May 7th 2009
From The Economist print edition
Hans Holzer, ghost hunter, died on April 26th, aged 89
AS FAR as Hans Holzer was concerned, his Uncle Henry had started it. Uncle Henry, despite his humdrum life as a Viennese shop assistant, was a very strange man, who could feel “imprints” from the past in his 18th-century bed, and who taught his young nephew to say good morning to the fairies in the trees. After he had passed over he did his damnedest, via a British medium, to keep in touch with Hans, who had emigrated to New York. This ran up a fortune in transatlantic telephone bills. “Tell him the dog’s name was Rigo,” cried Uncle Henry, faintly and through static from the Other Side, when he thought his bona fides were doubted.
At four, Hans found himself pretending to read ghost stories in nursery class to a circle of terrified small friends. At 43, with a doctorate in parapsychology (so he said) and dozens of investigations under his belt, he produced “Ghost Hunter”, the first of around 140 books on haunted houses, “beings of light”, extrasensory perception and hair-raising subjects generally. American television snapped him up. His calm, intense look, his deliberate walk and his soft Austrian accent were somehow both scary and reassuring, just right for footage of night windows banging and curtains inexplicably blowing.
Mr Holzer was keen to tell Americans that ghosts were nothing to be frightened of. Though proud to be the country’s premier ghost hunter, a term he had coined himself, he preferred to be called “Doctor” or, better still, “Professor”, and thought of as a scientist. He dealt only in facts, he said, elicited from witnesses whom he interviewed repeatedly to be sure they were not crazy. It was not a matter of belief or disbelief, but of hard evidence, even if it had a shimmery and ectoplasmic look.
Burying Aunt Minnie
Ghosts, he explained, were perfectly natural. They were simply human beings who were not aware they were dead. They had shed their outer bodies but not their more sensitive inner ones, in which they walked about much as before. They were either in emotional turmoil, trapped between the worlds of “here” and “there” and throwing vases to get attention, or they were placid “stay-behinds”, who had died so peacefully that they never bothered to leave the place they knew. That explained, said Mr Holzer, how a grieving family could bury Aunt Minnie at midday, and find her still sitting in her chair at three o’clock.
He seldom saw ghosts himself, though in his 40s he felt his shining, nightgowned mother push his head back on the pillow to save him from a migraine. But he found that a high-speed Polaroid camera could catch them, and that skilled mediums, sometimes young women trained by himself on his own “doctor’s” couch (for ghosts were not all he chased), could channel their conversations. This was the only equipment he took to haunted houses. There, making himself comfortable, he would ask the ghost to explain his or her problems and then encourage it to leave for the spirit world. “She’s free to go,” he instructed his medium to tell Margaret Hatton, a young woman from 1843 still trapped in a house in Port Clyde, Maine, where she was worrying about tallow for the lamps and the empty root cellar. “To Kennebunk?” came the ghost’s eager response.
His most famous investigation was not his most successful. In January 1977, in company with Ethel Johnson Meyers, he went round 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, Long Island. The house, cold, empty and boarded up, was a wooden Dutch Colonial at the edge of the water. Three years before a young man had murdered his parents and siblings, one by one, in their beds. Since then, sounds of doors slamming and bands playing had been heard there. Swarms of flies infested the place. Green slime oozed from the hall walls, crucifixes rotated and a child with red glowing eyes was seen at the top of the stairs. Mr Holzer, ever the scientist, dismissed most of that. The solution to the “Amityville Horror”, as Hollywood soon called it, was simple demonic possession by an Indian chief, who was channelled by Ms Meyers. Hollywood, with whom Mr Holzer had rather tense relations, promptly made a sequel, “Amityville II: The Possession”. The Amityville Historical Society, however, could not find any link between the house and Indians, annoyed or otherwise.
Mr Holzer never knew whether his attempts to nudge ghosts to the Other Side (another of his coinings) were successful, or not. He did not make it sound particularly enticing. No angels, he said confidently, and no “fellows in red underwear with pitchforks” either. Disappointingly, the whole place was much like here, but with no sense of time and with everything “strung out further” in the thinner atmosphere. Even more disappointingly, it was run by a giant and orderly bureaucracy, in which spirits had to ask permission and list their motives if they wished to contact mediums and had to stand in line, waiting for a clerk to find suitable parents, in order to be born again. “They” used the word “clerk”, he said. And “they” had also instructed him to tell the world the truth about ghosts. They would be irritated if he failed, and would put him down for further education.
No funeral arrangements were announced for Mr Holzer. He did not intend, however, to stick around
注1. Imprints：汉斯宣称 75~80%的“见鬼”见到的都不是鬼，只是过去的能量留下的印迹，就像看到了过去拍的电影。
注2. Ectoplasm：灵的外质（据说是灵媒在降神的恍惚状态中发出的一种黏性体外物质） ECD 2