Podcasters with terrifying tales join us on this all-new episode of Campfire!
Most of these podcasters aren’t paranormal podcasters but cover other topics…yet, the spooky found them!
Thanks to all of these great podcasters and be sure to check out their shows!
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JIM HAROLD: Well, it’s getting down to the nitty-gritty. I hope you’ll join me for my tour coming up in the Northeast. Experience the Campfire Live: Stories From Around the Campfire. We’ll be doing the Campfire live, interactive segments, something really unique. I think you’ll enjoy it. It’s coming up in late June, and we will be in New York, we’ll be in Boston, we’ll be in Philly, and Pittsburgh. You can get your tour tickets today at jimharold.com/tour. That’s jimharold.com/tour. So that’s great for our folks in the Northeast.
If you are in the Midwest, I’ll be at the Small Town Monsters Monster Fest on June 3rd, 2023. There’ll be myself and a host of cryptozoological luminaries there, including Loren Coleman, Shannon LeGro, Lyle Blackburn, the guys from Astonishing Legends. That’ll be a great time. Smalltownmonsters.com/stmmonsterfest. That’s smalltownmonsters.com/stmmonsterfest. And I hope to see you soon!
Welcome to our gathering tonight. Here we share stories of ordinary people who have experienced extraordinary things. Sit back, relax, and warm yourself by Jim Harold’s Campfire.
JIM HAROLD: Welcome to the Campfire. I am Jim Harold. So glad to be with you once again, and we have a very special Campfire podcast for you today. Over the last few months, we’ve been spotlighting different podcasters who have had strange happenings happen to them, and we’re capping it off with a podcasting extravaganza. This is basically a show made up of podcasters who have had something strange happen to them. Now, most of the people you’ll hear today are not in the spooky space. They are general interest podcasters who talk on a variety of subjects, but they, too, have had something strange happen.
I’d like to thank Lauren over at Tink Media for helping us put all of this together and connect us with these fine folks so we could put together this very special podcast. We’re going to start it off with this first story, and as you’ll hear, the podcaster is a great storyteller with a great story. Enjoy!
Next up on the Campfire we have yet another podcaster. We’ve been doing these segments with podcasters, which I really enjoy. As I was telling our guest, I used to love – and still love – old-time radio, this idea of audio drama. It is coming back, and it’s great. An example of that is our guest’s podcast, Midnight Burger. He’s going to tell us about that at the end of his story. But Joe, first of all, has a ghost story about a ghost story, he said. I can’t wait to hear it. My interest is piqued, Joe, so tell us what happened.
JOE: Like a lot of kids, when I was young I went to summer camp. Everybody has different summer camp experiences. My summer camp experience was in the South Texas Hill Country. Lovely place. If you’ve ever been, it’s a lovely place. When someone tries to sell you on Texas, they’re usually showing you pictures of the Hill Country of South Texas, not of Lubbock. So it was a summer camp. You’re gone all summer, and it was a very Texas experience, because you’d go to this summer camp in particular and you’d learn to ride a horse and you would learn to rope and you’d learn archery and you’d learn how to shoot a gun. You’d learn how to shoot and clean a rifle. In retrospect, it’s like, was I actually being trained for a militia? I don’t actually know.
JIM HAROLD: [laughs] There’s an ulterior motive there.
JOE: Yeah, maybe so. But it was an interesting experience, especially when – I was probably about eight years old at this point. A big part of the camp is actual camping. There’s all these houses that are divided by age group, and I was in the 7–9 years old age group, and the entire house, every once in a while, we would pack up all our stuff and we would hike all day out into the brush and we would camp out under the stars in the middle of the Texas Hill Country in the summer. It’s very beautiful out there, and it was a very great experience, but it was like this experience where I was from the city, and it’s terrifying because there’s no roof over your head all of a sudden. It’s just you and the outdoors.
And a big part of this going out and camping – like you’re at camp and then you’re going camping, and a big part of that is, for some reason, all of the camp counselors at this place had a scary campfire story on deck, ready to go at any time. It was a big part of the experience. Whenever there was a campfire, someone was telling a scary story. I still remember them to this day.
There was one where it was like a guy who loses his family when his house burns down, and he’s so grief-stricken that the grief transforms him into a wolfman, and now he roams the Texas Hill Country as this wolf person because he’s been transformed into this wolf by grief. And then there’s really ridiculous ones like “a guy with an axeblade for a hand” sort of stories, stuff like that. They were all really great.
There was this one that really affected me because it was a story about the camp that I was attending. The camp I was attending was on the edge of a river. It was a very small river, but there was a point in the river where the river widened to where it was almost like a lake. It’s a small lake. Wasn’t very deep. An adult, you’d go up to your head. But that’s where you learned to swim, that’s where you learned to canoe, stuff like that.
In the middle of this lake was a big rock. It wasn’t too big. About big enough to finally be considered a boulder. That’s how big this rock was, out in the middle of this lake area. The story about this rock that they told us was that a long, long time ago in Texas, back when Texas was being colonized by a bunch of German immigrants and stuff like that, there was this young farmer, and this young farmer very much wanted to marry the daughter of a neighboring farmer. And this neighboring farmer really hated this young farmer. He wanted to prevent this marriage, so he said, “Okay, you can marry my daughter, but here’s what you have to do. You have to pick up this rock and you have to carry it across the river.”
JIM HAROLD: Whoa, that’s pretty tough.
JOE: Right. It’s impossible, is what it is. But as an eight-year-old, it’s like, “Wow.” As the story goes, the guy was like, “I really want to marry this woman, so I’m carrying this rock across this river.” As the story goes, he picked the rock up over on his back and he carried it across the river, and he got about halfway and then was crushed under the rock in the middle of the river. It had the classic ending of “And to this day, you can still sometimes at night see him struggling under the water, under the rock. To this day, you can still hear his screams of anguish as the rock slowly crushes him.”
JIM HAROLD: I think I know where this is going.
JOE: This was very terrifying because I see that rock every day. We’re always going down to the river, we’re always swimming. Sometimes people would be like, “Hey, let’s swim race out to the rock,” and I would be like, “Nope, not doing it.”
The unexpected thing about all these stories is that there was one kid in my group that got really disturbed by all the ghost stories, and when we got back from camping, he started to kind of lose touch with reality a little bit. He kept saying that he could see the devil and that the devil’s wife was whispering in his ear, and all kinds of really disturbing stuff. We, a bunch of eight- and nine-year-olds, all watched over the next few days as this kid lost touch with reality. He ended up having – his parents had to come pick him up because he was so emotionally distraught; he just got something in his head, and the whole thing snowballed. In retrospect, I feel like maybe he came from a really strong evangelical household where there’s a lot of talk of the devil and stuff like that, and it got in his head and he just couldn’t get it out of his head. He had to leave.
So he left, and we’re all feeling weird about it. We don’t really know how to feel about it. And I can’t sleep. I’m lying awake at night, thinking about this kid and thinking about these stories. As someone who went on to tell stories for a living, it was the first time I had ever seen a story deeply affect somebody. If the wrong story hits you at the right time, it can have a profound effect on you, and that was the first time I had experienced that. But it was having an effect on me now.
My eight-year-old self was like, “I have to do something about this.” For whatever reason, I got it in my head that I was going to go to the river. It’s late at night, and I know a way to sneak out of the house without the camp counselors seeing me. It’s really dark. There’s a few floodlights in the camp at night. They don’t have to worry about anybody sneaking out because everybody’s scared out of their mind. Nobody’s going to go out at night.
For whatever reason, I’ve got it in my head that I need to go down to the river at night because this story is sticking with me, this kid being freaked out is sticking with me, and for some reason I decided this is what the solution is. Because if I go there and I don’t see anything, then I’ve dispelled the illusion and I’ve conquered my fear. So I wait till everybody goes to sleep. I can’t sleep anyway, so I’m just lying there waiting for everybody to go to sleep. I slowly creep towards the screen door – because it’s all screen doors. The entire house is basically made of screen doors.
I very slowly creep out of the house. I avoid the floodlights. I’m being very clandestine. I don’t want anyone to see me. Eight years old. Horrible idea. I’m slowly creeping down to the river. And there, in the moonlight, there it is. There’s the rock. I’m like, “Okay, I’m here. There’s nothing here. Great.”
And then of course, at that moment is when I start to hear something moving underneath the water out by the rock, where the rock is in the middle of the lake. I’m trying to convince myself that I’m not seeing it, but I definitely am seeing it. I was like, I came down here to get rid of the fear, and here comes all kinds of fear because I am now seeing this thing thrashing around under the water. I’m like, “Okay, I’m going to go.”
I can’t run because I don’t want anyone to see me, so I’m trying to stay in the darkness and I’m going through the bushes, stuff like that. As I’m halfway back to my longhouse that we’re all in, that’s when I heard the scream.
JIM HAROLD: Oh gosh.
JOE: Echoing over the treetops, there was this scream of what had to be a human being. And that’s when I just start running. I don’t care if anybody sees me and I just run as fast as I can. I run and run and run. Nobody saw me. Got back to the house. My heart has never pounded so hard as that moment in my life. Open the screen door, slowly get the screen door closed, get into bed, and try to pretend like I’m going to be okay. I was like, “This was a terrible mistake that I just made. What a terrible idea. I went down to not see the ghost and I think I just saw the ghost.”
But then I fell asleep. It’s like I wanted to go down there to get rid of the fear of this thing, but then saw the thing, but then for some reason, seeing it and knowing in my eight-year-old mind that I had seen the ghost of the river, the guy under the rock – seeing it made it real and right there and something that I could wrap my mind around, and once I knew that, I was strangely okay. Because even though it was this terrifying thing, I knew what it was now, and it wasn’t a mystery.
JIM HAROLD: We’ve heard people say that, like, “I had this terrifying experience and then just went to sleep.” This is not uncommon. I’ll give you two things. Here, we tend to believe in ghosts, that they’re real things. Not always. Not everything is a ghost, not every leaky faucet is a demon or anything like that.
JOE: [laughs] Sometimes a banana is just a banana.
