AMBLER >> The streets will be teeming with ghosts, ghouls and goblins on Halloween as youngsters across the region and the nation fan out into neighborhoods trick-or-treating. But on Wednesday, those braving a raw, rainy Autumn night at Bright Hall on Temple’s Ambler campus were treated to a multimedia presentation by parapsychologist Peter Jordan that focussed on unexplained phenomenon experienced by some in real life, all trickery aside.
Jordan, an unimposing, soft-spoken fellow with a penchant for black clothing and an affinity for all things spooky, has been investigating things that go bump in the night for four decades. His multimedia archives are replete with firsthand reports of encounters with apparitions, haunted houses and poltergeists.
Jordan was a young amateur magician when he first became fascinated by paranormal phenomena and the scientific and psychological approaches used to examine, substantiate or debunk them.
Independently, and as part of the paranormal investigative team Vestigia, Jordan has probed some of the nations most renowned cases of supposed paranormal activity including the Amityville Horror in New York, the Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Louisville, Ky. and Gettysburg’s infamous Devil’s Den,
“We’re often called out by people who are experiencing paranormal phenomenon and are looking for help,” said Jordan “My background is in psychology, so I’ve always been particularly interested in the connection between people and the phenomenon. What I’ve found is there’s a very strong connection between certain types of personalities and those people who persistently have these types of experiences throughout their lifetime.”
In a slideshow complete with creepy sound effects, Jordan displayed images purported to be ghosts emanating from ectoplasm, “a viscous material substance that forms the material for the manifestation of spirits.” He explained that these are the most commonly reported apparitions and the inspiration for much of the ghost imagery in Hollywood movies.
“When people see a ghost, what they often see is something semitransparent ... without physical features. In many cases these entities are seen without faces,” said Jordan as he presented a series of photographs featuring images of wispy, smokelike figures captured by ghost hunters in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The ghosts of Gettysburg are a glaring exception to that rule.
Ghost sightings at Gettysburg are more frequent and more eerie, due to their three-dimensional, lifelike appearance. Jordan said.
“The first time I went to Gettysburg I was absolutely awed by the place,” he said. “Emotionally, it’s absolutely overwhelming when you think of the thousands of people that died there and the terrible deaths many soldiers suffered. Its a very sad place, but at the same time it’s a very interesting place. Many of the researchers I work with are drawn to go back to the place over and over again.”
Jordan told multiple stories about encounters with ghosts at Gettysburg, including tales of re-enactors, park rangers and Gettysburg University administrators who experienced seeing what looked like flesh-and-blood Civil War soldiers manning battle locations, outposts and even a makeshift field hospital where amputations were being performed.
“People have met actual soldiers they think are re-enactors, but clearly they are not,” Jordan said, recounting reported verbal and physical interactions with Gettysburg ghosts who he said have exchanged items with visitors, including bullets which were found to contain original Civil War era gunpowder.
Jordan said that the flashpoint for paranormal activity at Gettysburg is Devil’s Den, near Triangular Field, an outcropping of rock where cameras often malfunction and the energy in batteries tends to drain prematurely. Many sightings have been reported there, and psychics who have visited the site often become uncomfortable or panicked.
One particularly bone-chilling story involved a poltergeist dubbed “Joe” who thrilled and terrified a family living in Glens Falls, N.Y., in the 1980s. “Joe” would make his presence known by a single clap emanating from an empty room, Jordan said, and the next time the room was entered, the furniture in it would be radically rearranged, to the delight of the family’s children and the dismay of their parents. The matriarch of the clan was particularly “freaked out” when “Joe” reportedly began to physically assault her, pulling her by the hair and leaving inexplicable bruising on her thighs.
“Joe” would even communicate with the family by mysteriously writing the answers to questions left to him on a chalkboard overnight, often in cryptic, profanity-laced prose. The final straw for the family came when they arrived home from a vacation to find that all of their sharp cutlery had been removed from its drawer and stuck in a kitchen wall. The family soon moved, leaving the house to “Joe.”
Jordan described poltergeists as disturbances involving the spirits of children who, unable to voice their frustrations in life, linger and act out in bursts of emotion characterized by psychokinesis.
Jordan said that while he believes in life after death, he doesn’t let that belief detract from an objective and professional approach to his work.
In his view, apparitions, spirits and poltergeists represent residual energy from people who have passed on but refuse to leave this realm because of what they perceive as unfinished business.
Jordan described their interactions with the living as a kind of cosmic soap opera he called “As the Spirits Swirl.”
Nothing much scares Jordan these days because, as he said, “I’ve been scared enough my whole life.”
He does admit to being genuinely creeped out on occasion, however.
Jordan remains fascinated by the unexplained and plans to continue explorations into the unknown in search of answers.
“There is no end of speculation. It’s so slippery, like an unruly child you can’t quite get a hold of ,” he said. “I think (paranormal events) help us reconsider, re-examine, and just look at the universe in new ways.
“In the words of Sherlock Holmes, ‘When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.’”