Here are two brief stories about famous people with a perhaps unexpected connection to the world of paranormal phenomena.
The first comes from the recently published book Glimpses of Eternity, by Raymond Moody and Paul Perry. Glimpses concerns what Moody calls "shared death experiences," episodes in which an NDE or deathbed vision is shared by a hospital worker or loved one. I didn't find the book quite as compelling as some people do, but I have no doubt that such events do take place, and they have been documented in the literature of psychical research as far back as the 19th century (as Moody and Perry freely acknowledge).
Anyway, the story from Glimpses of Eternity has nothing to do with shared death experiences. It's about channeling -- and a most unlikely medium. The authors write:
Dr. Jonas Salk, inventor of the polio vaccine, ... shocked the world when he revealed that he sat up late at night, receiving messages from another realm. The New York Times Magazine published an article about Salk in November 1990 in which it said that Salk fell into a "trancelike state, filling page after page in an almost indecipherable hand." He collected more than twelve thousand handwritten pages of notes that were later published in three books: Man Unfolding, The Survival of the Wisest and Anatomy of Reality. [pp. 172-173]
Jonas Salk practiced automatic writing? Who knew? (The Times article can be read here.)
The second story is from Michael Grosso's 2004 book Experiencing the Next World Now, a literate and well-researched overview of afterlife evidence. This story concerns Mark Twain. I knew Twain had an interest in the paranormal; he was convinced of the existence of what he called "mental telegraphy," and made reference to some telepathic episodes in his own life when requesting membership in the Society for Psychical Research in 1884. But I didn't know that his interest in parapsychology extended beyond ESP.
Grosso tells us:
For over forty years Mark Twain had a recurring dream. He always dreamed of the same fifteen-year-old girl; he would meet her in India, in England, in Hawaii, in Athens, and in America. Her name would change, her face and voice would change, but he always knew her to be the same girl whom he loved with a chaste and reverent heart. One night he dreamed of her in Hawaii, and she died. He was stricken beyond any grief of his waking hours.
Later he dreamed of a temple in Athens in which she appeared to him again, and he realized she had never really died. "It may be that she had often died before, and knew that there was nothing lasting about it," he wrote. Mark Twain was faithful to his platonic sweetheart. "In our dreams -- I know it! -- we do make the journeys we seem to make; we do see the things we seem to see; the people, the horses, the cats ... are real, not chimeras; they are living spirits, not shadows; and they are immortal and indestructible. My Dreamland sweetheart is a real person, not a fiction."
And what's more, the dream is more real than the everyday world: "more deep and strong and sharp." Mark Twain holds this up against our waking "artificial selves" and the "dull-tinted artificial world" and finds the waking world wanting. To the author of Huck Finn, this dream world is what we step into when we die. "When we die we shall slough off this cheap intellect, and go abroad into Dreamland clothed in our real selves." *[pp. 181-182]
This information is taken from Twain's short story "My Platonic Sweetheart," published posthumously in the December 1912 issue of Harper's Magazine and readable online. Grosso describes it as "an autobiographical story." The Harper's editor, perhaps wishing to protect Twain's reputation, plays down any autobiographical content, labeling the story "a delicate fancy." More recently, a writer for the Smithsonian Magazineargued that the dream figure was most likely Laura Wright, an early love interest of Twain's. If so, the story has been fictionalized to some extent, but it seems likely to reflect a genuine series of recurring dreams.
*The actual line is "When we die we shall slough off this cheap intellect, perhaps, and go abroad into Dreamland clothed in our real selves ..." The word perhaps was omitted in Grosso's book. Also, the description of Twain's reaction to the dream-girl's death is a bit exaggerated; Twain says it "transcended many sufferings that I have known in waking life," not that it was worse than any waking grief.
Here's a fun thing that's started circulating on the Internet. Someone watching footage of the 1928 premiere of Charlie Chaplin's film The Circus noticed a female pedestrian caught on camera who appears to be speaking into a cell phone. Since cell phones did not exist in 1928, the footage seemed inexplicable, leading its discoverer to speculate - half seriously, I guess - that maybe the woman was a "time traveler."
You can watch the footage here. If you want to bypass the rather boring and long-winded introduction, the 1928 footage starts around the 3:00 mark.
So what's the answer to this mystery? Was a time traveler caught on film in 1928?
A commenter on the National Review website who goes by the name of ChugBug supplies a better answer. The thing in the lady's hand, which does sort of resemble a cell phone, is probably a hearing aid.
Yes, there were hearing aids in 1928, and yes, some of them were flat and large, like this object. Since the microphone was located in the flat part of the device, the woman was probably speaking into the mike as she walked along. I don't know who she was talking to. Maybe she was talking to herself.
ChugBug helpfully included a link to a Web page that shows a particular hearing aid, the Audiphone, that would match up very nicely with the mysterious object in the lady's hand.
Admittedly, the time traveler conjecture is more fun, and reminds me of a fine old science-fiction story called "Vintage Season."
Lately I seem to be in a mood to buy stuff. Think of it as my modest personal attempt to stimulate the economy. Anyway, I just bought a Roku.
What the heck is a Roku? Well, I don't want to oversell it, so let me just say that it's the greatest thing ever in the history of the universe.
Basically, Roku is a set-top box that allows you to watch streaming Internet video on your TV. You plug in the box, attach it to your TV via AV cables (or an HDMI cable, for those with HDTV), and follow the on-screen instructions to create a Roku account and sync it with your Netflix account or Amazon Video On Demand account. Then ... let the good times roll!
Various Roku channels with specialized content are also available. I haven't tried those. So far, Netflix has been enough for me. I use the simple remote to search for movies and TV shows that interest me, select one, and within a minute it's playing on my TV. (Of course, you need a Netflix subscription. Sadly, Netflix streaming video isn't currently available outside the US.)
I expected Roku to work, but not to work this well. I thought there would be problems like buffering, pixellation, image breakup, etc. So far the only technical issue I've noticed was a little bit of pixellation and frame-dropping on one film. I'm pretty sure this issue lay with Netflix, not Roku.
Overall, picture quality has been excellent, easily surpassing my crappy cable reception and rivaling, if not besting, a standard DVD. Netflix's selection of streaming video is getting better all the time, and already offers a wide variety, with a good mix of recent releases and older titles.
Recently I've developed the habit of watching syndicated reruns of King of the Hill at night. But when NewsCorp pulled its local stations off my cable provider's system because of a contract dispute, I was left without the antics of Hank, Bill, and Dale. Did I panic? I did not. Netflix has nine seasons of KOTH available for streaming. Who needs those local channels?
Heck, we're almost to point where we can ask: Who needs cable? When the selection of on-demand videos improves even more, it may be hard to justify coughing up hundreds of dollars a year to your friendly cable provider. Roku may be the future of TV.
And did I mention it's the greatest thing ever in the history of the universe?