JIM HAROLD: Exactly. But two possibilities: a) it’s a ghost that was somehow related to this story – maybe it wasn’t actually that boulder, but maybe something happened with that farmer girl’s boyfriend or whatever. But the other possibility is that of a tulpa. Are you familiar with tulpas?
JOE: This is a thought construct, is what this is, right?
JIM HAROLD: Yes. In other words, not that you imagined it – not at all – you created it. There was an experiment in the ’70s called the Philip experiment. I think it was in Toronto. It was this group of psychics who basically created a spirit that would talk to them named Philip. They manifested him. So I’m just throwing that out there as an alternate possibility. Being very young, very intense – go ahead.
JOE: I was just going to say, it’s interesting to me – it’s a fascinating story, but also I really want to know who named him Philip.
JIM HAROLD: [laughs] Look it up. You’ll have to ask them.
JOE: Whose job was it to name the thought construct that they were studying? And how’d they go with Philip? And did they call him Phil, just for short?
JIM HAROLD: Could be. Could be possible.
JOE: Just informally. [laughs]
JIM HAROLD: Well, this is the kind of storytelling and work that you’ll hear from Joe Fisher at Midnight Burger. Joe, can you tell people a little bit about the show and where they can find it? Again, I’m a big fan of audio drama, and I was joking with you, it’s lovely to see it come back after about a 60- or 70-year hiatus.
JOE: Just a brief hiatus, just to reconfigure some things, that’s right. Yeah, the show is called Midnight Burger. It’s an audio drama. You can find it on all your podcatchers, or you can go to weopenatsix.com. Midnight Burger is basically the story of the adventures of a time-traveling, dimension-spanning diner. It’s a diner that, every 24 hours, shows up somewhere new out there in the cosmos.
JIM HAROLD: What a great concept.
JOE: It’s about the people who live there and work there and the people who come in and out. They usually could really, really use a cup of coffee every time they sit down.
JIM HAROLD: Two things. You make me want to go get a refill once I’m done with recording this story, and secondly, I’m going to be sure to be listening because it sounds right up my alley, and I’m sure it will be for our listeners. Again, Midnight Burger, and they can find it at weopenatsix.com and everywhere fine podcasts are heard. Is that correct, sir?
JOE: That is correct.
JIM HAROLD: Thanks for being a part of the Campfire, and stay spooky!
JOE: Thanks for having me.
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If you love the Campfire, be sure to check out the Paranormal Podcast, where every week Jim interviews experts and authors about strange mysteries. Find it for free wherever you listen to this podcast. Tune in to the Paranormal Podcast today. Now, we return to Jim Harold’s Campfire.
JIM HAROLD: We’ve been talking with other podcasters about their spooky stories on the Campfire. We have Kristen from The Paranorm Girl Podcast – a great name, I must say. She’s going to take us back to her teenage years and a very shadowy figure and some strangeness that ensued. Plus, of course, at the end of the call she’s going to tell us a little bit about her show and how you can check it out. Kristen, welcome to the show. Thank you for joining us today, and tell us about this strange figure.
KRISTEN: Thank you so much for having me on. I would be happy to. This story – I wanted to tell you the first story that I ever told on my show, and this was about two years ago. This took place a while ago. It took place in a house that it would be decades later before I looked back and realized just how uniquely strange this place was and how consistently this high strangeness – if you want to call it haunted activity – took place.
For example, I often saw small shadowy shapes moving along walls and across ceilings. Numerous times I heard my name called from the opposite end of the house or another room, and I’d go to check – nobody’s there, nobody’s in the house. I had an excessive amount of what I used to think of as hypnagogic, hypnopompic hallucinations, but these weren’t just brief experiences. These were interactions, long interactions with things. And I’ve never lived anywhere else that I had so consistently such vivid, intense nightmares and dreams about my own death, dreams about family members being possessed – just awful stuff.
JIM HAROLD: Wow.
KRISTEN: This house itself, upon first moving in, I noticed two things automatically. There was a heaviness to it, like walking into a room after a really big fight, just that electric heaviness. And then there never seemed to be any natural light. Even though the house was surrounded with all these windows, the natural light was always so dim. Those are just examples of the energy of the property and the house.
This story takes place when I was about 14 or 15. I woke up one night, middle of the night, and I felt a presence in my room. I felt like somebody was there. I look down to the foot of my bed and there is this person, this figure, standing there, just staring at me. It’s not like a shadow figure. I can see details on it because there was moonlight coming in through the window above my head and filtering through the branches. So there were these moving shadows. I could make out jewelry that seemed familiar to me and I could make out pieces of clothing that seemed familiar to me.
I was like, “Oh, that is my friend from school. That is so weird that she’s here.” So I ask her, “What are you doing here?” And she does not say anything. She just keeps staring. That is when the pit of my stomach just dropped. I was suddenly very afraid because I now realized this was not my friend from school; this was something else.
JIM HAROLD: Posing as your friend, basically.
KRISTEN: Right. I felt at that moment it was a smart idea to continue the conversation, to not tip it off that I now knew it was not my friend and that it was something else. So I asked, “What time is it?” At the time, I had this little nightstand right by my left shoulder with a lamp and a digital clock. And I watched as this figure’s head swiveled and dipped to the right, looked at the clock, looked back at me, and it said, “It’s 3:50.” And as soon as it said “3:50,” I felt myself intensely sucked back into sleep. I literally felt my head falling backwards, back to the pillow. In my head I’m screaming, “No, no, no, don’t fall asleep! This thing is still there!”
My head hits the pillow. As soon as it hits the pillow, my eyes snap wide open. I sit straight up in bed. I’m breathing heavy, I’m looking around. There’s nothing. I don’t see anything in the far corners, hiding. There’s nothing at the foot of my bed. There’s no one in there. Nobody’s there. I go, “Whew, what a weird dream.” I go to lie back down and I turn over on my left side, and I’m staring right at the clock, and it says 3:50. [laughs] Weird dream, weird coincidence?
But I consider everything that happened in that house – and what I told you, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. So when I look back on this memory, what I might’ve looked back on skeptically, I now toss it on to the pile of already high-strange things that happened there.
JIM HAROLD: Do you think that that experience – obviously combined with other things that have happened to you – got you into the idea of doing your podcast about the paranormal? Is that what led you into this journey?
KRISTEN: It was certainly one of the things. The way I was raised – I had a single mother who was very open to the paranormal, and she was also into conspiracy stuff, but I went the paranormal route. She fostered in me a very open mind to the strangeness of reality and that a lot more was possible than just our base reality. So that was fostered early on. It wouldn’t be till decades later that I would start the idea of starting a podcast about the paranormal. I had this interest, but what’s funny is when I started it, I didn’t really consciously remember all of these things that had happened. I was just like, “Oh, nothing’s really ever happened to me. These were weird things. They weren’t really paranormal, were they?” But the more you think about it and put the pieces together…
JIM HAROLD: Brings it to the surface. Another thing we should bring to the surface is The Paranorm Girl Podcast. Can you explain to folks, if they tune in, what they can hear, what they can expect, and how they can access it?
KRISTEN: Absolutely. The Paranorm Girl Podcast is a deep dive into separate paranormal subjects. The idea behind it was I always loved listening to podcasts, ever since I started. I’ve been listening for years. My favorites were the paranormal podcasts, but I always felt at the end of a really great episode, a really good interview, I was like, “I want more, I want more!” What’s different about my show is that I cover a different paranormal topic each season.
JIM HAROLD: Oh cool.
KRISTEN: I have covered in-depth shadow figures and the Hat Man. I did Mandela effect, Season 2. This season is all about UFOs and aliens, which might I say, I could not have chosen the timing better myself.
JIM HAROLD: That’s true.
KRISTEN: Lots going on. Yeah, I just have a ball. I’m meeting a lot of really neat people and experts through this show and through the subjects themselves. I invite anybody to check it out. If you like to binge listen, this is the show for you.
JIM HAROLD: And I’m assuming they can find it anywhere fine podcasts are heard. Any of the apps, I’m assuming.
KRISTEN: Absolutely. Anywhere you get your podcasts, you can catch The Paranorm Girl Podcast.
JIM HAROLD: All right, thank you so much, Kristen. I appreciate your story, and everybody, check out the podcast. And stay spooky!
Oh, we have a big star on the show right now. We’ve got Ophira Eisenberg. She is the chief cook and bottlewasher at Parenting is a Joke, that great podcast – which is one of the most unique concepts for a podcast I’ve ever heard. She’s going to tell us about that. She’s been on The Late Late Show with James Corden, she’s been on many outlets, The Moth, stage and screen, and everywhere you can imagine. But today she’s going to come to us with – as a skeptic, she says, self-admitted skeptic – a story about her dad. Ophira, welcome to the show. Thank you for joining us.
OPHIRA: Jim, so great to see and hear you. Hi!
JIM HAROLD: Hi! Pleasure to talk to you. I was telling you beforehand, I love to hear stories from skeptics, so lay it on us.
OPHIRA: I’ll just set up, everyone comes into their skepticism a different way, and I think I was just raised by very pragmatic people. My parents had me older and I was the youngest in my family, and they both went through World War II. In some ways I think that sets up a mentality.
JIM HAROLD: Oh, sure.
OPHIRA: I remember saying to my mother when I was a kid, for example, “What happens when you die?” She would say, “You’re dead. That’s it. It’s over.”
JIM HAROLD: [laughs] Kinda simple.
OPHIRA: [laughs] Exactly. It was like, oh, well, there you go. So there was some religion in our house, pretty light, but there wasn’t a lot of spirituality, angels, souls, spirits, ghosts, nothing. Matter of fact, I remember we were going on a trip – I grew up in Calgary, Alberta, Canada; there’s lots of ghost hunting that happens around there, and I remember we were staying in a hotel and someone said to my mother, “Are you worried about the ghosts?” and she said, “No, because they’re not real, so why would I have to worry?”
JIM HAROLD: [laughs] I kinda like your mom, though. Like, “No, that’s the way it is.” I kind of like that.
