In Shakespeare's time, ghosts were real. That is, people thought they were real.
For example, to those folks the scene with Hamlest's father's ghost wouldn't have been far out - it would've made perfect sense.
People believed ghosts were the souls of the unsettled dead. They came back to earth not to freak out people but to get them to do something that'd put the ghost's soul to rest.
Today, in a culture that knows more of science and believes less in surperstition, not as many people believe in ghosts. But some do, and something that recently took place in My Home Town bears this out.
A year or two ago, a crew from Animal Planet came here to film a feature on a local house, supposedly haunted.
The house was once a cure cottage, and according to its recent owners, all sorts of strange phenomena took place there. I can't recall the details now, but I assume they were the standard inexplicable ghostly goings-on. Most likely they were strange noises at odd times, sudden gusts of air, furniture being mysteriously rearranged and so on.
As I said, the standard stuff. I don't remember hearing about blood coming out of the faucets or people levitating or suddenly finding a 666 tattoo on their forehead and that sort of thing. It was only Haunting Lite, as it were.
When I heard about this, my first reaction was, OK, a gig's a gig. Everyone loves ghost stories, and if a ghost story is on TV, people will watch it. This is good news for the television peeps, who not only want us to have classy entertainment but want to make a wee profit at the same time.
But the more I thought about it, the more dubious I became.
I understand the theory behind this (aside from making a bunch of bucks off the rubes), namely that since Saranac Lake was a tuberculosis center in the years before antibiotics, more people died here than in other villages the same size.
And if you believe in ghosts, then the more people who died, the more ghosts there would be.
Plus - and I guess this hearkens back to Shakespeare's time - since these people died prematurely, there'd have been more candidates for ghost-hood.
It makes perfect sense ... if you already believe in ghosts.
If not, not.
Personally, while I'd like to believe in ghosts (being entertainment-starved, since I have no TV), I don't. For one thing, as a magician, for me to believe any paranormal phenomenon, it'd have to withstand scrupulous testing. For another thing, I've never seen a ghost. And if you think about it, by now I should have - at least according to Animal Planet.
First, over the years I've known a bunch of people who lived in that house they featured, and I never heard any of them report paranormal happenings. Second, I've lived here almost my entire life and, as I said, have never encountered a ghost of any ilk. And third, my family house was originally a cure cottage, and any weird-outs that took place there were strictly my own doing.
All of which took me greatly aback when, just after the filming-to-be was announced, I answered the phone and a cheery voice asked me if I was Bob Seidenstein. I said I was, and she indentified herself as a producer from Animal Planet.
Producer? It's a term I've never understood. I mean, I know "produce" means to bring something forth. But how it's used with media eludes me. It seems every TV show and movie has actors, a director, a film crew and about 600 producers. I know there are the hot-shot producers, those big schvitzers who get the money from even bigger schvitzers.
But then there are other producers - third-stringers, as it were - who get all sorts of other things - many of which I suspect are along the lines of coffee and doughnuts for the crew.
Calling all skeptics
I figured the producer who called me was a third-stringer. Certainly, for her sake, I hoped she wasn't trying to shake any gelt out of yours truly. And she wasn't.
"We asked if there were any longtime residents we could talk to," she said, "and someone gave me your name."
"Oh?" I said, wondering who the fink was.
"Yes. We're filming a program on the ghosts of Saranac Lake."
"And you were told I was one?" I said, expecting a laugh.
I got none.
"No," she said, all business. "We'd like to know if you'd had any encounters with them."
"Truth be told, I haven't," I said. "But I've got to tell you I don't believe in ghosts anyway."
"Well, that's fine."
"It is?" I said.
"Sure," she said. "Why do you think it wouldn't be?"
"Because if you're coming all the way up here to do a show on ghosts, I figure you're gonna find ghosts, not debunkers."
"Oh, no," she said. "We respect skeptics as well as believers."
Respect? Not a word I'd apply to television, in any context. But, hey, I've been wrong lots of times, so why not now?
We wrapped up the conversation, and before we said our goodbyes, she said she'd call me when they got here.
It's a good thing I didn't keep sitting by my phone because I never got a call.
If you didn't see the program, you really missed something. Predictably, there were ghosties, ghoulies, and goblins galore.
Also predictably, there wasn't a skeptic anywhere in sight.