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Rational Inquiry -Volume 7 Number 1

Undercover Among the Spirits

By Keith Taylor

Star of India Perhaps it was fitting that a couple nights before Halloween some fifteen SDARI members were trooping about the nether decks of the Star of India. After all where better to confront claims of the paranormal than on the oldest active ship in the world, one thatís said to be haunted? One of the mandates we gave ourselves was to investigate claims with a critical eye. Our investigation of the Star was led by a fellow with the most critical eye of all. Joe Nickell PhD, senior research fellow for CSICOP, has 30 years experience with ghosts and such.

Earlier in the evening Nickell had been our guest speaker for the October 28th meeting. Such was his fame that our attendance was nearly double what it usually is. He traced the history of spiritualism back as far 1848 with the toe cracking Fox sisters. To trace modern day paranormal purveyors our guest showed us how he often follows in the footsteps of Harry Houdini, arguably the greatest magician of all time.

He, as Houdini sometimes did, went undercover among the spirits. At Camp Chesterfield, Indiana, an enclave of paranormal activity, Nickell shaved his mustache, donned suspenders and a straw hat, affected a limp and did his investigation. He found no ghosts or any other evidence of things paranormal.

Nor did he or the SDARI folks find anything paranormal on Star of India. We were invited by Joe Ditler, the museumís Director of Communications, for the Halloween special "Haunted Star." Some splendid actors told spooky tales of death and of conjectures of spirits. It was informative and entertaining. We were grateful for the hospitality and a chance to visit, and learn more about, one of San Diegoís most famous sites.

We congratulate the Maritime Museum staff on their tact and restraint in telling hair-raising tales without yielding to the temptation to manufacture a story where there is merely a conjecture or a mystery. After all the old shipís history is so rich her history and dignity need not be compromised.

This was the second time the San Diego Maritime Museum has been of special help to SDARI. They cut us some slack when we rented the ferry, Berkeley, for the Kurtz lecture a while back. Letís hope one of San Diegoís premier tourist attractions and San Diegoís only organized skeptical organization can continue a close working relationship. We are working towards that end. The director, Ray Ashley, PhD, will be our speaker in January.

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