“THE TROUBLE WITH GHOST ORBS” and More Dark Historic Stories! #WeirdDarkness
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IN THIS EPISODE: America’s foremost exorcist, Theophilus Riesinger, faced off with Lucifer himself in the grueling 1928 case of a demonic possession in a rural Iowa convent. (The Exorcism of Emma Schmidt) *** One of the greatest magicians of all time was Chung Ling Soo. So adept at illusion, sleight of hand, and fooling others that he was able to lead a double life… before being shot and killed performing his own magic trick. (The Magician Who Lived a Double Life) *** John Dee claimed he was visited by angels presented him with a secret language just angels, and the ability to perform a new magic they called Enochian. We’ll look at his claims. (John Dee And The Language of Angels) *** A little boy goes fishing on a Spring day. He disappears. Another boy goes fishing nearby on the exact same day. He also disappears. A third child goes missing many years later in the same general area. What happened? (The Missing Fishing Boys) *** Venice’s Poveglia Island was a quarantine center and mass grave for victims of bubonic plague – so it should come as no surprise it is considered one of the most haunted places in all of Europe. (Poveglia: The Island of Ghosts) *** It is one of history’s greatest unsolved mysteries… what happened to the lost colony of Roanoke? We’ll look at a few theories. (Lost Roanoke) *** You snap a selfie of the gang at brunch, but it’s covered with shapes and light that definitely weren’t present in real life when you took the photo. The whole thing is giving you major paranormal feels. Is it a loved one from the other side, making a cameo in your latest feed pic? Or a simple technological mishap? (The Trouble With Ghost Orbs)
SOURCES AND REFERENCES FROM THE EPISODE…
BOOK: “Ghosts on Film” by Troy Taylor: https://amzn.to/3ORYS14
BOOK: “The Prestige” by Christopher Priest: https://amzn.to/47ulw6O
FILM: “The Prestige” directed by Christopher Nolan: https://amzn.to/3DP1OVU
BOOK: “Finding Marjorie West” by Harold Thomas Beck: https://amzn.to/451zviR
BOOK: “Begone Satan!” by Fr. Carl Vogl: https://amzn.to/3rYIjHK
“The Trouble With Ghost Orbs” by Troy Taylor for American Hauntings Ink: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/443n228f; Vicki Carroll for Exemplore: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/pknn5n3r; Ann Massey for Spooky Isles: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/2p9xp8t7; and Bonnie Page from the Sentinal & Enterprise:https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/y5w8h2m6
“Poveglia: The Island of Ghosts” by Genevieve Carlton for All That’s Interesting: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/3byfnvhv
“The Magician Who Lived a Double Life” by Kaushik Patowary for Amusing Planet: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/yckvppfw
“John Dee And The Language of Angels” by Riley Winters for Ancient Origins: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/yckupdm8
“Lost Roanoke” by Grace Felder for The Archive: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/mtay6ns6
“The Missing Fishing Boys” by Crystal Dawn for LostNFoundBlogs: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/39xur8tf
“The Exorcism of Emma Schmidt” by Charlie Hintz for Cult of Weird: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/3zdmbdfz
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Paranormality Magazine: (COMING SEPT. 30, 2023) https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/paranormalitymag
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Are they spirits in the form of light or just flecks of dust on a camera lens? The debate about orbs has lingered since the advent of photography in the 1900s. Professional photographers give a technological rationale called backscatter for the random appearance of orbs in digital photography, while spiritists claim they are ghosts—even assigning characteristics based on the color of the orb. Spiritists challenge naysayers to take a photo with an orb in it if they’re so easy to create, while professional photographers debunk paranormal activity in general.
There are instances of professional photographers using their camera’s flash to create an orb, but there are many, many more instances where orbs appear in no-flash photography and, in fact, also appear in non-digital photography and videography. Orbs are rarely seen in the camera lens at the time a photograph is taken and only appear after a picture is developed or uploaded. Despite their long history of appearances in photographs and videos worldwide, these spherical anomalies are no closer to a provable scientific explanation today. There are even debates concerning whether the size and shape of orbs can serve to authenticate them, claiming “real” orbs are oblong or irregular while “fake” orbs tend to be perfectly round. To complicate the topic of orbs, ghost lovers have created hoax photographic orbs, which only fuel subjective speculation. Perhaps orbs are like the velveteen rabbit. They’re only real when we believe they are. Whatever the case, you are unlikely to become a believer of spirit orbs or ghosts until you’ve experienced one firsthand.
I’m Darren Marlar and this is Weird Darkness.
Welcome, Weirdos – (I’m Darren Marlar and) this is Weird Darkness. Here you’ll find stories of the paranormal, supernatural, legends, lore, the strange and bizarre, crime, conspiracy, mysterious, macabre, unsolved and unexplained.
Coming up in this episode…
America’s foremost exorcist, Theophilus Riesinger, faced off with Lucifer himself in the grueling 1928 case of a demonic possession in a rural Iowa convent. (The Exorcism of Emma Schmidt)
One of the greatest magicians of all time was Chung Ling Soo. So adept at illusion, slight of hand, and fooling others that he was able to lead a double life… before being shot and killed performing his own magic trick. (The Magician Who Lived a Double Life)
John Dee claimed he was visited by angels presented him with a secret language just angels, and the ability to perform a new magic they called Enochian. We’ll look at his claims. (John Dee And The Language of Angels)
A little boy goes fishing on a Spring day. He disappears. Another boy goes fishing nearby on the exact same day. He also disappears. A third child goes missing many years later in the same general area. What happened? (The Missing Fishing Boys)
Venice’s Poveglia Island was a quarantine center and mass grave for victims of bubonic plague – so it should come as no surprise it is considered one of the most haunted places in all of Europe. (Poveglia: The Island of Ghosts)
It is one of history’s greatest unsolved mysteries… what happened to the lost colony of Roanoke? We’ll look at a few theories. (Lost Roanoke)
You snap a selfie of the squad at brunch, but it’s covered with shapes and light that definitely weren’t present IRL. The whole thing is giving you major paranormal feels. Is it a loved one from the other side, making a cameo in your latest feed pic? Or a simple technological mishap? (The Trouble With Ghost Orbs)
If you’re new here, welcome to the show! While you’re listening, be sure to check out WeirdDarkness.com for merchandise, to visit sponsors you hear about during the show, sign up for my newsletter, enter contests, connect with me on social media, plus, you can visit the Hope in the Darkness page if you’re struggling with depression or dark thoughts. You can find all of that and more at WeirdDarkness.com.
Now.. bolt your doors, lock your windows, turn off your lights, and come with me into the Weird Darkness!
STORY: THE TROUBLE WITH GHOST ORBS=====
In 2017 the newspaper, the Sentinel & Enterprise, received a letter for one of their columnists, Bonnie Page – a psychic medium – for her “Dear Bonnie” column. The letter read:
“Sometimes I see lights — not a reflection of the sun or lights from an electrical source. They can look like free-floating balls of light. I have seen them flow into a room in which I am standing. Sometimes, the lights flash. Once, I saw a bright red light in front of me. Is there a spiritual significance to these lights? — Lois in Lunenburg”
Bonnie had this to say in response:
“Dear Lois: These free-floating lights are often referred to as orbs. Orbs are transparent balls, or globes, of light energy connected to spirits. Orbs are commonly found in photos but can be seen also with the naked eye, particularly around people or in highly energetic areas. These orbs can be a variety of shapes, sizes and colors.
The colors of orbs can mean different things to different people. Overall, I’ve seen that the colors of an orb seem to coincide with the energy system in the body called the chakras. Bright, pure orb colors indicate beautiful energy coming forth.
For your particular case, Lois, the red color in the orb you saw was your grandfather. It was a strong and protective energy, like a great big hug for you. He watches over you from heaven. The white orbs were from your parents: the energy was meant to be encouraging and inspiring. Your parents want to communicate that you’re on the right track in life and to stay the course.
