Review: Peter Aykroyd’s A History of Ghosts great for academic settings

There’s a delicate line between academia and entertainment when it comes to the paranormal.

A History of Ghosts: The
True Story of Seances,
Mediums, Ghosts and
by Peter H. Aykroyd,

Angela Narth, Dan
Rodale Books
Toronto, September 2009

It’s often a challenge to both keep the reader enthralled with the source material and have them understand it without being diagnosed with temporary narcolepsy.

A History of Ghosts: The True Story of Séances, Mediums, Ghosts, and Ghostbusters by Peter Aykroyd is one of these books that precariously treads into “Why?” territory.

There’s an introduction by actor, and the writer’s son, Dan Aykroyd, who relates to the subject matter as being part of his personal origin story. After all, Aykroyd wrote Ghostbusters which has provided the bedrock for so many paranormal investigators who have their own shows now.

The elder Aykroyd, Samuel Peter Aykroyd, pulls back the curtain on his family’s spiritualist roots, and the life that his father, Samuel Augustus Aykroyd, had as both a dentist and shaker within the spiritualism community.

We are introduced to some of the big names of the spiritualist movement, not just in Canada, where the Aykroyd’s home operations were, but throughout the world, including the spiritualist epicentre, Lily Dale, New York, as well as Brazil.

Aykroyd also explores the universe of the Fox sisters of Hydesville, New York. They were known for their rapping (not to be confused with the East Coast Hip Hop scene), as well as their alcoholism later in life. Leah, the eldest sister and wrangler, Margaretta and Catherine were all famous for their performances, but eventually, their gig was up when they admitted they could crack their knee joints.

Harry Houdini, the famous magician, even injected his thoughts on the whole charade, as he was known for debunking many of the spiritualists of his time. He was more efficient than some of his contemporaries, who often had soft spots for the mediums they were investigating.

Take for example, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who did work for the Society for Psychical Research, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but oftentimes they were not as harsh on mediums as other skeptics would have preferred.

Still, the material seems to plod along in spots, losing traction and veering off course in small verbal jaunts to Brazil and France.

But it all comes back to the experiences he had as a boy with his father holding seances at the Aykroyd homestead.

This would be the kind of book I would place on a parapsychology class syllabus. Not because I want to torture the students, but rather vet those who are interested in the study from those who are merely there for their own amusement.

It’s a book for those who are deeply interested in the roots of modern paranormal research. If people pick it up to read the forward by Ray Stantz’s alter ego, they better stick around for the history lesson by a man in an elbow-padded tweed blazer.

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