November is Conspiracy Month at Tea’s Weird Week. Shit is about to get real weird, real fast.
Last month I did a column titled “9 Music Conspiracies and Urban Legends,” where I wrote about some classics like Paul McCartney being dead, Elvis (and Tupac) being alive, the 27 Club, and more. There were some stories that didn’t make round one, so I thought I’d start “Conspiracy Month” with a sequel column. To preserve this list, I’m picking up numbering where I left off with number 10.
(10.) Ace of Base is Secretly a Nazi Band
I laughed when I heard this one. There’s no way the Swedish sugary pop of Ace of Base, omnipresent in the 90s, could be some white power message in disguise, right? But as it turns out, there’s a spot of truth in here.
It comes down to one of the band members, Ulf Ekberg, being in a band called Commit Suiside, a Gothenburg white power band that was around from 1983-86. Vice wrote a story on it here: https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/rm35nr/ace-of-bases-secret-nazi-past
Ekberg has tried to spin his involvement, saying he wasn’t part of recordings where extremely racist lyrics were recorded but he also expressed this:
“I told everyone I really regret what I did. I’ve closed that book. I don’t want to even talk about it, that time does not exist in me any more. I closed it and I threw the book away in 1987. I took the experience from it, I learned from it. But that life is not me. It’s somebody else.”
Did Ekberg’s Ace bandmates see “the sign” of this troubled past before they hired him to the Base? That’s unknown.
(11.) A Couple Things About Marilyn Manson
I heard both of these urban legends while in high school (or shortly after). I don’t have time right now, but I’d love to look into how urban legends like this spread before the Internet. Radio shows? Written publications? Just a whisper campaign that spread across the country? Because these didn’t originate in the halls of my high school. Anyway, the first Marilyn Manson myth is that he is actually the child actor who played the character of Paul Pfeiffer on the 80s sitcom The Wonder Years. Paul was main character Kevin (Fred Savage)’s geeky sidekick. The actor was actually Josh Saviano, not Brian Warner (aka Marilyn Manson).
The other myth was that Marilyn Manson had removed one of his bottom ribs so that he could enjoy auto-fellatio. There are also myths that Cher and several other celebrities have gotten ribs removed to have a slimmer waist. Snopes wrote about it here: https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/getting-waisted/
(12.) Backmasking Satanic Panic
This is another one I heard in high school and was quite intrigued with. Certain records are said to have secret messages if you play the record backward. A classic example being The Beatles song “Revolution #9,” which if played backward is supposed to say “turn me on, dead man.”
In the great moral Satanic Panic of the 1980s and early 90s, the hand of Satan was seen everywhere– Dungeons & Dragons, comic books, and especially heavy metal. Hidden Satanic messages heard in rock and heavy metal were prolific. (Some bands later did put these hidden messages in, inspired by the hype). Led Zepplin was said to have an ode to Satan in “Stairway to Heaven” while the Judas Priest song “Better By You, Better Than Me,” was said to inspire suicide attempts. “You know Satan holds the keys to the lock,” is heard when you play the Cheap Trick song “Gonna Raise Hell” backward and “See you in hell!” is heard in the Grim Reaper song “Final Scream.”
As I mentioned, some later examples were probably added deliberately by bands after backmasking was established as a thing. Pareidolia is the wonderful thing where your brain sees faces, shapes, and items in woodgrains, architecture, pictures of fog, etc. It’s what’s happening when a lot of people think they have a picture of a ghost or a Bigfoot lurking in the woods. I’m not sure what the audio equivalent is, but I think that’s what’s going on with some of these.
VH1 has some clips of backmasking you can listen to here: http://www.vh1.com/news/52612/15-songs-satanic-backwards-messages/
(13.) The Killer Jerry Lee Lewis
Was Jerry Lee Lewis, nicknamed the Killer (for his throttling of the piano) actually guilty of murder? Lewis has been married seven times (so far). He had a famous controversy when he married his third wife, who was his 13-year-old first cousin, once removed in 1957. His 5th wife, Shawn Stephens, was found dead under mysterious circumstances in 1983. The couple had been married just 77 days.
It looked like there was blood underneath Shawn’s fingernails, bruises on her body, and there were scrapes on Lewis’s hands. There was blood all around the house. Shawn had called her mom the night before saying she wanted to leave Lewis, but he wouldn’t let her. Lewis was abusing alcohol and speed. Despite all of the pieces of evidence, Shawn’s death was dismissed as “an accident.” Did The Killer get away with murder? Tea’s Weird Week is not a court of law, but it looks likely.
For more, including how local law enforcement probably helped the case go away, I recommend listening to the Disgraceland podcast episode titled “Jerry Lee Lewis: The Killer and Getting Away with Murder.” It talks about other Jerry Lee Lewis myths including tales that he sold his soul, was a vampire that fought in the Civil War, and the time he drove his car into Graceland’s gates, trying to assassinate Elvis.
(14.) The Andrew W.K. Factory
I mentioned this in the last column I wrote when I mentioned celebrities being replaced by doppelgangers, but wanted to explore a bit further. The Andrew W.K. conspiracy alleges that Andrew is not a singular person, but a sort of Mall Santa persona that is franchised out to play different shows.
Her’es Andrew addressing his frustration with the conspiracy in a Sept. 2017 interview with Ashley Naftule of the Phoenix New Times:
This idea that I don’t exist … I really don’t know what to think of it. There are times where I’ve gotten really angry about it, where I’ve been really frustrated by it, and there are times where I just wish I could control what other people think of me. But there’s nothing I can do to control what other people think. There are other times where I think I can control that perception if I work really hard, but then I see other performers have similar accusations that there are multiple versions of them too …
It’s just this archetypal myth that people go through with all sorts of people. But it does seem to be specifically about music figures. I’ve never heard anyone say there’s more than one Michael Jordan. But with Paul McCartney and Avril Lavigne or Taylor Swift or me – I don’t know why that is. Nobody says, “Oh, there’s more than one Bradley Cooper.”
He’s right, though I can think of a couple non-musician doppelganger conspiracies. As I mentioned in my last column, See You On The Other Side did a doppelganger episode (“Avril is Dead“) where they addressed the conspiracy that the Ultimate Warrior was replaced by the WWF. There’s also a theory that a sick Hillary Clinton was replaced by longtime Hillary impersonator Teresa Barnswell.
