boards squeaking as if someone was approaching the bed. Rather abruptly he felt the bed depress near his trunk as if someone had suddenly sat down; and then a pressure as if that same someone was leaning against his torso. He tried to turn his head around to see who had come in. He reports seeing, “a womanly figure in a soft dress through the moonlight of the bay windows. I felt she was looking straight at me. After about a minute the presence got up and walked back out of the room (Kavanagh, 2010).” Not being acquainted with such nocturnal visitors, he reports then shaking his fiancé awake and acting like a toddler who, “just had a nightmare (Kavanagh).”

Taxes, Spooks and New York City Buyers

According to Kavanagh’s article, in the late 1980’s property taxes rose in Rockland County egregiously, making keeping the family home on a fixed income inconceivable.  George Ackley had passed away several years before and the widow, Helen, began to dream of warm winters spent in Florida.  Ackley put up the old estate on the market at an asking price of $650,000 and a New York City buyer decided to nibble.  Jeffrey and Patrice Stambovsky put in an accepted offer, and paid Helen Ackley $32,500 as a down payment.  Unfortunately, the Stambovsky’s were from New York City where Jeffrey was a bond trader.  Not being up on local lore, they had no prior knowledge of the property’s haunted reputation.

A local architect was the “nosy neighbor” in this case, telling the Stambovsky’s that they were buying the “haunted house.”  According to later court documents, Jeffrey Stambovsky told the court that he himself didn’t believe in such things, but felt his pregnant wife would not be comfortable in the home. The Stambovsky’s did not appear at the house closing making the agreement null and void.  However, that also meant that Helen Ackley would retain the earnest money.  Ackley refused to return the money and the Stambovsky’s took her to court. 

Historic Courtroom Decision: Stambovsky vs. Ackley

The first court decision sided with Ackley citing caveat emptor (or buyer beware) as just cause for not returning the deposit.  Stambovsky then appealed the case to the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court where a panel of five judges heard the case.

Stambovsky told the justices "My feeling is that Mrs. Ackley is a very neat old lady who likes to spin tales. But if my wife is influenced enough by that stuff to feel uncomfortable, that's a good enough reason not to sink our life savings into the place."  He concluded that they had been the victims of “ectoplasmic fraud (Maull, 1991).”

A narrow 3 to 2 decision sided with the Stambovsky’s. Justice Israel Rubin who wrote the majority decision whimsically declared that Helen Ackley had promised the Stambovsky’s that the property would be vacant when they took possession, which was obviously not true. Caveat Emptor did not apply, reasoned Rubin, as he speculated that all potential buyers would have to call in the Ghostbusters along with home inspectors before buying a property.

"’[A] very practical problem arises with respect to the discovery of paranormal phenomenon: 'who you gonna call?' as a title song to the movie Ghostbusters asks. Applying the strict rule of caveat emptor to a contract involving a house possessed by poltergeists conjures up visions of a psychic or medium routinely accompanying the structural engineers and Terminix man on an inspection of every home subject to a contract of sale. In the interest of avoiding such untenable consequences, the notion that a haunting is a condition which can and should be ascertained upon reasonable inspection of the premises is a hobgoblin which should be exorcised from the body of legal precedent and laid quietly to rest.’”

He reasoned that Helen Ackley had gone out of her way to promote the house’s haunted reputation.  The house had been featured in two articles in the local paper, Nyack News and Views, and in the Reader’s Digest article already mentioned.  It had even been featured in the Haunted Nyack walking tour.  Apparently Ackley had told everyone that the house was haunted, except the Stambovsky’s.  Rubin concluded, “Whether the source of the spectral apparitions seen by Ackley are parapsychic or psychogenic, having reported their presence in both a national publication (Reader's Digest) and the local press (in 1977 and 1982, respectively), Ackley is estopped to deny their existence and, as a matter of law, the house is haunted (Trull, Kachuba).”  He concluded that he was moved, “by the spirit of equity,” into deciding with the Stambovskys.  (Rubin apparently has a spirited sense of humor.)

The Stambovsky’s eventually got most of their deposit, although different sources give differing amounts.  According to Kavanagh, Helen Ackley retained $5000 of the original amount, while another source noted Ackley retained $15,000.  Helen Ackley eventually found another buyer and moved to Florida. Cynthia Ackley Kavanagh and husband Mark relocated to Oregon.  Two owners have owned and inhabited the property at 1 LaVeta Street in Nyack, New York since Helen left, and neither report ghostly activity.