Usually, when I give a reading, the client’s loved ones who are in spirit tell me they have joined them during a celebration or major life event, such as a wedding or family gathering. I find this applies to every one of us. Just as the loved one was with you physically for all the important occasions when they were alive, so they join you again for those events, only this time, they are present in spirit. This is why it so very common to see orbs in wedding photos, graduation pictures or family-reunion snapshots.
Orbs are known as ‘spirit orbs.’ Just as orbs are energy, so are we, and so is spirit. Everything that surrounds us is energy and vibrates at an energetic frequency. Actions that raise our vibrational energy, and therefore make us more likely to experience orbs, include any spiritual ritual, such as prayer, worship or healing service, such as reiki. You may also see them while out in nature, which is highly spiritual and places you in a meditative mood, so you are more likely to observe orbs.
Pets, one of my favorite subjects, can easily experience orbs. Cats are particularly adept at seeing orbs. If your dog is wagging his tail or barking at ‘nothing,’ he’s probably sensing spirit. Orbs have even been known to play with our pets, too. Maybe that’s why cats love laser pointers so much.
Some people believe they can see faces inside the orbs. Orbs have been captured with distinctive facial features and even multiple faces in one orb.
As part of my research for this question, I asked my Facebook friends to share their stories and pictures of orbs. They flowed in with abundance. Thanks to all who participated.
Remember, spirits are incredibly creative and persistent in speaking with you. Your loved ones who have passed on will use every energetic tool at their disposable to reach out to you. Dreams, coins, synchronicities and repeated sequences of the same number are some of the methods we’ve previously covered. Orbs, or light energy, are yet another amazing communication option.
When my father was 4, his mother passed away. At night, he would see beautiful flashes and balls of white light above his bed. He found them particularly soothing when he was afraid. Whether these orbs were his mother’s energy or a guardian angel, the result was the same: He felt peaceful and loved. When you see these flashes or orbs yourself, know that someone in heaven wants to share a sliver of their divine, eternal love with you, too.”
So obviously Bonnie Page is a believer. Ann Massey from the Spooky Isles website has her own thoughts though on the concept of ghost orbs, or spirit orbs – and takes a bit more of a balanced approach. This is what she has to say:
For years the so-called phenomenon of Paranormal Orbs has divided the paranormal community, from those who believe every translucent sphere is a spirit, to those who openly ridicule the anomaly and those who believe in its existence.
So what are they and why do so many people believe they are spiritual energy?
For almost two centuries, spherical, white or translucent images caught on camera have been cited by paranormal investigators, bereaved individuals and indeed, hoaxers as evidence of the afterlife.
Whether a printed photograph, a digital image or film or digital recording, these “orbs” continue to cause debate in the paranormal field and many are convinced it is proof of the existence of spirits in a particular location.
In order to look at the first “orbs’ recognised, we have to go back to the Spiritualism Movement of the 19th Century. The fascination for reaching the other side and communicating peaked to become a worldwide phenomenon. It is also when believers, skeptics and hoaxers first collided in a big way.
Spirit photography became a huge money spinner for those who specialised in the taking and development of photos. As well as seemingly recording images of deceased loved ones, the “orb” began to put in an appearance.
Purely accidentally, the first orbs appeared in photographs quite simply due to the long exposure required to produce a photograph. Once the glass plate method of development came into practice, double imagery became easy and with that, the placement of orbs or apparent images of spirits in human form to deliberately con the general public, desperate to make contact with lost loved ones.
For every William Mumler (spirit photographer) there was a noteworthy adversary such as Harry Price of the Society for Psychical Research who would provide evidence of fraud. For every celebrity skeptic like Harry Houdini, there was a celebrity believer and conspiracy theorist like Arthur Conan Doyle – the public didn’t know who to trust and erred on the side of hope, keeping the belief that orbs were indeed spirits going right into the 21st century.
For the most part at least, there is a scientific explanation for the phenomenon. The most common occurrence is dust or liquid particles during the taking of a photograph or video, particularly in low light conditions. Items near to the lens are not focused and the light source creates a diffused reflection through this unfocused image, causing something called “backscatter.”
Backscatter is the bouncing back of these particles through the lens aperture via the flash or light source, which translate as spots of light or “orbs” on the photo or within the video. These show up as white and often translucent spheres, giving that ethereal appearance.
The other more simple cause is the insect or dust particle too close to the camera lens, leaving it unfocused and seemingly out of scale to the rest of the image in view. In low light conditions and with a hazy outline, it appears orb-like, along with movement and directionality that are often misinterpreted.
So here’s the thing – paranormal investigations most often take place in the hours of darkness, where low light and poor resolution imagery is at its most prevalent. Many investigations take place in cited “haunted” locations which invariably are historic, some ruinous and of course, dusty!
What about water droplets on the lens? Well there is the obvious cause of course, rain, however another is what happens around something known as the Dew Point. Dew Point Temperature is the measurement at which humidity in the air becomes liquid. If your phone or camera temperature is lower than this point, the water droplets in the air hone in on the cooler surface and become “orbs” on your lens!
There are a few things you can do to alleviate false anomalies on a paranormal investigation. The first is to be careful around light directionality. Direct your light source away from the direction of your photographic subject and ensure there is no backlight in play.
Where possible, turn off your flash and instead, increase your ISO setting which will increase your phone or camera’s light sensitivity and reduce the number of false “orbs”. Taking photos or video while keeping your equipment stable will also help.
With regards to the Dew Point, it is vital that your equipment is given time to acclimatise to a new location to prevent the build up of moisture on the lens. Also giving your lens a wipe regularly during the course of your investigation is key.
Of course as well as accidental misreading of orbs due to technical or natural events, there is that pesky fraud that was started in the 19th Century that is stronger than ever today.
With the ability to photoshop, creative apps and hands on, easy to use editing functions, faked ghost photography makes it impossible for any third party to stand behind an image and declare it paranormal. The world is flooded with carefully created fake images of spirits and orbs, with no one knowing which are digitally enhanced or made up or which are of a localised persuasion at the time the image was captured.
Even if you were present when the photo of the orb was taken, you would need to know the Dew Point, that the lens was clean, the levels of dust and the rate of insect activity to name just a few baselines. To stand behind an image without having all the necessary data would be tough.
With the explosion of paranormal based TV programming, increasing numbers of paranormal teams and public investigations, together with the fascination for the field across social media, spirit photography and the “orb” are here to stay in a big way.
For everyone who takes a scientific or skeptical approach, there is one who believes and for this reason, the matter will never truly be resolved and set in stone.
It is no coincidence that with the onset of the photographic process came orbs. How many spiritual orbs or ghost lights have you seen on oil paintings or sketches from preceding centuries?
To quote Mulder, the issue is the intense necessity of “I Want To Believe”. Many folks see what they want to see and believe that despite evidence to the contrary, that apple is in fact, an orange.
An argument could be made for those more focussed and honed “orbs” with specific directionality in tandem with other paranormal anomalies and with an appearance of intelligent interaction, but how do you prove it is the existence of the paranormal? Or rather, I should say, how do you rationalise your belief against those disproving it?
So for some, the appearance of these hazy, translucent orbs of white light are entities, spirits from the beyond. For this paranormal investigator, however, these are just a load of light reflective balls!
That’s Ann Massy’s take on orbs – but certainly not the only one. Paranormal author and investigator Troy Taylor is a bit more opinionated about the subject – here is what he has to say:
For many years, during all of my writing on ghosts and paranormal phenomena, I have maintained that nothing that I have written has ever been meant to be the “final word” on anything related to the paranormal. However, this section is actually meant to be the “final word” (or rather MY “final word”) on the subject of “orbs”:
Enough with the “orbs” already! “Orbs” are not evidence of the paranormal. They are not ghosts and they are not even “unexplained”!