Anyway, it is my belief that there is only one Andrew W.K. out there– no one else can party that hard.
(15.) The Curse of Jelly Roll Morton
I read this classic story in a comic by Robert Crumb, “The Voodoo Curse of Jelly Roll Morton,” originally published in Raw vol.1 no.7 in 1985. I read it in The Complete Crumb Comics Vol.16 (2002). The comic was based on an interview jazz great “Jelly Roll” Morton gave in 1938. Morton attributed his success to using hoodoo in New Orleans, but also told about how the hoodoo boomeranged back to him in Brooklyn when a co-worker in the music industry cursed him.
As business began to decline, Morton suspected a curse and found a mysterious powder hidden under the rug near the entryway of his office. He saw a mystic Madame Elise who told him to take a bath with some special oils and to burn all his clothes in a bonfire. But he continued to lose work and felt he never broke the curse.
#ClownWatch2019: September, 25, 2019: Fort Madison, Iowa: Continuing reporting on frightening clown sightings, police gave chase in Fort Madison back on September 25 after receiving a report of a “menacing clown.” The clown jumped a fence and escaped capture.
October 29, 2019: Not a clown mask, but worth mentioning. Today reports on an Indiana man, Evan Zimmerman, who likes to dress as Mike Meyers from Halloween and sneak onto people’s property:
“I’ll stand in random people’s yards and look at them through the window until they notice me standing there,” Evan revealed. “I carry a fake butcher knife.”
Evan, I’m not sure you thought this hobby through.
Next week: I’ll be on the road and reporting from a…uh…very interesting location.
Today is the best holiday, Halloween (a snowy one here in Wisconsin) and I was trying to think of something appropriately eerie. This is “Tea’s Weird Week” after all. Then I thought about ghost tour season ending (but not really– I’m doing tours tonight, tomorrow, and Saturday and then a “Ghost of Christmas Past” tour in later November and December) and decided to reflect on being a tour guide for Milwaukee Ghost Walks. I’ve been running tours since June and here’s some of my favorite tour memories this year. Thanks to everyone who has joined me!
-The first stop on the tour includes a story of a ghostly antique telephone ringing. I’m explaining the bells, when a guy cruises by on his bike and rings his bike bell. Really well placed sound effect!
-Another well-timed effect– at a stop by the river, I talk about Lake Monster sightings from 1890. I was telling this story one night, there had been a lot of rain so the river was moving quickly. I’m telling this story and everyone is laughing and pointing at the river. I turn around and there’s a big, monster shaped log cruising down the river. “Looks like we found it!” I told the group.
-Speaking of, that story also mentions a local newspaper ad from a saloon that offers a reward for the capture of the Lake Monster so they can serve it as a lunch special. That led to the most interesting question I got this year from someone on the tour: “What does a Lake Monster taste like?” I told her I did not have the answer.
-It was really fun to take two of my tour groups to the Under One Moon Fest in Catalano Square in August, celebrating the Apollo 11 mission. A giant replica moon hung over the square and we stopped for a few minutes to take pictures and enjoy some great music from Nineteen Thirteen.
-I always love hearing the noise people make when I tell a gruesome bit of a story, ha ha.
-My friends show up once in a while to take the tour. Always glad to see you!
-I bring along a copy of my book Monster Hunters with me to help introduce who I am and at the end of the tour mention I got that copy for sale. I sell a copy here and there. It’s always nice to sign a book for someone and send it to someone’s home instead of sitting in a box in my basement.
-Oh yeah and a special shout out to the guy cruising around Water Street over and over on his motorcycle this July blasting smooth jazz. “Who does this guy think he is, Kenny G?” I asked the tour. Big laughs.
-Max Mitchelson of the Shepherd Express wrote a nice article about the Milwaukee Ghost Walks. They interviewed Allison Jornlin (who founded and wrote the tour) and threw in a quote from Yours Truly for good measure. You can read it here: “Remembering Milwaukee History Through the Paranormal.”
Happy Halloween everyone! I hope your holiday is filled with witches, goblins, ghosts, demons, Chupacabras, Lake Monsters, Bigfoot, Count Dracula, Freddy Krueger, and a black cat riding a broomstick screeching “Happy Meow-loweeeeen!”
P.S. November is Conspiracy Month here at Tea’s Weird Week. You’ve been warned.
Real-life Superheroes, paranormal investigators, conspiracy theory: classic Krulos topics. Three short things related to these subjects have crossed my brain this week and got collected here.
The Legendary Jack
Let me tell you about this guy I know, Jack. Jack is frustrated. It’s hard to catch a break in this world. You put heart and soul into a project, you pour in this passion and you are ignored. Meanwhile some putz will launch into the stratosphere of fame for just the stupidest thing you can think of. It’s a drag, man.
One day recently, Jack told us on Facebook, he was at the check out of the grocery store. While scribbling out a check for the groceries, counting the pennies in his head, he noticed an ad on the check out lane for a guy he used to work with at an oil changing place. This guy now had his own mortgage company. You can bet this guy doesn’t worry if he’s buying generic or name brand peanut butter!
But Mortgage Man Dan will never know the thrill of leaping off the corner post of a wrestling ring, sweat and adrenaline flying off of him as he tackles Baron Von Retchblubber (or whatever his name is) while a crowd in rapture cheers, letting rip a primal scream. Because this Jack is former wrestler JACK T. RIPPER, famous hero (or heel is probably the right term) of a hundred fights!
But wait, there’s more! Zzzzzzap! This same Jack is the mighty Razorhawk, one of these Real-Life Superheroes, founder of the Great Lakes Alliance, founder of the HOPE events. I joined him in the search for a missing college student in Saint Paul, on a patrol on the streets of Minneapolis, and for a HOPE event in San Diego. I wrote about it in my book Heroes in the Night. Years later, I saw him at a HOPE event in Chicago. BAM!
