The large and longstanding Aykroyd family, many of whom still reside close to their old homestead near Peterborough Ontario, have been responsible for bringing us much wisdom and entertainment over the years, though so many are unaware of the extent to which this family of reasonable and astute observers has impacted the paranormal community at large.
Peter H. Aykroyd’s newest book, A History of Ghosts; The True Story of Séances, Mediums, Ghosts and Ghostbusters (With a foreword by Dan Aykroyd) is one that should be read by anyone who considers themselves informed on, interested in, or otherwise occupied by the business of ghosts.
While not an exhaustive history, this book brings the unique insight of nearly 80 years of personal exploration and investigation into the ideas of ghosts, séances, mediums and the general idea of human survivalism, into the foray of speculation and assumption that permeates the wittedly evolved spiritualist movement of the 19th and 20th centuries and to today’s paranormal community.
Beginning with an introduction to and examination of Peter Aykroyd’s venerated Grandfather, Samuel Agustus Aykroyd D.D.S., and his vast and varied experiences with early spiritualist practises, including private (or home) séances, and all of the acumen that went along with that spectacle, Peter then injects and weaves a factual and historical examination of many of the highlights of the spiritualist movement from the early to mid 1800’s, through to the mid to late 1900’s and beyond.
Peter’s familiarity with the players and issues of turn of the century mediums is impressive, and offers an insight not available through the writings of any modern spiritualist. All of the names you would expect to see in a discussion of this type are present, along side many lesser known psychics and more infamous frauds, hoaxters and even investigators of mediumistic practice.
Considering myself to be somewhat informed on this history and tradition, I found that I was reading this book with my jaw agape in amazement at some of the reported results achieved by both Dr. Aykroyd (whom Peter affectionately refers to as ‘Dr. A.’ throughout the book), as well as through the efforts of like-minded people very much the world over. For the most part Peter refrains from drawing conclusion at the proclamation of ‘proof’ brought forward to the present day by so-called psychics, and even by their own critics of the time.
He appears equally weary of the true-believer and of the ardently sceptic, though I did find myself questioning his own impartiality at the retelling of his own experiences at ‘Lily Dale’, wondering how such a learned man could have been taken so far in by such obvious trickery. But no harm was done in the end, so it bears little impact to the weight of the book.
I find myself now, having completed this journey with Peter as my guide, wondering how and why we’ve all strayed so far from the original ideas that spurred on the spiritualist movement. This book should be heralded by many as a catalyst for bringing back the more reasonable notion that ghosts (and their many, many various incarnations) are nothing at all to fear. This pursuit is, as it should be, the pursuit of physical, psychical, scientific and religious truth and knowledge, as is embodied by the following quote from the Progressive Thinker of June 28, 1928:
“…we have talked to one who has said he has been a spirit for 600 years and he has never seen ‘God’.” – Mary J. Langley
This idea fascinates me, and brings to mind so many questions, ideas, problems and conundrums, but in the spirit, emboldens me to ask each one in honesty and with a genuine desire to know the truth. Hidden below the vernacular of Peters literary voice is an underlying message that is as poignant now as it might have been to the Aykroyd family sitters some eight decades ago:
“People these days can’t seem to tolerate one moment without entertainment.” – Samuel Agustus Aykroyd