I have a confession to make: I have had a lifelong interest in the supernatural. From an early age I wondered whether there is more than the corporeal world around us. Can some people commune with spirits? Do spirits exist?
I have no answers, but I do know there is something beyond our ken. The week in August when I was to turn 18, four friends and I drove to Colorado for a week of camping and goofing around. We spent one night on the way there in a campground beneath the stern gaze of the four presidential faces of Mount Rushmore. That was a Sunday night.
As my friends and I did whatever wannabe-hippy, livin’-off-the-land teenagers on the loose did the summer of 1973, unbeknownst to me, my family back home in Duluth mourned the death of my younger brother in a swimming accident that same Sunday afternoon. Also unbeknownst to me, my family had notified the police to be on the lookout for me and my friends so I could be told of Michael’s death.
We made it to Colorado without police intervention. A week later, after a great time was had by all, I was the first one dropped off when we returned. As I walked up my front steps, I noticed cards posted in the large picture window at the front of my house. Certainly not birthday cards for me, I remember saying to my friends. The only other thing I remember thinking as I made my way up the stairs was how good a hot bath would feel.
But as soon as I opened the front door, I was hit by an intense wave of sadness and knew something terrible had happened. It was so intense — a psychic pummeling as strong as a punch in the gut — that I hesitated at the door to try to understand. I could tell the house was empty of people, but they had left their feelings behind, and they were the saddest feelings in the world. I can’t remember whether I started crying. I think I did.
My mind raced for an answer to what could have happened and quickly settled on the idea that my grandfather with a bad ticker had died. That was the only thing that made any sense.
Once I finally entered the living room, I refused to go to the window to look at the cards. I don’t remember what I did or how long it was before the lady from across the street came over to tell me that my brother had died and that his funeral was being held at that very moment. They tried to find me, she said. I told her I had to take a bath.
My point here is that when I opened the door to my house and was washed in that wave of emotion, I count that as a psychic experience. It was as if emotion had been turned into raw energy just waiting to zap the first person who opened the door. I immediately knew something terrible had happened, that, in fact, someone had died. I didn’t know who, but I knew.
My mind immediately went to the person who was closest to death because of his heart troubles. I never would have thought it was my beloved brother, who at 11 was already gaining notoriety as a hockey player, baseball player and A student. He seemed destined for greatness. And then he was gone.
All that remained was the deep, elemental sadness of his departure.
Nine months later, I left this country for England, working my passage to Liverpool on a Norwegian tanker. My Catholic mother, meanwhile, began attending a Spiritualist church, I guess in the hope of connecting with my brother.
Her involvement compelled me to investigate the history of Spiritualism. Capital “S” Spiritualism has a very short history, dating back only to about the mid-1800s, in upstate New York, (weirdly, also home to a couple of other isms — Mormonism and Millerism).
It was March 1848 when the three Fox sisters of Hydesville, New York, began communicating with spirits. Years later, one of them admitted they were only pulling pranks on their gullible mother by cracking their toes in response to her raps on the walls to communicate with spirits.
Of that sort of Spiritualism, I tip the proverbial cap to Harry Houdini, who, as the foremost student of the subject, concluded that “everything that I have investigated has been the result of deluded brains or those which were too actively and intensely willing to believe.” He does not even mention the many charlatans he uncovered during his investigations.
I do believe there are arguments to be made for small “s” spiritualism, or spiritualism without dogma, something that is beyond the scope of our visible, corporeal world.
So all of that leads up to this: There is an interesting history of Spiritualism in Door County that includes a Spiritualist church founded in the mid-1800s that continues to operate to this day, and the former Door County Board supervisor and state assemblyman who belonged to the Spiritualist church and admitted that some of his legislation was inspired by spirits.
We thought, why not fold this subject into a fall issue with local ghost stories, haunted campgrounds and all the possibilities of something beyond?
Have a fun fall!