The title of Help for the Haunted: A Decade of Vera Van Slyke Ghostly Mysteries comes from an advertisement that Vera Van Slyke, the great ghost hunter, ran in newspapers across the U.S. around the year 1902. The ad said this:
HELP FOR THE HAUNTED
Ghostly visitations occur when emotional distress ruptures the membrane between the corporeal and ethereal realms. Such ruptures can be confirmed through a technique involving harmonic resonance. V. Van Slyke specializes in the investigation and resolution of supernatural disturbances. Send a full description of the situation to the Hotel Manitou, Chicago, Ills. Will travel. References provided upon request.
That book ends at 1909. Vera has accepted an opportunity to travel to Europe — spending most of her time in Britain — to test her theory that strong feelings of guilt are a prerequiste for the presence of ghosts. But I have no records of what she encountered after she arrived there. I have no reports written for the “psychical research” organization that funded her. I have no letters sent to the dear friend she left behind, my great-grandaunt, Lida Bergson, née Prášilová. I have nothing.
However, I might have stumbled upon something. I’m currently working on The Victorian Ghost Hunter’s Handbook, an anthology of authentic chronicles written by paranormal researchers in the 1800s and early 1900s. (It should be available in early December.) I looked at Violet Tweedale’s autobiographical work Ghosts I Have Seen (1919), and in it, Tweedale describes a ghost hunt she shared with her husband at “Castel a Mare,” a villa in Torquay, England, alleged to be haunted. To conclude her account with a look at the state of ghost hunting, Tweedale refers to an advertisement run in the February 27, 1919 issue of the London Morning Post:
HAUNTED OR DISTURBED PROPERTIES
A lady who has deeply studied this subject and possesses unusual powers will find out the history of the trouble and undertake to remedy it. Houses with persistent bad luck can often be freed from the influence. Strictest confidence. Social references asked and offered.
While I haven’t managed to find the ad itself in the archive for the Morning Post (and I sure would love to get a screen cap or some other copy of it!), I did see that it was also copied and commented upon in a 1920 issue of a journal called The Survey. In other words, the ad seems legit.
Now, Vera never claimed have “unusual powers” in the sense of, say, clairvoyance or mediumship — in fact, she would have bristled at anyone making such a boast. However, she certainly had extraordinary skills at unearthing the history of a given haunted property and using that to remedy the problem. Is the lady in the Morning Post ad none other than Vera Van Slyke?
It’s tough to tell at this point, but at least I have a starting point for tracing Vera’s adventures shortly after Help for the Haunted ends. I will certainly be trying to discover more about this chapter of her life. In the meantime, those interested can learn more about what I do know at The Life and Ghosts of Vera Van Slyke page, which is drawn from both Help for the Haunted and Guilt Is a Ghost: A Vera Van Slyke Ghostly Mystery. Click here for more information about the forthcoming book The Victorian Ghost Hunter’s Casebook.