This Razorhawk, in fact, was the winner of a YouTube reality show titled Academy of Heroes. His co-stars were his Real-life Superhero colleagues: the noble Knight Owl, the nimble Nyx, the dashing Danger Man, the philosophical Phantom Zero, the generous Good Samaritan, and the..uh…mouthy Motor-Mouth! By the end of the show, Razorhawk was declared winner by none other than comic legend Stan Lee himself. Excelsior!
And now, Jack has a more mellow project, but a very cool one. He’s now here, as his motto says, “to chew bubblegum and build models,” but he happens to be “all out of bubblegum.” Now known as the JACK OF MODELS, he has created his own YouTube show in which he carefully builds a variety of car and figure models, shows you how it’s done, and offers a few tricks and tips so you can enjoy this hobby, too.
I’m a fan. You can find the show here:
YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCv2ZgO3bbhW7rq-CdcYhskw
My most read column this month was a reprinting of a rarely seen article I wrote years ago titled “The Ghost Hunter’s Daughter” on Alexandra Holzer, star of the new reality show The Holzer Files. Just recently I had the chance to profile two interesting paranormal investigators for the October issue of Scandinavian Traveler magazine: Dale Kaczmarek of Ghost Research Society, who has been on the supernatural trail since the 1970s, and Ursula Bielski of Chicago Hauntings, who organizes the annual Chicago Ghost Con. Both have written books and offer tours and are all around experts on Chicago ghostlore.
You can read the article, “Meet the real-life ghostbusters,” here: https://scandinaviantraveler.com/en/places/meet-the-real-life-ghostbusters
I also compiled Dale and Ursula’s picks for “Chicago’s top 5 haunted locations”: https://scandinaviantraveler.com/en/places/chicagos-top-5-haunted-locations
Denver Airport Conspiracy
Ever since it was built, Denver International has been the subject of several conspiracy theories, including secret tunnels, weird art, a cursed horse statue, Illuminati meetings, and more. It’s pretty wild and every time I fly west, I hope for a layover at the airport.
While blocking off part of the airport for construction this month, the airport decided that instead of traditional “pardon our dust” signs, they would go full troll with a series of signs alluding to their reputation, including ones that mention the Illuminati, aliens, Reptilians (aka Lizard People), and more. Check out more of the signs here: https://www.curbed.com/2018/9/7/17832102/denver-airport-conspiracy-theories-signs-construction
And if you like conspiracy, well, hang on to your butts because November is Conspiracy Month here at Tea’s Weird Week. I’m doing some conspiracy related travel mid-November so I’ll be doing some reporting from the road. It’s going to be…interesting.
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Hold out your hand and I’ll sprinkle some candy corn into it. This month sales of rubber spiders and bats and plastic fangs will reach an all time high for the year. Expect to see a lot of mutant works like SPOOPY and SPOOKTACULAR and GHOSTOBER. And for people in the paranormal biz, we are in the midst of what June is like for the wedding industry.
I first got a taste of the ghost biz while working on my book Monster Hunters. October is when the mainstream world wants to visit haunted houses, go on ghost tours, watch scary movies, drink pumpkin spice lattes, go on tag-along ghost investigations, and there is an industry there happy to oblige them.
You can make some money in the supernatural biz if you’ve got the chops. But you need a certain je ne GHOST quoi to succeed. Bad Halloween puns may or may not help.
Here’s 5 ways you can make money in the paranormal field.
(1.) Show off your expertise as a speaker. If you put in some work you can be expert on a story, incident, or entire field. This time of year libraries, conferences, and festivals often have guest speakers who do presentations on local lore, UFO sightings, ghost investigation techniques, etc. I have a few friends who have been successful doing this, but it takes a lot of work and you need to be a good public speaker (that’s an ability that can be learned. Being weird, though, isn’t.)
(2.) Run tours. This is something I do, and it’s fun. It can be repetitive doing the same tour over and over, but when you have a tour group that’s engaged in what you’re saying it’s a really good feeling to share the hidden history of your city.
(3.) Write books/ articles. There is some money to be made here (but don’t be unrealistic), but be sure you’re doing it cause you got a fire burning inside you to do it, not cause you’re looking for a quick paycheck. If you’re passionate about researching your subject it’ll show and word will spread and more people will buy your book. Some niche publications will pay to publish articles, but it’s going to take some work finding them. Regional publications are usually interested in spooky local lore this time of year.
(4.) Get on one of those goofy reality shows. I don’t know what a deal like this entails and what sort of money is in it. I’ve been contacted by quite a few reality show production companies over the years, mostly regarding Real-Life Superheroes and couple for paranormal themes. In almost all of these situations, the companies are just trying to get me to hand over my contacts list and research and to guide them through a topic they know nothing about FOR FREE. This totally wastes time I could be spending writing ghost puns, you damn GHOULS!
(5.) Sell paranormal related product, like gadgets: Psst. Hey you. Yeah, you. You look like you could use the new Ghost-O-Meter T-1000 (patent pending). Yeah you just press this button and point and zoop! zop! zeep! look at all them green lights, wouldya! There’s definitely a ghost standing next to these electrical lines! Yes, we do take cards!
#ClownWatch2019: October 8, 2019: RED ALERT: there’s been tons of buzz on creepy clowns over the last month to tie in with the It:Chapter 2 and Joker (see my own take HERE) but here at #ClownWatch2019 we report on actual clown sightings or projected clown encounters. High probability for this Halloween season as an authority no less than Good Housekeeping reports that the number one Googled costume is…Pennywise, the killer clown from It. Be safe out there!
Read where all this ghost biz got started for me in Monster Hunters.
If you go on the Milwaukee Ghost Walk Third Ward tour, you can see “My Haunted Baseball Card Collection” in person.
FANGS to FangirlNation for a review I could sink my teeth into:
“It’s hard for the reader not to find themselves launching headlong in the book and coming out with either new or stronger opinions on the other side.”
Have a GHOULISHY GOOD time following me on:
I thought of the idea for this column when I saw a ridiculous (but kinda awesome) theory circulating on Facebook the other day that Jimi Hendrix and Morgan Freeman are one and the same. I’m wrapping up a book on conspiracy culture titled American Madness, which doesn’t delve too much into music theories, although there is one about Les Claypool of Primus (no, sadly it doesn’t involve playing “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver” backwards). Maybe I’ll write more in-depth on all this someday, but meanwhile here’s a list of some conspiracy theories and urban legends involving musicians.
