Hunting Demons a Harrowing Look at the Dark Side

Hunting Demons: A True Story of the Dark Side of the Supernatural by Sylvia Shults was released by Whitechapel Productions Press in August 2015 in both print and digital formats. This survey of demonology is surprisingly human, combining both cultural and religious history with a compelling personal experience. The combination is unique and takes a skilled writer to execute. It is clunky at times, but helps provide context for an incredible tale.

Hunting Demons is 158 pages and informally divided into two parts. The first part examines the history of demons and Satanism in Western and Middle Eastern culture, and the second is a personal tale of a woman from central Illinois who believed demons were tormenting her.

The personal experience is primarily grounded in Catholic theology, although it begins with a paranormal investigation. Because of this, it may have been more helpful for the author to focus on demonology from a Catholic perspective, rather than a more general overview.

In her historical and cultural survey, Sylvia Shults looks at demons and satanism from early human history to the present day. She transitions from the dark side in contemporary TV shows to the evolution of religion and evil spirits.

While interesting, this history is non-linear and has several noticeable gaps. For example, Shults jumps from the Salem Witch Trials to Vatican II in the 1960s. In her chapter on satanic panics, she goes from the heresies of the Middle Ages to the cult scare of the 1980s.

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Der Rathskeller Neon Sign

Der Rathskeller Neon Sign
Neon sign for Der Rathskeller, 1132 Auburn Street in Rockford, Illinois. Fred Goetz opened Der Rathskeller, Rockford’s only German-American restaurant, in 1931. It offers an outdoor beer garden and romantic, candle-lit basement dining. Yes, it’s also supposed to be haunted. According to Haunted Rockford, Illinois by Kathi Kresol, many employees believe Fred still hangs around, making adjustments to place settings after hours and playing little pranks to make sure they know he’s still around.

Student Housing Comes with Ghosts at Illinois Wesleyan University

Several restless spirits are believed to play host at two residence halls and one fraternity house.

Click to expand photos

A group of 30 civic and religious leaders founded Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington in 1850, and construction began six years later. The United Methodist Church partially supports it, but its administration is secular. Its students, primarily focused on the liberal arts, believe several buildings (both on and off campus) are haunted. Fitting, since the university’s namesake, theologian John Wesley, held a strong belief in ghosts after experiencing poltergeist activity in his childhood home.

Bucking traditional dorms, Illinois Wesleyan University has repurposed several local homes to use as student housing. When the lights are low and leaves turn shades of orange and yellow, students whisper that they may share International House and Adams Hall with specters of long-deceased residents.

Also known as Kemp Hall, International House (I-House), at 1207 N. Main Street, was built by A.E. DeMange and his wife in 1907. A few years later, following his wife’s death, DeMange sold the classical revival building to the university. Ever since, students say the house is haunted by a “lady in red”: Mrs. DeMange herself. On certain nights, she is said to appear in a large mirror.

Adams Hall, at 1401 N. Main Street at the corner of Beecher and Main, is thought to be home to three ghosts, each named Frances. One is a middle-aged woman who died in a carriage accident, the other a young girl, and the third and old lady. The sound of footsteps and a rocking chair have been heard. On another occasion, residents heard incessant ringing throughout the hall, even after they disconnected all the phones.

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Haunted Hoosier Trails Sets a Standard for Folklore

First published by Guild Press Emmis Publishing in 2002, Haunted Hoosier Trails: A Guide to Indiana’s Famous Folklore Spooky Sites by Wanda Lou Willis has quickly become a genre classic. Everything, from the paper it’s printed on, to its layout, maps, and illustrations, is of the highest quality. It is (to put it bluntly) a beautiful book, but it is the stories within that are most important.

Willis does a wonderful job retelling ghost stories and legends from all over the Hoosier State. Like the rest of the book, the quality of writing is superb—clean, and polished. The only things this book lacks are proper citations and an index. Otherwise, it should be the standard that authors in this genre seek to emulate.

