The Case of the Haunted Fun Fair Part 3: being in the main a consideration of the South West London Paranormal group’s report on their investigation of Thorpe Park


Well I have been quite interested in the recent and 2009 events at Thorpe Park, so it’s about time to engage with the report of the investigators themselves. Firstly, I must say it’s REALLY nice to see a group that actually makes their findings publicly available, and makes some effort to “publish” their research, so others can have a look and evaluate the evidence. I have for many years been moaning that most groups simply do not construct any kind or report or paperwork, and was at pains to make sure that both Parasoc and the CPRG did chronicle their findings whenever I could.  So kudos to South West London Paranormal for making their report available. The web has made this incredibly easy, and recently we are seeing more and more of it – a very good thing!

The first thing is that the report is dated 19 November 2010 –  the date of the investigation.  So there was nearly three months between the investigation, and it hitting the press – I wonder why? This will doubtless become clear later. Now, the report is quite well formatted. It begins with a short history of Thorpe Park – interesting in itself, as the area was extensively quarries apparently, and now is an island. Never knew that!

I am not going to pass judgement on the investigators or their techniques, but it is clear that they were invited in, and the three SWLP teams were each accompanied by three staff members, doubtless for insurance liability reasons, but interesting in itself as it means the staff must have been interested to go to all this trouble.  It also seems just a little incongruous, given that just 13 months before Thorpe Park were apparently suspending staff for doing Ouija boards and calling in “exorcists” – well Reverend Lionel Fanthorpe in reality — and now what equipment are the group armed with???

Equipment Used:

Ouija Board
Dowsing Rods
EMF Meter
Cameras
Camcorders
High Sensitive Dictaphones

First item mentioned: a Ouija board! So why the change of heart at Thorpe Park, given the last time a Ouija board was used there things were not exactly good afterwards according to the 2009 press? Curious!

Now the report goes on to give the locations covered – what would have been useful here, and SWLP should try and include in future reports, is a map. I think that the teams rotated around the locations, and staged vigils as far as I can see – not at all my favourite method of running an investigation the vigil, I prefer to work during the day and conduct interviews, but I know a lot of groups like to try and “catch” the phenomena themselves —  anyway there is a nice and very clear catalogue of what was experienced.

From my years looking after ghost groups at Derby Gaol for Richard Felix, I think this would be pretty typical of any investigation of this type in the sensory modalities involved; firstly visual, almost always shadows or lights — hardly ever have I been present on a ghost hunt when someone has seen a full apparition with their eyes: in fact I can clearly recall this happening once in 1994, but it is VERY rare in my experience; then sounds, usually tapping and raps and bumps, and then footsteps, and finally and perhaps surprisingly olfactory phenomena – strange smells. It’s interesting to how similar these phenomena reported are to those I saw described many times at Derby Gaol, and that are thrown up by Becky Smith’s 2008 research on the Station Hotel, Dudley. If I had a hundred quid spare for the software I would want I might try and correlate the kinds of phenomena groups seem to experience all over the country – Becky’s current research is quite clearly focussed on spontaneous cases, and she is not looking at experiences while ghosthunting, but I think the two would be very distinct in the phenomena reported. If anyone wants to give me a small research grant I’ll pursue it! 🙂

The largest class of material given in the report appears to be impressions by their mediums, all unfortunately given as a simple list of the entity purportedly encountered: it is simply impossible to evaluate if any veridical communications were received from the rather sparse account. What struck me as interesting, given the alleged sightings of a monk, the presence of Monk’s Walk, and so forth, is the lack of references to monks!  In fact, and perhaps surprisingly, most of the alleged spirits appear recent as far as I can make out, such as the ex-employee, and so forth. It’s very hard to tell here though, but I do find that unusual – and would like to know more. In fact the only ecclesiastical spirit was a nun “picked up” on a Ouija board –and so I’m doubtful there. The spirit of the nun claimed to have been murdered in 1913: I am not aware of any missing nuns from that year, but maybe a reader is?

Also I find nothing about the burials here. What seems to be the closest is here

Outside Area (Area where new rides are being built)

Jim stopped outside and said he could feel a presence.  He explained that he felt the building work currently being done was disturbing something.  If they were to continue to dig further down they would uncover some remains, of what would have been an old settlement dating back hundreds of years. There was an unhappy feeling here, and a sense that someone wanted us to move away.

Interesting: this is the place where the Surge water ride was to be built, clearly. It was the psychic Jim’s impression here that seems to be behind the story.  There were all kinds of other things mentioned, but this one element seems to have been taken up form all the spiritualist contacts they made, or believe they made, on that night last November.

And now I begin to see the light…

Well possibly. I think, and SWLP and Thorpe Park can confirm or deny this, that events went something like this. SWLP were invited in by staff, perhaps on the strength of the 2009 story. They did an interesting little investigation, that was not widely publicised, but they wrote up.

