Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Sources

Sources are a funny thing with the paranormal for two major reasons. For one, whenever you don't include one, skeptics always use that as a catalyst for discounting the report. The other thing is that a lot of sources tend to repeat stories from other sources - a kind of secondhand information that gets into third- and fourth- and fifth- hand accounts of the same basic story.

One of the most infamous of these was one that I had originally heard happened in Tennessee. A man walked across his front yard in plain view of his family and a neighbor, and when he turned to wave goodbye to them, he simply disappeared from sight! This story was repeated so often, with only minor changes here and there, that it was eventually accepted as one of the Unexplained stories everyone simply accepted as true because... well, it had to be, right?

Several years ago, an intrepid researcher got down to brass tacks and followed the story all the way down to find out - it didn't exist! How did he do it? He tracked down the newspaper in which the story was supposed to have appeared, as listed in one of the earliest books containing the account, and went through their morgue. He found the paper and read it from front to back and the story simply did not exist.

The actual story to that is a bit more complex, but it just goes to show that, much like a modern day Schliemann (who picked up a trowel and dug up Troy), the researcher simply followed the source given and discovered the article did not exist. Was this a hoax? Probably. The Indian Rope Trick was; it was published on April 1st and even said, "April Fool's!" at the end of it. But the idea so captivated listeners that movies were made purporting to show the trick and others went in search of those who could do it.

The problem with finding "original" sources for many of these matters is that they are usually astronomical in price. I have been quite lucky in my time to have read many of the "golden books" in the field (though I had no idea of their status then) and even managed to acquire several of them to add to my own library over the years. While the sources we use here vary and are given whenever possible, there are four major books from which we both cull stories and compare new ones to:
  • Eyewitness to History: Easily one of the greatest books ever - written? compiled? - put together, editor John Carey collects the original documents and firsthand accounts concerning history's most important events, people, places, and times.
  • Mysteries of the Unexplained (1982): Still one of the preeminent authorities on all things Unknown, this tome is well-crafted, copiously illustrated, and extensively researched. One of the very few books on the subject I have at my disposal in which I've found startlingly few errors or omissions.
  • Phenomena: A Book of Wonders: One of the true great authorities within the field, you're going to be hard-pressed to find a good copy of this one for under $15-20.00 and, believe me, that's a steal! I got mine off of an obscure web-based auction site you might not have heard of... e... something or other, and it came from across the Pond there, but it was worth every penny. You'll notice that this book is quoted as a source in most all others on the subject.
  • Unexplained!: An exhaustive, though not always accurate, collection of stories and accounts, this one is what I like to call a third-hand source. Most of the stories and accounts collected herein are drawn from other written sources, making it one of the least credible of the primary sources from which we work, but that's not to say Clark didn't do his homework - this is about as near replete a collection of the Unknown as one could hope for. I just wish he'd checked and double-checked his sources a bit better. Still, he manages to throw in many, many stories and legends even I had never heard of. Great read - in fact, I literally could not put this book down for the 2-3 days it took me to read it, cover-to-cover!
  • An Underground Education: This book... this book should be required reading material for everyone over the age of 17. This book should be taught in colleges - no, eff that - this book should be taught in highschools. If you have not read this book, I honestly do not think you know Thing One about History in any regard. An absolute treasure for the historian, an absolute must-read for everyone.
  • Mind & Magic: This repository is one of the true unsung heroes within the field. King not only collects stories and accounts, but relates the concepts in-depth, and even manages to give real examples (of spells, practices, items, and much more). This is a serious Occult primer book to which many might object, but the information it contains is invaluable to the serious paranormal expert.
Of course, there are literally dozens of others to which I refer constantly and read occasionally. These, though, are the primary sources from which The OddBlog most often draws. Many times, when we quote sources, if these are among them, we will simply link to this post.

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