So You Have a Ghost in Your Photo
Although science has never authenticated a single ghost, spirits of the dead have posed for elaborate studio portraits, strolled casually into mundane photographic scenes, and darted into the snapshots of hopeful ghost hunters—or so it seems. Initially, however, ghosts were reticent to appear before the camera. Advent of Spirit Photography The earliest practical photographs—daguerreotypes (process …
Missouri Sues Televangelist Bakker for Selling Fake Coronavirus Cure
Following my article on “Magic Waters,” part of the Skeptical Inquirer’s special issue on “The Health Wars” (September/October 2019), another type of supposedly magical water has made the news. Televangelist Jim Bakker advertised on his website (“The Jim Bakker Show,” February 12) a product called Silver Solution. Its label says it contains “deionized water.” That …
Alaska’s Lady in Blue: How Baranof Castle Became Haunted
Among the earliest recorded ghost stories in Alaska is the tragic tale of the lovelorn bride of Baranof Castle. I encountered the promontory once topped by that historic site—and later learned of its captivating legend—when I arrived at Sitka in 2006 on a Center for Inquiry cruise.1 Baranof Castle The great rock outcrop known as …
Dubious Claims in Psychotherapy for Youth Part III: Externalizing Issues and Daily Routines
This is the third and final installment of a three-part series that shares the sidebars from the book Pseudoscience in Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy (edited by Stephen Hupp, Cambridge University Press, 2019). Contributors for this installment include a film director, a paranormal investigator, a family physician, a podcast producer, a social psychologist, and two graduate …
Secrets of Beijing’s Forbidden City
China’s Forbidden City is a 178-acre ancient palace complex in the heart of Beijing. Constructed in the early fifteenth century, it is not only a national treasure but also a UNESCO World Heritage site (since 1987)—fittingly so, because it is the largest such palace site in the world. Double walled and ringed with a wide …
National Geographic’s Name Used to Sell the Supernatural
Science of the Supernatural: Dare to Discover the Truth. Daniel S. Levy. National Geographic Partners. 2019. ISBN 978-5478-4942-0. 97 pp. Book-azine, $14.99. The good name of the National Geographic Society (NGS) is unfortunately being misused, as Skeptical Inquirer has reluctantly noted on recent occasions. As discussed in our special issue “Health Wars” (September/October 2019), NGS …
Lizzie Borden’s Eighty-One Whacks: Table-Tipping Testimony from a Spirit?
Lizzie Borden took an axe And gave her mother forty whacks; When she saw what she had done, She gave her father forty-one! —Anonymous On August 4, 1892, in the Massachusetts seaport and cotton-mill town of Fall River, a unique double axe murder occurred that shocked the citizenry at the time and continues to fascinate. …
A poltergeist is said to be a sort of prankster entity, after the German word for a “noisy” (poltern) “spirit” (geist). Poltergeist phenomena include mysteriously thrown objects, strange noises, or unusual fires (Nickell 1995, 79). Those who promote belief in poltergeists often attribute the effects—fiery or otherwise—to the repressed hostilities of a child or other …
Haunted Asylums: Imagining Scary Ghosts
In the Middle Ages in Europe, the mentally ill—or those considered so—were kept in various settings, ranging from benign monasteries to “fools’ towers” where apparent madmen were housed. In London, the Priory of Saint Mary of Bethlehem evolved into a hospital (now six centuries old) that cared for the poor and aged and “lunatic.” Bethlehem, …
Water’s ability to cleanse obviously made it a natural choice for ritual washing (such as baptism in Christianity and mikvah in Judaism). And its power to soothe a minor burn, quench a thirst, or provide other relief naturally inspired further medicinal uses. Belief in the supernatural extended the supposed powers of water in various ways—hence …
Credulous Flying Saucer ‘Expert’ Stanton T. Friedman Dead at Eighty-Four