(1) Jimi Hendrix lit his guitar on fire and became Morgan Freeman.
As I mentioned, this story kicked off the idea for this week’s column (I added the flaming guitar bit myself as a good conspiracy needs embellishment). The theory suggests that Hendrix faked his death in 1970 and rebranded himself as Academy Award winning actor Freeman. As Snopes notes, the two do have a passing resemblance, but Morgan had already launched his acting career by 1964 while Hendrix was still touring, so we’re going to need to add time/space travel to this theory for it to make sense.
(2) Robert Johnson sold his soul to the Devil.
This is the most classic music myth I can think of. I’m adding Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson, a biography on the blues musician (from one of my publishers, Chicago Review Press) to my winter reading list (as soon as I get through my fall one). Johnson, the story goes, was a mediocre guitar player until he disappeared from the juke joints he frequented for a period of time. When he returned, his music skills had increased incredibly and the story was that he sold his soul at the crossroads for his new abilities to old Hornhead himself. The stories and Johnson’s songs like “Me and the Devil Blues” and “Hellhound on My Trail” forever gave him a supernatural reputation.
(3) Elvis is alive, baby!
This is the first music conspiracy or legend I was exposed to as a kid, bored and waiting in line at the supermarket and reading the headlines of tabloids. The trashy reports of celebrity affairs had no interest to me, but the sensational tales of Elvis faking his death and being spotted at a 7-11 and numerous other locations did. An American classic– long live the king!
(4) But Paul is dead (and other doppelganger replacements)!
“Paul is dead” is such a beautifully complex conspiracy. There’s so much, so I’ll just try to cruise through the main talking points: Paul McCartney, the theory says, dies in a car crash in 1966. Afraid to lose their fan base, The Beatles and management decided to do the logical thing and replace him with a Paul McCartney doppelganger. But their guilt gnawed at them, so they dropped a number of clues hidden in plain sight in their song lyrics and album cover art, the most heavily dissected being the front and back cover of 1969’s Abbey Road. There’s a run down of the eight pieces of hidden symbolism on the album covers here: https://www.biography.com/news/beatles-abbey-road-album-cover-anniversary
Since then, there have been several other doppelganger theories, including one that says that Miley Cyrus died of an overdose and was replaced by a body double in 2010, that Avril Lavigne was quietly replaced with a clone in 2003, and that Andrew W.K. is actually several people who are franchised out to play the role, maybe in the same way Andy Warhol would have an impersonator show up at art events.
I recommend listening to my friends on See You on the Other Side podcast. They have an episode titled “Avril is Dead: The Strange Case of Pop Culture Doppelgangers” where they discuss Paul, Avril, and Andrew as well as wrestler the Ultimate Warrior and more.
(5) Kurt Cobain was murdered.
This was a conspiracy I watched play out as I was a Nirvana fan and a high schooler when Kurt Cobain killed himself. I found his death shocking and I experienced some sad disbelief. I think some conspiracies form because music is so important to us. When a musician dies before their time we can’t accept the grim reality. They were larger than life, larger than afterlife.
Over the years that followed Cobain’s death, a lot of “evidence” was hodge-podged together to suggest he was murdered, and most often the theories point at Courtney Love as the perpetrator. About six months after Cobain’s 1994 death, I went to see Hole play with Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails at the Riverside Theater. Some asshat was yelling “you killed Kurt!” at Love between songs. People needed to blame his death on someone and she was the convenient villain.
Shock rocker Eldon Hoke aka “El Duce” of The Mentors (and The Screamers), claimed he was hired by Love as the hitman (though he definitely shouldn’t be taken seriously). Two days after shooting an interview for the total crap conspiracy doc Kurt & Courtney, El Duce was found dead on the railroad tracks, decapitated, and with a high alcohol content. Of course this only led to more conspiracies.
(6) The 27 Club.
Kurt was then added to an elite theory of “The 27 Club,” a mystical group of musicians who died at that age, including Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and later Cobain and Amy Winehouse. Because of this there’s some mysticism about the number, a time when musicians are supposedly more vulnerable as they are on the cusp between still being considered young and about to turn a more “adult age.” But of course many great musicians have died at all ages.
(7) Who killed Tupac and Biggie…or are they still alive?
A lot of conspiracies linger because there aren’t satisfactory answers for closure, the JFK assassination being a prime example. Rap rivals Tupac Shakur and the Notorious BIG were murdered in 1996 and 1997, respectively, with both cases being unsolved and open. The list of alleged suspects who participated in the killings include Suge Knight, Puff Daddy, the LAPD, the FBI, and the Illuminati. Like Elvis, there are also legends that both rappers faked death, though most are typically about Tupac. You can find claims of people allegedly spotting Tupac in Cuba, Malaysia, and Somalia, among other places.
(8) Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor, and Marlon Brando fled New York in a rental car road trip after 9/11.
This is a good story, but has never been proven. The tall tale says that Michael Jackson was performing in New York the week of the 9/11 attacks (that is true) and that his guests there for the show included Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando (also true). After the 9/11 attacks, a panicked Jackson rented a car and the three celebrities begin a madcap road trip toward LA. They got as far as Ohio (stopping frequently at KFCs to fuel Brando with fried chicken), before ditching the car for a private jet to California. This story only emerged in 2011, conveniently after all three of the alleged participants had died. Is the story true? Probably not. A former assistant to Taylor says she stayed for several days in New York after the attack. Another source says Jackson and entourage bunked in New Jersey before charting a private plane to head West.
Zadie Smith wrote a great short fiction based on this urban legend for the New Yorker titled “Escape from New York.”
(9) In the Air Tonight
I’m including this one because this is a myth I believed myself for many years. I accepted the story I heard about Phil Collin’s famous hit “In the Air Tonight.” I thought the song was about, as Eminem described it “that guy who coulda saved that other guy from drowning/ but didn’t then Phil saw it all/ then at a show he found him” Turns out the song isn’t about a death by drowning or any of that, but just Phil expressing his feels about a divorce he was going through.
Yawwwwwn dude. Conspiracy is sometimes way more interesting than reality.