How can I say this when I maintain there are no “experts” on the paranormal? Because so-called “orbs” have nothing to do with the paranormal! Let me back up a moment and say then I’m not talking about anomalous lights and globes of energy that are seen with the naked eye, I’m talking about those pesky, transparent balls that seem to show up in photos and have been claimed for more than a decade to be “evidence” of ghosts.
Many of the “orb photographs” that turn up on Internet websites or in books seem to come from cemeteries but they actually have an annoying habit of showing up almost anywhere. They have become the most commonly reported types of “paranormal photos” claimed by “ghost hunters” in recent years.
I began debunking the vast majority of “orb” photographs in the middle 1990s, around the same time that I began the controversy over using low-end digital cameras for paranormal investigation. The majority of “orb” photos from that time could be blamed on low resolution, low pixel cameras — but not all of them. Despite what has been seen and heard, there has never been any evidence whatsoever to suggest that these “orbs” are in any way related to ghosts. Yes, they have often turned up in photos that are taken at haunted locations but, as my research started to show, they could turn up literally everywhere.
As mentioned, “orb” photos are the most commonly seen “ghost photos” today and you will probably see more photos on the Internet of these purportedly “mysterious” balls of light than of anything else. While I do believe that genuine photographs of paranormal “lights” exist, they are not as common as many people think. The reason for this is that it’s very hard to photograph something at the same time you are observing it. However, it’s been done a number of times over the years at spook light locations and even during investigations. In my book Ghosts on Film, which deals specifically about spirit photography and investigations, I present a number of cases from my files where other researchers and myself were able to photograph glowing lights at the time they occurred. Were they ghosts? I don’t know but I can say that I believe the lights were paranormal in origin — unlike “orbs”.
Despite the fact that I (along with many other researchers) have been trying to tell people that “orbs” are easily explained as a natural phenomenon for nearly a decade, those that I like to call “orb-a-philes” have continued to post “orb photographs” on websites, print them in books, display them at conferences and excitedly show them to me on their digital camera screens. When I suggest a possible explanation for the “orbs”, downplaying the idea that they are ghosts, I usually get the reaction that I described in the introduction to this book — anger, righteous indignation and a comment that I don’t know what I am talking about anyway.
So, rather than try and argue with every “orb-a-phile” that I come across, I’ll let this article do my arguing for me. I don’t plan to write about “orbs” ever again and so please spare me the angry emails that claim that I have no idea what I am talking about. This is the final opinion that I have come up with on “orbs” and keep in mind that it is my opinion — I’m not an expert because there aren’t any paranormal “experts”– but this is what I have come up with based on research that dates back over more than two decades. With that said, what follows are the reasons that I do not believe that “orbs” have any place in the field of paranormal research:
A typical “orb photograph” is usually one that is taken in an allegedly haunted place and somewhere within the photo is a hovering, round ball. Some of these “orbs” appear to be giving off light, while others appear to be transparent.
It should also be noted that “orbs” were actually quite rare (if not nonexistent) before digital cameras became common. In the early days of low-cost, cheap digital cameras, some “ghost hunters” actually proposed that digital cameras are “superior for orb photography.” And since they were producing more “orb” photos, this was technically true. But the digital imaging chip is very different than traditional film phot0ography and was far inferior until recent times. Some of the earlier, low-end digital cameras were made with CMOS chips and they would create “noise” in low-light photographs that would be mistaken for “orbs”. It seemed that when they were used in darkness, or near darkness, the resulting images were plagued with spots that appeared white, or light colored, and where the digital pixels had not all filled in. In this manner, the cameras were creating “orbs”, and they had no paranormal source at all.
The most common “orb” photos are merely refractions of light on the camera lens. This occurs when the camera flash bounces back from something reflective in the range of the camera. When this happens, it creates a perfectly round ball of light that appears to be within the parameters of the photo but is actually just an image on the lens itself. Many people often mistake these “orbs” for genuine evidence of ghosts, although I have never really been quite clear as to why that is. Most “orb” photos occur when the camera flash is used. Some of the photographers will insist that their flash was not on, which means it was and they didn’t know it. The automatic exposure control on most any standard 35 mm camera uses fill flash in all but the brightest light.
Even so, “orbs” don’t have to have a camera flash to be created. They can also be caused by bright lights in an area where the photo is being taken, by angles of light and by many types of artificial lighting.
But are lights and camera flashes the only thing that can cause “orbs” to appear? Far from it! Other objects that end up in front of the camera lens and are mistaken for paranormal images are dust, moisture, pollen, insects, snow, rain, hair, ash and scores of other semi-microscopic particles. In almost every case, the camera flash reflects on the surface of one of these particles and seems to “glow”, as one might expect a ghostly image to do.
I started experimenting with “orb” photos a number of years ago, using a variety of materials, like flour, salt, dust and cat dander, to simulate “orbs” with my camera. I was not really that surprised to learn how easy it was to duplicate what so many people thought were ghosts using these ordinary items. The one argument that always intrigued me from the “orb-a-philes”, though, was: why, if “orbs” were not paranormal, did they so frequently turn up in photos taken at haunted locations?
I decided to research “orb” photos from graveyards, which I had seen scores of over the years. Keep in mind that I have often been openly critical of ghost hunting in cemeteries anyway. By that I mean, actually just going out to cemeteries and shooting photographs and hoping to capture something on film. While this is great for the hobbyist, I don’t feel that it’s serious research. Needless to say, I have been harshly criticized for this view. In spite of this, I have not changed my mind about the fact that random “ghost hunting” is not an investigation. And if this isn’t reason enough to discourage this kind of activity; I soon had another reason for taking this view.
With three other researchers, I went out to a cemetery that we picked at random on a warm summer night and took several rolls of film. We had no readings, stories or reports to justify the decision, but just took photos anyway. After having them developed, we discovered a number of the photos were filled with semi-transparent “orbs.”
On a hunch, we then went to a nearby football field that was roughly the same size as the cemetery we had already visited. We walked around for a few minutes and again shot a few rolls of film. I was unfortunately not surprised to find that these photos were also filled with “orbs.” Was the football field haunted? Of course not!
What we did was walk around both areas and stir up dust and pollen from the grass. When we took the photos, these particles in the air caught the reflection of the camera flash and appeared to be “orbs”. We also discovered that such photos could be taken after walking or driving on a dusty road. The dust particles would reflect the light, just as moisture can do, and make it seem as though the air was filled was “orbs”.
While the experiment really just reinforced a belief that I already had — namely that “orbs” are not paranormal — I do think that it was worthwhile if even one “orb-a-phile” might see the results and question some of the photos that he or she has been presenting as genuine.
After publishing this research, I was sure that this would be the end of people sending me photos of “orbs” and asking me to justify their belief that they had captured a ghost on film, but it wasn’t. In fact, people still send them to me on a regular basis and they usually follow it up with their arguments as to why they are sure their “orbs” are real.
So, should we discount all “orb” photos? No, I don’t think that we should. As stated earlier, I do believe that there are genuine, paranormal images that appear and which are sometimes captured on film. These visible lights are a semi-common phenomenon but whether or not they signal the presence of ghosts is still open to debate. Regardless, I believe they are something paranormal in nature and we should continue to study them, as we have done for some time.
It’s the “traditional orb photos” that have become the bane of paranormal research and I think that it’s time that we retired this irrelevant theory for good. Hopefully, we’ll see them start to fade from the spotlight of paranormal research once and for all.
When Weird Darkness returns… Venice’s Poveglia Island was a quarantine center and mass grave for victims of bubonic plague – so it should come as no surprise it is considered one of the most haunted places in all of Europe.
Plus… it is one of history’s greatest unsolved mysteries… what happened to the lost colony of Roanoke? We’ll look at a few theories.
But first… one of the greatest magicians of all time was Chung Ling Soo. So adept at illusion, slight of hand, and fooling others that he was able to lead a double life… before being shot and killed performing his own magic trick. That story is up next!
