Friday, August 3, 2012

DESTINATION UNKNOWN



   I recently noticed a post on author and UFO researcher Whitley Streiber's Facebook page in which a woman commented about paranormal research being more style than substance now ( she just noticed this ), and I laughed at many of the proceeding comments regarding ghost hunts in skinny jeans and all manner of bling.  Most of these were true, though in defense many have moved away or have never even embraced the "heavy metal" look so popular with our fellow othersiders ( I'd never seen so many leather jackets, goatees and baseball caps than I did at one of the first paranormal lectures I attended ).

   When founding The SpiritChasers in 2006, part of our design was a direct response to this "style", to the cornucopia of paranormal television shows ( completely ridiculous and otherwise ) dominating our sets.  It was both a backlash against the sensationalism and an evolution of it.  Our program began as a mockumentary, then a spoof, then simply our own unique reflection of said reality shows where one of the earliest trends was shouting at the dead for a response.  This quickly progressed into certain teams engaging in bloodletting for the camera, as well as other dramatic and unnecessary acts such as setting fire to oneself, ghosthunting underwater, reenacting shootings and hangings, decorating ghosthunting tools with the aforementioned "bling", and perfectly-timed possessions.


   It was at first with joy, then disappointment, then utter shock and horror as I witnessed program after program deevolve from authentic research into the supernatural to attention-getting antics while utilizing ego-stroking slick equipment and rides, like Bill and Jo Harding's well-funded stormchasing competitors in the movie "Twister".  By 1978, I myself started out watching Leonard Nimoy's "In Search Of" ( I can still hear that eerie, exciting them song in my head ).  In 1980, I would religiously tune in to "Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World".  There were other programs and specials on the unexplained I would catch here and there ( "Unsolved Mysteries" had many thrilling segments ), until SyFy brought us "Sightings" in 1992, originally conceived and produced by Linda Moulton Howe.

   I met Linda in 2010 at the 41st Annual UFO Symposium in Denver, Colorado.  I met Whitley Streiber during his "Confirmation" book tour in 1999, also in Denver.  Both greatly impressed me as powerful keepers and conveyors of story.  As an Oglala Sioux, I come from a race of storytellers, and I sat enraptured by those Linda and Whitley shared at their respective lectures.  Both have also had their share of trouble.  Whitley lost some credibility after his reports of a UFO said to be following a meteor, after which the Heaven's Gate cult founder and 38 of his members committed suicide in order to board the supposed craft.  Linda was the victim of an ongoing disinformation campaign by Richard C. Doty, a former special agent of the US Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI).  She has also been accused of general naivety, as has Whitley, though it never changed the fact that both provided me with numerous materials which continue to stimulate and inspire my own research into the many X-Files of our time.  Researchers in sensitive fields will no doubt continue to be rotationally targeted by rational minds grasping to make patterns of reason out of a phenomena which playfully teases, goads and smirks while keeping its secrets just out of reach.  Just as several of the religions I've tried on over the years haven't all of the complete "truth", one might find a bit of God in each of them.

   The earliest books I can recall being absolutely absorbed with were not the Hardy Boys series or Calvin & Hobbes, they were authored by Ed & Lorraine Warren and Hans Holzer, three of the leading paranormal researchers of their day.  I found these books, strangely enough, in the occult section of my elementary school library.  I cannot convey with appropriate enormity how dearly I miss those old Scholastic Book Fairs of that period.  For those deprived of such a joy, once a year one of our elementary school teachers would pass out a flimsy paper color catalog of books for order.  I remember how difficult it was to choose those my parents would be willing to pay for as they were always generic ghost stories or UFO picture books, but they did, and some weeks later our books would arrive, to much rioting and commotion ( mostly from myself ).  My father would watch "In Search Of" with me then, and by middle school came "Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World", then not long after graduating from high school "Sightings" aired.  After another long wait I was finally rewarded with shows such as the Family Channel's "The Scariest Places On Earth" and MTV's "Fear" ( both of which I attempted to audition for ).  Soon after came the rest of the programs, which I would still watch, however embarrassing their methods, though eventually they would begin to give the paranormal pioneers of old a very bad name.

   By the fall of 2006, when I was working on invitations for a Halloween party James and I were hosting, I happened to have "Ghost Adventures" on in the background for atmosphere.  This actually turned out to be more distracting than anything, and I thought that the show was more of a comedy than a serious look into the great beyond.  James and I laughed through most of the program, then I must have turned the station three different times to find that each had their own paranormal show, all increasingly ridiculous.  Fed up, I decided I needed to film my own spoof of these shows, in the style of director Christopher Guest.  I could film a short 15 to 20 minute spot that I could burn to DVD and use as an invite to our party.  I worked on ideas late into the night, when the paid-programming infomercials began popping up.  After my initial irritation by these walking exclamation marks plugging their products, I was then inspired to incorporate these infomercials as well.  I created the "HSN ( Haunt Shopping Network )" for our commercial breaks, and James and I would serve as overenthusiastic hosts educating the public on ghosthunting equipment and supernatural phenomena.  I would make it appear very public-access / local programming and self-deprecating, but after filming footage of an actual ghosthunt at a theater from the 1920's, we experienced some authentic activity of our own.  Anxious to include some actual phenomena in our show, we settled on duality, light and dark, comedic and unsettling, and christened ourselves THE SPIRITCHASERS.  Due to the popularity of the show we released a new program every year thereafter, our evidence of the paranormal and our perception widening each time.