There are many more ones I’m missing– the one about Ace of Base being white supremacists and some interesting rumors about Marilyn Manson, so I got a feeling someday this column will get a sequel.
If you’re in the midwest, tickets for Milwaukee Krampusnacht are on sale now. It’s an awesomely creepy and cool event. More info: www.milwaukeeparacon.com/krampus
My latest book is Apocalypse Any Day Now, available here: www.chicagoreviewpress.com/ApocalypseAnyDayNow
I’m looking forward to seeing The Holzer Files, which premiers tonight on Travel Channel. The show stars Alexandra Holzer, daughter of pioneering ghost researcher Hans Holzer. Alexandra and her team reopen her father’s case files in new investigations. I had a chance to interview Alexandra at the Chicago Ghost Con in 2014 and wrote an article on her for the March 2015 issue of Fortean Times. This article appeared in print only, so I’m glad to share it here online for the first time.
One thing that really pops out at me re-reading this now is that when I spoke to Alexandra, she was concerned her father’s legacy was being forgotten. I’m sure her new show will help prevent that. Congrats Alexandra and team!
THE GHOST HUNTER’S DAUGHTER (originally appeared in Fortean Times, March 2015)
By Tea Krulos
“How many of you know about Hans Holzer?” Alexandra Holzer asks. She’s crowded in an elevator with about fifteen people at the Chicago Ghost Conference, being held at Carl Schurz High School. The elevator is heading up to the fifth floor for a short investigation of the school’s music room, where there are claims of spirits lurking in the corner and tinkering around on the piano.
Her question is greeted with an awkward silence.
“Oh boy,” she says, disappointed, and looks at the elevator wall. Later I ask her if she thinks this was just a shy silence.
“Maybe.” She answers. “His recognition is mixed and that’s not good enough for me. It’s got to be higher.”
This lack of familiarity is disheartening because if there ever was a Mount Rushmore of “ghost hunters,” Alexandra’s father—Dr. Hans Holzer—would definitely have his hawk-like features chiseled among them.
Hans Holzer was born in 1920 in Vienna, Austria. He studied archaeology and history at the University of Vienna, but with World War II on the horizon, his family determined they would move to New York City in 1938. Thanks in part to an uncle who told him ghost stories, Holzer had an interest in the supernatural since he was a young boy, and went on to study all things related to the paranormal. He authored more than 140 books on ghosts, UFOs, the afterlife, ESP, witchcraft, and other related topics. He also taught parapsychology at the New York Institute of Technology.
“During the 70s and 80s, he was the ‘ghost man.’” Alexandra explains. She says her father’s collection of artifacts related to his studies and circle of friends involved in the paranormal field made the Holzer house “like growing up in a living museum.” Her mother was also unique. An artist and descendant of Catherine the Great, Countess Catherine Buxhoeveden married Holzer shortly before his first book, Ghost Hunter, was published in 1964. Countess Buxhoeveden joined him in his travels and used her artistic talent to do illustrations for his early books. They divorced when Alexandra was 13-years-old.
Alexandra became aware that her father’s interests might be termed “unusual” at a young age and it took a while before she grew to appreciate it.
“I was about eight years old when I figured out he wasn’t normal,” Alexandra smiles, “because when I started going to school my mother would wrap up my father’s books as gifts. Books on witches, warlocks, UFOs, Amityville Horror. The teachers would open up the gifts in the classroom and all the kid’s eyes grew, the teacher’s mouths dropped, and I sank down really low in my chair like I wanted to hide. I said ‘Oh my God, that’s him? No!’”
Rebel Without a Ghost
As she grew into a young woman, Alexandra went through a rebellious phase and tried to escape her father’s eerie legacy.
“I ran to art school to get away from my father because I thought he was weird. I wanted to get away from the paranormal and be with creative people. I really didn’t care, I was too young. When you’re at a certain age, you don’t get what your parent does, even if it’s as weird as that. He’d say ‘oh look I’m on TV!’ And I’d say, ‘yeah, that’s nice.’ I just didn’t get it.”
Alexandra might not have been getting it yet, but others were. Hans Holzer became renowned as the foremost authority on things related to ghosts. His expertise was used on shows like the classic In Search Of… and subsequent television shows and documentaries dedicated to the paranormal. Another contribution to pop culture Dr. Holzer helped inspire was the beloved horror-comedy Ghostbusters. Dan Aykroyd, who wrote and starred in the movie, has said he was a Hans Holzer fan and used reports of his investigations as the seed for the film idea.
“I became obsessed with Hans Holzer, the greatest ghost hunter ever,” Aykroyd said. “That’s when the idea of my film Ghostbusters was born.”
Dr. Holzer’s most famous case that he worked on was the alleged haunting of the Lutz family on Long Island, New York, commonly known as the Amityville Horror.
The Lutz family moved into 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville thirteen months after the home was the scene of a gruesome murder of the former tenants, the DeFeo family. On November 13, 1974, 23-year-old Ronald DeFeo, Jr., the oldest child, systemically worked his way through the house in the middle of the night, shooting his mother and father and four siblings in their beds. After the Lutz family moved in, they claimed that they were terrorized by entities in December 1975- January 1976, and abandoned the house just 28 days after moving in. The incident spawned a bestselling book (The Amityville Horror: A True Story by Jay Anson, 1977) followed by a long string of additional books on the case, Hollywood movies (11 to date, with a 12th slated for 2015), and documentaries.
Dr. Holzer traveled to the house in January 1977. He was joined in his investigation by medium Ethel Johnson Meyers. In addition to interviewing and research, Dr. Holzer often brought a medium with him on a case.
“A scientific investigation must have a well-trained transmedium for communication. It is the only way,” Dr. Holzer stated in an interview.
In the Amityville house, Meyers claimed that she had identified the house’s angry spirit: Shinnecock Indian Chief Rolling Thunder, which helped Holzer put together a theory that the house had been built on Indian sacred grounds, the cause of the malicious haunting.
The Amityville Historical Society has refuted claims that the house is built on Indian burial grounds. Other researchers who have investigated the Amityville case say that it is an opportunistic hoax contrived by the Lutz family and their lawyer, embellished and exaggerated to help make money off of selling a good ghost story.