Stanton Terry Friedman (July 29, 1934–May 13, 2019) was one of the world’s best known and most controversial flying saucer proponents. Like some other paranormalists, Friedman would come to parlay a lackluster science career into fringe stardom. Although he constantly referred to himself as a “nuclear physicist,” he held no doctorate, having only bachelor and …
Gloucester Sea-Serpent Mystery: Solved after Two Centuries
A “wonderful sea-snake” was repeatedly seen in the area of Gloucester Bay and Nahant Bay, Massachusetts, in August 1817 and again in 1819. Although attracting “hundreds of curious spectators,” plus a large reward for “his snakeship” alive or dead, the great creature escaped any such fate (Drake 1883, 156–159). The visitations have been reported in …
Lorraine Warren Dead at Ninety-Two
Lorraine Warren—who with her late husband “investigated” alleged demon-possessed houses—died at ninety-two on April 19, 2019. The couple—real names Edward Warren Miney (1926–2006) and Lorraine Rita Warren (1927–2019)—founded New England Society for Psychic Research allegedly as early as 1952. Ed would claim to be a “Demonologist”; his business card with that title appeared to represent …
Premonition! Foreseeing What Cannot Be Seen
An article in the March 4, 2019, New Yorker gave the regrettable impression that some people could do what science—and common sense—say cannot be done: see something (usually a tragedy) before it has occurred. (The magazine followed other outlets that have recently hawked paranormal claims—The New York Times regarding UFOs in 2017 and 2018 [Nickell …
The Trapped Miners’ Holy Visions: Investigating the Sheppton ‘Miracle’
On August 27, 1963, two Pennsylvania coal miners were rescued after two weeks of being trapped underground. The pair would soon relate how, confined in the pitch black, they had witnessed humanoid figures, bathed in strange light, and saw a door that opened onto marble steps leading to a great celestial city with angels playing …
The Saga of Tom Horn: Is the Hanged Man’s Ghost Still at Large?
At the turn of the twentieth century in Wyoming, the “range wars” claimed many victims, among them fourteen-year-old Willie Nickell (yes, one of my distant cousins).1 This is the story of his murder and the hanging of his killer—a legendary lawman and now “ghost.” It begins over a quarter of a century earlier in my …
Kraken: Monster of the Deep
The Kraken—a massive sea monster—legendarily rose out of the ocean to pluck sailors off ship decks or even to grasp whole vessels and carry them to the depths.
UFO Identification Process
There is a wide variety of natural explanations for things we see in the sky that are easy to misinterpret.
Arkansas’s White River Monster: Very Real, but What Was It?
Can we finally solve the mystery?
Outside the Box: Solving Diverse Mysteries
In contrast to mystery mongers, I insist that mysteries should not be fostered but investigated with the intent of solving them. I like them so much I have never really cared whether some case could be pigeonholed into a specific category, let alone what that category might be. “Probing Paranormal, Historical, and Forensic Enigmas,” I …
CBS Sunday Morning Seers Don’t See So Well
On March 18, 2018, CBS Sunday Morning featured an insufficiently skeptical segment, “ESP: Inside the Government’s Secret Program on Psychic Spies.” One of the psychics presented—Angela Ford (formerly Angela Dellafiora)—is described as a former Pentagon Project Stargate “psychic spy.” She recalled one of her best assignments in which, allegedly, she psychically tracked down fugitive drug …
Secrets of ‘The Flying Friar’: Did St. Joseph of Copertino Really Levitate?
Supported by records citing eyewitness testimony, St. Joseph of Copertino was a seventeenth-century religious marvel who laid claim to the power of levitation.
Navy Pilot’s 2004 UFO: A Comedy of Errors
The first I heard about a shadowy UFO research program operated by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) from 2007–2012 was when I was interviewed by New York Times reporter Helene Cooper on December 12, 2017.
Hawking ‘Ghosts’ in Old Louisville
How could a press that represents all of the universities in the Commonwealth of Kentucky publish such nonsense—even in an age of fake news and fake science?