OPHIRA: Now, when I was 13 years old, my father died. Obviously, rough time, and there was a funeral and a lot of just ritual around that, as there usually is. Then after that, the family was building itself back together. I was a preteen and a teenager; it’s not that I didn’t think much about it, because I thought a lot about it, but I did not think much about where my father is now. I know you talk about dreams a lot, and everyone always says hearing someone else’s dreams is very boring – and I will tell you, I’m a boring dreamer, Jim. Some people fly around the world and make out with celebrities; a lot of my dreams are like, “I’m replying to that email.” [laughs] They’re very mundane. Or like “I found my glasses.”
JIM HAROLD: [laughs] Spellcheck.
OPHIRA: [laughs] Exactly. But I started noticing a few years later that I would remember certain dreams and they would be about mundane things, or sometimes they would be about trying to find a door, an exit, something like that – I have a lot of maze dreams – but there would be a figure. I would wake up remembering there was a figure. I would see the back of a figure. As this figure would show up recurring and I became more familiar with seeing this figure, I knew it was a man. Never saw the face. Just the back, back of the head and shoulders. Usually sitting. I thought, “That’s strange.”
I will say that it continues till now. Not very often; I don’t remember my dreams very often. This figure will appear, and slowly, as we moved on in my dreams – “we,” now I’m a we – but I started to think, or know, that that figure was my father. But only the back of the head and the shoulders. A man, clearly. Never said a thing.
Then about – this was before the pandemic. I always have a hard time figuring out time. What is that, four years ago, five years ago? I was hanging out with my cousin in her house, and we were talking about ghosts. Unfortunately, my mother had passed. We were talking about spirits and ghosts, and I was like, “I’ve got to tell you, I don’t believe in any of that stuff.” And she said, “Really? None of it?” I said, “Well, that’s funny you say that because I will tell you, I have this idea that I have these dreams where my dad shows up, but I just see the back of his head and nothing is ever said.” She said, “You don’t think that’s a thing?” I was like, “I don’t know, is that my brain making meaning, playing tricks on me?”
At that point it was very interesting because she said, “Oh my God, are you cold?” I said, “No, I’m super hot in this room.” She’s like, “What? I don’t know, I’m cold. I’m going to go grab a sweater.” And as she got up, at that exact point – even as I say it, I’m like, this sounds – two doors in her house slammed. She’d just mentioned she was cold. That usually means there was a guest. But I will tell you that these were not external doors. They were internal doors. Like a door to the basement that was down the stairs and a door to the room. And she did not have any windows open because it was winter in Canada.
JIM HAROLD: Right, so it wasn’t like a breeze. It wasn’t like a wind tunnel effect or something.
OPHIRA: It wasn’t like a wind tunnel effect. It was actually so strange because one of the doors I always made fun of because it’s a cheap door, like the kind of door that you can’t slam because the wood is basically just pencil shavings that have been glued together that you can buy for $10 instead of a real door. That’s the one to the basement. So it’s almost – you have to push like crazy if you wanted to slam that door. She posed, “What was that?” back to me. She was freaked out.
JIM HAROLD: Yeah, that was your mind playing tricks on you, wasn’t it, Ophira?
OPHIRA: I literally said, “I should probably start believing just to save us a lot of trouble.” [laughs]
JIM HAROLD: Well, signs come in different ways. Maybe your dad had to slam a couple of doors to get your attention.
OPHIRA: To get my attention.
JIM HAROLD: Does that in any way comfort you? You were telling me – I hope it’s okay to say it – you said you asked your mom when you were little what happens after we die. Could you share what she said?
OPHIRA: Yeah, she said, “When you’re dead, you’re dead. It’s over. Nothing happens.”
JIM HAROLD: So has it changed your perspective?
OPHIRA: I think a little bit, because often – even my mother I think about, because I remember that she said to me – this is not an uncommon thought, but after her own mother died, she said the interesting thing that happens when someone dies is that you think about them more and you see them more. That’s a little bit of a different approach to let’s say thinking about a ghost or a spirit or paranormal activity. But I started to wonder if she was a little bit more spiritual and connected to that world than I thought, because sometimes I think just being like “If you’re dead, you’re dead” is actually a way to protect yourself.
JIM HAROLD: Yeah, a defense mechanism.
JIM HAROLD: That way you’re not disappointed.
OPHIRA: That way you’re not disappointed. It’s also an easy answer, because the unknown and the idea that there’s all these other things around us that we don’t understand that could be interacting with us at all times can be scary. It can be comforting, it can be scary. But I think also if I were to say to my mother – which is the mentality I have – “Do you think your mom is a guiding angel for you or helping you out?”, she’d be like, “What, you think these souls have time for your stuff? No. They have other things to do.” [laughs]
JIM HAROLD: If it is your dad coming to you, what do you think he’s doing? He’s just saying, “Hey, I’m around somewhere, so don’t worry about me”? Do you think that’s the extent of it? Why do you think he’s doing this, if you had to guess?
OPHIRA: If I had to guess, I would say there’s a little bit of the presence of a feeling of protection, like “I’m here, I’m ever-present in your life.” A little bit like, “Don’t forget that I’m ever-present in your life.” Because he left my life quite early, and just as a person, he was a big presence. He would slam a door. Not in the most aggressive mean way, but he would slam a door. So I think it is sort of symbolic, or the thread there is a little bit of this spirit is with you forever, and it is up to you, a little bit, with how you want to interact with that. But I think I challenged it. I was too aggressive. I was a little bit too dismissive, so I guess that was my parent putting me back in my place. [laughs]
JIM HAROLD: I guess it was. It’s a great story. And I believe when you’re very close with someone – a parent, a spouse, so on and so forth – I think they do many times maintain their presence in your life. I certainly feel that with my mom, who has passed 10 years this month. I feel she’s a presence. If nothing else, it makes me feel better. But I do believe it’s real.
Something else that’s real – how do you like that segue?
OPHIRA: Love it.
JIM HAROLD: That we have to talk about is Parenting is a Joke.
OPHIRA: Speaking of parents, here’s live ones. [laughs]
JIM HAROLD: I’ve got to tell ya, there’s a billion podcasts out there, as we know.
OPHIRA: Yes. Oh my goodness.
JIM HAROLD: But this has one of the most – because it’s not just about parenting, but it’s about certain people who parent, like comics like yourself. I think it’s such a neat – first of all, great title.
OPHIRA: Oh, thank you.
JIM HAROLD: And really a niche of a niche of a niche, but it’s a great idea. Tell us about it.
OPHIRA: Yes. Although it’s for everyone. Listeners, it’s for everyone.
JIM HAROLD: Yes, of course.
OPHIRA: We’ve interviewed some great comics, so even if you like comedy, it’s for you. But I think, like you, I work a nontraditional job, and sometimes they can have nontraditional hours. When I became a parent, I realized that everything that spoke to you about how to retain your identity and your life as a person was about either you’re a stay-at-home parent, so you have fluid hours, or you have a 9-to-5 traditional job. I was like, what about people that work at night? I’m not the only person working at night. There’s whole swaths of people that work at night in different industries. I thought, what about us? Nothing speaks to that.
And then also, stand-up comedy, with the travel and the hours and everything, marries terribly to being a parent. And I notice all these stand-ups being parents, and I thought, these people are going to be funny about it. These people are living nontraditional lives. Often the way they became a parent wasn’t just someone became pregnant. It was all different ways that they decided to bring a child into their life, and I thought, these are underrepresented, interesting stories, and who better to tell them than professional stand-up comics?
JIM HAROLD: There you go. The thing that strikes me – I used to deal with a little bit of it in my job. My kids were fortunate enough to go to a really nice private school. I have no bank account left, but they went to a nice private school. But everybody was a doctor and a lawyer, and they’d ask them, “What does your dad do?” “Well, he sits in a room and talks about Bigfoot to himself.” Didn’t go over so well. I wasn’t on a lot of the PTO committees, if you know what I’m saying.
OPHIRA: [laughs] Isn’t it funny that when you have something that sounds so much more interesting of a job – not to say being a doctor or lawyer isn’t interesting, but also, kinda.
JIM HAROLD: Yeah, unique.
OPHIRA: You don’t get rewarded for that. People aren’t like, “Oh, I can’t wait to talk to you at a cocktail party!” They’re like, “What? Weird.”
JIM HAROLD: Not a lot of golf invitations. You see these guys slapping each other on the back, “How’s the practice going?” “It’s great, it’s great.” “Any interesting cases?” “Yeah, I’ve got Bigfoot over here!” [laughs] I bet you deal with a little bit of the same thing when your kids go to school and say, “My mom’s a comic,” right?
OPHIRA: Yes, but also, I think there’s this thing where people feel sad for me. Sometimes I’m like, “This is a lonely existence” because the other parents will be like, “Let’s get together for a fun night! Friday, Saturday night, what are you doing?” I’m like, “That’s my time to make money, Friday or Saturday night, as a comic.” I’m like, “Who wants to drink on Sunday?” Nobody. [laughs] Sometimes they go, “Isn’t it sad that you go out every night?” Like, I don’t know. Isn’t it sad that you get up every morning? I don’t know. [laughs]
JIM HAROLD: Right. Hey, it’s whatever works for you.
OPHIRA: So when he says his mom’s a comic, people just go, “I don’t believe you.” “Your child is lying.”
JIM HAROLD: Yeah. When I say I’m a podcaster, people say – I literally had someone – I was appearing and speaking at something, and another person, who was TV adjacent – I’ll tell you off-air – she said, “What does your wife do for a living?” Which was very nice, which was very kind. Well, you’ve been very kind, Ophira.
OPHIRA: Oh my goodness, thank you.
JIM HAROLD: Tell them the name of the show and where they can find it.
OPHIRA: Comedy lovers, parents of all kinds, check out my podcast. I have great comics on it talking about their careers and what it’s like to also have a kid thrown in the mix. It’s called Parenting is a Joke. You know where you can find it? The standard: wherever you get your podcasts. We also have obviously a website, parentingisajokepod.com. There you go. You could follow me. I’m Ophira Eisenberg. That’s an easy name. [laughs]
JIM HAROLD: Easy enough. Ophira, thank you for being a part of the Campfire tonight.
