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  • Hauntings and Technology: the Teflon Effect January 19, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Actualite, Contemporary, Modern , trackback

    Not a month ago Beachcombing reflected on the strange way that Roman ghosts are a modern invention and the way too that there are apparently fashions in which historical periods haunt and which do not. Beach thought that today he would reflect, instead, on a different but surely related phenomenon, the apparent allergy that new technologies have for the spirit world.

    Take this 1880 article about ghosts:

    It used to be a common thing for sailors to refuse to go to sea on a Friday. We hear nothing of this in these steamboat days. Steam has made every day alike. Steam has been a great changer, and in the matter of popular superstitions it has proved the great reformer. Wherever steamboats and steam-engines appear superstitions disappear, ghosts, fairies, witches are speedily forgotten. Who ever heard of a ghost in a railway station, or of a bewitched cattle truck, or of a haunted saloon carriage. The thing is impossible. The most expert seer could not find a ghost in a first-class waiting-room – could not even imagine such a thing

    This was probably not true even in its day. After all, Dickens had written The Signal Man, the most famous railway ghost story of all, in 1866, fourteen years before this. And today railway ghosts are two to a penny: Beachcombing finds 170 at the paranormal database. But it is probably true that new technology has, at least at first, a sort of Teflon effect with such legends: tales of haunting just don’t stick for the first generation.

    Now it seems it’s the turn of airfields. Penne sends in this extraordinary collection of airfields haunting (from which the photograph above is stolen). Lots of good stuff including non-existent native American cemeteries under Denver airport:

    ‘The rumor may have started, says the site, when the airport’s public art program began playing Native American chants on a continuous audio loop near the pedestrian bridge linking Concourse A and the Jeppesen Terminal building.’

    And there is at least one Battle of Britain fighter-pilot ghost.

    So what’s next up for a visit from the spirit world? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com Beachcombing’s money is on internet cafés and call centres…


    21 Jan 2011: First up is Invisible who has reflection upon reflection on this. ‘It is a little odd that while there are accounts of phantom trains, planes, and automobiles, there does not seem to be an increase in ‘tech hauntings’: haunted computers, Blackberries, video games, or I-phones although there do seem to be a fair number of reports of haunted radios. See, for example, news.stv.tv and paranormaldatabase.  (And if you want phantom fighter pilots and planes, see Bruce Halpenny’s “Ghost Stations” series.) There are few reports of haunted computers (The Vertical Plane case where Ken Webster supposedly had a 16th-century gentleman communicating through his word-processor is one case that springs to mind.) Despite the scene in the movie Poltergeist, TVs rarely figure in ghost stories. I have heard a number of anecdotes about TVs turning on and off by themselves and mysteriously switching channels—often interpreted as ghostly activity, but more likely to be the result of a neighbor’s garage door opener being on the same frequency as the remote. But for the most part ghosts seem to favor more low-tech gadgets: the tape recorder for collecting Electronic Voice Phenomenon, the digital cameras to snap photos of orbs, and the ubiquitous EMF detectors of the ghost hunters with which the country seems overrun. I’m not sure why these items are so popular since there is no manual with which to calibrate said ‘ghost detectors’—no table that says, ‘if you get a reading of .7501, it means there is a ghost.” instead of, say, old furnace ductwork in the walls. If you look at the items in the average ghost hunter’s kit, they would not differ much from the stopwatches, thermometers, and cameras of the 1950s Ghost Club. One wonders if this means that ghosts are inherently conservative late adopters… What’s the latest trend in the spirit world? One thing I’ve noticed recently is a ghost hunting ‘protocol’ where one sets up a flashlight and commands any spirits present to turn it on and off. (The electrical version of ‘rap once for yes; twice for no’ of the séance room?) While headless ghosts and phantom cavaliers are completely passé, unfortunately ‘demons’ and ‘dark entities’ seem to be the newest fad with the title ‘Demonologist’ replacing the term ‘ghost hunter’ or ‘parapsychologist’. One can’t just have a harmless ghost; it has to be an Evil Spirit in a House of Horror where a Portal to the World Beyond has attracted a Vortex of Malevolent Entities. I blame the Evangelicals. That and all the loose apocalyptic talk that has been going around.’ Stella writes: Telemarketers calling from beyond the grave to try to sell people obsolete products or ask them whether they plan to vote for Roosevelt or Hoover certainly have excellent urban legend potential.  I predict that the psychically inclined will soon be able to contact the dead on their iPhones.  Who knows, there might even be a ouija board app.’ Mccp writes, meanwhile: This isn’t about ghosts, per se, but the Denver (Colorado) International Airport is the strangest in the world. It features a mural by Leo Tanguma that depicts an apocalypse, a sculpture of a demonic horse with red eyes that light up, and gargoyles. It is a frightening place, more like one of those Asian theme parks that depict Buddhist Hell than an airport. No one has ever explained the odd decoration scheme. The DIA is cited in many places on the Net. Then Tony has this to say: the Tiger tank  captured in Tunisia 1943 , and now restored to running condition at the Bovington Tank Museum (Wool, Dorset) is supposedly associated with the ghost of Herman the German,  who is sometimes seen in the buildings . I heard tell of him as a schoolboy in about 1964.’ Thanks Tony, Invisible, MCCP and Stella!