Pulitzer Prize Nominee Michael Clarkson, Interview by Michelle M. Pillow (Originally published in Paranormal Underground Magazine)
The Poltergeist Phenomenon: An In-depth Investigation Into Floating Beds, Smashing Glass, and Other Unexplained Disturbances
Michael Clarkson, Interview
By Michelle M. Pillow, www.michellepillow.com
When it comes to reporting on poltergeist, non-fiction author Michael Clarkson brings a unique approach to field. Spending 37 years in print journalism, he’s worked everything from sports to police reporting. He was nominated for a 1980 Pulitzer Prize for a story on J. D. Salinger. Picking up several writing awards along the way from the Canadian National Newspaper Award, the U.S. Health Care Award in 1995, to the Canadian Michener Award for public service, he then turned his attention to books. Three of his titles, Competitive Fire, Intelligent Fear and Quick Fixes for Everyday Fears, focus on the concept of fear.
It is this background that he brings to his investigation of the paranormal field, searching into the body’s fear responses as it pertains to the phenomenon itself. In his 2011 release, The Poltergeist Phenomenon: An In-depth Investigation Into Floating Beds, Smashing Glass, and Other Unexplained Disturbances, Clarkson approaches the paranormal like an investigative reporter. His book, for the most part, is filled with personal interviews with the people involved in the field, and in the phenomenon itself—believers and skeptics, witnesses and respected parapsychologists.
Q: Is a ghost involved in poltergeist activity?
Clarkson:Usually not. Poltergeist energy seems to revolve around a person in the room, most often a young person. In only about 5 per cent of the 75 cases I reviewed, a spirit was reportedly involved and perhaps acting through a young person to move objects. A number of components must come together for a “perfect psychic storm,” and that seems to be why poltergeist cases are rare: there is usually stress or repression in a house and the poltergeist agents are frustrated and feel no way of expressing themselves; the agents often have unusual brains and tap into nearby energy sources to move things unconsciously with their minds.
Q: What are the most famous poltergeist cases and what are the best‐ documented?
Clarkson:The Tina Resch case in Columbus, Ohio, in 1984 was perhaps the most famous case, involving moving objects, electrical disturbances and international media exposure, allegedly revolving around a 14-year-old girl. One of the better documented cases was the 1970 incident in St. Catharines, Canada, in which an entire shift of police officers logged what they termed “phenomenal occurrences” over two weeks, centered around an 11-year-old boy, who was never caught cheating. A 1974 case in Bridgeport, Conn., in which a 450-pound refrigerator reportedly moved in the presence of a 10-year-old girl, was also documented by many police officers. One of the longest lasting cases was in Enfield, England, for about a year in 1977-78.
Q: What are your favorite paranormal shows, movies and books?
Clarkson:I tend not to watch much TV, and I’m not much of a reader of paranormal books, but I like to go to the movies for escape once in a while. The Haunting of Hill House, a black and white ghost story in the 1960s, scared the heck out of me as a kid. In the 1980s, I liked The Changeling and more recently some of Stephen King’s adaptations. I think some of the TV ghost shows are bunk.
Q: I think most of our readers have seen the Poltergeist series of movies. How close to reality are they?
Clarkson:According to the 75 cases I reviewed, they’re not, but rather they are entertaining. I think that’s why people go to movies – to get frightened in a good way, not for science, similar to going on a roller coaster.
Q: How would you react if you came face to face with a ghost?
Clarkson:I’d probably be happy because it would be a very good story to document. Of course, none of us knows how we would react to such a stunning event, but I’d hate to be the one not to get the story. I still have some fear of the dark, although I think that’s more related to the fear of the unknown.
Q: Is there actually evidence that poltergeists exist?
Clarkson: I don’t think so, and I don’t claim to have enough evidence in my book to prove it to mainstream science. Of course, science does not believe there is proof for anything paranormal. What I believe I have is very suggestive that they exist – 51 police officers in 17 cases since the early 1950s who claim to have seen what they described as the effects of poltergeist energy up close – moving objects and a force that has even knocked them off their feet.
Perhaps the closest evidence was Nina Kulagina, who had poltergeist action in her apartment in the Soviet Union of the 1950s, then Soviet scientists studied her for decades, claiming she could move objects in a Plexiglass cube by tightly focusing with her mind. There are videos of her on Youtube.