OPHIRA: Thank you, Jim.
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Subscribe or follow Jim Harold’s Campfire today wherever you get your podcasts. Please rate and review, too. It helps so much. Thanks! Now, back to another great Campfire story.
JIM HAROLD: Next up on this special podcasters episode of the Campfire is Edwin from that very popular podcast, True Scary Story. We’re so glad to have him with us. Now, we want to tell you about True Scary Story. I’m sure you’ve probably already heard of it, but if you haven’t, we’ll tell you more at the end of this story. But first, Edwin, one of his first experiences in the paranormal: working at a haunted hostel? That sounds pretty good, Edwin. That sounds like something that would inspire you to become a podcaster on this subject. So tell us what happened. Welcome to the show and thank you for joining us.
EDWIN: Thanks a lot, Jim. I appreciate it. Before I became a podcaster, talking about scary things, I had a lot of different jobs. Everything from carrying boxes to online stores to all these things. One of the most bizarre ones was working at this hostel in South America, in Ecuador. I’ve always liked travel and I always wanted to do something where I could connect working online and traveling around, so this opportunity seemed perfect.
The owner of this hostel was actually a big hotel guy in Ecuador. When my girlfriend and I got the proposal, basically, to go in there and take over and be in charge of it, we were like, “Yes, of course.” Backpackers and the whole travel culture and everything, like, of course. So we made our way there, and when we get there, we find out that the owner is actually fixing up the place completely. He’s just renovating everything – adding a bar, adding all these types of things to the place and making it more modern.
One of these things was this dome-shaped thing made out of concrete that we were going to make from scratch. Later on I found out it’s called a temazcal. Imagine a turtle shell, but people go in there and they have steam cleansings, basically. They go in there and do a spiritual cleanse and they meditate. You get all sweaty, like a sweat lodge. I was maybe a little uneasy because they were also going to do some things like ayahuasca and all these things that I felt like needed a little more control, a little more supervision. But this guy was a business guy, so he was like, “Hey, why don’t we dress up the security guard and call him a Shaman and run these things?” It made me really uneasy. Plus, by the way, this is a three-story building, so these things would take place on the roof. You don’t know if these people are going to jump out.
JIM HAROLD: Yeah, under the influence of hallucinogens, that sounds incredibly dangerous.
EDWIN: Yeah. I was obviously against it, but either way, I had no choice. I was not the owner; I was just helping run the place. By the way, this place was huge. It had 30 rooms. It was huge for a hostel. It had a cafeteria at the very top, and when you looked out the window from the cafeteria, you could see this dome. Downstairs there was a restaurant that would open for dinner. It was a whole operation – restaurant, breakfast at the top on the terrace, modern play stations and all these things. So we were really excited to be there.
But in order for me to finish working there, to actually start my contract, I needed to get a visa to work in Ecuador, so I needed to leave. I left and I went back to the U.S., fixed all the papers, and while I was there, my girlfriend was telling me, “Hey, so many changes are going on. You’ve got to come back.” So I was rushing through it. In two or three weeks I had my visa ready and I went back. I found out that people were experiencing weird things in that hostel.
They would see things, shadows. They would hear footsteps. One of them, the receptionist, actually claimed to see a figure there, like an actual person. Obviously, I thought, it’s Ecuador; people there have a culture that’s more open to these types of things. Maybe they believe it a little bit easier. Here in the U.S. we have a little bit of a stigma sometimes. You don’t want to be embarrassed to talk about it.
When I got back there, it was like normal. One day on the terrace, when I was having breakfast, this guy comes in and he’s like, “Hey, you have to clean that dome, the temazcal.” I was like, “Oh no, I’m barely starting on the job and somebody’s asking me to clean.” But what he meant was clean as in it has to be cleansed because he could sense something coming out of it.
JIM HAROLD: Spiritually cleansed.
EDWIN: Yeah. I thought, okay. By the way, at that time I’m more a healthy skeptic, as in not quite sure if this stuff is real. I kind of forget about it. We have these plans of drawing these symbols and doing all these things on the thing. By that point I’m like, “Whatever, let’s just keep that going. Let’s go through with it. Doesn’t matter. We’ll do the cleanse later. We’ll just tell him we did it and never do it.” Everything just kept like normal until one afternoon. It was early evening, I would say 5:00 or 6:00 in the evening. It was kind of getting dark out at that stage.
I come into the hostel – I live two blocks away, super quick. Get there, and as soon as I’m walking in to see the reception desk – it has a huge window – I see somebody standing facing a wall, and they’re reading something. I’m thinking, “Oh no.” We have passport information, credit card information. Nobody has to be in there that isn’t an employee.
JIM HAROLD: Security risk.
EDWIN: Right. I calmly go up there and I’m thinking maybe it’s the receptionist’s boyfriend who came to visit her. I open the door and there’s nobody else there but the receptionist. At the time, immediately I’m like, “He’s probably hiding because he shouldn’t be here.” I turn around, look behind the door, look under the desk, and I’m thinking, this place isn’t that big. Nobody can hide here. It’s impossible. The receptionist is looking at me like, “What is wrong with you? What’s going on?” I was very confused. At the time I just felt nauseous. I felt confused. That’s how I know that maybe what I know to be reality isn’t real. Like, what happened?
My instinct – I leaned against the wall and I’m kind of sliding down. I don’t really know I’m sliding down to the floor. I’m sliding down until I’m finally sitting there. The receptionist comes up and she’s like, “What happened?” I said, “I just saw somebody standing here.” She said immediately, “What did he look like?” I explained I saw a man with a small beard, and he was there looking at something. She says, “Oh, that’s the chiquito,” which translates to “the little one.” Which is ironic because it was a tall figure, a tall man who was there. She was like, “I’ve seen him too. I’ve seen him around here. He’s real. We’ve all seen him.”
At the time, I couldn’t process all these things. I couldn’t connect stuff. I was just out of it. So I get up and I’m like, “I’ll come right back.” I go out to the reception desk, I climb up the stairs all the way to the terrace, and my girlfriend’s there working. She has her laptop out at one of the tables in the cafeteria area – which I guess kind of doubled as a hangout spot. People would go in and just hang out. I tell her, “You’re not going to believe this. I just saw a ghost.”
Me telling that to somebody – I never thought I would say that. She’s like, “What?” She’s trying not to laugh, trying to be like, “Are you serious, are you joking?” I sit down and I’m like, “I just saw a ghost. I was downstairs and I saw somebody there, and he wasn’t there.” As I’m starting to tell the story, the light above the table starts flickering. It turns on and off and on.
JIM HAROLD: Oh boy. [laughs]
EDWIN: This is true. This happened. She was there. There was another person there too. I’m kind of mixed up, thinking, “I just started working here and things are falling apart. The electricity now is out. What’s going on?” One of the other tourists who was there came up, he was trying to help me screw the thing back in. But no matter how tightly you screwed it in or loosened it, trying to get that perfect spot, it wouldn’t stop flickering. We were like, “This is just weird.” But I didn’t connect the two things. At the moment, I thought the big story here is the ghost. I just saw a ghost, that’s the story. The light was just an issue, like, “Ugh, I have to fix that.”
JIM HAROLD: Right, you didn’t connect the two at all.
EDWIN: Yeah. I just forgot about it, no big deal. Eventually the light bulb stayed on and it was fine. But then later on, as we’re talking about all these issues that are going on in the hostel, we would see somebody going around where – we used to have a service where we would wash clothes, and somebody would be around that area. We would worry because nobody should be there messing with the washing machines and all that stuff. They would say, “Oh, it’s nobody. It’s the chiquito, it’s the little one.” At the time I’m thinking, “Come on, guys, let’s not be silly. Let’s try to make this place a little bit more secure so nobody comes in here and let’s just move on.”
Weird things started happening. We were losing stuff. Our keys would disappear. Random little things. There were too many to count. And one of these things, as we were in a circle talking, they tell me that while I was in the United States, something else happened in that restaurant that was downstairs. That restaurant only opened for dinner, so everything got prepped up until 4 p.m. Everything was clean and ready, and we had to turn on the lights. It was a rule from the owner: turn on the lights so that people could look in through the window and see a nice restaurant that’s about to open and all that stuff.
As they were trying to turn on the lights one of these days, they noticed that they wouldn’t turn on. Everybody’s freaking out, because this owner – again, he was a business guy; he was actually not there anymore because he went out to other business, but his rule was very strict. You had to turn on the lights. They wouldn’t turn on. One of the volunteers happened to know a lot about electricity and cables and all that stuff, wiring, and he’s like, “Everything’s fine. We’re getting current to the restaurant. I don’t know what’s going on.”
Then, out of desperation, they go and check the lights, and every single one of those lights that were above the tables was unscrewed just enough to keep them off. Now there’s like a dozen of these, and they’re hard to get to because they’re in cups. You have to have long fingers and really try to get in there to barely unscrew it. So when he said that, I was like, “I have something to tell you now.” I told him the story about the upstairs with the flickering lights.
They decided to do a spiritual cleansing type of thing. I had no knowledge of this stuff back then. With sage, they walked around the building. They set off a lot of smoke detectors because they didn’t know to turn these off. As they were doing that, part of the thing was, aside from cleansing the dome and that thing – supposedly you go in there, you do a cleanse, but the dark stuff stays there and it’s trapped until you clean it and get it out – they did a whole process for that. Then we finalized everything with a sacrifice, they called it, but really it was like you get rid of something that you like. Somebody burned a dollar bill. For me, I gave up a steak kabob that I was about to eat. I was like, “Okay, this is going to be it.” We buried it in the backyard, left a candle, and we forgot about it.
A couple months later, in conversation, we were like, “Nothing weird has been happening.” “Yeah, that’s true. It just kind of stopped.”
JIM HAROLD: And that was it. No more activity in the rest of your time there, I guess?
EDWIN: No, everything from then on turned around. Everybody was a little more positive, too. It’s strange. But that was definitely the creepiest thing that has happened to me that made me believe in the paranormal.
