Tuesday, December 29, 2009

In Search of.... Ghost Hunters

I really liked the TV program In Search of... as a kid in the 1970's, and so have enjoyed re-watching some of the old episodes and lovingly critiquing, with the benefit of 30 years of hindsight, some of the explanations proffered for the mysteries the show examined. Embedded below is a 10 minute segment from an episode about ghost hunters, titled "Ghostly Stakeout," which was first broadcast in February 1979.

The rash of "reality" TV shows about so-called ghost hunters that have aired in recent years all seem to focus on the use of modern technology by the "investigators," usually night vision cameras and powerful microphones. But back in the 1970s it seems, ghost hunters used their "psychic powers" instead. In this episode, the show's producers invite two self-proclaimed psychics to investigate two allegedly haunted houses in northern California. The two are identified by narrator Leonard Nimoy as Sylvia Browne and Nick Nocerino. "Practicing psychics for more than 20 years," Nimoy continues, "working in tandem on more than 200 ghost investigations."

Well, as it turns out, Sylvia Browne, who was born in 1936, is still a practicing psychic and spiritual medium to this day, more than 30 years later. She was born "Sylvia Shoemaker," but acquired the last name "Brown" from the third of her four husbands. She later added the "e" to make it "Browne" after the couple pled 'no contest' to charges of securities fraud in Northern California in 1992. It seems they peddled investments in a purported gold mining operation under false pretenses. The investors' money was instead transferred directly to her Nirvana Foundation For Psychic Research.

Before he died in 2004, Nick Nocerino was one of the world's foremost experts on crystal skulls. (Yes indeed, the very same crystal skulls that inspired last summer's Indiana Jones movie, all of which have been known to be man-made fakes for many years.) This 'expertise' goes unmentioned in this episode. He founded the Crystal Skull Society in 1955, and professed to believe that they were 'intricate computers' that could be be activated using light and sound, thereby revealing 'UFO activities.' He actually owned one of the crystal skulls, which he claimed to have found himself in Guatemala using 'psychic archaeology.' Perhaps surprisingly given his alleged beliefs in their supernatural powers, he nonetheless sold his own crystal skull in 1988.

You can see this pair of ghost hunters apply their psychic powers in the clip below. Watch as Nick, pipe firmly clenched in his teeth, "lays hands" on the outside of the first house, while Sylvia predicts solemnly that the ghost is of a former female occupant from the 1920s who had a "big chin" that she tried to hide with "a lot of rouge."

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