STORY: THE MAGICIAN WHO LIVED A DOUBLE LIFE=====
One of the most dangerous and daring illusions that a magician can attempt is the famed bullet catch trick. There are several variation to the trick, but it usually goes like this—the magician produces an old-fashioned muzzle-loading gun and proceeds to load it with gunpowder. He drops a bullet into the barrel and uses a ramrod to push the bullet up against the gunpowder. He then hands the gun to an assistant (or a member of the audience) and invites him to shoot at the magician. The assistant complies. But instead of dropping down dead, the magician apparently catches the bullet with his hand, or dramatically produce it from between his teeth.
As with anything involving guns, the illusion is extremely dangerous because it has the potential to go terribly wrong. Many magicians have lost their lives attempting to catch the bullet. One of the best documented instance of a performer being killed while performing the gun trick is Chung Ling Soo, who was shot dead when the firearm malfunctioned in London in 1918.
Despite his name, Chung Ling Soo was not Chinese, but an American born to Scottish parents. His real name was William Ellsworth Robinson. William’s father worked in traveling minstrel shows, performing hypnotism, impersonations, ventriloquism and magic tricks, all of which he taught his son.
Robinson performed his first magic show at the age of 14 and began performing professionally on the vaudeville circuit shortly thereafter. He initially performed under the name “Robinson, the Man of Mystery”, but later took on another stage name, “Achmed Ben Ali”, which closely resembled the stage name of German magician Max Auzinger, which was “Ben Ali Bey.” In fact, Robinson had copied not only the name but also his tricks, but as Auzinger never toured the United States, the resemblance went largely unnoticed at the time.
In 1898, a Chinese magician named Ching Ling Foo began touring the United States. He stunned the audience by pulling 15-foot-long poles from his mouth, and beheading his servant boys who then walked off the stage headless. One of his best-known tricks was to produce a huge bowl of water from out of an empty cloth, and then pull a small child from the bowl. To drum up publicity for his shows, Foo offered a prize of $1,000 to anyone who could successfully duplicate his water bowl illusion. Robinson claimed that he had figured out how the illusion worked. Fearing that Robinson would reveal the trick, Foo withdrew the challenge and refused to meet him, which upset Robinson.
Two years later, when Robinson heard that an agent was looking for a Chinese magician to perform at Paris, he created a new identity for himself. He put on Chinese attire, shaved his facial hair and wore his hair in a queue. He began to call himself Chung Ling Soo (a variation of Ching Ling Foo’s name). Robinson claimed that he was the son of a Scottish missionary who married a Cantonese woman. His story went that he was orphaned at 13 and raised by a Chinese magician, who taught him the secrets of Chinese magic tricks. Robinson never spoke onstage, claiming he spoke no English and always used an interpreter when he spoke to journalists. An American woman acted as his assistant, who also disguised herself as Soo’s Chinese wife, “Suee Seen”.
Robinson’s new persona became a hit and he quickly became a popular stage magician in Europe and eventually became one of the highest-paid performers on the vaudeville circuit.
In January 1905, Chung Ling Soo and Ching Ling Foo were performing in London at the same time—Soo at the Hippodrome and Foo at the Empire Theater. Foo was aware that Chung Ling Soo was actually William Robinson and that he had copied virtually Foo’s entire act. Sick of the imposter, Foo announced that he would duplicate at least half of Chung Ling Soo’s illusions to prove that he was the real “Original Chinese Conjurer”. But the press was not interested in Soo’s real identity. His act was as good as the original, and for the tabloids, it was all that mattered. Enduring public humiliation, Foo withdrew the challenge.
Soo’s most famous act, which he also stole from Foo and copied to near perfection, was “Condemned to Death by the Boxers.” In this trick, Soo’s assistants appeared on stage dressed as members of the Chinese secret society known as the Yihequan (“Righteous and Harmonious Fists”) or, as the English called them, “Boxers”. Several members of the audience were called upon the stage to mark a bullet that was loaded into a muzzle-loaded gun. The gun was then fired at Soo, who appeared to catch the bullet from the air and drop it into a plate. An audience member would inspect the bullet and declare that it was the same bullet that was marked and dropped into the barrel. In reality, the marked bullet never went into the gun but was slipped into Soo’s palm. What went into the muzzle was a substitute. The gun was also specially built to have two chambers, one that was loaded and the empty chamber below, which was ignited.
On March 23, 1918, while performing at the Wood Green Empire in London, Soo’s modified gun misfired and the bullet struck his lung. He fell to the ground and exclaimed, “Oh my God. Something’s happened. Lower the curtain,” speaking in English for the first time in public since he adopted his Chinese persona. He died the following day.
After Soo’s death, his true identity was revealed and the public was shocked to learn that he was not Chinese, although many professional magicians already knew that. A year before Soo’s death, magician Will Goldston commented in an interview that the public did not question Soo’s identity because “he has always presented to the public that which they like and not which he might prefer.”
Christopher Priest’s book The Prestige, and later its movie adaptation by Christopher Nolan, might have been inspired by the rivalry between Chung Ling Soo and Ching Ling Foo. In fact, Chung Ling Soo is a character in the film played by Chinese-born actor Chao Li Chi, and is seen producing a large bowl of water from a cloth—a trick made famous by Ching Ling Foo. Unfortunately for Nolan, he too fell for Soo’s ruse attributing the classic illusion to the imposter rather than to the original creator.
STORY: LOST ROANOKE=====
The enduring mystery surrounding the lost colony of Roanoke is one that has captivated people for centuries. Established 20 years before Jamestown, the colony on Roanoke Island in modern-day North Carolina set out to be the first permanent English settlement in North America. Instead, the colony was discovered abandoned only three years after its founding, with no trace of its former inhabitants.
Over the years, there have been many theories put forward about what happened to the Roanoke colonists, some more plausible than others. But to this day, definitive answers remain elusive.
The story of Roanoke began in 1584, when explorer Sir Walter Raleigh asked Queen Elizabeth I’s permission to establish a colony in the New World. She quickly granted him permission, since an English presence in North America would provide a strategic passage to the West Indies. He sent out a reconnaissance expedition later that year, which reported back that Roanoke Island was well-suited for a colony. It was on the water, had plenty of resources, and the local Native American tribes seemed peaceful and friendly.
Encouraged by the first expedition’s findings, Raleigh arranged a much larger expedition that set sail in 1585. This time he sent around 600 soldiers and seamen under the command of his cousin, Sir Richard Grenville. This expedition did not go as well as the previous one. Conflict soon arose between the Englishmen and the members of the local Secotan tribe, and the settlers fled back to Europe in 1586.
Still, Raleigh was determined to make his settlement work, and in the summer of 1587, over 100 English settlers arrived on Roanoke Island. The group was made up of approximately 90 men, 17 women, and 11 children. Among them was John White, who was to be the governor of the colony. He was accompanied by his wife and daughter, Eleanor Dare. In August, Eleanor gave birth to Virginia Dare, the first English child born in the Americas.
Only a few months after the settlers arrived, they found themselves in desperate need of supplies. It was decided that White would sail back to England and return with the things they needed. However, once he arrived there, he found that war had broken out between England and Spain. In order to combat the formidable Spanish armada, Queen Elizabeth ordered that every ship available be conscripted into the fight.
John White was unable to return to Roanoke until 1590, three years after his departure. But when he arrived, he found no trace of the colony or the family that he’d left behind. All that remained was the word “Croatoan” carved into a gatepost and “Cro” etched into a nearby tree. The Roanoke colonists were never seen again, and White never learned what happened to them.