Dr. Holzer wrote both non-fiction (Murder in Amityville,1979) and fiction (The Amityville Curse, 1981, and The Secret of Amityville, 1985) about the case.
Other popular non-fiction volumes Dr. Holzer has written on the topic of ghosts include Ghosts I’ve Met (1965) Hans Holzer’s Haunted Houses: A Pictorial Register of the World’s Most Interesting Ghost Houses (1971) and Great American Ghost Stories (1990).
“Probably my late 20s I started to mature a bit and when I started to see the people he’d have over, I’d think, ‘these are really interesting people, they’re very spiritual, some are a bit wacky, but there’s something to what he does.’ But I didn’t have a pinnacle moment of understanding who he was until my 30s, where I was like ‘ok, I get it.’ Then I had my own awakening and epiphany and it just kind of vibed at that point, so I’d say it took almost two decades to get to that point.”
Alexandra says that epiphany came when her aunt passed on.
“At her service, I felt her come over and hug me. My whole body went warm and I’m sitting there crying hysterically because I didn’t like it, I didn’t understand it. I felt she was hugging me because she knew out of everybody except my mother I was destroyed (by her death). I knew it was her, I don’t know how to explain it, I just knew. That flipped me.”
Alexandra says the experience helped inspire her to follow both investigating and writing. She wrote a sci-fi/ fantasy novel, Lady Ambrosia: Secret Past Revealed (2007), and a memoir of her family, Growing Up Haunted: A Ghostly Memoir (2008).
Dr. Hans Holzer died on April 26, 2009. After his death, Alexandra stepped up actively investigating, using the family formula for ghost hunting, which she calls the “Holzer Method.” Alexandra runs her group Hunt With Holzer with fellow investigator David Lawson. “We create events with people and give that personal contact and have groups investigate using my father’s method. We learn about other people’s methods and keep it unified, help and learn and move on and document.”
Back at the Carl Schurz High School investigation, her group has moved from the 5th-floor music room to a smaller music room filled with rows of keyboards on the 4th floor. An electronic voice phenomenon (EVP) session is happening. Investigators are asking questions in the dark room, hoping to elicit a response. After a minute of silence, Alexandra addresses the group, telling them that she is still in communication with her father.
“My father comes through when we’re doing things,” she informs. “So if anyone wants to ask if Hans Holzer is here, it’s actually pretty normal. I mean it’s a little paradoxical, but feel free to ask him a question.”
Alexandra is seated near the teacher’s desk at the head of the classroom. On the desk in front of her is the REM-pod, a device that measures fluctuations in electromagnetic fields. Triggered lights and sounds on the device is said to be an indicator of a potential ghostly presence.
“Hans Holzer if you’re here, can you put that green light on?” A participant asks from the darkness.
Silence. The REM-pod light does not turn green.
“You should ask him, he’ll listen to you.” Another participant directs to Alexandra.
“He did not listen to me in life!” She laughs. “You think in the afterlife he’s going to listen to me? Really?” The group breaks into laughter in the darkness.
“Daddy you want to play with some lights?” Alexandra asks. The REM-pod remains idle.
“Do you feel he follows you around?” Another participant asks Alexandra.
“He does. He’s a pain.” A second of silence. “Did someone just hum?”
“I heard it!” A participant says. “I heard hmmm from over here.”
The group listens to an audio recorder and hear a ghostly sound they determine is an EVP they’ve captured of a girl saying “daddy.”
“It’s basically combining science with metaphysics,” Alexandra explains, describing the Holzer Method. “My father had his predecessors and everybody was very scientific, and then he had the mediums and intuitiveness. Although he was a skeptic, he believed if you combined the two, you’d have better results, so that’s when the method was born, it was his brainchild to say we’re going to do it this way and we’re going to do it that way and we’re going to get more data so that we can understand what happens when we die and not everything is science and not everything is spiritual, there’s a combination of the two.”
In addition to Hunt with Holzer, Alexandra visualizes a documentary or feature film based on her father’s life. She says it’s a longtime goal of hers, one she spoke to her father about, that she’d like to see visualized. She feels Holzer’s place in history has been forgotten and overshadowed and hopes such a project will help her father’s legacy live on.
Alexandra Holzer’s website is alexandraholzer.com
#ClownWatch2019: September 23, 2019, approximately 9:30 PM: My friends at the Singular Fortean Society reported on a clown encounter on a rural Arkansas road. A vehicle of teens on their way to Pottsville Lake found the clown digging at the side of the road with a shovel, yelled at it and backed away as the clown stormed toward them. Actual clown about town or staged video? Read more and see the clip here: https://www.singularfortean.com/news/2019/9/30/creepy-clown-caught-on-camera-by-arkansas-teens
Links and Shout Outs
-If you want to read more about the lives of ghost hunters and other paranormal investigators, check out my book Monster Hunters: https://www.chicagoreviewpress.com/monster-hunters-products-9781613749814.php
-Great conversation on the Ghostly Talk podcast out of Michigan with hosts Scott L and author Amberrose Hammond. It was a nice way to start October and we talked about all of my published work so far. You can listen to the episode here: https://ghostlytalk.com/episode-91-tea-krulos
–Kelly Anderson Dance Theatre is performing “The END is HERE and that’s ok” in Milwaukee at Danceworks this Saturday and Sunday. It’s being described as “brilliantly funny and meaningful.” They’ll be giving away copies of my book Apocalypse Any Day Now at each performance! Here’s more info: http://www.kellyandersondancetheatre.com/tour-the-end-is-here-and-thats-ok.html
.-Thanks to Old Baraboo Inn for having me as part of the World’s Largest Ghost Hunt last week. I gave a presentation titled “Chasing the Ghost of Al Capone.” Always a fun time there!
Some of my birthdays have been memorable and others mundane. I had a birthday yesterday, and I spent it doing what I love doing best– sitting around in pajamas, drinking coffee, reviewing a manuscript I wrote. I have a book out next year from Feral House titled American Madness. It’s a non-fiction that tells the action-packed story of a conspiracy theorist I met and the prevalence of conspiracy culture in America. There’s still work to be done, but a lot of progress has happened on the book over the last few months.
