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Joe Nickell

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Joe Nickell, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) and "Investigative Files" Columnist for Skeptical Inquirer. A former stage magician, private investigator, and teacher, he is author of numerous books, including Inquest on the Shroud of Turin (1998), Pen, Ink and Evidence (2003), Unsolved History (2005) and Adventures in Paranormal Investigation (2007). He has appeared in many television documentaries and has been profiled in The New Yorker and on NBC's Today Show. His personal website is at joenickell.com.

Another Whopper

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
September 23, 2016
Another Whopper

In an earlier article, I detailed my examination—conducted for National Geographic Wild’s TV show, Monster Fish—of an old photograph of a humongous catfish. It proved not to be a fake photo, but rather a genuine photo of a faked scene. (See the Jan./Feb. 2015 Skeptical Inquirer for my “Monster Catfish,” pp. 20–22.). Here is another whopper, from a vintage postcard I am just adding to my collection. Take a look.

 

Fink’s Magic Oil: Secret of the Magic

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
September 14, 2016
Fink’s Magic Oil: Secret of the Magic

Fink’s Magic Oil was a supposed cure for rheumatism, cholera, and numerous other ills, developed by Ohioan Henry George Greatrake Fink, an erstwhile Methodist minister who moved to Pittsburgh to reap a worldly fortune in the patent medicine business.

 

“Magnetic” Comb Cured Headache?

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
September 8, 2016
“Magnetic” Comb Cured Headache?

Wow! A “Prof. Long’s Magnetic Comb” not only removed dandruff and stopped falling hair but cured headaches—or so it was claimed at the turn of the last century (see photo—author’s collection).

 

“Captain Fantastic”: A Nickell-odeon Review

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
August 31, 2016

Captain Fantastic is a unique movie without a boring moment. It tells the story of a family of back-to-nature fanatics—not from the political right (which would only have been scary), but from the Sixties left. They have foregone Christmas but added “Noam Chomsky Day,” which apparently can be held whenever father Ben (Viggo Mortensen) deems appropriate.

 

The School Auditorium Ghost

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
August 24, 2016

Sometimes a ghostbusting skeptic just gets lucky. So it was, following my luncheon speech at a CFI conference, when an attendee told me she knew the true facts behind the “haunting” of Pembroke Middle School in Corfu, N.Y.

 

New Tests: Dawson Was Piltdown Forger

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
August 18, 2016

After an eight-year examination, a team of researchers has concluded that the infamous Piltdown Skull hoax—consisting of human skull fragments together with an ape-like jaw having two teeth—was the work of a single forger: the “discoverer” and original suspect Charles Dawson. The study clears other suspects touted over the years, including the French priest Teilhard de Chardin, English paleontologist Arthur Smith Woodward, Scottish anatomist Arthur Keith, and, among others, famed Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle.

 

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Ley Lines: Investigating on Site

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 40.5, September/October 2016

Investigative Files

Otherwordly: Mysteries of Newfoundland and Labrador

Skeptical Briefs Volume 26.1, Spring 2016

Investigative Files
Otherwordly: Mysteries of Newfoundland and Labrador

According to the tale, if one were driving at night from Deer Lake toward the city of Corner Brook one might encounter “a woman in a white dress.”

In the Stars? Personal Investigations of Astrology

Skeptical Briefs Volume 25.4, Winter 2015/16

Investigative Files
In the Stars? Personal Investigations of Astrology

Something wonderful happened to me in 2003 that I never saw coming. Had it been foreseen by stargazers in their forecasts for me in that year?

Dr. Hartshorn’s Medicines

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
August 10, 2016
Dr. Hartshorn’s Medicines

Dr. Edward Hartshorn (1817–1887) was a physician who marketed various cure-alls during the patent medicine era.

 

The Dreamed Visit

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 28, 2016
The Dreamed Visit




This is about the reality of an illusional experience. Philosopher Paul Kurtz was founder of The Center for Inquiry. (Written in the style I’ve developed, called Improvisational Rhyming, the poem is probably more effective read aloud.)

La búsqueda de evidencia negativa

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 39.6, November/December 2015

Online Extra

A todo el mundo le gustan los misterios. Resuelva uno en el campo científico y enseguida vendrán los elogios.

W.T. Rawleigh Company

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 22, 2016
W.T. Rawleigh Company

William Thomas “Will” Rawleigh (1870–1951) was an American medicine peddler, who eventually parlayed his early success (beginning in 1889) into an international manufacturing enterprise.

 

The Memory Keeper

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 13, 2016
The Memory Keeper

This is a poem dedicated to Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, who died July 2, 2016. His numerous books included Night, based on his memories of imprisonment at the concentration camps Auschwitz and Buchenwald.

 

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Jesse James’s ‘Haunts’: Legends, History, and Forensic Science

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 40.4, July/August 2016

Investigative Files

“The Conjuring 2”: A Nickell-odeon Review

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 5, 2016

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On the heels of the 2013 The Conjuring comes another James Wan-directed horror film, The Conjuring 2, but it is a bit of a stretch to call it a sequel. It does not continue the case of the Perron family hysterics in Rhode Island, but rather presents another one, that of the Enfield Poltergeist in England, 1977 to 1979.