Then, as building work on Surge continued, someone, at some point, saw a monk, or thought they did, and things got spooky. Immediately SWLP’s report sprang to mind – and at this point a geologist from Cranfield University was called, to just run a quick check of the site for evidence of the settlement reported by Jim. The settlement may exist – buy the geophys was suggestive of possibly a burial ground – disturbed earth. So the original report did not mention a burial ground, but let’s be fair, burial grounds go with settlements.

Once the geophys confirmed that there may be something of archeological merit under their, and for al I know the geophys may have been a standard site survey conducted before a new development that requires in this case 15m deep foundations, well the rescue archaeologist are probably planning to move in and have a gander. And so now the ghost story goes live, a couple of months late, and SWLP are in the press and rather pleased with their investigation I hope! 🙂

It’s been an interesting story – I’m not sure how close I have come to the true course of events, and I’m still no closer to the ghost, but I am curious.  What I really need is the missing bit of the story, between November 19th 2010 and February – when the actual ghost sightings occurred. I need to know more about those witnesses. Or were they occurring before SWLP were called in?  I’ll interview SWLP as soon as the media frenzy has died down, as I think they might give us the full story, but it is all very interesting

cj x

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The Case of Haunted Castle, Carlisle, UK


OK, after all the excitement of the “haunted theme park”, parts one and two, and with Thorpe Park’s ghost appearing in the papers all over the world, it’s time to see what else is in the news. Firstly, I’ll get this in again – if you have had an odd experience please fill in the survey at www.strangesurvey.com It’s being analysed by grounded theory so Becky does not need a random sample; if you know people who claim to have had relevant experiences please pass on the url, and ask them to submit a report.

So what follows a haunted theme park?  A haunted castle of course! Um… The problem is these news stories fail to excite me – because the venues always market themselves to ghosthunters and paranormal tourism is big these days – well actually I think the profits to be made are pretty mall, but everywhere markets their ghosts. Which is fine, the folklore is part of Britain’s heritage, but I doubt we will push the frontiers of psychical research here. Anyway the Cumbrian News & Star published this fun little article on the 1st…

Ghostly figures sighted at Carlisle’s new haunt?

By Phil Coleman

Last updated at 13:18, Tuesday, 01 February 2011

There was a distinct chill in the air as Tony Goddard recalled recent events in his new workplace…

Hidden behind the ancient walls of Carlisle Castle, this 80-year-old building once provided a canteen and library rooms for soldiers of the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment. But since 1960, it has provided storage space for the county’s archive service. The building is now being prepared for yet another role – as the new HQ for the Castle’s Border Regiment Museum.

So the building in the castle grounds may well be worth a visit: what interests us though is the spooks…

But since beginning work there, says Mr Goddard, the museum’s assistant curator, he has been shocked by a catalogue of ghostly happenings.

They have included:

  • Shadowy figures lurking in doorways and rooms;
  • Unexplained bangs and footsteps hurrying away;
  • Small objects flying through the air;
  • Lights turning themselves on overnight;
  • The sound of a ghostly piano coming from the empty upper floors.

Now this is good stuff. I won’t go through each phenomena one by one, as I often do, because let’s face it they are the same kind of things we have seen throughout the year I have been writing Polterwotsit. (March will see the blog’s  first anniversary, and a phenomena round up of what I found over the year in the press). Objects flying through the air will always fascinate me: and the sound of ghostly piano is rather good, as unlike knocks or bangs that is unlikely to be something like the building settling — it is therefore probably either real music, a hallucination, or something spooky. Well, that does not narrow it down much!

Mr Goddard, who has long been fascinated by the paranormal, said: “The building is called Alma block, and we’ve been working here since January 10, and there have been lots of strange things.

Alma block – so it was named after the Crimean War, clearly, or for some association with that war. Anyway, this is where it starts to get interesting. At the time of the article they have only been working in the building for twenty days or so, yet have experienced a considerable amount of phenomena – rather more than I would associate with a classic haunting, actually, for such a short time period. Yet Tony has always been fascinated by the paranormal, and I think possibly in that we might find a key to the phenomena?

Well firstly, people are more likely to experience odd things when they first move in to a building I think. The sounds smells and layout of the rooms are unfamiliar – after a few weeks there, you start to move around on “autopilot”, not really paying attention. At least I don’t! Now Tony’s fascination with the paranormal clearly creates an environment where anomalous noises etc are liable to be misinterpreted as paranormal- but then if he was a lifelong hard sceptic, we could equally argue that he might make the opposite error, and miss genuinely weird stuff. The building already had a reputation for being haunted – Most Haunted, the infamous TV show had already been there, os Tony and colleagues were certainly primed to interpret things this way. Alternatively we could take the idea I sometimes play with, and have been messing around with for eighteen years – that the story of a ghost legitimises their own psychic powers, as the results of such psi can be attributed to the supernatural third party, and hence they haunt themselves. OK, I guessed no one would buy that. 🙂

“One of the strangest was when three of us were sitting in the staff room, and I know there was nobody else in the building because there’s only one way in. But we heard the sound of somebody banging on the internal door. When we opened it, there was nobody there, but we heard footsteps running up the steps to the first floor.

