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Mark Hartzman, Interviews, Nonfiction, Ghosts

A drawing of a group of people present at the session.  They hold hands around a table filled with candles.

Cover crop Chasing Ghosts :: Journey through our fascination with ghosts and the supernatural
Image: Quirk Books

Halloween season approaching, and as the days get shorter, our thoughts inevitably turn to all creepy… With that in mind, io9 knew we wanted to talk to Mark Harzman, the author of a brand new nonfiction release. Chasing Ghosts: A Journey Through Our Spiritual and Supernatural Infatuation

Chasing ghosts delves into the history of the faith of mankind, you guessed it, ghosts… It also looks at how people tried to break through the veil and to set up a contact with those who have gone over the years – and how often skeptics decided to refute their claims of the paranormal. What follows is a slightly edited and condensed version of our telephone conversation with Harzman.


Cheryl Eddie, io9: You have written several books on unusual topics (strange things found on eBay, interlude performers, the strange history of Mars, and our obsession with Mars). What brings you to ghosts as your next subject?

Mark Harzman: Well, he definitely falls into this freaky world. As you can imagine, I really like these unusual secondary themes. I am making a website called Strange historianwhich is full of different stories. There are many stories of the paranormal. I’ve always liked this sort of thing – I’ve been fond of the weird and the unusual since childhood. So ghosts were part of that, and there are a couple of other things that I believe are related to this. First, I’ve always had this kind of fear and concern about death – not, I think, specifically about death, but more about how to handle it, and about burial, and that burial is not the right thing to do. Like what if this is a big mistake and our souls are all trapped, still have some kind of consciousness, but there is nothing we can do about it because we are stuck in a box six feet underground? It was always a little disturbing. [Laughs.] I wrote another book called Oliver Cromwell’s Embalmed Head: Memories, it touches on this a bit. But the very thought of “is there survival, is our consciousness alive?” Always piqued my curiosity.

Over the past few years, I’ve really immersed myself in the spiritism movement from the late 1800s to early 1900s, just collecting a bunch of books from that era, reading a bunch of stories and writing articles for Weird Historian – it’s just so addicting. time. It’s funny because you can watch my latest book, Big Book of Marsand this one Chasing ghosts and I think that there is no connection, but in fact there is a lot of connection in my head. One of them is that it is something like the same era of the late 1800s, early 1900s, that era of the Victorian era at the turn of the century. All these amazing things were happening, different types of beliefs and new technologies, when all kinds of new things suddenly seemed possible. It must have been an interesting time! The same thing happened with spiritualism – you have millions people who were believersthinking that we can absolutely communicate with the dead. It wasn’t even a question, it was like, “Yeah, now we know! There is definitely life after death, and this is what people say about it. ” You had all these mediums popping up all over the place, producing these amazing effects, incredible manifestations that were incredibly believable to humans. So I found this entire era quite exciting. The roots or seeds of the book have always been there, but the Spiritualist movement really made me delve into this much deeper, and the book kind of branched out from there.

In this old photograph (circa 1900), the table appears to move on its own during a session in Paris.

In this old photograph (circa 1900), the table appears to move on its own during a session in Paris.
Photo: General photo agency (Getty Images)

io9: Ghosts is certainly a broad topic, and the book is split into four distinct sections: ghosts or tales of the afterlife throughout history, the spiritism movement, ghosts, and the relationship between technology and ghosts. Why did you decide to split the topic into these specific areas?

Harzman: I thought it was a really good range, you know? I wrote the book out of order; I started with spiritualism, and I consider it important to show that this is, of course, not new at all. Belief in ghosts and spirits, however you define it, goes back to the days of human existence. I think it’s important to show the ancient cultures and what their beliefs were, to go through medieval times, purgatory, Christian beliefs – I find all these evolutions of that really fascinating, right down to Swedenborgianism and various occultists and the like. All this kind of leads to the movement of modern spiritualism through Andrew Jackson Davis, who was not long before the Fox sisters, where it really began in 1848.

