My ghostly guilty pleasures

I’ve always been a skeptic. From a young age, I was drawn to facts and fascinated by science. That’s not to say I didn’t love magic and fairytales, but I never forgot they were pretend. Reality always had a way of interfering before I could even consider it.

My unwillingness to believe made for some awkwardness around Christmas, since my family had a tradition of having Santa Claus deliver presents to the house on Christmas Eve. I quickly figured out that my father was always conveniently gone when Santa arrived, because he had a burning need to go buy cigarettes. And the plastic mask Santa wore was unconvincing. Finally, at about 4 years old, I confronted my mom about the issue.

“Santa isn’t real, is he?” I demanded.
“No,” she admitted.

Later, she told me my dad had gotten upset with her for telling me. But she knew I wasn’t the kind of kid who would have let it go, or who appreciated being lied to.

I haven’t changed much in the ensuing decades, but the magic and fairy stories have been supplemented with ghost stories. And in the past 12 years or so, our society seems to have become obsessed with all things paranormal. I can understand why; whenever there is a lot of social and economic turmoil, we turn to higher powers.

It’s not an accident that the spiritualist movement hit its peak right around WWI, having simmered fiercely during the industrial revolution and all its mechanical wonders. And here we are again, in scary times of terrorism and globalization and more tech than ever.

For fans of ghost stories, like me, there’s been a bonanza of reality shows about the paranormal. These tend to fall into categories: active and narrative. I place such shows as “Ghost Hunters,” “Paranormal State,” “Ghost Adventures” and its various spinoffs and imitators into the active category. They all send people into various haunted places and record the results.

While a lot of the so-called evidence seems contrived or disappointing, there have been a few head-scratchers. Of course, that’s all reliant on the belief that none of those people are frauds. And whether they are seems to vary on who you ask. I won’t get into scuttlebutt, but I’ve heard less than flattering things about the creators of one of the shows I name above.

But I honestly don’t care. I just find it all immensely entertaining.

My favorite shows, though, are the narrative ones, like “A Haunting,” “My Haunted House,” “Celebrity Ghost Stories” and “Paranormal Witness.” Those have supposed witnesses talking about their experiences, with actors recreating them. I am always amused by the fact that the actors are usually more attractive than their real-life counterparts, and I’ve joked that if I’m ever portrayed on camera that way, I insist that Angelina Jolie play me. Ewan McGregor can be my husband.

These narrative shows usually don’t bother with evidence, not even filming at the locations where the events supposedly happened. But again, I don’t care. They’re great stories, full of atmosphere and the occasional jump-scare.

In short, they are my ghostly guilty pleasures, junk food for my mind. And as much as I want to believe, I know I can’t.

But speaking of ghosts, the shot above is of the upper lounge at the historic El Tovar Hotel on the south rim of the Grand Canyon. The place is said to be haunted by various spirits, including former owner Fred Harvey, though he died before the structure was completed.

I took this picture with my digital camera, but was dismayed by the dots that appeared in it. I had checked the lens before and it was clean, so I worried that something had gotten into the camera. That had happened to a family member’s camera.

I took another shot, with exactly the same angle, and the dots were gone. The same thing happened when I took a shot of the lobby. Dots, then nothing. And ever since, the camera has been working just fine. No dots.

Is it evidence of the paranormal? Probably not. But it entertains me anyway.

All text copyrighted by A.K. Whitney, and cannot be used without permission.

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