Did you know Dan Aykroyd’s great grandfather tried to contact spirits, and his family was part of a circle that had its own medium?The actor says his family was "part of a worldwide cultural and social phenomenon driven by a wish to make contact with spirits of the dead" in a brief foreword to "A History of Ghosts: The True Story of Séances, Mediums, Ghosts, and Ghostbusters" by Peter Aykroyd, the actor’s father.
Even if Halloween weren’t just around the corner or there wasn't considerable buzz for the movie “Paranormal Activity” (or for the Ghostbusters game, for that matter), interest in ghosts would still be high. Why? As the author explains, people have always had an "overwhelming desire to explain the inexplicable ... surely there is more to the natural world than we can see or feel."
The author’s grandfather, Samuel Augustus Aykroyd, according to the book, came by his interest in spiritualism in an unexpected way: through dentistry. He received his degree of doctor of dental surgery in the early 1890s -- a time when there were few methods to control pain during surgery. Hypnotism was one of these, and Peter suggests that it was hypnotism “that sparked Dr. A’s interest in a relatively new phenomenon called spiritualism.”
Dr. A would probably be proud to see that spiritualism flows in the family's veins -- along with his great-grandson’s smash movie “Ghost Busters,” his other great-grandson Peter co-created the TV series “Psi Factor” (featuring Dan as host).
"A History of Ghosts" also provides an overview of the late 19th and early 20th century attempts to understand the spiritual realm, including mediums gagging on teleplasmic masses (gross) and séance trumpets -- though, for more depth, you’re better off with Deborah Blum's “Ghost Hunters” or Mary Roach’s “Spook.” It’s the author’s memories of séances at home, however, and the stories of Dr. A’s researches that make for the best reading here.
-- Nick Owchar
Photo: Bill Murray, left, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis in "Ghost Busters." Credit: Columbia TriStar