Theory 1- Escape to Croatoan Island: One of the oldest and most popular theories about the fate of the missing colonists is closely linked to the carvings left behind at the Roanoke site. Croatoan Island—known today as Hatteras Island—was 50 miles south of the settlement. Many people believe that the carvings were a message left behind by the colonists to tell White where they’d gone. Perhaps the colonists had failed to carve out an existence at their settlement, and had decided to try their luck elsewhere. It’s widely accepted that Croatoan Island played some part in the fate of the colonists, but to what extent is still the subject of debate. Upon learning that the colonists had abandoned Roanoke, White immediately wanted to sail to Croatoan Island to investigate, but damage to the ship forced him to turn back to England before the rescue mission could be completed.
Theory 2- Splitting up into smaller groups: Another theory is that the settlers were struggling to survive, so they broke into smaller groups and dispersed to different areas throughout what is now North Carolina. With dwindling supplies, historian Eric Klingelhofer argued that it was not likely that the Roanoke colonists would have traveled anywhere as one big group: “No single Indian tribe or village could have supported them. They would be even larger than some villages.” The members of the 1585 expedition had been instructed to break off into smaller groups in the event of an emergency, so maybe the Roanoke colonists had a similar plan in place. In 2011, researchers discovered patches on a map of the area drawn by John White. When scientists at the British Museum examined the patches, they found a small red and blue symbol drawn at the mouth of the Chowan River west of the colony. Could this strange symbol have indicated a secret emergency location or fort that was to be kept hidden from foreign agents? What if some of the settlers headed there? Archeological excavations have uncovered evidence of a colonial settlement in the area. However, it has been difficult to prove that this settlement was established prior to the 1700s.
Theory 3- Assimilation into local Native American tribes: If the colonists did voluntarily flee their settlement, most scholars agree that they would have sought the help of Native Americans. Another popular theory is that the colonists developed a friendly relationship with some of the indigenous people living in the area. As time went on and it became clear that outside help would not be arriving, they eventually became integrated into local tribes. Artifacts that are clearly European in origin and were not the type of objects usually involved in trading have been found at various Native American sites in the region. Plus, there were rumors that people with European features were spotted among Native American tribes in the area in subsequent decades. In 2007, efforts began to collect and analyze DNA from local people to see if they had any relation to the Roanoke settlers, but so far it appears that the project hasn’t made headway.
Theory 4- A violent end: While there are several theories that presume the colonists voluntarily left Roanoke and simply lived elsewhere in obscurity, there are others that consider a much grislier fate. As the only English settlement on the continent, and comprised of families rather than the military, the inhabitants of Roanoke were vulnerable to attack. Earlier expeditions to the site to check its suitability for a settlement had already stirred up conflict with the Secotan tribe. Perhaps the colonists were massacred in a face-off with local Native Americans who were resentful of the settlers’ presence and the disruption of their way of life. There’s also a possibility that Spanish forces traveled north from their territories in Florida and slaughtered the colonists during the ongoing tension between the two imperialist powers. Whatever the case may be, researchers are still searching for answers all these years later.
STORY: POVEGLIA – THE ISLAND OF GHOSTS=====
In the Venetian lagoon sits Poveglia Island, a small, unpopulated landmass cut down the middle by a canal. For all its unassuming appearance, however, it has a dark history and is said to be one of the most haunted places in Europe, a continent saturated with tales of ghosts and the paranormal.
Many of those ghosts came courtesy of the Black Death, which swept through Europe in the 14th century, killing off millions of people and cutting the entire population of some cities in half in a matter of months or even weeks. And the bubonic plague didn’t stop after the famous outbreak of 1348. Instead, it reappeared again and again for centuries.
In Venice — Europe’s dominant trading port during the late Middle Ages and Renaissance — officials took advantage of the Venetian lagoon’s islands to isolate and manage its plague outbreaks. For centuries, Poveglia Island was Venice’s solution to the plague: An isolated quarantine site where victims of the plague were sent after infection with few ever leaving the island again.
The small island, just 17 acres, housed over 160,000 plague victims through the centuries and officials did more than just quarantine the sick and soon to die. They burned the corpses to stop the spread of the disease and it is said that human ash from these cremations make up more than 50 percent of the island’s soil, even centuries later. It sounds like Hell, just in Northern Italy.
The picturesque Venetian Lagoon houses 166 islands, including a small island directly south of the Piazza San Marco. Known as Poveglia Island, the small dot of land has housed people since at least the fifth century when Romans escaped Goth and Hun invasions by fleeing to more defensible islands in the lagoon.
As Venice grew into a major power, Poveglia became an important defensive location. In the 14th century, the Venetians built a fort on the island, establishing an outpost that could destroy enemy ships that tried to reach the city of Venice.
But when bubonic plague ravaged Europe, Poveglia Island became the quickest and eventually permanent solution to the outbreak: it became an important quarantine site for plague victims as early as the 16th century.
In addition to quarantining plague victims on Poveglia, the island also became a gigantic mass grave for the corpses of the dead. Barges from Venice hauled the dead to the island, while smaller ships brought exiles from the city who showed even the mildest symptoms of plague.
On Poveglia Island, plague victims spent forty days waiting to see if they would die or recover. Most died. The Venetians cremated untold thousands of bodies on Poveglia, leaving the ashy remains of plague victims to fall where they may.
When the deadliest outbreak of bubonic plague, Black Death, struck Europe in 1348, Venice created the first modern quarantine system. The republic detained ships and travelers suspected of carrying the plague for a period of forty days — the word quarantine itself comes from the Italian quaranta, or forty.
Although plague quarantines were largely ineffective, the desperate need to stop the spread of disease drove other areas to adopt the practice. During a reappearance of the bubonic plague in 1374, the Duke of Milan exiled all plague sufferers to a field outside the city. On the Dalmatian coast, Ragusa created a quarantine station to isolate people from plague-ravaged areas.
Marseilles created a maritime quarantine in the early 16th century, while 17th-century Frankfurt banned anyone living in a plague-afflicted house from attending public gatherings. In colonial New York, the city council set up a quarantine station on the island that now houses the Statue of Liberty.
The Black Death devastated Venice’s population in 1348, killing half of its citizens. As Venice was a hub for international trade, it welcomed ships from around the known world, making the island republic especially susceptible to the spread of disease.
As bubonic plague ravaged Europe for centuries, Venice responded by creating a network of lazaretti, or plague quarantine stations, on the islands of the lagoon. Poveglia Island became the most important of these inspection ports by the 18th century.
In 1485, Venice’s ruler, Giovanni Mocenigo, died from another outbreak of the plague which spurred the city to create several quarantine colonies on isolated islands. “When plague struck the town, everybody sick or showing any suspect symptoms were restricted on the island until they recovered or died,” explains anthropologist Luisa Gambaro.
On Lazzaretto Vecchio, an island northeast of Poveglia Island, the number of corpses soon overwhelmed the city’s capacity to bury them. Archaeologist Vincenzo Gobbo said: “About 500 people a day used to die in Lazzaretto Vecchio. [Corpse carriers] simply had no time to take care of the burials.”
“It looked like hell,” wrote 16th-century chronicler Rocco Benedetti. “The sick lay three or four in a bed.”
When plague victims died, they were thrown into mass graves. “Workers collected the dead and threw them in the graves all day without a break,” Benedetti recorded. “Often the dying ones and the ones too sick to move or talk were taken for dead and thrown on the piled corpses.”
From the 16th century on, Poveglia Island housed plague victims and there many breathed their last and were cremated or buried in mass graves. But the island became even more important in Venice’s epidemic prevention plans in the 18th century.
In 1777, Venice’s Magistrate of Health turned Poveglia Island into its primary plague checkpoint. Any ship sailing to Venice had to stop at Poveglia first for an inspection. If any sailor showed signs of plague, Venice quarantined them on Poveglia Island.
Poveglia Island remained an important plague quarantine site until 1814 and owing to its haunting legacy as the city’s go-to quarantine station for the plague, Venetians began calling Poveglia Island the “Island of Ghosts.”