Helen Ackley has the Last Word

Helen eventually found a buyer for the home and moved to Florida in 1991.  Ackley must have felt life in Florida somewhat dull without her unseen houseguests, or perhaps she missed the notoriety of being the woman who owned the haunted house.  Around 1993 Ackley was contacted by Portland, Oregon paranormal researcher, Bill Merrill, who was interested in meeting her regarding her Nyack friends. Merrill indicated that he worked with a medium, Glenn Johnson, who had purportedly already made contact with her spirits, and asked Ackley to meet with them.  Ackley was more than willing as she could visit with Cynthia and Mark at the same time. 

Apparently the material produced at these meetings  was extensive enough for  Johnson and Merrill  to  publish a book in 1995 entitled, Sir George, The Ghost of Nyack (Deer Publishing, Beaverton, Oregon) – still available on Amazon.  Johnson was purportedly able to make contact with two of the spirits who identified themselves as Sir George and his wife the Lady Margaret who had lived in the region prior to the Revolutionary War.  According to Mark Kavanagh Sir George and Margaret divulged many otherwise obscure facts about the area along Rockland County between Nyack and a region called Upper Nyack and Hook Mountain.  Unspecified Rockland County local historians were asked to confirm the presented information. And again, according to Kavanagh, much of the historical information was determined accurate; and other obscure facts deemed highly possible.

The spirits complained to Ackley that they were not as fond of the new owners, and indeed they were rather bored with the whole arrangement and thinking of moving on.  Ackley herself moved on in 2003, and her former son-in-law speculates she is probably back at 1 LaVeta Place in Nyack with her friends. 

The True Significance of Stambovsky vs. Ackley

The enduring significance of the Ackley story is the landmark decision for the Stambovsky’s that would thereafter be on every property law student’s freshman syllabus.  What lost Ackley the case was that she consciously and repeatedly promoted the house’s reputation, sometimes for monetary gain, to everyone but the buyers.  Rubin determined that Ackley could not say it was haunted and then deny the haunting to the buyers, thereby Ackley was estopped from denying that the house was haunted.   He further speculated that promoting the house’s haunted reputation would attract every thrill seeker and would-be ghost hunter to invade the Stambovsky’s privacy, and decrease the house’s value overall. 

 A shallow interpretation of the court decision would be that those selling haunted houses need to make full disclosure (reporting) of such reputed haunts to prospective buyers.   But that couldn’t be further from the truth.  In a surprising twist of fate, the haunted house case, as well as other landmark court decisions in the late 80’s and early 90’s prompted many states to reconsider their state laws in regards to stigmatized property – properties with a dark past.  While the courts tended to side with the buyers of such properties, lawmakers came out solidly on the side of the sellers and especially the sellers’ agents. 

Shortly after the Stambovsky vs. Ackley court decision the state of New York passed what came to be known as the “Haunted House” statute.  It was the lawmakers’ attempt to clarify what information should be disclosed (presented) to a prospective buyer.  While the law was called the “Haunted House’ statute, it actually never mentioned haunted houses.  Rather New York, as did the majority of states that also passed statutes on stigmatized property (property that has a dark history for one reason or another), determined that information about a house’s ghastly past need not be disclosed to potential buyers, and that sellers and their agents were under no obligation to do so, nor could have causes of action (law suits) brought against them for non-disclosure. The only provision New York property law made to possibly worried buyers was that they could make a inquiry in writing which asked the seller about a property’s history.  Sellers could choose to respond or not to such an inquiry..(Interested in reading more about the history and writing of stigmatized property laws? See The Shore’s article entitled “3 bedrooms, 2.5 Baths and 1 Ghost) (N.Y. REAL PROP. LAW § 443-a (1)(a)).)


Kavanagh, Mark (2010). The Ghost of Nyack. Kavanagh Transit System. Retrieved July 28, 2015 from

Kachuba, John B. (2007) Ghosthunters: On the Trail of Mediums, Dousers, Spirit Seekers and Other Investigators of America’s Paranormal. Pg. 128.

Maull, Samuel (1991). “Spirit of Law Recognizes 'Haunted House”   Los Angeles Times. Associated Press. Retrieved July 14, 2015 from

Rubin, Israel (1991) Stambovsky v. Ackley 572 N.Y.S.2d 672 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. App. Div. 1991) as appears at Retrieved July 28, 2015 from

Tull, D. Enigma Editor “Ex Ghost Facto.” Reprinted without permission by Kavanagh, Mark at