That is interesting, and it would be good to investigate, with various doors and windows open, to see if the wind could generate the noises. One thing that can make a door bang is if it is sticky, and does not fully close, but catches somewhere on the frame. After a time it suddenly releases, and closes (or opens slightly) often with a very loud bang. However banging suggests multiple knocks, not explicable by my theory — and while this clearly sounds like someone playing a prank, Tony insists it is not. I would be interested though in how many keys exist!

“Last week, I was working on some shelving and I had the feeling I was being watched. So I turned round. Through the window to the room next door I could see the figure of a man, just standing there, looking at me. I just said ‘you don’t frighten me’ and I turned round.”

This is interesting, and something I have seen many times before; the feeling of the presence comes before the sighting of the apparition. Tony’s reaction, turning his back on the apparition is interesting in itself – a brave fellow – but the journalist has failed in an extraordinary way — this sighting is the very centre of the story, it introduces our chief protagonist – the ghost — and yet the article has not a single word about what he looked like. One wonders if Tony could not offer a description? We don’t know if the ghost was old or young, short or tall, anything. The absence of descriptions seems remarkable – but then what was remarkable to Tony was the fact there was a figure there at all, not what he looked like. So I believe the account, I’m just curious as to why the lack of description, it’s not what one would expect. I may have to have a look at Robin Wooffitt’s Telling Tales of the Unexpected and see if this kind of thing is common. (I’m glad I have a copy — it is £181 on Amazon at the moment!)

Telling Tales of the Unexpected by Robin Wooffitt

Telling Tales of the Unexpected by Robin Wooffitt

At other times, said Tony, washers have been thrown at him from above – when nobody else was in the room and another time he heard the sound of a piano, though there is not one anywhere near.

The phenomena clearly seems centred on Tony — and in many ways this does sound reminiscent of a poltergeist case. The direction from which the washers come, above, is interesting — I would like to know more about this. In fact, it is clear that Tony is the key witness, and has had some really interesting experiences…

One of the most disturbing stories has been about the image of a boy seen standing near the entrance to the old caretaker’s flat on the building’s upper floor. The gloomy doorway is known to be markedly colder than nearby rooms.

Suddenly there is a sharp shift. This does not seem to have been a recent experience, this sounds like something that happened a while ago, before the museum. I suspect this may be the traditional ghost story of the building, maybe dating back twenty years or so, who knows? Well if I could get to Carlisle Record Office and look for newspaper clippings on ghosts we might find out — if anyone is in Carlisle and willing to help, please do drop me a line.

It is not the first time that Carlisle Castle has generated ghost stories. In 2009, the castle was investigated by Most Haunted team from Living TV. Among the stories that brought them there was that of a ghostly woman who reputedly stalks the corridors. It is claimed that in 1823, the apparition frightened a soldier so badly that he bayoneted the spook, impaling the wall behind it. He is alleged to have then fainted and died of shock the following day.

This reminds me of a story attributed to the Tower of London, or something one might find in Catherine Crowe or Lord Halifax, but I don’t know the source. I quickly looked and found the following in The Cumberland News from the time of the Most Haunted teams visit

A ghostly woman reputedly stalks the corridors, and, in 1823, frightened a soldier so badly that he bayoneted the apparition, impaling the wall behind it. He is alleged to have fainted and died of shock the following day. Three years earlier, a woman clothed in tartan was supposedly discovered bricked up on a staircase in the Captain’s Tower. She was holding a young child and wearing a costume which was said to date back to Elizabethan times.

This fits with the findings of the Most Haunted team and of the castle’s staff, who have reported seeing mysterious figures on the top floor of the tower. In 1992, an apparition moving beneath an arch between the exhibition and gift shop area in the castle’s King’s Own Border Regiment museum was blamed for setting the alarms off three nights in a row.

Could this figure under the arch be the boy mentioned? When I have a moment I’ll trace the 1992 story, and see what I find.  For now, I find this one more interesting than I first thought I would: expect a follow up later in the week

cj x

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Previous weirdness at Thorpe Park: the Haunted Funfair, Part 2 – and the strange case of the Ideomotor Effect, Explanation that Never Was?


OK, it seems I have missed all this, till Dave Goulden mentioned it on Facebook, and I googled.  Thorpe Park was previously in the news with a paranormal story, in October 2009, just in time for Halloween – but if it was a publicity thing, it was an odd one. I have taken the story from The Sun‘s account, so let’s have a look at exactly what they had to say —

Ouija Believe It

By JAMIE PYATT

Published: 15 Oct 2009

SPOOKED bosses at a theme park have suspended six members of staff and called in an exorcist after a late night seance on their top horror ride sparked a string of ghostly happenings.

Now at the time this was written SAW was I assume quite new. The date October 15th 2009 made this seem a very transparent publicity attempt.  I did not start blogging on Polterwotsit till March 2010, so I missed this one at the time.

The workers at Thorpe Parke carried out a Ouija board session on the horror themed rollercoaster SAW – The Ride after the opening night of their creepy Halloween themed “Fright Nights”. The group chose the park’s newest ride, which boasts gruesome features mimicking the sinister torture scenarios from the grisly film SAW, as the scariest place in the park to hold it.