Tallahassee’s ‘Witch’s Grave’
A Study in Superstition and Ignorance
The Giant Panda: Discovered in the Land of Myth
Its immense popularity today belies the fact that the panda was once among the world’s most obscure creatures, “as mythical and elusive as Bigfoot” (Edwards 2009). Bigfooters are prone to emphasizing such creatures that were only discovered comparatively recently—for example a giraffe relative, the okapi (1901), and a “living fossil” fish, the coelacanth (1938)—because they …
Roswell UFO ‘Strange Metal’ Mystery
The evidence is overwhelming that the supposed “flying saucer” material was—although a novelty at the time—purely of terrestrial origin.
Mystery of Mollie Fancher, ‘The Fasting Girl’, and Others Who Lived without Eating
Can people live for years without food? Some have claimed to, including certain holy persons. One nineteenth-century marvel in Brooklyn alleged not only to have lived without sustenance but to have experienced a nine-year trance state, possessed clairvoyant abilities, and recovered from paralysis and blindness. She was Mollie Fancher, a woman whose well-nourished body made …
Loch Ness Solved – Even More Fully!
The Loch Ness Mystery Reloaded. By Ronald Binns. Zoilus Press, London, UK, 2017. ISBN 9781999735906. 222 pp. Paperback, £12. With his new book, The Loch Ness Mystery Reloaded, Ronald Binns takes another bow as the man who cast the net and drew up from the depths the ultimate truth about the fabled creature, Nessie. Binns …
Australia’s Storied Ghosts
Whenever someone relates his or her ghost encounter, a story is born. And, as folklorists know well, stories tend to evolve in the retelling—changing and becoming embellished by others over time. Thus are created variants, evidence of the folklore process at work. When a writer creates an imitation tale, the product is called “fakelore,” but, …
Bigfoot as Big Myth: Seven Phases of Mythmaking
The hairy man-beast known as the “Sasquatch” or “Bigfoot” is now ever present in North American culture. Supposedly a throwback to our evolutionary past, it is an “ape-man” version of us just as the little-bodied, big-headed, humanoid extraterrestrial is a futuristic one.
Murder by Darkness: Does Mammoth Cave’s Specter Harbor a Secret?
Joe Nickell solves the case of an unlikely ghost, hidden in Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave
JonBenet Murder Mystery Solved? (Not by Psychics)
The death of six-year-old beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey went unsolved for two decades. Psychics were worse than useless, but the author’s proposed solution resulted from evaluating the best evidence.
The Bigfoot Obsession
Monster Trek: The Obsessive Search for Bigfoot. By Joe Gisondi. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2016. ISBN 978-0-8032-4994-3. 278 pp. Softcover, $18.95. With Joe Gisondi’s Monster Trek: The Obsessive Search for Bigfoot, the subtitle says it all. Gisondi, an outsider, traveled with Bigfooters—those credulous folk motivated to search for the fabled creature despite zero scientific …
The New Zealand Moa: From Extinct Bird to Cryptid
Cryptids are of two types: either (1) unknown species, such as Bigfoot or at one time the Mountain Gorilla; or (2) known species that supposedly become extinct but may have survived and could be rediscovered.
Some Queensland Mysteries
Strange mysteries may be found almost anywhere, but they seem especially plentiful and interesting in Australia.
Steller’s Sea Ape: Identifying an Eighteenth-Century Cryptid
Since its appearance in 1741, a mysterious creature has remained controversial—a so-called “sea monkey” that puzzled naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller.
Miracle Tableau: Knock, Ireland, 1879
The ability to see pictures in random forms—as in clouds, tea leaves, and inkblots—is known as pareidolia… Some publicized examples I have made pilgrimages to examine include the face of Jesus in the skillet burns of a tortilla…
Dispelling Demons: Detective Work at The Conjuring House
I analyzed the Perrons’ claims of demonic activity and showed that they were consistent with the effects of strong winds, misperceptions, schoolgirl pranks, vivid dreams, simple suggestion, role-playing, and other factors.
Cómo superar a un Maestro de Tai Chi
Tai chi es una abreviatura de taiji quan, “boxeo máximo supremo”. Concebido hace siglos como un arte marcial, ahora también se practica —“Tai chi taoísta”— como técnica de ejercicios.