JIM HAROLD: That makes sense because that’s your true scary story, and you have a very popular podcast by that name called True Scary Story. Just give people a minute or two on it and where they can find it, if they haven’t already tuned in.
EDWIN: True Scary Story is a show where people show up to talk about their own true scary stories. It’s a very immersive type of show where somebody’s leading you through a section of their lives that was very – something might’ve been dark, something unexplainable, something you just can’t explain. Encounters with cryptids, encounters with ghosts, grandma stories – I think they tend to be very popular. The episodes pop up every week, every Wednesday. Check it out. It’s really cool. I like listening to it, just like I like listening to Jim Harold’s Campfire. But yeah, if you want to get creeped out – just don’t listen by yourself because, yeah. [laughs]
JIM HAROLD: Be sure to check it out. True Scary Story wherever you listen to your podcasts. Edwin, thank you for taking time. Always great to catch up and get to talk to a colleague and also hear a great story to boot. Thanks for sharing your true scary story, and stay spooky!
EDWIN: Thank you, Jim.
JIM HAROLD: Up next we’ve got Brandon from the Southern Gothic Podcast. I’ve got to tell you, if you haven’t checked it out, do. If you love spooky stories, dark history, and a whole lot of very well-done narrative podcasting, you need to check out Southern Gothic. But in the meantime, check out this story from Brandon. Brandon, welcome to the show. Thanks for joining us.
BRANDON: Thank you for having me, Jim. I appreciate it.
JIM HAROLD: I know you’ve got a synchronicity story, and I think you were a little concerned it might not be spooky enough and I said I love the synchronicity stories. Bring ’em on.
BRANDON: Well, I don’t know if it’s specifically synchronicity, but it’s definitely – I’ve never experienced an apparition or a traditional ghost encounter. Obviously I do this for a living, like you; I’m always searching for ghost stories, always searching for these things, and I’ve been all the places. I’ve been to Waverly Hills, the Bell Witch Cave, all these things, searching, and still have never experienced that traditional story. But since doing ghost stories and being involved in haunted tourism, I have these things that are seemingly undeniable.
One of the things that I do is ghost tours as well in the town that I live in. It’s Franklin, Tennessee. It’s an old Civil War town, and it’s just primed for those kind of ghost tours at night, for tourists to come in. There was this horrendous Civil War battle here. It was called the Gettysburg of the South, the Battle of Franklin, where 10,000 people died, went missing, or were wounded in a period of five hours. So you just had massive casualties. There’s a beautiful downtown area now that looks like a Hallmark town; 44 buildings were field hospitals. So it’s chock-full of stories and all these things.
Everybody told me when I got into this type of work that if you tell a story correctly, if you really dig down and you tell the truth about it and you try to really bring out the humanity in the storytelling, then you’re going to be more prone to activity. The spirits that might be at a place might come out. I don’t know if I believed them as much; I’ve always had guests that have come on tours from time to time that they’ll see something or they’ll claim something. Being in this haunted tourism and telling ghost stories for so long, I can be skeptical and still believe at the same time. I’ve heard so much.
But there was this one night about a year ago that my friend Alicia, who owns this tour company that I do seasonal work with, tells me, “Hey, at this last stop, I was telling a story about this woman named Peggy Eaton.” She was the wife of the Secretary of War under President Jackson. She lived here in Franklin. Well-known figure. This was in the 1820s, and lived here. Folks have claimed that her apparition shows up at this building, this spot. A gentleman who lived in this house back in the ’70s claimed that he woke up one night and saw Peggy Eaton there in his bedroom with him.
JIM HAROLD: Whoa. [laughs]
BRANDON: Has claimed it to this day. If you can imagine this – and I’ve always heard about it, and this building, people have always said that they see a woman looking out of the window at this building and all this stuff. So Alicia tells me the night before, “Look, nothing weird happened yesterday, but I did have this one guest who came up to me after the tour and came over and said, ‘Hey, the tour was great and all, but she prefers to be called Margaret.’” Alicia’s like, “I don’t know where you got that, but obviously I’m going to listen.”
So I decide I’m going out that night – I want to say it was sometime around August or something. Prime tourist season down here. Big old crowd and everything. As I’m leaving, of course there’s a gentleman there – there’s always the guys there in this tourist town that take these tours that clearly his wife and his children dragged him on this haunted tour. He doesn’t want to be there. But he’s like, “I like history, so I’ll enjoy it.” Very skeptical. I kind of see him snickering throughout the hour walk that we’re doing. We had some back and forth here or there of him not really believing.
We get to this last spot and I start telling the story, of course, and I decide, “We’re going to go with it tonight. We’re going to call her Margaret. We’re going to use her given name and we’re going to do this.” And sure enough, we finish it, and I finish the stories and I invite all the guests, “Please come up on the steps if you’d like. Look around, get a feel for the place, see what you can.” I walk down the steps and I stand over on the side and just take some questions. This is the last spot of our tour.
And man, this guy – he’s up there, we’re just hanging out, and he comes flailing down these stairs right here and says, “Look, I don’t know what happened, but look, this is unreal. I felt somebody breathing on my neck. The hair on the back of arms is standing up.” He’s utterly freaked out by what just happened. It’s recurred over and over again on this tour now and down here, where if I continue to tell these stories that way, my guests are getting these experiences.
And the same things happen with some of the stories on the podcast. I’m learning a lot about – I guess synchronicity-wise, though, what I’ve found is some of the shows that I do, when I continue to do this, good things happen afterward. If I really dig down and try and talk about someone on a show – this is old ghost stories that I talk about – when I do this like I did for Margaret Eaton, those are the shows that end up having the biggest response. They’re the ones that always something nice comes back, and the ones that always something happens.
The largest case of that for us has been this one woman by the name of Julia Brown that we talk about. She was considered a voodoo priestess down in the swamp. Back in 1915, folks say that she cursed this small town, and we tell this story about it. She said, “When I die, I’m going to take the whole town with me!”, and two days after she dies, this massive hurricane comes in in 1915. It’s one of the largest storms ever and kills 400 people in Louisiana on the Gulf Coast down there. Destroys this town of Frenier where she was living. Ever since, people have really demonized her as having cursed this swamp town.
We start talking about this story and the stories become this really wonderful thing, and we’ve uncovered all these things about Julia Brown as a woman, as a person, as somebody who is on Census records, who has children, who has all these things. And every time we’ve published or done something about her, something good – it seems like she interacts in our life in some way.
In those occasions, we had a specific instance where my sister actually decided she was going to write about it. My sister’s the researcher on my show. We do our show together. She works for the Louisiana State museum. She’s an archivist by trade. Very research-heavy. She decides that she’s going to try and get an article published in a paranormal journal. She’s been published in Troy Taylor’s journal with Morbid Curious and I think the Feminine Macabre. She’s more into the writing portion.
One August, she’s writing about Julia Brown. This is her chance to pull together all this information. It just so happened that it’s in the middle of hurricane season, and Hurricane Ida – I think it’s 2021 – is on its way to New Orleans. She’s writing about Julia, so she’s utterly into this story at this point, these weeks. Hurricane Ida wasn’t too large for them to leave town. They didn’t have to evacuate. But she decides she’s going to take her dogs and go stay at our parents’ house out there down the road.
She goes to our parents’ house, decides to stay there, and she jokes – last text I get from her before all the electricity and stuff goes out is “I lit a candle for Julia to protect us. Light a candle for her.” Sure enough, it comes through, the hurricane – New Orleans is without electricity for two, three weeks afterward. New Orleans wasn’t horribly damaged at that point, but some of the other places on the Gulf Coast were. It was more of an infrastructure problem. The next day my sister goes home, and sure enough there’s a massive branch two inches from her bedroom that would’ve crushed her bedroom roof right there.
JIM HAROLD: Wow.
BRANDON: Just this constant attribution of every time we’ve written or continued to tell someone like Julia’s story, you get these aftereffects that seem to relate to people – when you treat the spirit as a person. It’s been fascinating doing that and uncovering these people, for sure.
JIM HAROLD: There’s that old statement, when you look into the abyss, sometimes it looks back. But in this situation, it’s in a good way. [laughs]
BRANDON: Right. [laughs]
JIM HAROLD: So, Southern Gothic. Great podcast. I recommend everybody check it out. Brandon, give people about a minute of what it is, what they can expect, and where they can find it.
BRANDON: Absolutely. We’re a haunted history podcast. We talk about dark history, haunted places, ghost stories. I love telling ghost stories. And a little bit of old historical true crime. It’s in a narrative, and of course, a lot of sound design and a lot of historic fact. It’s highly researched. You can find us at southerngothicmedia.com or you can find us on all your podcatchers.
JIM HAROLD: And Brandon knows what he’s doing when it comes to editing and sound design and so forth. I was reading his bio – he’s worked with George Strait, which is one of my heroes, with my family coming from West Virginia. Which is not quite the South. I say West Virginia isn’t in the South, but there’s a lot of the South in West Virginia. Just love that. Brandon, I hope everybody checks out Southern Gothic, and thank you for being a part of the Campfire. Stay spooky.
BRANDON: Thanks, Jim.
JIM HAROLD: Happy spring, everybody! Spring is springing, believe it or not, and it can’t come soon enough. As I’m sure you’re going to be out and about, you’re going to get out in the great outdoors again and start doing things, I’m sure you’re going to be in need of some audio entertainment. Now, of course, we have our free shows, but we also have our Paranormal Plus Club, and I would highly recommend that you check it out.
Basically, the Paranormal Plus Club is where you can go and get all of the archives going back to 2005. That includes a few hundred Campfires no longer on the free feeds. That includes several hundred editions of the Paranormal Podcast not on the free feeds. That includes hundreds of Plus shows that people don’t realize that we do each and every month. We do eight exclusive episodes for our Plus members. There are shows like UFO Encounters, Ghost Insight, The Cryptid Report, the list goes on. The Other Side. The thing is, people don’t know that we do all these extra shows. Even the members, I have to remind them from time to time. If you’re listening to this and you’re a member, make sure that you’re checking out those shows because those are part of your membership.