There is nothing particularly unlikely about this scenario. I’m sure plenty of bored employees have done Ouija boards – though I do wonder, because you are not likely to do this during the day, access to the ride at night would presumably be controlled, and I would have thought very limited to technicians, cleaners and security – but would they really all manage to slink off and hold a Ouija board session on a ride. Maybe…

But bosses didn’t see the funny side when they heard staff had tried to communicate with the spirit world through a talking board which has been blamed for subsequent paranormal going-ons.

Well before we get side tracked in to a huge discussion of Ouija boards, I will note the strong belief among many that playing with them somehow opens up “doors to the other side”. “Do not call up that which ye can to put down” as Lovecraft wrote in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, and evangelical Christians and many spiritualists alike seem to decry the dangers of messing with these things – be it “demons” or “lower astral entities”, it is generally agreed that they are “messengers of deception”.  My sceptic friends generally don’t like Ouija boards either – seeing them as banal children’s games, and at best a waste of money. Still there must be some people who like them, and I guess one day I will have to think through how they are supposed to work, and overcome my utter distaste for them.  I may as well talk about it now I guess…

The first question is how is a Ouija board works.  (I assume it is capitalised as a proper noun – the inventor is said to have taken the French “oui” and German “ja” to create the name, and the boards have long been popularly marketed as toys, despite their spooky connotations – it is currently still subject to a trademark by Parker Bros. If you don’t know the history, the Wikipedia article is excellent. So how does it work? well as any sceptic will tell you – by ideomotor effect. This sounds dead scientific and impressive, till you learn it is an astonishing example of circular reasoning and sceptics promoting utter bullshit by either ignorance or deliberate sense of mischief.  Why do I say this? Because the term was devised as a term for the unconscious muscular actions said to explain the motion of a Ouija board. When we mention the ideomotor effect we are not putting forward some established principle found in every physiology book, but a term that simply describes the phenomena. 🙂 In short, I can find little in the way of a scientific literature on the ideomotor effect: everyone knows it is real and important, apart from it seems people who actually study the nervous system?

Now maybe it is in some way linked to mirror neurons, or similar. However an immense red flag is raised for me by the fact that while Faraday, a great chemist and physicist wrote a lot on how this explained table tipping back in the 1850’s, I can find bugger all modern evidence outside of sceptics sites. I suspect the ideomotor effect, invoked to explain dowsing, Ouija and table tipping is a great sceptical myth – just speculation, but very few people are ever ready to question received sceptical wisdom, because debunks make us feel we have answers?

Still, certainly we know we have an unconscious part of the nervous system — the autonomic nervous system. However as I recall these systems connect to the spine, not the brain. We probably need something more like a reflex reaction like catching a dropped tea cup, which I’m guessing involves the CNS? Well I know too little to speculate: what I do know is that you can demonstrate some kind of unconscious muscular action like the “ideomotor” effect by getting people to hold a pendulum on a thread, and then telling them which way it will rotate.  Usually with a room full of people most people will find the pendulum moving correctly — I assume this is down to some kind of subliminal twitching, but actually I can’t even prove that. So go on chaps, find a mechanism for the effect, it must be there.

Anyway, the idea that the sitters unconsciously push the glass seems pretty uncontroversial, even if not as straightforward as it initially sounds. (Building a table with pressure pads and a pc that models applied forces in real time would not be too hard I guess?) So I’m happy to call it the “ideomotor effect” for now, but I really want to know more about the physiology underlying it, and have some kind of proposed mechanism before invoking the term that sounds clever but is really just “you are unconsciously pushing the glass” in fancy language. How do I know the glass is moved by the sitters, not spirits?  Well I don’t, but the fact that the glass needs people to touch it to move  makes me think it is moving because of the people.

Now no one is really denying this; that’s what the word “medium” means, a means of transmission, is it not? (Though it was used in the Spiritualist sense before it’s modern sense – the term “broadcast medium” for example is I believe an analogy drawn form the spirit mediums, not vice versa?) So I guess in theory the mediums, or sitter’s brains pick up the messages, and then as everyone agrees (even if I think we have to describe the physiological mechanism yet and stop hiding behind pseudo-scientific terms) said sitters unconsciously push the glass or planchette or whatever.

So now we have stopped worrying about how the glass moves: it moves because of impulses unconsciously generated by the group of people with fingers on it, according to both sceptics and believers. They are pushing the glass, whether they realise it or not; but that fact does not reduce the “paranormality” of the phenomena. What is important is not the board, not the glass, but the content of the message delivered. It does not matter if my postman chain smokes, beats his wife and drinks like a fish if all I am interested in is the content of the letter from the company I have applied to a job for.

If the message delivered is nonsense, then we can disregard the whole phenomena, unless we are interested like Breton and some early Surrealists in exploring our “unconscious minds”. (The problems with that term can wait for another article).  If however the content of the message was correct, verifiable, and unknown to any person present at that time, and demonstrably so, that is a veridical communication, we might well have strong evidence for some kind of paranormality. If such communications exist I would still not take advice form an invisible entity communicating through a piece of wood, and I don’t think my distaste for Ouija boards would lessen,  but I would accept the evidence for paranormality.