 

 

“Genius:” A Nickell-odeon Review

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 5, 2016

Movies about genius continue to hold our interest—films like The Imitation Game (2014, heralding the father of the modern computer, Alan Turing), The Theory of Everything (2014, about the theoretical physicist Steven Hawking), and The Man Who Knew Infinity) 2016, on the life of math visionary Srinivasa Ramanujian).

 

Dispelling Demons of “The Conjuring”—on Site

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 1, 2016

During mid-June 2016, after her invitation, I drove to the rural Rhode Island home of Norma Sutcliffe, who lives in the allegedly demon-haunted house that was the subject of the 2013 scary movie The Conjuring. Whereas “demons” allegedly plagued the Perron family for ten years beginning in January 1971 (Perron 2011, 2013, 2014), Norma Sutcliffe (having acquired the property in 1987) has lived there with her companion Gerry for three times as long, and has never had trouble from demonic forces.

 

Murder in the U.S. Capitol and the Ghost of William P. Taulbee

Skeptical Briefs Volume 25.3, Fall 2015

Investigative Files
Murder in the U.S. Capitol and the Ghost of William P. Taulbee

After my centennial article on Taulbee’s assassination appeared (Nickell 1990), I learned of a follow-up claim: Taulbee’s unrequited ghost haunts the steps that are still marked with his blood.

RIDDLEculous XI

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
June 23, 2016

More funny riddles from a skeptical view.

Vancouver’s “Haunted” Old Spaghetti Factory

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
June 17, 2016
Vancouver’s “Haunted” Old Spaghetti Factory

The Old Spaghetti Factory in Gastown—Vancouver’s oldest neighborhood—is reportedly a very haunted place, but you couldn’t prove it by me (see photo). The popular eatery, which opened in 1970 in a former grocery wholesalers at 53 Water Street, houses an old trolley car and assorted other artifacts and antiques. It is also, reportedly, home to no fewer than four ghosts, one that of the old tram conductor himself.

 

Sasquatch! Look Out!

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
June 8, 2016
Sasquatch! Look Out!

After speaking at the Imagine No Religion Conference in Vancouver (May 20–22, 2016), I was able to spend some time investigating local mysteries. Notably, private investigator Dale Jackaman and I (see Figure 1) went into an area of prime Sasquatch country—the area around Chilliwack, Harrison Hot Springs, and Hope—where the fabled beast has long been reported, and in the future I intend to relate my investigations of specific historical sightings there.

 

“Yeti or Not”—the Bear Facts

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
June 3, 2016

Tipped by a Huffington Post journalist, I watched Animal Planet’s Yeti or Not world premier, Sunday, May 29, 2016—part of a “Monster Week” lineup.

 

Searching for the Yowie, the Down Under Bigfoot

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 40.2, March/April 2016

Investigative Files
Searching for the Yowie, the Down Under Bigfoot

The Yowie is becoming increasingly standardized in its appearance. It is sometimes said that it resembles “depictions of the American Bigfoot” or that “America’s Bigfoot would be an identical type”

“The Man Who Knew Infinity”: A Nickell-odeon Review

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
May 20, 2016

Buffeted by forces ranging from poverty to romantic estrangement, academic strictures, outright racism, and profound illness, math visionary Srinivasa Ramanujan lived a brief life that has yielded a rich study in perseverance and the triumph of genius. It is titled, The Man Who Knew Infinity.

Dr. Kennedy’s Medical Discovery

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
May 17, 2016
Dr. Kennedy’s Medical Discovery

The embossment, “Dr. Kennedy’s / Medical Discovery / Roxbury, Mass.”—on a bottle in my collection (see photo)—was first used in 1846 by Dr. Donald Kennedy. Or perhaps we should place the “Dr.” in quotation marks, since all of his early advertisements—including one from 1854—omit the title, as in “Manufactured by Donald Kennedy.”

Sir Harry Kroto

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
May 6, 2016

English chemist, Nobel laureate, humanist, CSI Fellow, and all-around admirable human being, Sir Harold Kroto has left those of us who knew him saddened over his death, April 30, 2016, of Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Dr. Hawks Universal Stimulant

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
May 4, 2016
Dr. Hawks Universal Stimulant

The bottle shown here is embossed “DR. HAWKS [sic] UNIVERSAL STIMULANT”; the product was advertised at least as early as 1861.

The Cascading House

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
April 25, 2016
The Cascading House

My three previous blogs—including the last one, “Dispelling a Ghost at Fallingwater,” the stunning accomplishment of architect Frank Lloyd Wright—are the fruits of a long weekend with my wife Diana to Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands, celebrating our 2016 anniversary. Here is one more, a poem about Fallingwater written in a style I have developed and call improvisational rhyming. (It is perhaps most effective when read aloud.)

Dispelling a Ghost at Fallingwater

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
April 22, 2016
Dispelling a Ghost at Fallingwater

Is Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece, Fallingwater—built 1936–1939 as the home of Edgar J. Kaufmann, president of Kaufmann’s Department Stores—actually haunted, perhaps by the ghost of his wife Liliane?

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