All told, it’s well over 2,000 episodes that you can’t get if you’re on the free feeds, so what are you waiting for? Go over to jimharoldplus.com and click on the banner with my face. It’ll take you to a page where it explains the Plus Club. There’s two different versions; there’s our classic Libsyn version where you have an app that you install on your device and you can listen on Apple devices, you can listen via Android devices, you can listen via Amazon device, you can listen via your computer. That’s for people who are like, “Hey, I want to be able to change from device to device, ecosystem to ecosystem. I want to be able to operate in any environment and listen to my Plus Club content.” And that’s great. They’ve been with us for years. They do a great job, and people love that Spooky Studio app.
This last year, we added another version, and it’s just as great. It’s like chocolate and vanilla, which one do you prefer. It’s the Apple Podcast version. If you tell me, “Jim, I’m not interested in a lot of different devices. I am an Apple device person and that’s all I want to listen on, and I listen in Apple Podcasts,” then I say the Apple Podcast version is for you. Now, with both systems you get a great deal. There are great discounts for the Libsyn version where you can get great discounts on monthly and yearly membership, and on Apple, they do something a little different. You can get a free trial, which is something Libsyn doesn’t do.
So each system has its own pluses. It’s just up to you to figure out which one you prefer. But the good news is, you get all those Campfires, you get all those Paranormal Podcasts on both versions, you get shows like UFO Encounters, Ghost Insight, The Other Side, The Cryptid Report – that Plus content, you get it on both systems. Get it today. Don’t delay. Go to jimharoldplus.com. That’s jimharoldplus.com. Make sure to click on the banner with my face on it at jimharoldplus.com. And thanks!
You’re listening to Jim Harold’s Campfire.
JIM HAROLD: We’re absolutely loving this special where we’re having different podcasters come on and tell their spooky stories. This story is spooky but kind of in a different way. Very spooky indeed. Our guest on this one is Jody Avirgan. He is the host of Good Sport, which is run by the TED Collective. He’s also known for 30 for 30, FiveThirtyEight, Radiotopia. Also, as I understand it, you were very, very prominent and competitive in ultimate frisbee at one point.
JODY: [laughs] I appreciate you scrolling to the bottom of the bio. But yeah.
JIM HAROLD: See? I did my research too. But you have a harrowing tale that involved you and your wife. I won’t spoil it, but tell us what happened, because this sounded absolutely terrifying.
JODY: This is spooky in the sense that this is a story that has lingered with me and gives me chills, and when I think back to it, I really go to a very serious and fraught place. It’s the story of when my wife and I took a lovely vacation to Juno, Alaska. We were doing all sorts of great things. We were kayaking, we were hiking around, we were eating at good restaurants, and we did what I think a lot of people do; we visited Mount Roberts, which is this beautiful big mountain outside of Juno.
You can either hike all the way up or you can take a tram most of the way up and then work your way to the top. We went early in the day, perfectly clear day, great sightlines, wearing decent hiking shoes and plenty of water and all that stuff, and got to the top of Mount Roberts. We’re hiking along the trail along the top. You look down one side and there’s Juno, and that’s the direction that you go if you’re going to either hike down back into town or catch the tram back into town.
We struck up a conversation with another older man who was hiking in the opposite direction of us. He was telling us about how he’d been hiking on these trails for decades and he loved these trails. He goes, “There’s a way that you can go that way,” and he points the other direction from Juno. He says, “You can go down the back side of the mountain there. If you just work your way down this little crevasse, you will – see that bench down there? That bench is down by a river that then leads around back behind the mountain and back into town. You can get down there and there’s a little rough trail at the bottom by the bench there, and you’ll make your way back into town.” And he went on his way.
My wife and I looked at each other and said, “It’s relatively early in the morning. There’s a lot of daylight left. We’re wearing decent gear, we’re in good shape. This could be fun. Let’s try it.” We had this bench probably, in my estimation, maybe a mile or so away, but down all the way at the bottom of the mountain. But we had this bench and we were basically like, “We’re going to aim for that bench.” So we start going down. And I’ll tell you, within 45 seconds of jumping down off the trail and going down the back side of the mountain, I had this feeling. In part because obviously we’re off trail, but it’s very rocky, very slippery, and every step I take further down the back side of the mountain, every step in that direction, in the back of my head I’m knowing that turning around and going back up – those steps are all getting harder and harder.
JIM HAROLD: It’s not an option, or less so of an option.
JODY: Less and less an option the more of a step we take, because it’s slippery rock and it’s very steep. So we just have this sense of momentum, but we also have this thing we’re looking at. “There’s that bench. We’ve just got to make it to that bench.” So we keep going. We keep going down and down and down. 20 minutes, 30 minutes, 45 minutes, an hour. We’re just going down and down and down. Now we’re hundreds of feet below the ridgeline that we had started on. But the weather’s still fine and we can still see this bench.
The moment at which things started to get a little eerie was – I later found out it’s this little creature that lives in those canyons – but this high-pitched sound is just echoing through the canyons. It’s this little – it’s almost like a marmoset or something, but it’s just doing this “Eeeee… eeee…” Super eerie, and over and over and over.
JIM HAROLD: And the fact that you’re in this mindset of “What in the world’s going on here? I’ve lost my way.”
JODY: Yeah, so we’re hearing that and it’s echoing. But we’re still like, “You know what, let’s just keep walking. We’ll keep walking.” We do start to talk, and this will continue to be the case throughout the story – we do start to talk a little bit about, “What is actually the most rational thing to do?” In our minds, it is go down, because if we try and go up, we might slip, we might fall, we might hurt ourselves. If we go down, we can control our movements, and we see that bench right there. We see it, we see it, we see it. We’re going down, we’re going down, we’re going down. There’s no trails emerging. This man had intimated that at some point we would find a goat trail or something. No trails emerging, but we’re still going down the ridge of this canyon.
And then I see something that makes my stomach drop. I notice that between me and this bench that we’d been going for all along, there’s what appears to be, and eventually becomes clear to be, a huge drop-off.
JIM HAROLD: Oh man.
JODY: This little creek that we’d been following in this little canyon ends up turning into about a 200-foot drop to then another little riverbed that then leads to that bench. But no one had told us. This man had not told us.
JIM HAROLD: Did you consider at that point going back up, or was it too late?
JODY: At that point we have a conversation, and we start to talk in very serious terms about how we’re going to get out of this. And it goes from “Let’s get to that bench” – it goes to, “What is the best way to get out of this situation?” The two options that I see at that point are we try and scale down basically a cliffside waterfall for 200 feet or we go up.
Rather than turning directly backwards and going back up where we came from, we’re in this canyon, this “V”; we say, if now the goal is just to get up as high as possible – and more specifically cellphone reception, because we don’t have that at the moment – if the goal is just to get back up to the top of the ridge, let’s just go right up the side rather than back the longer route. Let’s just go right up the side of the mountain that we’re now nestled inside of.
So we start going up, and it’s super steep, super rocky. We’re like bushwhacking a little bit. But right now our mindset is “shortest path to height,” where we can then make a phone call or maybe find that ridgeline trail and get back up there.
JIM HAROLD: Wow.
JODY: The big moment for us is we’re hiking, we’re hiking, we’re hiking, and we’re getting more and more tired. It’s starting to get to about mid-afternoon or so. I’m starting to get that creeping feeling in the back of my head of like, “Darkness might be a factor now.” Our footwear is good; we have the right equipment and water and all that stuff, but this thought enters my head, which is the worst possible thing that could happen – and the one that actually led me for the first time to think about, might one of us not make it? I mean, not make it – the thought that entered my head was, “If one of us falls and breaks an ankle or breaks a leg, this turns from really crappy to existential, potentially. Like, bad.”
So my wife and I stop and we have a chat, and it’s basically along the lines of, how do we overall reduce that risk? What we decide is that rather than having two people trying to climb up this mountain, one of us should. So she stays behind, and I say bye to her, and I continue to climb. When I tell you I say “bye” to her, I kind of have to do it –
JIM HAROLD: Like the long-term “bye.” Like this might be it.
JODY: Who knows? And I don’t say that out loud. You don’t say it out loud in that moment, but it’s in my head. It’s the only time I’ve really had that sort of thought just sitting right there in front of my nose.
So I leave her behind and I climb, and I scramble and I scramble and I scramble. And I’m in pretty good shape and I do a lot of leg workouts and so forth, and I’m using every trick I have to get my quads moving and my hamstrings moving and get up the side of this mountain. It turns into this pattern of scramble for 50 feet, check cellphone reception, scramble for 50 feet, check cellphone reception. I’m drenched, I’m exhausted, I’m at the end of my rope, and I’m screaming back to her to hear her voice. I’m like, “Did you find a spot? Are you okay?” “Yes, I’m here. I’m on the side of a ledge. I’m good.”
Eventually, after a long time, what feels like forever, I get to the top of the mountain. I pull out my phone. Cellphone reception. I call 911. Immediately get patched pretty quickly through to air patrol. They decide that they’re going to scramble a helicopter to come and fetch us off the side of the mountain. So I’m standing there, waiting, and all of a sudden a helicopter, about an hour later, comes cruising through. The helicopter lands on the ridgeline in front of me and he goes, “Get in. We have five minutes of daylight to find your wife and then I have to legally go back.”
JIM HAROLD: Oh my God. Oh my God.
JODY: I jump in, and in my head I’m like, “I know exactly where she is. She’s right there.” I don’t know if you can relate to this, but the instant the helicopter takes off and moves out –
JIM HAROLD: You lose your orientation.
JODY: All perspective is gone. I’m looking at basically – I don’t know what I’m looking at. I’m like, “Oh, I know, she’s right” – and then it’s like, “Oh no.” And now we’re just trying to find a dot in the middle of a mountainside. So we fly around, fly around, fly around. Five minutes is up. We don’t find her, and he’s like, “I’m going to drop you back on the top of the mountain. Foot patrol is coming up to do a foot rescue, but I have to leave.” Just watching that helicopter take off without either of us – brutal.
