Last week, I blogged about how a founding occult detective named Harry Escott might have been real. I even provided a photograph that might be one of him. In addition, more than once, expert ghost hunter Vera Van Slyke identifies Escott as her mentor paranormal investigation. This week, I’ve gathered photographs of men we know to be real and who also are said to have met Van Slyke during her later investigations.
Harvard professor William James plays a key role in the book-length chronicle titled Guilt Is a Ghost. In 1899, James was sitting at the séance where Van Slyke, his friend, exposed a young medium’s fakery. The shock of this was the tipping point for millionaire Roderick Morley, who was counting on this séance to solve the murder of his close and trusted spiritual advisor. Morley took his own life that night. Four years later, the Morley mansion was reported to be haunted. Van Slyke was called back to Boston, this time not to debunk, but to confirm that spirits lingered in this house and to solve the mystery that bound them there. James assists her, but he is much better remembered as a philosopher/early psychologist with keen interests in religious experience and psychical research.
William B. Watts was Chief Inspector of the Bureau of Criminal Investigation when Van Slyke returned to Boston to tackle the Morley haunting. As the man who had defrocked faith-healer Francis Truth, Watts was no stranger to debunking. Maybe this is why he warmed up to Van Slyke — despite her conviction that ghosts are real — and worked with her to reopen the “cold-case” murder of Morley’s associate. Watts was less focused on wraiths than he was on rascals, his term for criminals of the corporeal realm.
Peter M. Hoffman had not yet realized his ambitions of become Sheriff in 1906. Instead, he was still the Cook County Coroner, and that year, he summoned Van Slyke to help him solve a series of bizarre deaths occurring among workers digging tunnels deep below Chicago. Like Watts, his fellow lawman, Hoffman was a skeptic. However, he too grew to admire the determination and intelligence Van Slyke brought to her investigations. He appears in a chronicle is titled “Vampire Particles,” which is found in Help for the Haunted.
Arthur Conan Doyle had left his fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, far behind when he was touring the United States in 1923 to lecture about the marvels of Spiritualism. Along the way, he shared a train ride with Van Slyke. Though Conan Doyle’s eagerness to believe in almost anything otherworldly clashed with Van Slyke’s more selective stance, the journalist revealed sympathy and respect for the author. Their encounter is narrated in The Hound of the Seven Mounds.
Conan Doyle’s strained friendship with Harry Houdini — as well as the escape artist’s great fame — came after 1905. That’s the year Houdini traveled to Chicago, hoping Van Slyke would assist him in defrauding a Spiritualist medium. The medium claimed to have gotten unsavory knowledge about Houdini’s past from the spirit of a deceased woman. Meanwhile, there’s a whispering ghost that Houdini says visits him at night. This case, titled “Houdini Slept Here,” is among those in Help for the Haunted. It’s what I’ll be reading in this weekend’s episode of Tales Told When the Windows Rattle.
You can find out more about the Vera Van Slyke Ghostly Mystery series on this page. My reading of “Houdini Slept Here” premieres this weekend on the Tales Told YouTube channel. You can also find it here. If you’d prefer the podcast version, I recently added Apple Podcasts to Spotify, Google Podcasts, RadioPublic, Stitcher, and Anchor.