Adding to the Poveglia’s dark history, in 1922, Venetians transformed the island by building a mental hospital there. Naturally, rumors soon spread that a doctor at the hospital carried out morbid experiments on his patients, only to reportedly died after falling from a bell tower on the island.
The hospital closed its doors in 1968, leaving Poveglia Island once again abandoned. Not surprisingly, stories of plague victims and now abused psychiatric patients haunting Poveglia Island continue to this today.
In 2014, Venice unsuccessfully tried to auction off the island but the deal fell through and the island’s status remains in limbo. Today, the “Island of Ghosts” is completely off-limits to visitors. Why anyone would want to visit such a place is anyone’s guess.
Coming up… a little boy goes fishing on a Spring day. He disappears. Another boy goes fishing nearby on the exact same day. He also disappears. A third child goes missing many years later in the same general area. What happened?
And… John Dee claimed he was visited by angels presented him with a secret language just angels, and the ability to perform a new magic they called Enochian. We’ll look at his claims.
STORY: THE MISSING FISHING BOYS=====
This story is highly unusual. It is a sad case of a boy who went fishing long ago and disappeared. But what if I told you another boy, not far away, also went fishing that exact same day never to be seen again? If I told you years later yet another child would go missing from that same area, also vanishing, would you be surprised? Let’s talk about Edward Adams and Michael Steffan.
Edward Paul Adams was a 9-year-old boy from Kane, Pennsylvania. He had went fishing on Saturday afternoon, April 16, 1910. He left that day with some friends listed in the newspaper as: Arthur Mahoney, Arthur Williams and Orvile Young. The boys went to a small private stream to fish.
There are two differing accounts of what happened that day. One newspaper states some older boys tried to scare Edward and his friends into making them think the game warden was nearby. It was said the boys didn’t believe it at first but then saw a “wild looking” man in the bushes. It is mentioned that the man was following the boys and cursing loudly. The boys dropped their fishing poles and ran into the woods. The other account only mentions that when the boys saw an unknown man, they feared it was the game warden so they all ran into the woods in different directions to get away from him. When the 3 friends thought it was safe to emerge, they looked for their friend Edward. He was nowhere to be found. The boys then decided to walk into town to reunite with their friend but were unable to. To their surprise Edward Adams was now missing.
A search party was started right away. In order to get as many people searching for the boy as soon as possible, the town even set off the fire alarm at Kane. As soon as people arrived, ready to help with the fire, they were told instead there was a missing boy and asked to help search. There were over 1000 people searching for the Adams boy. Special trains even carried searchers into town. No stone was left unturned but unfortunately Edward Adams was never found.
Only about 13 miles away, also on April 16, 1910, a 7-year-old boy Michael Steffan had went fishing that morning. There were a few differing reports but one newspaper states that Steffan was fishing with his grandfather. It is said that the grandfather left the boy seated on a log while he fished down the stream. When he returned Michael was gone. A different account of the same day states that Michael went fishing with his friend George Jankovich at Windfall Creek until noon. George said he went ahead and when he looked back, his friend was gone. The search for Michael was then started. There were 100’s searching extensively and the creek was drained but sadly there was no sign of the little boy.
There was a ransom note found 13 days after the boys’ disappearance by mail carrier Carl Tew. It was found pinned to a wooden bridge near the Adam’s house. It said “Will return boy for $10,000”. On the back it read “Leave Reward”. It was soon thought to be a hoax.
There are a few interesting items in old newspaper articles at the time of the disappearances that are not mentioned in recent day accounts. These are compelling and may even shed some light on this mystery.
First off, there was mention of a young man (accounts say he was either 24 or 34 years old). His name was Henry Arrowsmith. He was referred to as “nearly demented” and said he had a history of wandering off. He lived in nearby Corydon and just happened to disappear the same day as the boys did. There was a frantic search for him as well, thinking he may have some information on the boys that vanished. It’s unsure how long he was missing but a newspaper article from six days after the initial disappearance mentioned that the search continued for him. It doesn’t give a specific date but does mention that the man eventually returned. It said he had no information about the missing boys. However, one newspaper account did state he was thought to have been in the same area as Edward Adams disappearance on the same day. The article even went on to say the description of the “wild looking” man at the fishing hole by Adam’s friends matched that of Henry Arrowsmith.
Another article talks about a nurse originally from Butler, PA who was overseas working for the Red Cross. Being from the area she was very familiar with Edward Adam’s disappearance. She came across a young injured man while working in an Italian hospital in France. This young soldier was fighting with the Italian Forces. The nurse told him he looked American. He responded by saying that he was an American born in Kane, PA. He said his name was Edward P. Adams and he had left his home when he was a little boy. The nurse was so surprised by her encounter that she wrote a letter to Mr. Adams telling him of her conversation with the young soldier. Edward Adams would have been 18 at the time and his brother Homer, 22, was then serving in France. The government was contacted and there was mention of trying to reunite the two brothers overseas but that is the last mention of the mystery soldier. Hearing of this possible sighting, Michael’s father Mr. Steffan also implored the government to check to see if his son could be fighting overseas as well.
Over the years there were several sightings of Edward Adams. One report even stated he was seen on a gypsy wagon 5 months after the disappearance. They were all thought to be false however. It seemed the Steffans had to fight harder to keep their sons name and disappearance in the public. There was a $500 reward for Adam’s return but they struggled to come up with a similar one for Steffan’s return even asking the public to donate to it. One article mentioned concerns that it was because Michael Steffan’s parents were “poor” whereas Edward Adam’s father was a superintendent of a gas company. There was a theory in a few newspaper articles that Michael Steffan’s disappearance could even be because of the “Black Hand” – at the time, described as an Italian extortion racket. The Steffan’s were described as Hungarian. There is absolutely no picture published anywhere of Michael Steffan, but he was described as a fair hair blue-eyed boy who was short for his age and was stout with a red chubby face.
Sadly, the disappearances of both boys grew very cold over the years. But something would happen many years later that would bring the memory of that tragic day back to the people in the community once again. Another one of their children would go missing.
It was Sunday, May 8, 1938 – Mother’s Day. The West family of Bradford, Pennsylvania had attended church that morning. They then drove 13 miles to a clearing in the Allegheny Forest to spend an enjoyable afternoon. While Mr. West went to fish in a nearby stream, Mrs. West rested in the family car. Their 2 daughters, Dorothea (11) and Marjorie (4) went to pick flowers. Their father had warned the girls to watch for rattlesnakes behind the big boulder. A short while later Dorothea returned to the car to give her mother some flowers she had picked. When she went back to find her little sister Marjorie, she had vanished. After first looking for her themselves the family then drove 7 miles to the nearest phone to report their daughter missing.
A search was then started immediately for Marjorie. There were 1000 men searching shoulder to shoulder using lighted miner hats when it turned dark. The only possible trace of the little girl was some crushed violets near the boulder that she was warned about. It is said that dogs tracked her scent to a nearby road. There was also a report of a Plymouth sedan speeding in that area even running one motorist off the road. Had Marjorie West been kidnapped?
An author, Harold Thomas Beck, wrote a book titled “Finding Marjorie West” in 2010. He had a compelling story to write about. Relatives of Marjorie have been critical of it as this account cannot be verified. The story goes that when Beck posted online about the Marjorie West case he was eventually put in contact with a nurse who looked a lot like Marjorie’s surviving sister, Dorothea. The nurse’s mother told her a story on her deathbed which she confided to Beck. Her mother revealed that she was not biologically related to her own daughter. The nurse agreed to tell him the full story on two conditions. That he would only reveal her true identity to Dorothea, whom she wanted to meet, and that he would not publish his book with her story in it until after her death.
