Thursday, July 7, 2011

Whhoooooo, Scary!

Just in case you haven’t heard, the 175-year-old Missouri State Penitentiary is haunted!!!

Yeah! That’s what some people are saying. Just think of all the spooks that must inhabit those cold stone walls—all the unhappy deaths that happened there! When we took the tour of the prison, the guide pointed out that in the early years, no medical treatment was given to prisoners. And they were extremely overcrowded.

Sentences, even for horrible crimes, weren’t very long, since five years in the pen would usually kill a man. In addition to the dangers involved with hard labor, cholera and influenza swept through the prison population, and the dead were simply poked into the ground—who knows where? They think that a lot of these unmarked graves are in what became the prison baseball field, which is now an asphalt parking lot.

Plus, as I mentioned in my earlier post on the MSP, this prison was called “the bloodiest forty-seven acres in America,” due to the high incidence of violent crimes, which all-too-often took place in the antiquated halls that simply weren’t built for surveillance by security cameras.

Ghosts, the way the scenario typically goes, seem to be the souls of people who were deeply troubled in life, addicted, vengeful, or otherwise far too attached to something on this “plane” to fly off to wherever it is spooks are supposed to fly off to.

I guess that upon death, we’re all supposed to go directly to heaven or hell, right? (Does anyone believe in purgatory anymore? Can one’s survivors still buy his way out of purgatory?)

Honestly, I’m not quite sure how the notions of ghosts and spirits mesh with the various flavors of Christianity. I doubt many Christians are quite sure on this, either; aren’t you supposed to go to heaven or hell, and that’s it? Doesn’t the “ghost” stuff pretty much conflict with orthodox or traditional beliefs?

The idea of ghosts fits better in unorthodox or heterodox camps, including New Age spirituality (or whatever the current term for it is—a few years ago a friend told me that “New Age” isn’t “used” anymore; there’s a new label they’ve adopted—but sensing my skepticism, she stubbornly refused to tell me what it is, doggone it). In this thinking, earthbound spirits are explained in terms of the souls of dead people who haven’t yet “gone up to the light,” to get debriefed and wizened up, before being reincarnated back to earth for the next “soul lesson.”

Here’s an example. About twenty years ago, I attended a lecture (and demonstration!) by Edith Fiore, author of You Have Been Here Before and The Unquiet Dead. The latter volume is subtitled A Psychologist Treats Spirit Possession, and it had just been released when I saw her in about 1988. She called her work “clinical depossession,” but Dr. Fiore’s angle was not to wave crucifixes around and create a huge, distasteful, green-vomit spewing scene.

Instead, her work resembled multiple-personality “therapy,” which began like common hypnosis, only instead of speaking with the different “subpersonalities” of her client, she, as therapist, initiated conversations with any disembodied souls that had gotten “attached” to the soul of the poor cuss seated in the chair before her. In the course of these conversations, she sought to convince the disembodied spirits that they were in fact dead, and then to convince them to “go up to the light,” which is the New Age (or whatever it’s called now) version of “heaven.”

She was careful to distinguish between her work—which sought to free the souls of confused deceased persons so they could enter their true reward—from the exorcism of evil demons, which she considered beyond her range of expertise.

Do you believe all this stuff? Do you believe in ghosts? And how does that fit in with your other beliefs—with what is said in the Bible (or whatever your sacred text is) or with the instruction of your pastor, guru, or other spiritual advisor?

And if there is something ghostly going on, how do we “know” what we’ve seen is a ghost? Couldn’t it just as easily be a demonic spirit tricking us, or an angelic spirit (whose message simply isn’t getting across because we’re so frightened), or a leprechaun, or a space alien, or a manifestation of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or someone from the future? Or a deity?

And how is it that ghosts can appear or not appear; make sounds sometimes and at others be silent; walk through solid walls, then later have enough physical presence to cause real things to move or crash to the floor? I mean, are ghosts physical, or not? Why do folks only see them at night? Why are ghosts so bad at hiding from us, that we can supposedly see them anyway? Or, if they wanted to be seen, then why don’t they just show themselves to us all, and be done with it? Why be so mysterious about it? Why do those TV shows about ghosts only get filmed in the dark, when cameras function best in the light?

If ghosts are so common, then why hasn’t there ever been any irrefutable evidence of their existence? Why can’t we weigh, measure, count, film, touch them empirically? If they’re trapped in certain houses, why can’t we also trap them in a box for study?

And without bona fide empirical evidence, how can we be so sure they exist and are not a product of our excited imaginations? How can we defend a belief in ghosts and yet dismiss other cultures’ disembodied spirit-beings as primitive, superstitious nonsense? All the evidence ever seems to amount to is vague, inconclusive images and personal, anecdotal, experiences. And, as one scientist recently pointed out, the plural of anecdote is not data.

I know I am much more inclined to believe in ghosts after I’ve seen a horror movie!

Thankfully, that wears off.

Anyway, the big news around here in Jeff City is that the old prison is haunted, and this, I assume, will be a boon for local tourism!

Already, there are YouTube videos being posted of suspicious, unexplained phenomena at MSP—one, for example, shows a fuzzy whitish “visual anomoly” drifting downward near the “gaurd tower.” Another records indistinct noises near the gas chamber that are identified for the viewer as “unidentified Native American man singing with drums.” My interpretation of the latter is that someone in the hood was booming his stereo, and that the stone walls of the prison were functioning as an amphitheater.

Honestly—and all snarkiness aside—if there are ghosts, then the MSP should be a good place to try looking for them, to try to detect patterns, to collect statistically significant data.

And if you’re interested in paranormal investigation, then you’re in luck! There are getting to be more and more opportunities!

The Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau has been holding “ghost tours” of the old prison, including “Two-Hour Twilight Ghost Tours” and even some “Overnight Paranormal Investigations” that begin at 9 pm! They will also provide customized tours for you, I believe. So grab your night-vision cameras and proton packs—and skip the sleeping bags!

And if you lack the courage (or inclination) to go on one of these ghost hunts yourself, you can stay tuned to the “reality” TV series Ghost Hunters, which recently filmed an episode at the penitentiary. After spending, like, twenty-four hours in town, they’re sure to have gotten to the very bottom of it . . . right?


(Needless to say, no ghosts were harmed, or even irritated, in the writing of this post. Thanks to Sue for sharing some of her nifty, glowy Lomographic photos. All the silly blurry ones are, of course, mine.)


Sam said...

I do believe in ghosts. :-) I believe that they are hangers-onners from our mortal coil.

Julianna Schroeder said...

Well, I believe that haunted this-and-that and ghost tours arre currently popular ways of drawing in tourist dollars. And the MSP needs all the funding it can get to help keep it from deteriorating further. Personally, however, I'm satisfied enough to appreciate the real physical aspects of the place and the history they embody.