Finally a couple guides get to the top. They have rappelling gear, they have food. The first thing they do to me, because the temperature’s now dropping, is they wrap me in blankets, feed me every protein bar that they have stuffed into their pockets, and they’re like, “We need you and your energy because you’re going to guide us and try to find your wife.”
Meanwhile we realize that we can actually hear her. We can’t see her, but if we scream out her name, we hear her screaming back to us. So we start to walk towards that sound as the sun is going down. But we’re at the top of a ridge, she’s down on the side of the mountain; we can hear each other, but as soon as we get off the top of the ridge we’re stuck in canyons and so forth and we can no longer hear her. So it’s this Catch-22 of we can sort of triangulate where she is when we’re up here, but once we start to actually look for her, we can’t.
What we realize we have to do is once again we have to split up our group and we have to have one person standing at the top of the mountain yelling at her and triangulating with her, and then radioing down to the guide who’s then going to try and use our guidance – “to the right, to the left” – to try and find her. We start to do that and it still doesn’t work, and the sun’s going down, sun’s going down.
Then finally, the sun is dark enough, and I’m looking out to this general area where I know she is, and I hear her voice, and I see a light. I’m like, “What’s that? There’s a light there. What is that?” Well, turns out my wife had, in her bag, in addition to the one water bottle, her Kindle.
JIM HAROLD: Oh man, wow.
JODY: So she has her little Kindle now, and it’s dark enough that she’s able to shine this light at us as we’re sitting at the top of the mountain. So now we’re in this triangulation thing where we see the light, there’s a guy down there who we’re radioing to, and we’re like, “A little further to the right, 100 feet this way,” and we’re guiding him along. It’s about three or four hours before we finally get him into the right little canyon where then he can hear her voice and just go to her.
He ends up having to set up a rappelling rig. She is stuck on the side of a mountain. Later I find out that she had made friends with a little goat, who was probably the spirit animal guide of this whole story. [laughs] A little mountain goat had found another little nook right near her, and at first she was a little worried, “What’s this guy going to do?” and eventually she was like, “Well, I have companionship at least.”
He has to rappel down to find her, rig her up in a harness, basically rock-climb her out, back up the harness, and then they have to hike another hour and a half up to us at the top of the ridgeline. They do the same thing to her; they ply her with every protein bar in the world, get her in warm clothes. It’s starting to rain now, it’s dropped down probably into the 40s. And then we hike out. “How are we going to get off this mountain?” “Oh yeah, you’re going to hike out.” Three or four hour hike at the end of all this ordeal.
So we walk along the ridgeline trail that we probably should’ve walked out on to begin with, and we go – the tram’s not running because it’s super early in the morning, so we have to hike all the way down back into Juno. We get back into Juno at like 7:30 a.m., just as the town is waking up and people are going off to work. It’s just this incredibly strange feeling where the rest of the world doesn’t know this ordeal, but we’d been through –
JIM HAROLD: Yeah, you almost lost your lives, whereas everybody else is like, “Eh, it’s just a normal day.”
JODY: I turned to one of the guys who rescued us, and obviously we’re just so grateful, and I’m like, “So where are you off to?” He’s like, “I work at the shoe store. It opens in an hour, so I’m just going to head in to work.” Everyone just went back to their lives. We went back to our room and slept probably 28 hours straight. But yeah.
JIM HAROLD: That is an amazing story. That’s terrifying and an amazing story of survival. I have two questions. Both of them are kind of born of the nature of this show. First of all, there’s something – I’m sure you probably know of this as a hiker and so forth; it’s called the third man effect. It’s actually been written about. Some people believe it’s a psychological effect, some people believe that it’s supernatural, but I think the author of this book The Third Man Effect believes it’s psychological. But there have been cases of people in a similar situation where they feel that there is someone or something talking to them or guiding them outside of themselves. Did you ever have anything like that, or you’re like “Nope, we were all on our own. I didn’t have any spirit talking to me, I didn’t have anything”?
JODY: It’s interesting. You talk to yourself, especially those moments when we were split up and now I was on my own and it was on me to get to the top of that mountain. I divorced myself from the person who was trying to get up the side of that mountain, and I was talking to myself and I was talking to my wife. So in whatever way, I became my own third man, I suppose. I don’t know if I felt guided, but I definitely felt that – and this happens when you’re in really stressful or harrowing moments. You kind of find a way to coach yourself and find your own voice, and something emerges. I definitely remember that, for sure.
JIM HAROLD: And then this one’s a little more out there and a little more sinister: Did you ever think about who that man who told you was? I mean, did you ever think maybe there was something more to it and he wanted you to be in the situation you were in?
JODY: The only place in which this story – not the only place, but a place in which this story really connects with your show is that, no surprise, we spent the next many days – Juno is a small town. We spent the next many days trying to figure out the identity of this man. We asked the people who rescued us; we asked our Airbnb host. I went on the local public radio station because this was apparently big news. This made the front page of the Juno paper, so they had me on and I did an interview about it two days later. We asked people at local hiking – and we knew what the guy looked like. We knew how old he was. He had told us a few things about how long he’d been there.
We were never able – it didn’t ring a bell for any of the locals. People were like, “This is a small town. A guy in his mid-sixties who says he’s been hiking these trails for decades, I think we would know who that is.” And we never got a sense there.
So, was it some malevolent spirit that manifest itself and told us to go down the back side of this mountain with full confidence? I don’t know. But it is certainly one of the spookier elements of the story. We’ve never been able to figure out who that guy is.
JIM HAROLD: If I had a dun-dun-DUN! sound effect, I would play it right there. [laughs] Wow. Well, I’m glad you made it out okay.
JODY: I am too.
JIM HAROLD: I’m glad, and I’m sure now when you go hiking, you’re maybe a little more likely to stick to the tried and true trails, I’m guessing.
JODY: Stay on the trail. Yes. Lesson learned.
JIM HAROLD: Another lesson that we’ve learned is you’re a great storyteller, and you have many podcasts you’ve been involved with. I know Good Sport I think is your number one pursuit right now. So Jody, can you tell everybody about Good Sport, what it is, and where they can find it – and hear more great stories, but these ones about sports?
JODY: Good Sport is from the TED Audio Collective, as you pointed out. It’s an eight-part series, and it’s my chance to explore a lot of interesting stories and ideas that I feel like sports can help us understand. The overall argument is that sports has a lot to teach us about the world and ourselves, so we do stuff about mental toughness and we do stuff about getting older and having to reckon with the fact that you can’t play your sport at the level that you used to. But we also do stuff about stadium deals and sports debate shows and stuff. It’s just been a chance to really explore some big ideas that I’m excited about, and people seem to be really connecting with it. I would love for folks to listen.
JIM HAROLD: I know as a sports fan myself, I am going to be tuning in, and I hope that everybody else tunes in to Good Sport. Jody Avirgan, thank you so much for joining us and sharing this story. So glad everything worked out, and what a story it is.
JIM HAROLD: We’re really enjoying doing this show with podcasters and talking to them about their campfire stories. Next up is Chelsey Weber-Smith. They are the host of American Hysteria, which explores how fantastical thinking has shaped our culture. Really interested to talk about a teenage ghost story from Chelsey, and we’ll of course find out a little more about American Hysteria as well. Chelsey, welcome to the program and please tell us your teen ghost story.
CHELSEY: Thank you so much for having me, Jim. As we’ll talk about later, my show is a lot about debunking, but in my heart I am no debunker. I am a “flexible skeptic,” is the term we use. I’m just so excited.
JIM HAROLD: I like that. I’ve never heard that. I like that.
CHELSEY: Yep, take it, use it, spread it. [laughs] I grew up soaked in ghosts. Both sides of my family believed in ghosts, had ghost stories. Both my mom and my grannie always had strange things happen to them, and I was told stories growing up. My dad’s side of the family has a lot of fantastical thinking in it as well. I was introduced into a world that had a lot of unseen forces, and I loved it from day one.
I think I’d like to start at my teenage years. When I was 14, 15, 16, I got really into ghost hunting. It was the first wave of the popularity of ghost hunting; this was in the early 2000s. I was into EVP recording, electromagnetic field stuff. I ordered my little things off the internet to do my ghost hunting with my friends. We’d sneak into abandoned buildings. It was something my life revolved around. I even went to a ghost hunting convention when I was 16, which was one of the highlights of my life, for sure. When we had to do job shadows in high school, I job shadowed some local ghost hunters and got to go to this graveyard.
JIM HAROLD: That’s unique. That’s kind of wild.
CHELSEY: Yeah, I would like to say it was the most interesting project in class. [laughs] So yeah, I had this desire for ghosts. I was never scared of ghosts. My truest heart’s hope was that I would have these experiences – and I did. I think it started in such an almost cliché way, as I’m sure you’ve heard stories around the poltergeists that come around – I’m nonbinary, but I grew up a girl, so I follow the teenage years of girls and can latch on to the intensity of the experience of being that young and all the changes that happen. You’ve heard of this, right?
JIM HAROLD: Absolutely, yes. Adolescence.
CHELSEY: Yeah. I was a very intense kid, as it probably already sounds like. I had a lot of struggles with being real sad, being real anxious, and also being in love with a girl, with my best friend. Definitely couldn’t tell anybody about that. That’s a struggle that most young queer people have. I liked writing poems, I liked painting. I was a very intense kid. That’s just my hypothesis of why this started, just the intensity I was feeling.
JIM HAROLD: I’ve heard that multiple times. My most interesting poltergeist guest was a full-blown journalist who went in as a skeptic – I think he was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, Michael Clarkson up in Canada. He said that he does think there is some kind of tie with adolescence and the emotions of adolescence. But he definitely thought there was something to poltergeists. I thought that was an interesting perspective and added a little more weight to it than just – I think it’s interesting, to your point, the fact you said you’re a flexible skeptic. I love that term. When a skeptic comes around and says, “I don’t believe in most of this stuff, but boy, this sure happened to me,” I think those are some of the most interesting stories. Sorry to interrupt, but I just wanted to share that.
