People are coming up to me lately to say how much they enjoy playing the new Atari Ghostbusters video game and expressing hope that a third movie might be made.
Sometimes they ask me, an entertainer, if I think ghosts really could exist. Are ghosts real? And if so what are they made of?
Doctor Hans Holzer, probably the world's most credible and respected ghostbuster, writes in his Travel Guide to Haunted Houses (Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers): "A ghost appears to be a surviving emotional memory of someone who died traumatically... but is unaware of his or her death."
Wait! So ghosts are just our memories of those who have lived before?
"Sudden death comes as a shock... and human personalities stay on the spot where emotional attachment existed prior to their physical deaths.", says Holzer. He posits that ghosts are electromagnetic fields encased in the physical body. At death the outer layer dissolves leaving this energy free to move forward and back in space and time interacting with the other waves which comprise our plane of existence.
Have I personally ever seen a ghost? Not one. Have I ever felt an unseen presence near me? Damn right. In my bed no less when we lived in Mama Cass's Hollywood estate.
Hard-line skeptics such as my writing partner on Ghostbusters, Harold Ramis, believe that the invisible world can not reasonably encompass these lingering presences, their occasional appearances to us and their subsequent actions. However it is reported that General George Patton who fervently believed that he was a Roman Legionary in a previous life, appeared to one of his sisters in New York at the exact moment he died in an American military hospital in Germany. She described him as sitting casually inside her apartment window sill in full uniform. His other sister said that the General telephoned her in Boston as well to say good-bye at the time of his passing.
Surely genuine is humankind's fascination with the subject. Books, movies, documentaries, TV dramas and comedies interpreting these matters have proliferated since the first ghost stories were told.
The most believable contemporary account to me is the Ghost of Flight 401. There are several books on Eastern Airlines Lockheed L-10-11 flight engineer Donald Repo and his haunting of the salvaged galley elevator from the Florida plane crash which killed him and most others aboard 401.
At the turn of the century there was an inquisitive frenzy on the possibilities for survival of the spirit in an after life.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sir Oliver Lodge, Dr. Schrenk-Notzing, Charles Richet (who coined the word ectoplasm) plus numerous other investigators worldwide spent extensive time and money analyzing the exploits of many channellers and mediums.
These were individuals such as Daniel Dunglas Hume, a professional psychic whom witnesses said could levitate and elongate his body and limbs several feet like Plasticman. Eusapio Paladino, a simple adolescent girl was seen to disgorge real ectoplasm.
My father Peter points out in his new book A History of Ghosts (Rodale Press) that although Hume, Paladino and others were certified often for genuine phenomena they were also all caught in cheating the investigators from time to time.
As Pop Aykroyd and I hit the road soon to get the word out on his book, a definitive and exciting analysis of spiritualism as a movement, discipline and indeed a quasi-religion, the question of ghosts and the possibility of their existence will no doubt be brought up repeatedly. Believers and skeptics alike will be in on the debate and in my view it is a most worthwhile and moreover thoroughly entertaining one.