Q: How much do reported cases of trickery or fraud affect the credibility of real cases?
Clarkson:Quite a lot. And within the same case, there may be legitimate activity and then fraud by a young person who can no longer make objects move with his mind, but wants to retain attention among family, parapsychologists and media and so plays tricks when he thinks people are not watching. When he is caught, skeptics like James (The Amazing) Randi jump on it and tell the media, “See, told you – it was fraud all the time.”
Q: Is poltergeist activity related to psycho kinesis, the ability to move things with the mind?
Clarkson:It seems to be a cousin of PK. But poltergeist activity is RSPK – recurrent spontaneous psycho kinesis, which is more spontaneous than PK and seems to be caused unconsciously by a person, usually a young person. PK generally is thought to be a force caused consciously by an older person.
Q: Can the average person develop the ability to move things with the mind?
Clarkson:No proof this can be done, but many people believe so. The late fiction author Michael Crichton said he attended a spoon-bending party and was fascinated how young people seemed to bend them with their minds and by rubbing them, and that it all seemed natural, requiring a “focused in-attention.” Crichton said, “Psychic of paranormal phenomena are misnamed. There’s nothing abnormal about them. . . .we’ve just forgotten we can do them.” A Canadian woman in her mid-40s, who cannot be named, believes she has converted her poltergeist energy into more focused PK by making a homemade pinwheel and focusing on it until it turns around. She still claims to have RSPK energy, which is said to move objects when her husband gets her upset.
Q: Is the average person vulnerable to poltergeist activity in themselves or their home?
Clarkson:Many components must come together, as stated earlier, and it is a very rare event, lasting usually not more than several weeks. It normally involves people will unusual brains and ability to use nearby energy sources. However, a lot of repressed anger can touch it off.
Q: Do you worry that, as an investigative journalist, your reputation might suffer because of the stigma some skeptics attach to paranormal events?
Clarkson:I expected it would and it has. A Canadian reviewer of one of my non-paranormal books attacked my credibility by noting that I had written a poltergeist book. But this is the chance an author takes when writing such a book. There is a stigma attached to this not only by the mainstream media, but mainstream science. A respected neuroscientist claims he gets reduced government grants since he started investigating poltergeist activity
Q: Who are the best parapsychologists?
Clarkson:William Roll of Georgia is semi-retired and an expert who has investigated hundreds of poltergeist cases through the years and coined the term RSPK. Stephen Mera, of Manchester, England, and Andrew Nichols, of Gainsville, Florida, are also quoted in my book. The late Maurice Grosse was also instrumental in contemporary poltergeist research.
Q: After writing this book, are you skeptical or are you a believer in the paranormal?
Clarkson:I remain open-minded, and perhaps not as skeptical as I was. I think there are things we don’t understand and I prefer to use the word supernatural because I believe many paranormal events are amazing manifestations of the human mind and abilities.
Q: Have you ever had a paranormal experience?
Clarkson:Not by definition, but I have had many in-the-zone experiences, especially in athletics and deadline work for newspapers. Under pressure, I’ve been able to avoid choking by turning my fear into passion and then focusing these extra hormones from the fight-or-flight system into increased production. In some cases, it seemed as though I had out-of-body experiences – watching myself perform the tasks. In the end, I had to trust myself and let my training, skills, including mental abilities, take over.
Q: Why do you think readers, and society in general, are fascinated by the paranormal?
Clarkson:A combination of reasons – society is spoiled and tends to get bored with mainstream stuff; surveys show that most people believe in some type of paranormal activity; we love good mysteries; and are always hoping there are new discoveries to be made.
Q: After death, do you hope to come back as a ghost?
Clarkson:I don’t know if I will come back. I try to make the most of my life on earth, but there are some people in my life I would like to haunt!
Q: What does the future hold for your writing?
Clarkson:I am writing a book and a screenplay, but my agent doesn’t want to tip our hand on the subject matter. I am getting so much positive feedback on the poltergeist book that I might consider doing another one.
Thank you for joining us!
Michael Clarkson currently lives in Ontario with his wife and two sons where he’s working on the next book.
Interview by Michelle M. Pillow, www.michellepillow.com