Sitting at home reading over my work was great, but my really fun birthdays have been getting out in the field. Here’s two memorable examples:
2013: I spent my 36th birthday in Portland, Maine where I interviewed cryptozoologist and author Loren Coleman at the International Cryptozoology Museum. What a wonderful place to be! I wrote about the experience as the first chapter of my book Monster Hunters, titled “The Monster Hunter and His Museum.” Loren named the book as the top of the “Best Cryptozoology Books of 2015” list and told me that the chapter was “required reading” for new staff, volunteers, and docents.
2017: It was two days after my birthday, but I spent my 40th birthday preparing to voyage out to the desert to attend Wasteland Weekend, a post-apocalyptic festival. One of the most fun experiences I’ve had. I witnessed music, Thunderdome fights, a post-apocalyptic swimsuit contest, and much more, which I wrote out for a chapter of my book Apocalypse Any Day Now titled “Wastelanders.” I’ve really wanted to go back ever since, but this year my travel budget is tied up for a trip I’m doing to Dallas in November. Hopefully, in 2020 I can return to the Waste.
If you’d like to support me on my birthday and help me go on more wild and crazy adventures, the best thing you can do is buy or support my books:
And look for links in 2020 to my new books. Wisconsin Legends & Lore is going to be a cool little book out from History Press and American Madness: The Story of the Phantom Patriot and How Conspiracy Theory Hijacked American Consciousness will be out August 2020 from Feral House.
You can also buy me a birthday coffee here: www.buymeacoffee.com/TeaKrulos
“You get what anybody gets– you get a lifetime,” Neil Gaiman, Sandman
“But that’s the way I like it baby, I don’t wanna live forever,” Motörhead, “The Ace of Spades”
I recently got a nice review for my book Apocalypse Any Day Now in the Lexington Dispatch. But listen to how this reviewer describes me: “a middle aged freelance journalist from Wisconsin.” Middle aged? Ahhh shit. Well, I guess it’s true, because in just a few days, it’ll be my 43rd birthday. But what if this wasn’t middle age for me?
Learning about something new, fringe, and strange is one of my favorite things, so it was jackpot time when I found out that local legend Kristan T. Harris is a candidate for the U.S. Transhumanist Party. The party’s main platform is to extend human life by hundreds and thousands of years, with the eventual goal of eternal life.
I wrote an article on Harris’s campaign for Milwaukee Record, in an article published today: “Long Live Candidate Harris, Milwaukee’s U.S. Transhumanist Party presidential hopeful.”
I think the ideas put forth by U.S. Transhumanist Party are interesting and I certainly love to see new alternative political parties. In fact, I took the ten seconds it takes to join the party by Google form here: https://transhumanist-party.org/membership/
Despite that, I don’t really subscribe to the party’s main platform. Here’s the thing– I don’t want to extend my life by hundreds or thousands or infinite years. Hellllll no. I am way too tired of your bullshit to have to deal with it for a millennium. I was young, I am apparently now middle aged, I will (hopefully) get old and then I will die. I’m totally fine with that timeline and I’m not afraid of it.
I’ve seen brilliant, beautiful people die way sooner than they should have while rotten jerks seem to live on forever. Do you really want some piece of shit who gets away with beating his wife and kids and makes life miserable for his family, co-workers, and the general public to celebrate his 600th birthday?
I also don’t feel life extension would be in the top ten issues we are facing today. Who wants to live forever on a planet where the environment is being completely destroyed, our oceans are filled with garbage, climate is spiraling out of control, children are locked up in cages on the border, and we have a killer clown as President?
That being said, good luck to Candidate Harris and the Transhumanist Party. Their online presidential primary starts on Sept. 21: www.transhumanist-party.org
I’m going to be at the Old Baraboo Inn for the World’s Largest Ghost Hunt on Sept.28, where I’ll be talking about the ghost of Al Capone!: https://www.facebook.com/events/379959039385127/
Tea’s Weird Week is posted here every Thursday.
September has been really busy, as it seems every September is. Major event tomorrow night and Saturday– the Milwaukee Paranormal Conference. If you’re in the general Wisconsin area, hope to see you there. More info: https://milwaukeeparacon.com/milwaukee-para-con-2018/
Besides that, I’ve been working day jobs, freelancing articles, and working hard on finishing book manuscripts. It’s good, busy is good. But sometimes, what can one do in a situation like this but to dream of crisp fall days, drinking a hot caffeinated beverage in pajamas and reading a good book? Today I thought I’d share my fall reading list, I’m looking forward to these. Will I finish all these titles by the end of fall? Probably not. But here’s what’s on the docket.
Let me know if you’ve read any of these.
(1.) Feed by Mira Grant
This is the fall selection for the dystopian book club I founded, the Apocalypse Blog Book Club. I’m about halfway through and enjoying it. It’s a zombie apocalypse with a journalism twist. Fun stuff. Join the club on Facebook, this is our fall selection and we choose a winter selection next month.
(2.) Someday Jennifer by Risto Pakarinen
Risto is a cool dude and an editor at Scandinavian Traveler, where I’ve done some freelance work. It’s a novel with an 80s nostalgia theme, is about all I know. I pre-ordered it, the English translation is out later this month. Looking forward to it!
(3.) Bitten: The Secret History of Lyme Disease and Biological Weapons by Kris Newby
I mentioned this in a previous Tea’s Weird Week, where I talked about programs like Operation: Big Itch and other insect experiments. I’m interested to read this as it lays out the theory that Lyme Disease was developed by a government program to create “weaponized ticks.” That’s pretty fucked up.
(4.) Good Time Party Girl: The Notorious Life of Dirty Helen Cromwell, 1886-1969 by Helen Cromwell and Robert Dougherty
One of the reasons I’m thrilled to have a book out with Feral House next year (American Madness, August 2020) is that their catalog is just bulletproof. I could grab any book they’ve put out and find it interesting. That’s certainly the case with Good Time Party Girl, the autobiography of a notorious underworld madame, “Dirty Helen” Cromwell, who operated The Sunflower Inn in the 1930s-50s here in Milwaukee. I love this type of history.