In fact my real reason for disliking and avoiding Ouija boards is because they seem to upset, scare and cause issues for some people, and I have no wish to harm anyone. The danger about writing about them is that people often think “hey i’ll go try that” – please don’t. Even if they are utter nonsense, many impressionable people have badly upset themselves by the myths surrounding them, and ended up scared and upset. We have contemporary cinema to do that 🙂

Oh yes, Thorpe Park…

A Thorpe Park insider said: “Guests started to report an extreme drop in temperature when they walked into the ride building where the seance was held and others unusual happenings.

I’m guessing it’s dark, and possibly air conditioned. maybe the ride pushes air round. I don’t know if we need a spooky reason for this?

“Lights started to go on and off with no explanation and the special effects would start up even after being switched off and there were reports of footsteps with nobody there.

The ride was new, and I guess there could be parts of the ride where lights and sounds were triggered by motion sensors, and other perfectly sensible explanations doubtless abound. Footsteps can be all kinds of things, but I won’t speculate as I have not seen the ride.

“Doors could be heard banging and it was then news of the Ouija board session came out and the members of staff responsible have been spoken to and suspended from work.”

Doors banging hardly constitutes proof of occult activity likely to impress an Employment Tribunal, and i wonder what possible grounds one can suspend workers for here? Do their contracts forbid necromancy?

Thorpe Park in Surrey has now called in Rev Lionel Fanthorpe, the UK’s leading authority on the unexplained, who is currently examining the ride for evidence of paranormal activity. He says if he finds any signs of spirits “crossing over from the other side” he will carry out an exorcism. Rev Fanthorpe said: “Many people believe that the Ouija board is just a game but its power should never be underestimated as it may be a very dangerous tool if not used properly.”

I must admit, while I have a great respect for the Reverend, my mind boggled at the idea of how to use a Ouija board improperly – perhaps to spank goats in leather underwear or something?  Equally I struggled to think of a proper use, I think one could serve cheese on it, or use it to level up a wonky table?  Still I agree in spirit.

“It opens a gateway to another dimension and when people who are not experienced spiritualists play with Ouija boards, mischievous entities can get through as may have happened here.”

Experienced spiritualists are immune? I know have a vision of a Ouija board playing the Prodigy at me – “I’ll take your brain to another dimension”

“If there is something causing fear and bewilderment at Thorpe Park then I will take care of it and if deemed necessary I will carry out an exorcism to remove any mishievous spirits”. The source added: “It was a pretty strange sight to see a priest walking around Saw – The Ride holding a bible in one hand and a crucifix in the other – he looked like a part of the attraction!”

A Thorpe Park spokesman said: “On the evening of Monday October 12 an unauthorised Ouija Board session was conducted by six employees at SAW – The Ride after we closed to the public. We take staff and guest feedback very seriously and for this reason we called in Rev Lionel Fanthorpe, a leading paranormal expert, to help us investigate reports that have arisen from this situation.

“The ride has not been closed down and the Halloween Fright Nights are continuing as normal.”

Saw – The Ride cost £13.5million and opened in March this year and is a custom Euro-Fighter roller coaster that takes riders round a horror themed track at speeds of 55mph experiencing nearly 5g forces.

So this morning I thought there may be something to the story of the monk; today, I see that this story clearly just in time for Halloween 2009 seems to have no direct connection, but, um…  I will await further developments.

And have now added a third part here.

cj x

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Help with Becky’s PhD Research – Strange Survey


Long term readers of this blog will recall that I have mentioned a few times Becky Smith’s PhD research (based at Coventry Uni) in to anomalous experiences – ghosts, poltergeists, hallucinations, hauntings, call them what you will. Well she has started the main data collection phase now, and is trying to get as many accounts as possible from people who would answer positively to this main question

Have you ever (when fully awake and unaffected by illness, alcohol or drugs) had an experience of seeing something or someone, or of hearing a voice, when there was no ordinary cause for it that you could find?

If alternatively you would answer positively to

Have you ever witnessed unexplained movement of objects, or other disturbances in a house or building?

Then she would also like to hear from you! Even if you took part in a previous study, do go fill in the questionnaire, which can be found at www.strangesurvey.com

Also, if you can assist in publicizing the study, by passing on the details to friends who you know have had an experience of this type, or by sharing it with a random selection of acquaintances on Facebook or similar, please do. Don’t spam your mailing lists though, unless it’s directly on-topic!

Thanks for your assistance, and if you have any questions I’ll pass them on to Becky The important thing is to try and get as large a response as possible.