CHELSEY: Oh my gosh, no, I completely agree with you. I can’t ever let go completely because I don’t like the 2D nature of being a full-on skeptic. I obviously value it and think it’s incredibly important, but I never want to be closed off from the possibilities, because I think they’re fun. [laughs] No matter what, whether they’re real or fake, they’re fun.
So I’m in my bedroom all the time, in the dark with my curtains drawn, being sad, and I start having these small, strange experiences. It really started with hearing somebody saying my name, which I think is a really common experience for people. I would be in the shower and I’d hear, “Chelsey.” I’d freak out a little bit. Then I would come home a little late from my curfew time, and at the top of the stairs, I would hear someone, “Chelsey!” A little more aggressive. I’d walk upstairs with my head down being like, “I’m going to get in trouble,” but then my parents door would be closed. That happened quite a bit.
And then things started happening where I would walk up to a door, and right before I’d put my hand out and grab the knob, it would just open. The same thing with closed. I’d walk right up to a door and it would close. Just little things. Explainable things, but things that started to add up. I noticed them and clocked them, especially as a ghost aficionado.
Then the actual physical side of it started. I’ve never seen a ghost. My ghost experiences are audio and physical touch, which is a very disturbing way to interact with a ghost. The first thing that happened is that I’d wake up and the cellphone I had at the time – probably some terrible phone from 2004 –
JIM HAROLD: I think they were all terrible back then.
CHELSEY: They were terrible, I know, but I do miss them. [laughs] I kind of miss them. Anyway, it’d be charging by my bed and in the morning I’d wake up and it would be all the way across the room, like someone picked it up and threw it. And this happened quite a few times. I’ve never sleepwalked, as far as I know.
But that was the first thing that happened, and then it got more personal, where I had a teddy bear that I slept with long into high school – I had it every night. It was a comfort thing. If I didn’t have it, that was a problem for me. Couldn’t find it one night. I looked everywhere, tore the bed apart, under the bed, all around, couldn’t find it, and finally I just went to bed. The next morning, in the corner of the room, I found the teddy bear wrapped, almost swaddled, into a towel and placed in the corner of the room.
JIM HAROLD: Ooh, yikes. See, that’s the thing. Not just lying over there, it’s actually swaddled in the towel. That’s freaky.
CHELSEY: It’s freaky, yeah. I went to everyone in my family and I was like, “Are you playing a prank on me?” It’s not unheard of for my family to play pranks on one another, but everybody swore up and down – they were like, “What are you talking about?”
The next thing that went missing was this charm that my grannie gave me, one of the ghost experiencers of my family. It was a little charm, a little bird in a nest that was silver. I would put it on my bedpost at night. I liked to make wishes, things like that, so each night I’d make some kind of a wish, and then if it fell off of my bed, that wish wouldn’t come true; if it stayed, it would come true. Just little rituals. So one day, can’t find it anywhere. The bird charm is gone. I look everywhere – again, like the teddy bear, I’m feeling very upset about it because it’s one of my comfort items.
A month went by. I was like, “I don’t know where it is. I can’t explain this. It’s gone forever.” And then it appeared right in the center of my bedside table, which it couldn’t have been sitting there the entire time. So it reappeared.
JIM HAROLD: And that’s a thing. There’s actually an author – she’s passed away now; her name is Mary Rose Barrington and wrote a book called JOTT – stands for Just One of Those Things – about objects going away and then reappearing where they couldn’t possibly be. It’s a thing. I’m sorry to interrupt. I just wanted to let you know you’re not the only one.
CHELSEY: No, please interrupt whenever you would like to. I love to hear what you have to say. So we’re back to my missing items. At that point, I’m like, “There’s a ghost in my bedroom. There’s a ghost in my house. Or perhaps there is a ghost within me, or at least attached to me in some way.” Because it’s not like anyone else in my house was experiencing anything. It was only happening to me, as far as I know. It felt very targeted for me.
So I started to want to make a connection to this ghost. As I mentioned, I was pretty lonely. I felt very alone in the struggles I was having and in not knowing how to proceed in my life and not really having anyone, especially about being a queer kid, I didn’t really have anyone to talk to at that point in 2004. So I started to want to connect with this ghost. I had my Ouija board, my special-made Ouija board that I got at that ghost hunter convention. It was a beautiful Ouija board, and I would leave that out, hoping that maybe I would wake up to some kind of a message. I would try to write poems about this ghost, hoping to find a way to connect. I started daydreaming about who this ghost could be and who I would most like to be able to connect with.
In my teenage heart, I really wanted it to be someone like Edna St. Vincent Millay, who was a poet in the early 1900s. Pretty sure she was a queer poet, and I just loved her poems and they brought me so much comfort, so I had this ongoing daydream. First I was like, “Maybe it’s Sylvia Plath,” and then I was like, “I don’t want to hang out with Sylvia Plath. She doesn’t seem like she would be very nice.” So yeah, I just started imagining a companion in this ghost that could share in how I was feeling and bring me maybe some kind of ancestral – I don’t know what. I don’t know exactly what I was looking for, but that’s the best way I can explain it.
I think everything really culminated for me when I was lying in – not my bed, but I had a little couch that folded out onto the ground. You probably know those kind of couches where it’s just pads that fold and you’re on the ground. One night, I lay down and I wasn’t asleep; I was trying to fall asleep, and out of nowhere, I felt on my forehead something tap my forehead really hard, three times. Just boom, boom, boom. I jumped up, completely freaked out – not thinking it was a ghost, thinking it was somebody hiding behind the couch, so I grabbed something. I even was like, “Come out! Come out right now!” Why I didn’t run out of the room and talk to my parents, I don’t know, but I didn’t.
That really was the big thing that happened where I started to feel just a little bit afraid. But after that it settled down again, and I continued to hear my name, I continued to try to make contact. I can’t say if I ever made contact or not, but I would have ghost experiences throughout my life, and I’ve always thought of this particular entity as being a companion to me in some ways that helped me feel connection to whatever I was deciding that ghost would be to me.
JIM HAROLD: Do you feel that that series of experiences and your other experiences have informed this flexible part of being a flexible skeptic? While you’re a skeptic, obviously, in terms of your podcast and everything, you still hold out the possibility of the world being a mysterious place and not totally explicable by what we consider mainstream means. Do you think these experiences have informed that?
CHELSEY: Absolutely. I could easily debunk myself if I wanted to. We did an episode on spiritualism in the 1800s, 1900s. I understand the psychology of ghosts and how our brain chemistry might make us see them. But at the same time, I think there’s a humility that every skeptic has to have where we understand that we’re only doing our best to make sense of what we are experiencing and what we believe to be true, but also leaving the door open for bigger things. We have what I like to call the unknowable universe. We don’t live in a reality that we understand. That’s the reason that I could never call myself a debunker or a skeptic. I guess I can, but the flexible idea of it is just leaving space for the unknown.
For personal experience, whether or not that personal experience is backed by empirical data – I don’t find that as interesting as – and this is something that Jim Perry of Euphomet, who’s a good friend of mine and I talk about a lot – I think you’ve spoken to Jim.
JIM HAROLD: I spoke to him, yes.
CHELSEY: Yeah, it just feels more important to try to understand the humanness of believing and what that does for us, and what it does for that individual person. Because often we have these experiences around trauma or around pain, sadness. We get these entities that visit us in some capacity, and that to me doesn’t have to be unreal. It doesn’t make it fake. It doesn’t make it anything other than a different type of experience that isn’t explained by the person. Maybe you could say that person had sleep paralysis – which we talk about; it’s definitely a real thing – but what also matters is the fact that that person is having a unique experience that’s coming through their psyche, and that’s real.
JIM HAROLD: I think that respect in both directions is really important. We’ve had Dr. Michael Shermer, who I’m sure you’re very familiar with, being on the skeptical side, and I thought he was great because even though he and I disagreed on some things, he was very respectful and wanted to at least have the discussion. I think he’s probably more skeptical than you, even, but he was willing to have the discussion. I think it’s always important to have the discussion and have a meeting of minds. I think that is a great thing.
JIM HAROLD: So the question is, American Hysteria – give us a minute or so what it is and where we can find it.
CHELSEY: Sure. American Hysteria, as you mentioned, we cover the fantastical thinking of Americans from the Puritans to the present. Moral panics, urban legends, conspiracy theories, and mostly how those stories that we tell came to be, the people throughout history that have given us the reality that we have through what they’ve said, what they’ve written, what they’ve done, as well as things that are important to explain to give ourselves a context in our modern world. We just try to tell unknown stories as well, that are interesting and surprising, and try to get at the heart of the legends that we tell, like our modern stories, and trace them through time.
JIM HAROLD: And you can find that everywhere you can find fine podcasts, right? All the apps.
CHELSEY: Yes, you can find us anywhere you get your podcasts. You can find us on social media. We’re on Instagram @americanhysteriapodcast and on Twitter @amerhysteria.
JIM HAROLD: Excellent. Chelsey Weber-Smith, thank you for joining us today on the Campfire.
JIM HAROLD: A big thank you to all of the podcasters who have come on the Campfire for the last few months and today. That was an extravaganza, and it was fun to talk to some podcasters who were not in the spooky space but have had spooky things happen to them, so we thank each and every one of them.
And we thank you for tuning in. We have a special shoutout. Dawn writes, “Can I just start by saying my boyfriend and I love your Campfire podcast? We started listening together and we love it. Being huge fans, I was wondering if you can give him a birthday shoutout. His name is Vinny and he’ll be turning 35 on May 5th. I think it would make his day if this happened.” Well, it has happened! Happy birthday, Vinny! I’m recording this on May 4th when the show is released, and tomorrow’s your birthday, so a big happy 35th birthday and stay spooky!
And we thank you so much for tuning in to the program. We appreciate it, and we’ll talk to you next time on the Campfire. Stay safe and stay spooky. Bye-bye.
You’ve been listening to Jim Harold’s Campfire. Tune in again next time for more stories of ordinary people who have experienced extraordinary things.
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