Joe Nickell, author of The Science of Ghosts credits himself with being the world’s only full-time, professional, science-based paranormal investigator. Mr. Nickell also happens to be Senior Research Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and Investigative Files Columnist for Skeptical Inquirer. The basis for his dismissal of ghostly encounters is explained in simple terms:
**After four decades of investigations by Mr. Nickell, not a single ghost has ever been validated by science;
**Science cannot substantiate the existence of an afterlife energy that functions without a brain (enabling one to walk or gesture). As explained by the science of neurology, when the brain dies, brain function ceases;
**Ghosts are almost always reported as seen wearing clothing (which is inanimate).
In his book, the author neither claims to have seen any apparitions during his investigations nor witnessed any unexplained paranormal activity; hence I understand his reliance on scientific evidence to prove their existence. Without firsthand experience of paranormal activity, the concept of “ghosts” is difficult to fathom unless one is presented with compelling evidence or has a strong belief in the subject. I have both evidence and faith.
As a writer, I seek out experiences that authenticate what I am writing about and that is what drove me to stay overnight alone in one of the ten most haunted places in the world—the Carleton County Gaol in Ottawa. I was conducting research for a book at the time (Where Angels Gather) and the jail played an important role in my story. The other compelling reason for my visit was curiosity—my mother had worked at the jail sometime in the 1940s or1950s.
I arrived at the jail (now the Ottawa Jail Hostel) in January 2009 during the worst snowstorm of the season and was handed a key to a room on the 9th floor. This was the area that had housed women inmates and coincidentally where my mother worked as a matron. As it turned out, I was the only guest staying on that floor. My room was at the end of the hallway, and when I explored the facilities later that evening, discovered I was just a few stairs away from death row and the gallows!
To give you a little history, the Carlton County Gaol served as a prison for 110 years, until 1976. Conditions at the jail were harsh. There were no glass panes in the windows of the exterior stone walls that lined the cell blocks of the men, hence cold and snow drifted into the corridors in the winter months and during the summer, flies and mosquitoes infested the cells. The women’s ward appeared to have better treatment and inmates were sometimes allowed to keep their babies with them during incarceration.
Over the years many prisoners committed suicide by jumping into the central stairwell that plunges from the upper floors all the way to the lower level. Eventually safety nets were strung across the stairwell to prevent suicides, but death continued to stalk the jail— some the result of secret hangings inside the prison by cruel guards or at the hands of prisoners themselves. The last public hanging took place on February 11, 1869 when Patrick Whelan was hanged for assassinating Thomas Darcy McGee, one of the founding Fathers of Confederation.
I joined a small group of tourists for a guided tour of the jail early that night and had my photo taken inside Patrick Whelan’s cell. Our tour guide spoke of reported incidents of steel gates closing suddenly on unsuspecting tourists, sometimes causing injury, hence one “problem:” gate was chained shut. I had already requested and received permission to further explore the jail on my own and so at the conclusion of the tour, I left the building to have a bite to eat in a local restaurant thinking I would continue my tour later.
It was sometime after seven o’clock when I struck out alone. There was just enough light to find my way through the cell blocks. The energy, especially around the death row cells, was dark and heavy. At times, I felt like I was being watched but did not feel threatened in any way. It was an eerie feeling wandering through those dark hallways and empty cells, yet I had the distinct feeling that I had been there before. Eventually I found my way to the basement kitchen, which was rented out to a catering company I learned from a cook who was working that evening. He spoke of hearing strange noises and shadows in the hallway outside the kitchen where several deaths had apparently occurred.
Perhaps the most disturbing room was the one where hangings took place. The hinged door behind the noose opened to allow the public standing outside at ground level to witness hangings. Several photos later, I returned to my room sometime after nine o’clock and fell into a deep, exhausted sleep, unusual for me as I rarely go to bed early. Surprisingly, I slept for 12 hours straight and didn’t wake up until 9:00 AM! In the morning light I noticed several initials carved into the pine plank floor and when I took a closer look, discovered my own initials ‘BY’ among them!
I didn’t have time to shower or I would have missed the complementary breakfast served in the dining hall. After a quick bite I headed home and hit the shower. While washing my back I felt something rough and when I looked in the mirror, found three fresh scratches, each one about 4 to 6” long. I had heard about psychic attacks before and had no doubt that the scratches on my back had happened sometime during my long sleep the previous night.
A couple of days later, when I transferred the photographs of my jail visit to computer, I received another surprise. In one of the photos taken of me in Patrick Whelan’s cell, an evil-looking face appears very clearly behind the bars. Other people who have seen the photo pointed out a body and a pair of hands in a strangle position. And in a photo I took of the room where I stayed, the reflection of spirits are seen in the window—a man and woman dressed in a matron’s outfit and jailer’s uniform, and two men seated at a table. I have shown these photos to several people, one a journalist, who all saw the figures clearly. (I chose not to show the photos here as once they become public, I lose ownership. It’s not a risk I wish to take.)
And so I am left wondering how Joe Nickell’s “science of ghosts” would measure up against my real life, or rather paranormal experience, at the jail. How would he scientifically explain the photographs of spirits wearing clothes from an earlier era? I have seen several spirits over the years—none of them naked! And so I will heed past advice from my blogging friend Anne (Writing From the Twelfth House https://anne-whitaker.com) and go with the Occam’s razor theory—that the simplest tenable explanation, the one requiring the fewest assumptions, is most likely correct.
Have you ever seen a naked ghost??