Vera Van Slyke was a muckraking journalist who crusaded against Spiritualist mediums, confident they were all fakes. But she was also a ghost hunter with proof that spirits actually do haunt the living. “Ghosts are like cats,” Vera once explained. “They’re real, but they hardly come when called.”
One Spiritualist medium Vera defrauded was Lida Prášilová. The fake psychic agreed to share her professional secrets with the journalist, which led to a ghost hunt – which led to a deep friendship. Chronicling the ghostly investigations she shared with Vera, Lida became a Watson to a very distinctive Holmes.
With laughs and chills, the chronicles span from 1899 to 1909 – a decade of ghostly mysteries – and you’ll find them here in Help for the Haunted. Join Vera and Lida as they prowl through lonely mansions, bustling theaters, and underground tunnels to unravel the riddles of the Great Beyond . . . and beyond!
294 pages, trade paperback
“Help for the Haunted is a fun collection of linked short stories, based around a creative theory as to why ghosts are able to return to the plane of the living, and a cute way of detecting these crossovers. Within that framework fall all manner of ghosts and manifestations; every story offers a different kind.” — Nina Zumel, Multo (Ghost)
“The stories have a lot of humor, but have chilling moments too. . . . I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s nice to see two women doing things in fiction.” — Katherine Nabity, The Writerly Reader.
“It’s one of the strengths of Tim Prasil’s writing that he absolutely shows, rather than tells. He has a facility for allowing the reader to understand what his characters are thinking and feeling without stating it outright, which lends a great deal of veracity to his storytelling.” — Dave Brzeski, Occult Detective Quarterly.
Over a dozen pleased readers have left additional reviews at Amazon!
Listen to Sample Ghost Hunts
You can listen to these stories here — or right-click on the title to download the .mp3 for offline listening. Visit the Tales Told When the Windows Rattle page for more readings!
The History behind the Hauntings
Much of the fun of Help for the Haunted is the very real history that’s central to many of the stories. This timeline charts much of that history while linking it to the chronicles in Help for the Haunted.
Colonel Henry Bouquet commanded the British Fort Pitt, located where the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers meet. (The site is now near downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.) Bouquet drew plans to have his soldiers carry smallpox-infested blankets to the indigenous tribes attacking the fort, telling his commander that “it is a pity to expose good men against them. . . .” The consequences of this plan lingered at least until 1902, as explained in a chronicle titled “A Burden that Burns.”
An epidemic of cholera was brought via the ship Sheldon Thompson to Chicago’s Fort Dearborn. The victims of the deadly disease were buried side-by-side — without coffins or headstones — at a site that later became the corner of Lake Street and Wabash Avenue. In “Vampire Particles,” this mass grave had a deadly effect on a group of tunnel diggers working far below that spot in 1906.
The March 19th issue of Scientific American reported “the discovery of a monstrous wild man in the swamps about the Arkansas and Missouri line.” The brief article says the creature’s track measures 22 inches but concludes: “We are of the opinion that either the ‘wild man,’ or the man who raised the story, is a great monkey.” Despite such jibes, in 1851, several newspapers reprinted a report in The Memphis Enquirer, regarding a “Wild Man of the Woods” spotted in Greene County, Arkansas. The human-like creature “was of gigantic stature, the body being covered with hair. . . .” According to “Monstrimony,” this early version of Bigfoot reappeared yet again in this same region of northeast Arkansas in 1908, and Vera Van Slyke participated in investigating it.
The Night Side of Nature; or, Ghosts and Ghost-Seers, by Catherine Crowe, was first published. This became Vera’s most prized book in her library of works on ghosts and related phenomenon.
The Fox Sisters from Hydesville, New York, claimed to be able to communicate with the dead through a system of rapping. They ignited the Spiritualism movement. 1848 is also important to the Stickney House, built in 1849 (some say earlier) by George and Sylvia Stickney. Vera investigated strange sights and sounds at this “house with no corners” in 1901, as chronicled in “Dark and Dirty Corners.”
The Fugitive Slave Act was passed, holding all U.S. citizens — including Northerners, be they abolitionist or apathetic — responsible for returning runaway slaves. This law is often cited as having changed many minds regarding slavery, steering the nation toward Civil War. Its impact resurfaced in 1907, when Vera and Lida went to Philadelphia to deal with the ghosts of slavery in “King Midas Exhumed.”
A mutiny occurred on the Junior, an American whaling ship sailing off the coast of Australia. According to “An Unachored Man,” second-mate Henry Thorn Lord survived the ordeal, went on to become a ship’s captain, and eventually retired on Cape Cod by 1903. It was not a restful retirement, though, and Vera and Lida investigate why.
The U.S. passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, significantly restricting immigration from China (and setting a precedent for placing strict restrictions on newcomers from almost all of Asia in 1917 and those from Eastern and Southern Europe in 1921 and 1924). The Exclusion Act had a bearing on a case Vera shared with her ghost-hunting mentor, Harry Escott, and the story-within-a-story is recounted in “Ghosts and Other Immigrants.”
In “Shadows Cast from Behind Me,” Lida attends something fairly new: a motion picture projected on a screen. Unfortunately, Vera is too busy reporting on a meatpackers’ strike to help her investigate the vision she sees there.
When an up-and-coming magician named Harry Houdini found himself being blackmailed by a Spiritualist medium — and a spirit from his own past — he called on Vera Van Slyke. The Handcuff King’s Harlem and Connecticut residences are authentic. Lida tells the story in “Houdini Slept Here.”
A group of workers digging freight tunnels far below the streets of Chicago died from something that spurred them to “live life” with such mania that their hearts and kidneys failed. Suspecting the supernatural, the coroner for Cook County, Peter M. Hoffman, brought the mystery to Vera. The case is chronicled in “Vampire Particles.”
Over 250 boys and men lost their lives in Cherry, Illinois, when fire and fumes swept through a coal mine. This tragedy might help explain the coats that dance with nothing in them, a phenomenon described in “Beyond the Great Beyond.”