I’m sure many of you will recognise the question as a variant of that used in the 1894 SPR Census of Hallucinations, and DJ West’s classic studies. :)

cheers

cj x

 

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Buttoning up a Case That Never Was


Not very exciting I’m afraid, but definitely worth a quick comment. My little poltergeist case has now been resolved, the mystery not much of a mystery at all, but testimony to how dunder-headed I can be.  If you have been reading recently you might have seen my account —

I have been horrendously busy recently, and amusing myself with stuff like the 1st Cheltenham Paranormal Festival, so the blog has fallen rather quiet. There was one odd little incident, exactly the kind of thing one forgets. After my talk, during the ghost hunt, I walked in to the auditorium gents, and was struck on the shoulder by a button. My leather jacket has a strap on each shoulder with a button – since before Christmas the one on the left had been missing. As I walked in, it suddenly returned – and struck me lightly, before clattering to the floor. I was the only person in the gents, and there was no button I could find before in the jacket to replace it, as it annoyed me as the strap flapped free. Perhaps it had been caught up in my jacket for months – I guess it must have, or I had a very inconsequential and trivial poltergeist experience!

Here, for those of you with strong stomachs, is a photo of gruesome old me with the folks from Forest Paranormal Investigations —

CJ with Forest Paranormal Investigations

CJ with Forest Paranormal Investigations: I'm the middle one

OK, so I’m the fat one in the middle. (Giving up smoking just before Christmas really piles the pounds on 😦 ) Now the important thing is the strap on the left shoulder, here tucked in rather than flapping loose – that is where the mystery button was supposed to have come from.

No, the answer was far simpler than that – while I was looking for the missing button on my coat, I failed to notice the right hand sleeve had a button – had until it flew off as I went in to the gents. Becky noticed it was missing yesterday, and we at once realised we had solved this terribly minor mystery – but it just goes to show how once you have been talking ghosts, even the most minor thing can all too easily be attributed to a spooky cause, and even when you think you have plumbed the depths of a mystery, and checked every possibility, you can sometimes miss the bleeding obvious. Well I can anyway!

cj x

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The Mystery of the Haunted Fun Fair: Thorpe Park, Surrey, UK


OK, it sounds like a Hardy Boys adventure doesn’t it? Or as Matthew Didier suggests, a Scooby Doo episode. Well I’m a (great?) Dane so maybe I should get down there with a gang of pesky kids? Tom Ruffles meanwhile is counting the clichés, and you can see why…

(UKPA) – 4 hours ago

A new ride at one of the country’s biggest theme parks, in Surrey, has been moved after fears that it disturbed an ancient burial ground, prompting paranormal activity.

An ancient burial ground? That’s cliché number one. (People with very bad senses of humour may enjoy the story of my haunted house, from my other blog.) The cliché is usually attributed to Poltergeist, but in that film the burial ground is not an “ancient Indian” one – as the property developer says, “What’s the problem? It’s not like it was built on an Indian Burial Ground.”  The genre trope actually derives from Pet Sematary I guess, but for a detailed discussion go to the invaluable and well written discussion here at tvtropes.org

Now of course the “built on a burial ground” motif is a common aspect of UK ghostlore and folklore, and I have in the past discussed the persistence of the link between ghosts and human remains, if only in popular imagination, though I am not entirely convinced it is that. Also doing building work or renovation is often said to spark hauntings, or trigger a recurrence– so we need not be too cynical, for the Hollywood cliché that features in a thousand parodies of the building built on the burial ground does reflect earlier folklore, and hence may reflect an actual reality. (We need a “law” for “just because you saw something like it in the movies does not mean it does not happen”?)

I sometimes wonder about this with Vanishing Hitchiker stories. Everyone knows they are foafs (friend of a friend stories), just urban legends.  They appear across many cultures, with versions going back to long before the motor car. Yet can the folklore be rooted in a real experience? If the phenomena was real but rare, we might well see the stories circulate, misattributed and distorted, and hence end up believing it was just urban legend, even if there was a core phenomena reflected in the tales. I don’t know, I’m not a folklorist; but I’d like to explore this one day. Anyone, back on to the rides…

Workers creating the water ride at Thorpe Park for the new season said they started noticing ghostly sightings nearby, including what appeared to be a headless monk.

Log Flume

CJ & Becky developing radical new methodologies for Spontaneous Case Investigation

I love water rides. Here we see two SPR members involved in a recent investigation – oh, ok, it’s Becky & me on the log flume at another theme park, but Alton Towers is meant to be haunted – in fact that forms the basis for several of the rides as I recall? The truth is I am terrified of them — all rides – the Runaway Train nearly killed me, and my first theme park ride, Oblivion, still has me shaking in terror at the thought. I’m even scared of the log flume — but I can cope with that. Where were we oh yes, ghosts!

Well coming from Bury St Edmunds I’m rather used to apparitional monks – in fact my own experience at Thetford Priory was of this type of creature, cliché number two.  Still what is obvious to me is that a headless (cliché three, maybe we should develop a scale for paranormal clichés, the Ruffles Scale, after Tom?) monk dressed in black is actually pretty much indistinguishable from a shadow.  Now having seen a cowled figure dressed in black, I am not one to talk, but why are all monks clad in black? Are they all Dominicans? At least Bury’s ghostly monks wear brown. Why do we rarely hear of ghostly Cistercians in white? Of course I’m surmising, because the monk could have been wearing any colour habit – the story does not tell us.

So why do I think monks in black without heads looks like blobs of shadow? Exhibit Two, your honour…

A headless monk

A real monk - with the head not visible. So a headless monk at night would look like a blob?