   My first ghost hunt actually occured at age 12, which earlier blogs here will detail, and I already had quite the library of the supernatural, plus dowsing rods, pendulums, microcassette recorders, night-vision cams and the like.  Then came the EMF detectors, digital voice recorders, "Frank's Box" became all the rage, as did lasers, K2 meters, IR cameras, giant batteries, static electricity generators, and more.  It was hard to keep up, as equipment cost money, and by then Craigslist and local business were chock full of adverts for ghost tours, house blessings, "Ghoul Schools" and lectures.  It appeared that everyone else had also decided to DIY, too, coming up with ridiculously abbreviated names for their paranormal investigation teams and establishing a hierarchy of team members ( we still chuckle about a team we met one Halloween at Cheesman Park who called themselves S.I.O.U.X., jokingly referring to the "X" as "Xanadu" ) .  No one paid us any mind as we were simply The SpiritChasers, the best of the names already having been spoken for, and it was only James and myself.  No one was going to take us very seriously in or out of this field with such a lampooning title anyway, so we just kept it.  I made flyers for our SpiritChasers premiers, but only felt most comfortable sharing our evidence with friends and family as a lot of the people we were bumping into were quite defensive and hoarding of their evidence and the locations they hunted.  We kept to ourselves and for the most part continue to do so, despite last years's SpiritChasers V premier at the Lon Chaney Theater, which was open to the public.



   A lot of the people we met were also making big bucks off their schools and "classes", organized hunts ( some of which were more like sitting through a strict relative's vacation slideshow ),  tours, conferences, DVDs and books of their travels through the Underworld, hotlines and "house cleansings".  We never made a buck for ourselves, never charged for any of our DVDs and presentations ( despite various offers ), wanting to stay pure, wanting to know that our interest lied in authentic research, not holiday cash cows.  That said, I do have friends and know many bright and moral people who do charge to compensate for materials and resources on their tours.  But, for James and I, it was simply a personal decision to not go into an investigation with distracting dollar signs in our heads or to have to concern ourselves with the energy and unpredictable behavior of large groups.  As such, only our closest friends and family have accompanied us on particular investigations.

 
   We never made it to Waverly Sanitorium ( the holy grail of the paranormal ), we simply made do with our own local haunts, of which there are several.  We never set up a website save for a Facebook page and my work here on Blogger.com.  We never got into Twitter.  We only got around to having the first of our business cards printed up last year out of a forced necessity after being asked for the upteenth time if we had a card.  And we never jockeyed for a spot in the local news media during Halloween as we had no interest in becoming media whores, seeing the harmful effect this had on the egos of other teams.


   We never began a podcast or radio program, which one can do on the internet with ease these days.  We never jumped on the information bandwagon, agreeing with the "top reseachers" in the field that orbs were nothing more than dust and then removed old photos of them from our page ( another trend sprung up when these "top researchers" began reporting HOT SPOTS, as opposed to the passe COLD ONES ).  Everyone is entitled to have their own experience and regardless have their own perception of reality.  If they truly felt that a fuzzy little globe on the upper right of their photo was a spirit, we would never take that away from them.  This, too, became a popular trend after the classes, radio shows and tours: policing other ghost hunting teams, debunking the work of others either out of boredom or perhaps inspiration by One Million Moms.  Suddenly teams right and left were being accused of fakery, as were the television shows ( some rightly so ), but for the record, we have NEVER altered any of our material, save for lightening some dark photographs, nothing has ever been photoshopped in any way.  We never had to.  Some would say many of our photographs may be too good to be believed, but those are the kinds of pictures you might get when you're not storming a paranormal hotspot with greedy teams towing miles of cable and suitcases full of distracting, expensive equipment behind you.



   This year, a slew of new supernatural programs have premiered with more airing in the fall, including the release of Paranormal Activity 4 in theaters this October.  Just when you think the fad is on its last leg, it gets kickstarted again.  The worries, concerns and general fear surrounding the doomsday scenarios of 2012 did a lot to reinvest public interest in the afterlife.  I thought things were coming to a close last year and then Paranormal Activity 3 turned out to be the biggest opening ever for a horror movie.  Also last year, after our premier of SpiritChasers V at the Lon Chaney fell somewhat flat without filling the theater, despite a presentation of our best evidence ever, I thought we were done.  But then a little nightbird instructed me not to give in and I sent our evidence to the producers of "My Ghost Story" and by the next year I had appeared before their cameras twice.


