Contributions

Following Martin Luther King in Life and Death
April 3, 2018


America’s greatest civil rights, anti-poverty, and anti-war leader, Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated half a century ago, on April 4, 1968. His was a profound influence on countless others in that tripartite revolution which he came to lead and still inspires. I speak here as one non-violent foot soldier who followed Dr. King’s lead in all three of those movements.

“Legend Tripping” at Graves of “Witches” and “Vampires”
March 29, 2018


Increasingly, “legend tripping” (a term used by folklorists) is becoming popular. A “legend trip” is a visit to a site having a legend—typically about uncanny events there—the purpose being to test the legend or to otherwise engage it (Brunvand 1996, 437–440).

CBS “Sunday Morning” Seers Don’t See So Well
March 20, 2018


On March 18, 2018, CBS “Sunday Morning” featured an insufficiently skeptical segment, “ESP: Inside the government’s secret program on psychic spies.”

Zanzibar’s Popobawa Demon Still Attacking Skeptics
March 15, 2018


In 1995 I published a short article titled “The Skeptic-raping Demon of Zanzibar,” telling of a bat-winged, cyclopean dwarf that reportedly swept into bedrooms and attacked men—especially those who disbelieved in the creature. The phenomenon had occurred in previous decades but had returned. A colleague handed me an article on the phenomenon and joked, “Here’s a case for you to solve.” Reading a few paragraphs, I replied, “I have solved it.”

The Haunting of Boone Tavern
February 22, 2018


Boone Tavern is a historic inn for travelers in Berea, Kentucky, named for famous frontier explorer Daniel Boone. It is also, allegedly, a very haunted place, but you couldn’t prove it by me.

“Winchester”: A Nickell-odeon Review
February 9, 2018


Winchester: The House That Ghosts Built (2018) is another based-on-a-true-story supernatural horror movie in the tradition of The Exorcist and The Conjuring. As usual, “based on” doesn’t mean much.

Visiting the Grave of the Last Vampire
February 5, 2018


When we look back at superstitious eras, we should not think our generation too superior. I have visited the graves of supposed witches in Tallahassee, Florida, and Harrison, Rhode Island, the tomb of a voodoo priestess in New Orleans, and the burial sites of vampires in New England, only to find silly superstitious practices at each of them. The most recent was my 2016 visit to the grave of Mercy Lena Brown— whose case supposedly influenced Bram Stoker, author of Dracula (1897).

“The Greatest Showman”: A Nickell-odeon Review
January 23, 2018


Okay, I had read too many reviews of The Greatest Showman –based on the life of P. T. Barnum—before I actually made it to the theater. But I’m not one to fall for the humbug of cynical reviewers, preferring to get mine from the “Prince of Humbugs” himself.

CELERINA: Quackery with Cocaine
January 19, 2018


“Celerina” was a medicine dating from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, originally of secret formulation, sold as a nerve tonic and cure-all.

RIDDLEculous XVI
January 10, 2018


More funny riddles with a science/critical-thinking angle.