Now it could well be that the headless monk was seen in good light, during the day – this is the problem with this third hand way of going about things — but unless Thorpe Park invite me to investigate, which sadly seems unlikely, I may never know. The story is infuriatingly vague, but that is hardly the journalists fault – what the psychical research community want to know and what the readers of the papers want to know are probably very different things. Back to the story —

There were reports of objects being moved, workers feeling like someone was watching over their shoulders and sudden cold feelings being experienced.

The reports of objects being moved fascinate me – this is Polterwotsit after all –  but is infuriatingly vague. the cold feelings (but this is February) and sense of being watched however are very interesting, and I have some ideas based on the science of perception and possible environmental variables that sadly I could only try out on site. So if anyone reading this can get me in to Thorpe Park, I promise to do a proper investigation, as I’m far too chicken to go on any rides! 🙂 Seriously, might be worth checking out with some simple monitoring equipment.

A paranormal detection agency was called in to carry out tests and found that an ancient burial ground or settlement could have been disturbed.

One wonders how? Now I’m a ghost hunter, and I have many skills – but without ground penetrating radar equipment, I’d be loathe to say “hey, look, it’s built on a burial ground”, Sure I could probably call Adam Spring and ask him to do a survey; and get David Sivier on the archaeology — I know the right people for the task.  I’m a pretty good historian with an interest in settlement pattern, and David and I have been experimenting  with map regression techniques (nowt paranormal – explained here) – David is quite skilled, I have just read a few chapter and tried my hand at an area he knows well – but I would lack the confidence to say this. Maybe they found something on an old map or in the historical records– or maybe this was “psychic” information. Well when they write up their report we will know. Sounds interesting though, and i love the phrase “paranormal detection agency” – sounds classy!

Managers relocated the ride to another area of the park and called in a forensic team, South West London Paranormal, to investigate.

A forensic team? This is bizarre; however given that we are now forensic teams (probably down to the journalist not SWLP!) I have had a great idea for a new series featuring the Society for Psychical Research (based in Kensington) —

CSI Kensington: Spook Scene Investigators

The 64ft water ride, Storm Surge, was originally planned for an area known as Monk’s Walk, an old footpath that has linked the ruins of nearby Chertsey Abbey to Thorpe Church since AD666.

Ah, so that’s how they knew! Well explains why monks were seen I guess. I like the 666AD – that is simply the year Saint Erkenwald founded Chertsey Abbey, not a journalistic cliché – sorry Tom! – but the Church si more modern. However those naughty Danes sacked the monastery in the 9th century, so maybe the headless monk dates from that outrage? (And why did us Danes sack monasteries? Hardly carry off the women… :))

The ride’s foundations would have been over 15 metres deep in an area of the park where stone coffins have previously been excavated.

So the cliché was not a cliché – there really was a burial ground here.  Stone coffins are certainly in keeping with the period and location, so assuming the press is right, yes could have been a graveyard here – with I would have thought a medieval burial, though stone coffins can be found in some wealthy burials from the Roman right the way through to early modern times.  Well stone coffins (probably containing abbot’s based on my experience of the archaeology of Suffolk) were dug up at the abbey itself in 1865; whether they were found near the ride will need someone to go to the Sussex Archaeology Unit to establish I guess? Might well be a different coffin find, but it will be noted somewhere.

Jim Arnold, of South West London Paranormal, said results were picked up immediately, with orbs, ghostly images in photography and ouija reaction results being strongest around the site where Storm Surge was to be built.

He said: “The results were so strong, we felt the only explanation could be that an ancient burial ground or settlement was being disturbed, prompting the extra paranormal activity.”

Hey I really should read the article first shouldn’t I, then I would not wander off in to ground already covered, or if you will pardon the pun in this case, uncovered!

Forensic geophysicist Peter Masters, of Cranfield University, called in to analyse the site using deep ground radar, said: “From the preliminary investigations, we have picked up signatures similar to that of a burial ground – possibly ancient.”

There goes my idea of getting Mr Spring down there with his equipment, but hats off to Cranfield Uni for being so quick on the mark. Well that’s where the story ends, and while Google are reporting 184 versions, I think they are nearly all based on this Press Association release. I’d be interested to hear more – the claim to poltergeistery seems weak, its a traditional spook in many ways, but they burial ground bit is fascinating, and what looks at first glance like a clichéd publicity grab may actually mask an interesting little case. I’d love to hear from any witnesses, and go down to take a look and talk to people from the archaeology unit, Peter Masters and the original witnesses.

Many thanks to Vicky Eveniss and Tom Ruffles for drawing my attention to this one. Oh and if you have experienced anything odd yourself, do fill in Becky’s survey at http://www.strangesurvey.com/

(And just to note there is now a follow up article on the alleged paranormal events of 2009 at the theme park)

cj x

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Polter-Censored???


