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A History of Ghosts: The True Story of…

A History of Ghosts: The True Story of Séances, Mediums, Ghosts, and…

by Peter H. Aykroyd, Angela Narth

Other authors: Dan Aykroyd (Foreword)

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A history of ghosts : the true story of séances, mediums, ghosts, and ghostbusters by Peter Aykroyd was part of my local library's Halloween exhibit. I saw that the forward was written by Dan Aykroyd. Although I'm more of a fan of the 'Real Ghostbusters' cartoon series than the movies it was based on, that was enough for me to check the book out.

It was very interesting to learn that Dan Aykroyd was inspired to do the 'Ghostbusters' movie because his great-grandfather, Dr. Samuel A. Aykroyd, DDS [Doctor of Dental Surgery], was interested in Spiritualism. He not only attended séances elsewhere, he held them regularly in his home. His children and grandchildren got to participate. The author started before he was ten.

Mr. Peter Aykroyd is sympathetic on the subject. I wouldn't go so far as to say he uncritically accepts the claims of 19th century mediums, but don't expect him to follow Wikipedia's practice of referring to many of them as proven frauds.

While I had read about some of the 19th century mediums that appear in this book, many were new to me. 20th Century mediums and even contemporary ones are included. We also get to learn about psychic healers and Kardecism, which is the Spiritism of Brazil. Nor are researchers, especially those from Great Britain's Society for Psychical Research (SPR) and the American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR), neglected. Even debunkers, such as Harry Houdini, are included.

Also covered in this book:

electronic Voice Phenomenon
superclarity of the senses (of which 'clairvoyance' is likely to be the most familiar)
automatic writing
direct voice mediumship
heteroglossolalia (which is the kind featured in chapter two of the Bible's 'Acts of the Apostles')
spirit photography
thought forms
Kirlian photography
automatic painting
precipitated painting
slate writing
table tipping
the Philip Experiment
group-witnessed visions
Blessed Virgin Mary apparitions
séance apparitions

There's a chapter on the séance as performance, which includes a section from Dan Aykroyd on the genesis of the original 'Ghostbusters' film. His brother, Peter J. Aykroyd, writes about his experience with the TV show 'PSI Factor'.

Throw in some interesting photographs, comments, endnotes, and boxes containing tidbits sprinkled throughout (my favorite is the one on how to make your own ectoplasm just as the fake mediums did -- see chapter one), and you've got a nice introduction into part of what's considered the paranormal.

As a bonus, the writing is in a casual style, as if the author were chatting to his readers. I definitely recommend this book to persons who want to know more about spiritualism. Skeptics might get annoyed that the author is not more skeptical. ( )
  JalenV | Nov 9, 2018 |
In 1984, Ghostbusters, written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, was released. It became one of the biggest movie earners ever. What most don't know, though, is that the idea for the script grew out of the Aykroyd family's long history with spiritualism and psychic phenomena. Now Dan's father, Peter Aykroyd, has published A History of Ghosts, interweaving a brief history of spiritualism with his own family's personal experiences beginning with Dr. Samuel Aykroyd, Peter's grandfather.

Dr A, as he's called throughout the book, spent many years hosting seances and other spiritualist events in his home, financially supported a local medium, and conducted attempts at scientific study of spiritualist and what are now known as psychic phenomena. Peter's father, and later Peter himself, were raised in this environment and got a first-hand look at a fascinating period in the history of religious and spiritual experience. When cleaning out the old farmhouse on the family property, Peter came across Dr A.'s journals, which formed the basis for this book.

A History of Ghosts is interesting as family history. It's clear that Dr A. was quite an individual with a scientific bent yet a desire to believe in something more. Interwoven with more personal family stories is a brief introduction to spiritualism and many of the major mediums and investigators through the early 20th century until more modern times. It's almost as if there were two books here, one a family memoir and the other a mediocre history.

Aykroyd clearly and openly believes in spiritualism and its conclusion on life after death and communication with those who have died. And he's also pretty trusting when it comes to evaluating the reality of phenomena he studies. Time and again he gives favorable attention to a medium or psychic, only to relate how this person was caught cheating. In fairness, he's not trying to play down the fraudulent aspects of spiritualists or how researchers over the years were fooled. And yet he still believes that many of these with supposed abilities did indeed start with honest abilities and turned to trickery as society demanded more and more from them or as they found they could seriously profit from their hoaxes. And even when he's describing a current-day reading from a medium, he glosses over the obvious cold reading going on and finds a hint of meaning in the words of the psychic. While he is pretty trusting about all this, I didn't get the sense that he was trying to hide material critical to those he's discussing. This isn't some schlock book about Atlantis or anything like that. He has honest intentions, but is a believer and comes at his subject from that angle.

Is the book worth reading? Yes, if nothing else than for the personal history involved. As far as the broader discussion, it's at a level present in books like Mary Roach's Spook. As long as one factors in the personal bias toward belief, it's a pretty interesting discussion. ( )
5 vote drneutron | Dec 5, 2009 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Peter H. Aykroydprimary authorall editionscalculated
Narth, Angelamain authorall editionsconfirmed
Aykroyd, DanForewordsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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This book is dedicated to my grandfather, Samuel Augustus Aykroyd, DDS (1855-1933), pioneer, dentist, philosopher, ethical humanist, and foot soldier in the Spiritualist movement.
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The sights and sounds of that childhood scene came tumbling back to me one mild winter afternoon more than 50 years later.
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Peter Aykroyd spent his childhood watching his family's parlor séances through the crack of a basement door. Here, for the first time, Aykroyd tells the strange and delightful story that inspired his son, Dan, to make the mega-hit, Ghostbusters. Part history, part family legend, A History of Ghosts starts in 1848 in upstate New York, where the spiritualist craze first began. Aykroyd introduces the reader to notable mediums while telling the story of the development of spiritualism, interweaving a personal history marked by a fascination with ghosts and spirits with the larger narrative about the role the paranormal has played in our culture. Such legendary figures as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini appear and vanish.
Everyone loves a good ghost story. Successful TV shows such as Medium and Ghost Hunters are proof that our national obsession with ghosts is here to stay. Millions of Americans believe in the paranormal―and even skeptics have heard a bump in the night and suspected it might be something supernatural.
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Introduces the reader to notable mediums while telling the story of the development of spiritualism, interweaving the author's personal history--which includes the inspiration for his son's film Ghostbusters--with a larger narrative about the role the paranormal has played in American culture.… (more)

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