Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Why do some places become haunted only years after their tragic events occur? And why do some haunted places become more actively haunted for no apparent reason? This question has bugged researchers for as long as we've been hunting ghosts, but what is the answer? Many believe that it lies in an intimate connection between the living and the dead: that it takes the living to bring them back.

Case on point: Dillinger's Alley in Chicago. This nondescript throughway draws thousands of visitors each year from around the world. For this little alleyway, just a few steps from the old Biograph Theater (now purhcased by Victory Gardens Theater and under renovation), is the storied spot where, on a hot July night in 1934, "Public Enemy Number One" John Dillinger was gunned down by police and Chicago FBI agents. Dillinger's death rocked the nation; in Chicago, where the climax came, the people were electric. At the site of the shooting, pilgrims gathered to dip handkerchiefs in Dillinger's blood, and countless Chicagoans lined up for a public display of the body at the city morgue. It would have been no surprise if passersby had immediately begun seeing the famous ghost of Dillinger--the bluish figure of a man stumbling and falling--in the alley where the shooting occurred. But they didn't. In fact, it wasn't until the 1970s--some forty years later--that rumors arose of the alley's haunting. Why did it take so long? Some cultural experts believe it's a matter of life and death--literally. In 1972, "The Godfather" took the nation--and eventually the world--by the throat. What followed was, among other cultural fallout, a rash of gangland ghost sightings in every American city. Seems the heightened interest in the culture of crime led to a sharpened perception of the ghosts it spawned. But are ghosts like these just figments of our activated imaginations? Or were they just waiting for us to see them?

All over the world, the recent mania over T.V's now-famous T.A.P.S. (The Atlantic Paranormal Society) has led to the formation of hundreds of new ghosthunting groups--and increased reports of hauntings and ghostly manifestations just about everywhere, including Borley, Essex. Long a favorite topic of mine, the haunting of Borley Rectory has held a place of honor as one of the world's most haunted places since Harry Price first made it public. This week, I was thrilled to start talking via email with one of Borley's modern investigators, Eddie Brazil. According to Brazil, who's made a career of photographing (very well) Borley sites and other British subjects, even the site of "the most haunted house in England" has become more actively haunted of late.
Why? Does the answer have more to do with us than we know? Who can tell. Nonetheless, we are grateful for the renewed opportunity to study some of the most famous ghosts in the world: at Borley . . . and in Chicago.

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