The tales in Haunted Hoosier Trails are organized by region and county. Willis divides Indiana into three regions: North, Central, and South. A short history introduces each county, and each location or story is given one or two pages—just enough to explain the background and strange happenings without losing the reader’s interest. In fact, an incredible 78 tales are featured in this 180 page book, but none of them feel rushed or incomplete.

A map pinpointing their exact location accompanies many of the tales. Unlike the poor quality maps featured in other books in this genre, the maps included in Haunted Hoosier Trails are clean and easy to read. They were created by the book’s illustrator, Steven D. Armour. Armour’s ink sketches are a wonderful addition to the book and come at the beginning of each section. They illustrate a handful of that region’s most notable stories.

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Springer Opera House’s Restless Spirits

The Springer Opera House, at 103 E 10th Street in downtown Columbus, a few blocks from the Chattahoochee River, is Georgia’s oldest and most famous theater. It’s unassuming exterior conceals the elegance within. Patrons love attending its world-class plays and musicals, but some see more than they bargained for, as Springer is also believed to be home to several ghosts.

Francis Joseph Springer, a German immigrant and prosperous grocer from the Alsace region of France, opened the Springer Opera House on February 21, 1871. During construction, a worker named John Prince died when a scaffold fell and struck his head. A second balcony, hotel rooms, restaurants, and office space were added in 1900. It was a jewel of the Georgia stage for decades, until the growing popularity of motion pictures compelled it to transition to a movie theater.

Hard times hit downtown Columbus in the 1950s, and Springer closed in 1958. It stood vacant for five years until a determined group of citizens saved it from the wrecking ball. The Springer Opera House once again opened its doors for live performances in 1965 and has continued to operate ever since. Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter named it State Theatre of Georgia in 1971.

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Positive Interests Stem from Folklore and Ghost Stories

An interest in folklore and ghost stories encourages reading, travel, interest in history and historical preservation, and tourism.

We often hear of negativity surrounding places associated with legends and lore: vandalism, trespassing, breaking and entering, drug use and underage drinking. The media loves to associate criminal activity with amateur ghost hunting, such as the break in at Ness Church in Litchfield, Minnesota.

Interest in folklore, ghost stories, and legend tripping, however, can have many positive effects. Those subjects can be (and usually are) a gateway to developing interests in other areas. These areas include, but are not limited to:

  • Reading
  • Travel
  • History
  • Preservation
  • Tourism

Reading: Reading was my first introduction to ghost stories. When I was a kid, I devoured every book I could find on the subject and spent countless hours at the library as a result. While there are plenty of reality TV shows devoted to the paranormal these days, literature is still the primary means of preserving and transmitting ghost stories. A child should be encouraged to pursue his or her interest in legends and lore through reading.

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The Last Laugh by Raymond Moody on Kindle

In the early 2000s, I stumbled on a book that radically changed the way I thought about ghost stories and the paranormal. That book was The Last Laugh (1999) by Raymond Moody, Jr. Today, it is only available in digital format on Amazon Kindle. After all these years, I still recommend it to my readers interested in having a more well-rounded perspective on this subject. You might be surprised at what you discover about yourself and what it means to be human.

Raymond Moody, Jr. is the doctor who first publicized the phenomenon of near-death experiences in his groundbreaking book, Life After Life (1975). Much to his chagrin, his work re-invigorated the New Age movement and he was thrust into the limelight as someone who had “proven” the existence of life after death.

This misconception, he reveals in The Last Laugh, came as a result of his publisher’s deletion of a crucial final chapter in Life After Life in which he argues that these personal experiences, though incredibly meaningful and sometimes life changing, actually do not prove the existence of life after death. They just “moved the goalpost.”

The Last Laugh was meant not only to be a post-script to Life After Life, but to also serve as that final missing piece. The premise of The Last Laugh is simple but deeply insightful. Throughout recent history, there have been three main players in the discussion of the paranormal: parapsychologists, professional skeptics, and Christian fundamentalists.

Not only have these three perspectives not advanced our knowledge very much on the issue, but Moody contends that neither actually wants to resolve the debate, because in resolving the controversy they would eliminate their reason for being in the spotlight and also lose a source of fun and entertainment in the process.

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