Dear Abby: Skeptical Ghost Buster!

December 21, 2008

Venerable advice columnist Dear Abby can usually be relied upon to dispense "Dr. Phil" lite advice on myraid matters, though in a recent column she showed a nice skeptical streak, suggesting a mundane, rational reason for what a reader clearly believed was a supernatural event:  

  Dear Abby: I have a "pennies from heaven" story you might appreciate. My best friend, "Darrel," was a smoker who collected quarters. His apartment had two distinguishing features – stacks of quarters and the smell of secondhand smoke. Because we were both busy people, we had seen each other only twice in about a year, but maintained a phone and e-mail friendship. I had planned a trip out west to spend time with family and had e-mailed him about it. Unbeknownst to me, Darrel had been very ill, and he died the day I sent the e-mail. I learned about it while I was in transit to my destination. There was nothing I could do. I had no way to get to his funeral and no way to say goodbye.

When we reached our hotel – part of a smoke-free chain – my husband and I opened the door to our room and were greeted by a familiar odor. It smelled just like Darrel’s apartment. And when I walked to the dresser to unpack, two quarters were sitting on top. It was then that my husband and I agreed that Darrel had stopped to say goodbye on his way to heaven.   – Quarters From Heaven

    Dear Quarters:   Please accept my sympathy for the loss of your friend. I’m glad you received some comfort in your time of need. However, it’s entirely possible that the guest who occupied the room before you broke the rules and puffed away in a room that was supposed to be nonsmoking. I hope you notified the front desk so you could be switched to other accommodations, and the room could be thoroughly cleaned and deodorized to prevent someone with a sensitivity to smoke from walking in and experiencing a severe allergic reaction."

  Yay Abby! You tell ‘em, old girl! This letter is a textbook example of how gullible, well-intentioned people can find profound meaning in coincidence. In my investigations I’ve come across dozens of people exactly like this letter writer, who see evidence of the supernatural in the most mundane of things. My favorite was during a ghost investigation in Ontario, one of the "investigators" farted in a cold, dark room.

The psychic ghost hunter was sure it was a spirit trying to communicate with us, but I was pretty sure it was beans or broccoli.