I have been horrendously busy recently, and amusing myself with stuff like the 1st Cheltenham Paranormal Festival, so the blog has fallen rather quiet. There was one odd little incident, exactly the kind of thing one forgets. After my talk, during the ghost hunt, I walked in to the auditorium gents, and was struck on the shoulder by a button. My leather jacket has a strap on each shoulder with a button – since before Christmas the one on the left had been missing. As I walked in, it suddenly returned – and struck me lightly, before clattering to the floor. I was the only person in the gents, and there was no button I could find before in the jacket to replace it, as it annoyed me as the strap flapped free. Perhaps it had been caught up in my jacket for months – I guess it must have, or I had a very inconsequential and trivial poltergeist experience!

Anyway, today I’m moved to post by something a little odd — it seems some sceptics may be actually getting as loony as some believers can be, or maybe it is just — I don’t know, I just don’t get censorship on scientific issues. I guess the people who do these things would deny it was science –call it pseudo science. So what am I on about?

Martyn McLaughlin in The Scotsman on Sunday published a piece on Dr Barrie Colvin’s research. I’ll quote a bit of it here, for ease of  reference —

Ghostly rapping can’t be faked, research shows

Published Date: 30 January 2011
By Martyn McLaughlin
THEY are unexplained phenomena that have baffled scientists and sent chills down the spines of unwitting bystanders.

But the eerie knocking sounds allegedly made by poltergeists could not be made any other way, according to new research.
A lecture taking place this week at the University of Glasgow will present evidence for a strange audio pattern common to paranormal incidents.

(Read more)

Now as it happens I disagree. I was a strong advocate of the research, but in experiments conducted last year with friends from Rational Skepticism forum I found no difference between the waveforms of poltergeist sound files provided by Dr Colvin, and those I made by banging on furniture, under certain conditions. There has been a long and technical discussion on this blog – I have been fascinated since the first, and still think the JSPR paper was very important, but I am frustrated I could not replicate the findings. I am now waiting for others to try, and see what they find.  If you have not been following the discussion, my original article on the JSPR paper is here, followed by our experiments and critique  here, and a further piece on the polt raps here.

As one would expect, there has been a fair exchange of views, lots of speculation and refinement of hypotheses, and ultimately I think we all agree that more experimentation and as Dr Colvin said in his original article more good recordings from cases are needed. I think we also need to agree on what constitutes a slow attack, that is a sustained rise to maximum amplitude.  Still, so far I seem to be one of the few “critics” of the research – ironically given my admiration for Dr Colvin et al, and my firm commitment to poltergeist research.

Anyway today I saw the Scotsman on Sunday piece, and tried to link it to my Facebook. I received a message from Facebook saying that link had been reported as spam, and was therefore blocked. I was incredulous. I have written to Facebook using the report, asking the article be un-flagged – but was puzzles me is why it was flagged as spam in the first place. I may disagree with the article, but that is just ridiculous – censorship.

I am going to be paranoid here, and say that I think it was reported as spam by a sceptic, probably someone who sees themselves as a scientist, and who has never even read Dr Colvin’s paper.  Why do I believe this, rather than blaming some dour Scottish religious type? Well firstly religious types tend to welcome evidence for “supernatural” manifestations, especially polts which are often demonic in their attributes and behaviour and the fear they instil, even if not demonic in essence – whatever demonic may mean, exactly. Secondly, bitter experience of people refusing to listen when I discuss rationally evidence for “paranormal” claims. However for me the clincher was when I was trying to edit the Society for Psychical Research‘s and other parapsychological organisations wikipedia articles, often vandalised in the past, and edit after edit was rejected. Many times that was fair – I had messed up the edit – but eventually I realised that even though my edits were on historical matters and referenced, they seemed to arouse considerable hostility and raw emotion in some people.

The worst example I ever saw of this was after a well known parapsychologist and biologist was physically attacked and wounded, when on a sceptic’s  forum (the JREF) I saw someone post a horrific  comment praising the action, and hoping – well you get the drift. When people get so angry they say things like that, something is wrong.  Now let’s be fair – the comments were edited away, the JREF mods quickly acted as I would expect of them (I have come to know many of them through the forum as good people, and it is VERY well run usually) – but honestly, the couple of nutjobs who displayed real hatred scared me a bit.

Now every forum has nutjobs, and as recent experiments in social psychology has shown, attitudes harden rather than being softened in a group forum which faces outsiders posting contrary opinions.  In fact in the case of the JREF, the people who posted the material I found offensive were NOT regular forum types; my experience of sceptic forums is that people become far mellower and nicer over the years, ditto pretty much any forum, as they get used to the forum environment, and communicating on the interweb.

So I suspect that this latest piece of vandalism was just an aggrieved nutcase with a lot of faith, who KNEW this was pseudo-science, who therefore hit a spam button to stop this pernicious threat to their cosy FAITH go unseen by the eyes of poor gullible dupes like all of us. Such people just annoy the hell out of me — because they are not sceptics, they are simply bigots. Still I could be wrong – maybe there was some other reason for The Scotsman on Sunday being blocked – but somehow I doubt it.

It’s a sad,  sad world when people on either side of the great paranormal debate can’t even listen to one anothers opinions and try to formulate a rational critique 😦

cj x

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