According to the nurse’s mother, her husband had been working in Bradford’s refineries for the winter of 1937-38. As Spring approached he needed to return to the family farm to get his crops out. He was driving south past the Allegheny Forest on Mother’s Day in 1938 when he accidentally hit a little girl with his car. He said no one else was around and panicked and put the girl in his car. He had planned on taking her to the hospital but she woke up in the car and seemed unhurt. The husband and his wife had suffered the loss of their only child that winter after a difficult delivery. They were unsure if they could have any children of their own. The couple then decided to keep the little girl and raise her as their own. After the interview with Mr. Beck it is stated that Dorothea was said to be in ill health and not able to meet with the mystery woman. Mr. Beck kept his promise and didn’t publish his book until after the nurse died. Thus the mystery of her and her story seemed to die with her.
One person mentioned as a possible suspect in the disappearance of the two boys was J. Frank Hickey. He was a child molester and serial killer who was active in his horrible crimes for nearly 30 years between 1883-1912. He was dubbed “The Postcard Killer” for his love of writing postcards and letters and sending them to the police as well as the victim’s families. He had admitted to killing a young boy in 1902 in New York City and another boy in 1911 in Lackawanna, NY (less than 2 hours from where the boys disappeared). Once finally captured he confessed to 3 murders & numerous sexual assaults of children. When questioned about other murders and disappearances of small children he denied involvement but it is said he is thought to be suspected of at least 12 other murders. During his many years on the run roaming New England dozens of children had went missing or were found murdered so he would be a likely possible suspect in the missing boys case.
Edward Adams and Michael Steffan may have suffered different fates that day. Edward Adams could have been abducted by the “wild looking” man. A strange man following boys in a rural area is spotted and within a few minutes a boy vanishes seems like more than just a coincidence. Michael Steffan perhaps fell in the water or wandered off where searchers couldn’t find him and died of the elements. There were no reported strangers around when Michael Steffan went missing and it would be easy enough for a 7-year-old boy, especially being small for his young age, to get lost easily and not be seen. If the wild man did abduct Edward Adams, he likely was not involved in Michael Steffan’s disappearance too. He would have probably been on foot and he would have had to cover about 13 miles in just a few hours. Plus, abducting and disposing of two boys, he would have had a greater chance of being seen and the boys being found, dead or alive.
As far as Marjorie West – perhaps she was kidnapped. The search was so massive and immediate she likely would have turned up if still in that area. It’s understandable why Marjorie’s family would be skeptical of the nurse’s story. On one hand it seems like a very specific and odd story to make up, but on the other hand how was it explained to this couple’s friends and family that a 4-year-old was now living with them? Although, at that particular time things like that wouldn’t be questioned as much as they would be today. Either way, it is not thought that Marjorie West died in the Allegheny Forest that day.
So two boys go missing within a few hours of each other, on the exact same day, only 13 miles apart. They vanish into thin air. It does seem like much more than just a coincidence. Factor in another child going missing less than 20 miles away many years later in a similar mysterious fashion never surfacing again. Is someone stealing children? Did the “wild looking” man take Edward Adams and could he be Henry Arrowsmith? Or where they victims of serial killer J. Frank Hickey? What happened to Michael Steffan? A young boy just wanting to enjoy his Saturday. Sadly, so many years later it is very unlikely we will find out what happened on that fateful day when two little boys were gone fishing.
STORY: JOHN DEE AND THE LANGUAGE OF ANGELS=====
Born into the era of intellectual and artistic reawakening, John Dee quickly rose through Elizabethan society as a scholar, philosopher, navigator, doctor, and astrologer of the Queen of England. Intrigued with so many fields, including a deep fascination with the occult, John Dee’s vast interests resulted in his unintentional creation of the largest personal library in Elizabethan England at the time, visited by renowned scholars from all over the world. Luckily for modern historians, Dee was a prolific enough writer that his life is well documented, however the question why he was tasked with so many important roles in the British court is still an incredible dilemma.
Though Dee wore many hats during his lifetime, he made astounding waves in each field. He was a skilled student at St. John’s College, so much so that after obtaining both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s from the university, Dee set his sights on working directly in the Royal Court under Queen Mary I.
His relationship with the royal court, however, turned tumultuous as he became more interested in mathematics and astrology. Queen Mary I had him arrested in 1555 for “calculating”, as mathematics and magic were considered close cousins in this time. The charges were of treason and he was imprisoned for a period, until finally exonerated by Bishop Edmund Bonner.
Dee rose once again in the favor of the court when Elizabeth I became queen in 1558—three years after Dee’s arrest. She took him on as her astrological advisor, allowing him the prestigious task of choosing the exact date of her coronation. After, he was given numerous important court duties, such as aiding in Elizabeth’s exploration ambitions.
Rarely discussed in references of the New World, Dee actually helped pioneer the Voyages of Exploration England took on in the sixteenth century, aiding the various ship captains in their mathematical techniques of navigation. It was he who provided the instruments used to navigate the waters, himself being somewhat of a professional in the art of navigation. Driven by a mutual desire to reestablish the great British Empire, Dee and Queen Elizabeth I worked tirelessly in the exploration of North America. By 1583, however, he had given up his work as a navigation specialist, and chose instead to focus on his research into the forces of nature and the supernatural forces of the universe.
What John Dee was most known for was his work in attempting to commune with the spiritual world, particularly heavenly angels. This work was preceded by endeavors at understanding the unifying factor of nature, which he believed could be discovered through a combination of magical and mathematical means.
Dee wrote his first astrological book called Monas Heiroglyphica in which he discusses the various facets of the symbol he created to represent the cosmos.
This text drew heavily on Christian Cabbalism, and was greatly coveted during his lifetime. However, Dee’s struggle to find a prestigious patron was an uphill battle, and eventually he tired of this work on the cosmos. It is then that Dee began to focus his efforts more seriously on his angelic search, eventually joining forces with a medium called Edward Kelley , a man twenty-eight years younger than him, to conduct séances to interact with the angels. Through their continued meetings, Dee and Kelley claimed to have been given the gift of a new alphabet, said to have been revealed to them by angels. They called the language ‘Angelic’ and later it became known as ‘ Enochian’.
Less than a decade after meeting, however, Kelley and Dee’s interests began to drift once more. Kelley himself claimed that he was also gifted in alchemy and could turn ordinary metals into gold. As such, Kelley continued to work with Dee as his scryer, but focused much more of his time on an attempt to transform substances and find the legendary Philosopher’s Stone.
The seven years they spent together, leading nomadic lives and working endlessly on their newfound alphabet, came to an abrupt end in 1589, when Kelley returned to the court of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II and Dee went home to England. Dee outlived his former friend by many years, and continued their work, immortalizing them both with his Angelical/Enochian literature.
Over time, Dee’s work in the occult became more heavily criticized and, after parting ways with Kelley in 1589, he became Warden of Christ’s College in Manchester, England. He died a poor man’s death in 1608, having fallen out of favor with Elizabeth I’s successor James VI/I.
Despite the way his life ended, John Dee was considered somewhat of a wizard in Elizabethan circles. Even with so few followers of his angelic endeavors, his work evolved into a modern magical and religious practice that continues to be utilized by occult organizations around the world.
In 2016, researchers got another reminder of John Dee’s mysterious ways. They were shocked when they discovered a hidden element through x-ray analysis of the famous painting depicting ‘ John Dee performing an experiment before Queen Elizabeth I’ (the top image in this article) . It’s been revealed that Dee was originally painted standing before the queen in a circle of skulls.
It is not certain why the artist Henry Gillard Glindoni initially painted the skulls, however, it is possible that “After Elizabeth died, scholars would paint Dee as a deluded fool. It’s that legacy that may have inspired Glindoni to add the skulls to his painting, perhaps along with the Victorian-era obsession with death. But why did he then paint over them?”
Curator Katie Birkwood provided a reason , “Glindoni had to make it look like what we now see, which is august and serious, from what it was, which was occult and spooky. That epitomizes the two different impressions of Dee which people have and the fight between them.”