(5.) The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
Probably about a year ago I asked for recommendations for an epic fantasy series. For some reason I seem to really want to read/ see fantasy stuff in fall and winter (I watch The Lord of the Rings trilogy every December). Two of my friends suggested this series by Patrick Rothfuss. I read the first book in the series, The Name of the Wind, last winter, and it was great. I was glad to learn Rothfuss is a fellow Wisconsinite (Stevens Point). I started on book 2, but only got about 100 pages in when I was swept away with other stuff.
(6.) The Enemy of the People: A Dangerous Time to Tell the Truth in America by Jim Acosta
I picked this up when it was first out on a whim, but haven’t cracked it open yet. I still have a romantic vision of journalism and want to read this account of journalism in the Trump era.
(7.) The Eight Doctors by Terrance Dicks
If you didn’t know, I’m a huge Doctor Who fan, have been since I was a kid. Some of the early novels I eagerly read were the Doctor Who novelizations that were cranked out by Terrance Dicks, who died this month. I thought it might be fun to revisit his work. I singled out this one because it was an anniversary special of a crossover that never happened on screen. However, I see this book getting dragged mercilessly in reviews (which doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like it) and so I might find a better representation of his work… or maybe just skip it. Sometimes nostalgia is best left in your head. In any case, RIP Terrance Dicks, and thanks for your part in me becoming a young, avid reader.
(8.) Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
Oh yeah, why does this one keep getting lost in the shuffle? Started reading it like two years ago, then boom boom deadline, put it aside, put it further aside. What the hell dude?
Milwaukee Paranormal Conference is this weekend: https://milwaukeeparacon.com/milwaukee-para-con-2018/
Tea’s Weird Week switches this week from Fridays to every Thursday afternoon.
While working on my book Apocalypse Any Day Now, I researched zombies in pop culture. An interesting study from 2009, referenced in my book, laid out the data that shows we have more vampire themed movies and entertainment during Democrat administrations, while we get more zombies during Republican ones. The study tallied the number of movies found in both genres dating back to the Eisenhower administration, and the results were overall pretty consistent.
Think of the great 80s Reagan era zombie movies like The Return of the Living Dead (1985). In 2005 (Bush’s second term) there were 158 zombie movies (vs 74 vampire themed movies). Anne Rice was popular in the Clinton era, the Interview with a Vampire movie was huge in 1994. The big hits of the Obama administration were those wretched Twilight movies (2008-2012).
Here’s a link to the original study: http://www.mrscienceshow.com/2009/05/correlation-of-week-zombies-vampires.html Several other sites have examined the theory. HuffPost has a video with some visual highlights HERE.
Some of the noteworthy films that don’t fit the trend make sense if you correlate the source material: both the World War Z film and the hit show The Walking Dead were released during the Obama administration, but the source material (the 2006 book and 2003 comic series, respectively) was written in the Bush era.
I’ve read different interpretations of this study. One says the trend reflects the fears of the party in power– Democrats fear a vampire-like parasitic aristocrat, while Republicans fear a zombie revolt of the poor and disenfranchised. The other theory (which I lean towards) is that the films tap into subconscious fears about the party in power.
The Democrat vampires are suave and sophisticated but deceptive, kinky neck-sucking sex fiends, often times foreigners (Transylvania isn’t sending their best), which plays into liberalphobia. Conservatives, meanwhile, are viewed as the brainless masses, a hate mob of rotten rednecks shuffling through a Wal-Mart.
Enter a new animal, President Donald J. Trump. He’s not a Democrat, but he’s not a typical Republican either. As such, I think a new (perhaps one time) cycle has displaced the vampire/ zombie rotation: the killer clown.
“Wait til they get a load of me,” the Joker says in Batman (1989), but the quote could have easily come from Trump.
While working on my reoccurring #ClownWatch2019 segment for this column, where I mention any strange real-life clown sightings, I noticed there are an awful lot of killer clown movies lately, especially this fall. Over the past couple years we’ve gotten a fair share of the genre: American Horror Story: Cult (2017), which quickly made the Trump/killer clown connection, It (2017), the fantastic Green Bay produced Gags The Clown (2018), Rob Zombie’s clown murder mayhem movie 31 (2018) and many low budget entries.
Up next over the next month we’ll see the return of monster clown Pennywise in It Chapter 2 (which premieres tomorrow, Sept.6), the origin of killer clown Joker (Oct.4), and yes, we’ve finally arrived here…Clownado (Sept.17). That last title pretty much sums up today’s politics in one word. There’s several other low budget productions trying to catch the crest of the killer clown wave– Clownface, ClownDoll, and just Clown are just a few I found on IMDB with 2019 release dates.
These films, like vampire and zombie features, are playing to fears of our times. In this case, it’s of a monster who is stupidly reckless and dangerously unpredictable.
Like Pennywise, Trump has a wild clownado of orange hair. Note that Pennywise (and imitators) carries a red balloon the same color as Trump’s droopy, clownish tie or as a MAGA hat. Trump has a sleeve filled with dirty tricks and his administration is a clown car of chaos. Buying Greenland for a new secret lair, nuking a hurricane– clearly the mindset of a Joker. When Trump uses a “magic’ marker to defiantly insist that Alabama is in a hurricane zone when it isn’t, he hopes he can change reality, like a cartoonish clown drawing a door on a wall and then opening it to make a quick getaway.
Trump’s unhinged decision making on who to fire, who to threaten, and what diplomatic ties to sever are not of a politician or a businessman, but of a killer clown dancing and stabbing people in a haunted house.
It’s easy to laugh at his childish behavior, ranting and stomping his feet about everything from inauguration sizes to hurricane zones, but then comes the terror in realizing his full potential for disaster, an unfolding horror story.
Welcome to the clownpocalypse of our times.
My book Apocalypse Any Day Now got a nice, short review from Skeptical Inquirer. Thanks for believing in me, skeptics! They say:
“Krulos returns with another equally relevant and interesting look at the world of American survivalism, doomsday cults, religious prophets, and the like. The tone is more breezy than scholarly (with more than a few references to zombie apocalypses, for example) but the book offers insight into the mentality of conspiracy theorists and doomsday prophets.”
You can find the book here: www.chicagoreviewpress.com/ApocalypseAnyDayNow
Milwaukee Paranormal Conference is happening Sept.13-14: www.milwaukeeparacon.com