Monday, September 17, 2018

Phantom explanations

This is probably a self-published book by a relatively unknown author, John Winslow Gibson. It deals with bizarre paranormal entities known as “phantom attackers”. The Mad Gasser of Mattoon is prominently featured. Gibson also discusses phantom clowns who attempt to abduct children, Spring Heel Jack and his cousins, the Blue Phantom who shoots at cars on the highway, and the phenomenon known as hagging. I don't see any connection between the haggings and the other events mentioned in the book, however.

The oldest case discussed took place in New England during the 17th century, involved phantom “French” or “Indian” attackers, and is mentioned by Cotton Mather in his work “Magnalia Christi Americana”. In an epilogue, Gibson mentions a number of weird events he experienced himself, dubbing the paranormal entities the Mad Launderer and the Midnight Knockers. While strange, they are the weakest cases in the book and might have mundane explanations (unless the author is accosted by some particularly inept MIBs!).

The author doesn't have a good explanation for the phantom attackers, except that they have something to do with “karma”, but I admit that I didn't get that part of the story. His main observation is that the phantoms virtually never succeed in harming anyone. The victims of the Mad Gasser quickly recovered, the phantom child-nappers never actually abduct any children, phantom burglars never steal anything, and the Blue Phantom's bullets never hurt anyone. It's as if the phantom don't know what to do, or don't care. Many are also whimsical, such as the phantom burglar who during his escape from local vigilantes broke into a church to play the organ! The author reaches the conclusion that they can't be outright demons, but seems at loss to explain their nature (clue for the next edition: check out the Trickster archetype or Patrick Harpur's "Daimonic Reality").

Gibson spends considerable time debunking the notion that reports about the Mad Gasser were caused by mass hysteria, or that actual flesh-and-blood people were responsible for the gassings. He also mentions his private conflicts with other paranormal researchers. This makes the book incredibly dragging at times. But yes, there's seems to be a weird consistency in the phantom attacker reports over time and space, which suggest that something “objective” may be going on, whatever that might be.

In the end, I give “Mad Gassers and Other Criminal Phantoms” three stars for the effort, but I admit that it didn't really rock my world. It's in some ways closer to two stars than three.

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