When Weird Darkness returns, America’s foremost exorcist, Theophilus Riesinger, faced off with Lucifer himself in the grueling 1928 case of demonic possession in a rural Iowa convent.
STORY: THE EXORCISM OF EMMA SCHMIDT=====
Father Riesinger performed his very first exorcism in 1912. The subject was a girl from the town of Marathon, Wisconsin who’s name was either Anna Ecklund or Emma Schmidt – she has been written about under several different names presumably to protect her identity. She had begun to manifest symptoms of demonic possession when she was just 14. Riesinger, who would became known as a “potent and mystic exorcist of demons” as noted in the February 17, 1936 issue of Time, was called upon to perform the rite.
Riesinger drove the demons out of the girl and went on to help many others he believed were in need of spiritual cleansing. Many years later, in 1928, Emma was in her 40s and found herself once again experiencing symptoms of demonic influence.
“She wanted to pray, wanted to go to church and as usual receive Holy Communion,” Vogl wrote in Begone Satan! “But some interior hidden power was interfering with her plans. The situation became worse instead of improving. Words cannot express what she had to suffer. She was actually barred from the consolations of the Church, torn away from them by force. She could not help herself in any way and seemed to be in the clutches of some mysterious power. She was conscious of some sinister inner voices that kept on suggesting most disagreeable things to her. These voices tried their utmost to arouse thoughts of the most shameful type within her, and tried to induce her to do things unmentionable and even to bring her to despair. The poor creature was helpless and secretly was of the opinion that she would become insane.”
While preaching on mission at St. Joseph Parish in Earling, Iowa, Riesinger made an unusual request of Rev. Joseph Steiger. Riesinger wanted to bring the possessed woman from Wisconsin to Steiger’s rural parish to perform an exorcism where it would avoid drawing unwanted attention. Steiger agreed, and the woman was brought to the Franciscan convent just outside of town.
“The woman was placed firmly upon the mattress of an iron bed,” Vogl wrote. “Upon the advice of Father Theophilus, her arm-sleeves and her dress were tightly bound so as to prevent any devilish tricks. The strongest nuns were selected to assist her in case anything might happen. There was a suspicion that the devil might attempt attacking the exorcist during the ceremony. Should anything unusual happen, the nuns were to hold the woman quiet upon her bed. Soon after the prescribed prayers of the Church were begun, the woman sank into unconsciousness and remained in that state throughout the period of exorcism. Her eyes were closed up so tightly that no force could open them.”
But, when Riesinger began the rite of exorcism, the woman “dislodged herself from her bed and from the hands of her guards; and her body, carried through the air, landed high above the door of the room and clung to the wall with a tenacious grip. All present were struck with a trembling fear. Father Theophilus alone kept his peace.”
The attending sisters dragged her back down to the bed and restrained her. Loud howling sounds began to emanate from the woman, drawing the attention of everyone in the convent. They came to see what was happening, but many couldn’t handle it. Vogl wrote, “The physical condition of the possessed presented such a gruesome sight, because of the distorted members of her body, that it was unbearable.”
The exorcism lasted a total of 23 days, during which the woman was consistently vomiting things resembling chewed macaroni and tea leaves, though she wasn’t actually eating anything, and spoke in numerous voices, making inhuman animal sounds. She seemed to understand languages she had never heard or read before, and foamed at the mouth, enraged, when Riesinger spoke Latin blessings over her. “She was conscious at once when some one gave her articles sprinkled with holy water or presented her with things secretly blessed, whereas ordinary secular objects would leave her perfectly indifferent.”
When asked how many spirits had possessed the woman, she responded that there were many, and that Beelzebub was the leader. Under Riesinger’s questioning, Beelzebub stated that the woman’s own father was the cause of the possession, having “cursed” the spirits into her, and that they had possessed her under the command of Satan himself.
At one point, when Riesinger was asking to speak with the woman’s father, whom Beelzebub said was with them, a voice claiming to be Judas Iscariot began speaking instead. When Riesinger asked what business he had with the woman, Judas replied, “To bring her to despair, so that she will commit suicide and hang herself! She must get the rope, she must go to hell!” Other voices claiming to be Emma’s father Jacob, as well as his child-murdering concubine Mina, eventually spoke, as well.
Vogl wrote that during the exorcism the demonic presence inside the woman began to physically deform her. “The woman’s face became so distorted that no one could recognize her features. Then, too, her whole body became so horribly disfigured that the regular contour of her body vanished. Her pale, deathlike and emaciated head, often assuming the size of an inverted water pitcher, became as red as glowing embers. Her eyes protruded out of their sockets, her lips swelled up to proportions equalling the size of hands, and her thin emaciated body was bloated to such enormous size that the pastor and some of the Sisters drew back out of fright, thinking that the woman would be torn to pieces and burst asunder. At times her abdominal region and extremities became as hard as iron and stone. In such instances the weight of her body pressed into the iron bedstead so that the iron rods of the bed bent to the floor.”
Riesinger said that Lucifer himself had appeared during the process. Vogl wrote, “Once Father Theophilus saw Lucifer standing visibly before him for half an hour–a fiery being in his characteristically demoniac reality. He had a crown on his head and carried a fiery sword in his hand. Beelzebub stood alongside of him. During this time the whole room was filled with flames.”
On December 23rd, 1928, when Riesinger was exhausted and appeared to those around him to have aged 20 years from performing the exorcism for three days straight without sleep, the devils finally receded back to Hell. The woman stood upright suddenly in her bed, then collapsed. A piercing sound filled the room, followed by the repeated names of the demons inside her. This slowly faded away, and was replaced by an horrible, unearthly stench. The woman opened her eyes and shouted “My Jesus, Mercy! Praised be Jesus Christ!”
Some sources say the case of Emma Schmidt was the first and last exorcism officially sanctioned by the Catholic church. While some believe the events are fiction, there are allegedly papal records documenting it. Also, according to an online source, local Earling legend says that claw marks in solid oak doors can still be seen from the woman trying to escape.
Thanks for listening. If you like the show, please share it with someone you know who loves the paranormal or strange stories, true crime, monsters, or unsolved mysteries like you do! You can email me anytime with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. WeirdDarkness.com is also where you can find information on any of the sponsors you heard about during the show, find all of my social media, listen to audiobooks I’ve narrated, sign up for the email newsletter, find other podcasts that I host including “Church of the Undead”, visit the store for Weird Darkness merchandise, and more. WeirdDarkness.com is also where you can find the Hope in the Darkness page if you or someone you know is struggling with depression or dark thoughts. Also on the website, if you have a true paranormal or creepy tale to tell, you can click on TELL YOUR STORY. You can find all of that and more at WeirdDarkness.com.
All stories on Weird Darkness are purported to be true unless stated otherwise, and you can find links to the stories or the authors in the show notes.
“The Trouble With Ghost Orbs” by Troy Taylor for American Hauntings Ink; Vicki Carroll for Exemplore; Ann Massey fro Spooky Isles; and Bonnie Page from the Sentinal & Enterprise
“Poveglia: The Island of Ghosts” by Genevieve Carlton for All That’s Interesting
“The Magician Who Lived a Double Life” by Kaushik Patowary for Amusing Planet
“John Dee And The Language of Angels” by Riley Winters for Ancient Origins
“Lost Roanoke” by Grace Felder for The Archive
“The Missing Fishing Boys” by Crystal Dawn for LostNFoundBlogs
“The Exorcism of Emma Schmidt” by Charlie Hintz for Cult of Weird
WeirdDarkness® is a registered trademark. Copyright, Weird Darkness.
Now that we’re coming out of the dark, I’ll leave you with a little light… “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.” — Colossians 4:5 (NIV)
And a final thought… “Feeling ‘too busy’ has less to do with the number of tasks at hand and more to do with the attitude with which you approach those tasks.” — Jonny Diaz
I’m Darren Marlar. Thanks for joining me in the Weird Darkness.