Ghostvillage.com author interview
Jeff Belanger is the author of The World’s Most Haunted Places, among other fine books dealing with the paranormal and the supernatural. The founder of Ghostvillage.com, he has witnessed that Web site become the largest paranormal community on the Internet. An eclectic writer, it is always a pleasure to interview him! His latest book is titled Ghosts of War, published by New Page books in 2006. Jeff, it is good to visit with you. Let’s look at this new book of yours, and please share your thoughts on it with the readers, and as you know, readers are always curious about war ghosts! Let me start by asking, what is your interest in these restless spirits of dead spies, saboteurs, and soldiers?
Jeff Belanger: Haunted places have intrigued me for many years. When you investigate and research haunted locations, you start to notice a pattern — wherever history (especially tragic history) left its mark, ghostly legends follow. This is true at the sites of accidents, murders, and of course, battlegrounds. In addition to being a long-time student to the supernatural, I’m also a history buff, so it was natural for me to dedicate a book toward locations that played a significant role in history, where many lost their lives in an untimely manner, and where ghostlore abounds.
Did you find the research more involved this time, more information to sort through?
Ghosts of War is a closer look at history than I’ve done before. To understand why a location may be haunted, we need to go back and understand who lived and died in these specific places and why. When we can put an identity to some of the phenomena occurring at battle sites, that’s a supernatural homerun and is a big part of the reason why I do this work.
In more than one case, I found that the ghosts led to an important historical discovery. For example, in Fort Erie, Ontario, there was a legend that the ghosts of two American soldiers leftover from the War of 1812 walked the shores by the old Fort — one soldier had no head, the other had no arms. This all seemed to be just a story. But then during an archaeological dig in 1987, bodies of American soldiers were unearthed in the backyard of a local schoolteacher and a headless body was discovered near another set of remains with no arms. Further historical digging revealed the diary of a 14-year-old boy who was serving with the American troops. In the diary, young Jarvis Hanks describes a scene during the fighting at Fort Erie where one soldier was shaving another when a cannonball came through and took the arms off the shaver and the head off the shavee. No one paid any attention to this diary until the ghostlore and archaeological dig collided. It’s important to pay attention to the ghosts.
You have always had a fine gift for getting to the heart of the matter when it comes to documentation and factual happenings. Does this just come naturally to you or is it a process of many years of hard work and experience?
Before I can write on any subject, I need to really get my hands around it and understand the material from all angles. So I read a lot and think about what the beginning, middle, and end of the story are before I start writing. It’s work. It’s always been work, but it’s a labor of love.
Do you see something along the lines of a documentary for film on the contents found in Ghosts of War? The book lends itself nicely to a film adaptation.
I would love to see a project like this make its way to the screen. Anything that can teach history and further the discussion of the supernatural is a good thing.
I like the approach you took in this book, that history is not dead, and that it still lingers in many ways. You explore these ways in Ghosts of War. Could you share with the readers the most direct manner by which you feel they could have a paranormal experience with a war ghost?
When you walk onto a battlefield anywhere in the world, just stand there and listen, see, and feel. When you’re in a location where hundreds or even thousands of men and women died for a cause they felt was greater than themselves, you feel something. This isn’t about being psychic or New Age-y in any way, it’s about being human. History does indeed live.
The Black Hills War (1876 – 1877) and the Battle at the Little Big Horn is but one of your well-written chapters in Ghosts of War. Ever since the death of Custer, people have claimed to have seen him. Is this possible? And how much of that is fostered by Americans’ enduring interest in its own Wild, Wild West?
It’s difficult to put a statistic on how many ghost sightings are genuine and how many are wishful thinking/misinterpretation by the witness. The reason is because many witnesses perceive their encounters as real. It’s reality to them, and there’s often no way for us to say what exactly happened after the fact. Whenever we can find multiple witnesses to the same encounter, that’s always worth noting in this field of study. General Custer is certainly an American legend, and so many are intrigued with who he was and where he fought and died that we can’t be surprised that people claim to see his ghost. Another interesting aspect to ghost encounters is that often the most famous person to ever visit a location gets their name attached to any ghost sightings. For example, at the Little Big Horn Monument, if someone sees a white mist float by, they may claim it to be Custer even though there were no defining features.
What did you like best in your researching and writing of Ghosts of War?
I loved interviewing United States Civil War re-enactors. These folks are full of ghostlore. They understand the history, they’re often at the right locations on the anniversary of the battles, they’re dressed as the soldiers were in the 1860s, and whether it’s conscious or subconscious, their minds are open to the past and they see a lot of ghosts. Folks like Harold “Pappy” Harmon from the 28th Georgia and 123rd New York Volunteer Infantry made this project a joy because when you speak to folks like this, you know the history is sacred to them, which makes their ghost encounters even more profound.
Will an ancient battlefield maintain its paranormal aspects of a period of centuries, or do you feel there is a sense of decline in regard to sightings? Do you think an ancient Egyptian battlefield would have as many paranormal sightings of ghosts as an American Civil War battlefield?
That’s a great question. There does seem to be a connection between how closely we pay attention to a location and the number of ghost sightings. If a battle was waged many centuries ago, not as many people will be focusing on the site of the battle as say, a battlefield from more recent history. If a site like Gettysburg were paved over and turned into parking lots and strip malls, I would imagine the ghost accounts would start to fade because the historical aspect of the site will slowly dissolve from our minds and consciousness.
If you were a ghost and wanted to appear, which sacred ground or battlefield would it be at, and why?
I’d love to be a fly on the wall at the White House in Washington, DC.
Do you see an increase in people’s ability to see and encounter ghosts?
I don’t know if I’d call it an increase in the ability, but I do see an increase in the discussion of the topic. When we take this phenomenon into the mainstream and make it not taboo to talk about, more people will be open to sharing the kinds of experiences that have always occurred, but that were kept quiet for fear of ridicule.
Are you working on a new book concerning the paranormal now?
Yes, I am. I’m working on a book for children called Who Is Haunting the White House? and I’m also working on a book about my home state of Massachusetts.
Jeff, again, it is a pleasure to visit with you. This interview was enjoyable.
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