There is some overlap with spiritism and technology, because you find yourself, for example, in William Mumler, the first spiritual photographer, I kind of divided it into technologies. This gave me the opportunity to talk about another branch of the ghost world that is trying to capture them – do they really believe they are hunting them, or are they just cashing in on people who think they are capturing them like ghost photographers. But again, spiritual photography goes back to what I said before about new technologies, new beliefs, and the things that might be possible. The camera comes out, and maybe it sees something that we cannot, and why not believe that it is possible? This is all new, right? But then you get to Hereward Carrington, you know, all his devices try to detect the ghosts and the people he worked with, right down to what you see on each [ghost-hunting] Telecast today with all sorts of equipment and machines for detecting ghosts. Much of this kind flows from Ghostbusters: “Oh, can you use machines to catch ghosts?” It sparks a new generation of ghost hunters.

I think all of these uses are really interesting, but it also gave me the opportunity to explore a lot of science. Technology is interesting in what it can capture and how it can help show that ghosts are not ghosts. How how EMF reader may not actually detect the ghost, but may determine why you thought you saw a ghost there. Because it something else happensThis is why these levels of the electromagnetic field went beyond the graphs – in fact, this is because of this elevator platform behind the wall in an apartment building, to use one example described to me by a parapsychologist in the book.

I also love the stories about “infrasound” that Vic Tandy discovered in the late 70s and early 80s – he found this frequency at 18.9 Hz, which we do not detect, but it affects the brain and kind of causes vibration of the eyeballs. and makes people see dark shapes and feel that something paranormal is going on. He discovers this is taking place in the basement of a 14th-century haunted cathedral. “Oh, is there infrasound here? Maybe this explains some of these feelings that people experience. ” By no means – and he said it too – it doesn’t explain everything, but it might explain something that is interesting.

So I love that science solves some things, but not all, and there is still a whole world of mystery as we continue to learn and improve our technology. And I think you need to talk about haunted places in a ghost book. There are thousands of stories about haunted places, so then it becomes a mixture of trying to capture the balance of famous stories and sort of digging deeper into them, as well as embracing things that may be less known, trying to create a balance of unique stories. haunted places.

Full cover of Chasing Ghosts.

Full cover of Chasing Ghosts.
Image: Quirk Books

io9: For all the people in the book who claim to have seen or communicated with ghosts, there are just as many skeptics and whistleblowers, no matter what period in history you are talking about. Why do you think this is so?

Harzman: This is one of those things that we cannot prove. No one can prove the survival of consciousness. No technology can accurately capture this. There is no machine that will tell us, “Yes, this is final.” So I think it will always make people skeptical, no matter what … in the days of spiritualism, the biggest skeptics were magicians because they knew what tricks people were using. They wanted to expose these people. And lately, you have people like the late James Randi who have exposed many of these things and have been very skeptical.

There will always be people who truly believe that this is wrong and can often prove that there is a scam. This was Houdini’s big deal, he considered it terrible what mediums do to people, taking their money under the pretext that they communicate with a lost loved one and take advantage of their grief, and deceive them into something and steal this feeling from them. He thought it was wrong. And in his mind, he said that if you come to a magician’s show and pay for a ticket, there is an understanding between us that what you see is an illusion. It’s a different relationship with the audience than the medium, so I think there can be some fairness in that to some extent.

io9: Are you a skeptic or a believer and working on this book changed your point of view?

Harzman: It’s a difficult question. I would say that I am more of a believer than a skeptic, but I am not 100% sold out. I would say that the work on the book really changed my point of view a little, and I would say that it pushed me a little more towards a believer. Partly because there are tons of stories in the book that have skeptics explaining well, and obviously there are magicians who explained different tricks with mediums. Many people say, “Oh, how did they do it? Is that all they did? “Or like” Oh, this is infrasound. ” But I think the book has all these great examples: “I don’t know how you explain this.” Some of these things are just hard to explain. Some of them came from friends I talked to about the book and they said, “I have a ghost story,” and all these amazing stories were about things that just didn’t make much sense. … There are things that make you think and you really don’t know how to explain them.

I also think it’s much more fun to believe in it than not. It’s fun to believe and hope. There is something nice about that. I look at it like this: “Wow, you saw a ghost!” This should be an exciting moment! [You] now know that there is something else and that should bring great peace knowing that when [you] dying is not just the end, and you are not just a mass that is thrown into a box and fed to worms or whatever. This is comforting! I think there are enough stories that make me think there is something else in this, and I prefer to believe it.


Chasing Ghosts: A Journey Through Our Spiritual and Supernatural Infatuation Harzman’s mark comes out on September 28th. You can pre-order a copy here


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