   Right now, a lot of reasearchers will continue to desperately send out resumes, evidence and letters of reference to the producers of any current paranormal reality program for their team's inclusion on such shows, or are still trying to snag one of their own.  We just got lucky.  Many have created apps.  Or, many will, like celebrities turning from stand-up to talk shows, turn to writing, either early on or in their autumn years.  These will consist of a how-to or general "Ghosts Of The Area I Live In" book ( no offense to authors whatsoever as I'm currently working on a book of my own ).  Regardless, after partaking of any or all of the aforementioned steps, a lot of people have jumped ship.  Some people have gone back to UFO hunting, some to cryptozoology.  Much of this has to do with many of the populace viewing this research as no more than a sordid business thanks to a lot of these highly sensational, dramatic and fear-based programs.  Has ghosthunting really become an embarrassingly passe hobby?  And were these the same questions that spiritualists were asking in the 1800's as their golden age of mediumship and ectoplasm-strewn seances were coming to a close?


   Despite everything, I still feel the same magnetic, encompassing pull I did in elementary school whenever I pass by any bookstore or library with an occult section.  I have even dreamed about books I'd yet to purchase.  In 2010 I had a dream about walking past a white steel spinning book rack stocked with informative DK titles in the children's section of an unknown store.  I found a book on ghost stories for young readers and happily exclaimed to James how I loved finding these books when it wasn't Halloween.  Then just last week, we were at a Barnes & Noble in the children's department looking for The Jungle Book.  Rounding a corner, I was immediately surprised to find the very same white spinning rack from my dream.  Perusing through its brightly-colored volumes with some degree of anticipation, I at last came upon the mysterious book of ghost stories I had dreamt about.  On our way to the counter, the book pressed close my heart, I had to smirk at the fact that the "New Age" section, which I would often make a beeline toward for occult materials, had made way for three large bookshelves worth of not just romance, or teen romance, but "Teen Paranormal Romance".  I shook my head in disbelief, pondering the relationships of the young with vampires, werewolves, zombies, warlocks and ghosts.  The archetypes they conveyed smiled back at me coyly as I glimpsed the larger picture, the reason why so many chose to embrace such characters at this point in our history, as each of these characters had access and held the secrets to the Underworld...


   I, like so many of you, grew up watching The Goonies, scrawling my own crude maps to treasures I thought certain I'd find.  I grew up wanting "Proton Packs", just waiting for the day all of this would become a reality.  I grew up watching Poltergeist, wishing I were Robbie, sitting in his spirit tree, then would sit enraptured as Dr. Lesh exclaimed, "Roll it back!", witnessing the parade of ghostly forms they had filmed walking down the Freeling's staircase.  I never would have thought that one day I would actually be investigating the former cemetery that movie was based upon, and that I would appear on national television speaking about my experiences there.  I wished these things into existence, because I yearned for them so very badly.


   I will always hold an interest in the unknown, long after those who are no longer making a buck off of it move on.  Long, long after their mugs disappear from my television set and their radio broadcasts fade to static.  The Great Mystery has always summoned me as much as I have summoned it, tempted me, teased me, seduced me with its inexplicable wares.  It remains a part of me, and a mystery I will continue to uncover no matter the television lineup, viral video, popular new ghosthunting device or technique.  I continue my work on SpiritChasers 6 for release this October at the very same haunted theater James and I first investigated.  I continue work on my first book of my dreamtime pursuits and adventures into the unknown.  I continue to believe, when no one else will, because "it" believes in me, with every image we take, every voice we capture, every chill that runs down our backs when the wind blows through the trees during "deadtime".  Every time Poltergeist comes up on cable and we drop what we are doing to watch Diane Freeling shriek after her kitchen chairs have rearranged themselves outside her field of vision.  That's when I remember what this is all about, the things that happen outside our field of vision, and how absolutely enthralling it is to chase after them.   I will still always yearn to sit next to Dr. Lesh on that nighttime couch as she explains in kind and comforting whispers that, "It's all the things that we don't understand..."

   I close this blog with the lyrics to a song a little nightbird informed me I had to download off iTunes earlier this week, one that sums up with perfection all my questions regarding our research into the paranormal as its golden age nears a close.  From "Destination Truth" to "Destination Unknown", this is a song by the Missing Persons.  Thank you for reading.

- Christopher Allen Brewer, August 2012



"Life is so strange when you don't know
How can you tell where you're going to
You can't be sure of any situation
Something could change and then you won't know

You ask yourself
Where do we go from here?
It seems so all too near
Just as far beyond as I can see
I still don't know what this all means to me

So you tell yourself
I have nowhere to go
I don't know what to do
And I don't even know the time of day
I guess, it doesn't matter any way

Life is so strange
Destination unknown
When you don't know
Your destination

Something could change
It's unknown
And then you won't know
Destination unknown

Life is so strange
Destination unknown
When you don't know
Your destination

Something could change
It's unknown
And then you won't know
Destination unknown

You ask yourself
When will my time come
Has it all been said and done?
I know, I'll leave when it's my time to go
'Til then I'll carry on with what I know

Life is so strange
Destination unknown
When you don't know
Your destination

Something could change
It's unknown
And then you won't know
Destination unknown

Life is so strange
Destination unknown
When you don't know
Your destination

Something could change
It's unknown
And then you won't know
Destination unknown

Life is so strange..."

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