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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.

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Creators of the Paranormal

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 40.3, May/June 2016

Feature

A handful of twentieth-century figures "created" the modern concept of the paranormal and its leading topics, transporting fantasy, myth, or speculation into a kind of believable "reality." Most proved to be a chimera.

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Gallows Ghosts? Mystery at Brisbane’s Tower Mill

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 40.3, May/June 2016

Investigative Files

The Brown Mountain Lights: Solved! (Again!)

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 40.1, January/February 2016

Investigative Files
The Brown Mountain Lights: Solved! (Again!)

As with UFOs, some lights will remain unidentified—not because they are inherently mysterious but because they are just eyewitness reports or snapshots with so many variable factors.

Bigfoot in the Laurel Highlands?

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
April 11, 2016
Bigfoot in the Laurel Highlands?

On a 3-day trip (for our April 1, 2016 anniversary), my wife Diana and I stayed in a small log cabin in southwestern Pennsylvania. This was in the rugged Laurel Highlands—the area of Farmington (with its “haunted” historic Stone House Inn) and Bear Run (the stream where America’s most famous house, Fallingwater, the Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece, is cantilevered over its waterfall).

Ghosts at Stone House Inn?

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
April 8, 2016

To celebrate our tenth anniversary (or our fiftieth, if you know our story), my wife Diana and I made a three-day trip to visit American architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece, Fallingwater. We stayed in a small log cabin in southwestern Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands (keeping a sharp lookout as we drove the back roads, since this is a habitat for the Bigfoot Bear—see next blog).  

Kendall’s Spavin Cure

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
April 1, 2016

Benjamin J. Kendall marketed his Spavin Cure in Vermont in 1876, intended as a liniment for medical and veterinary use.

Historic “Gold Cure” for Addiction

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 18, 2016
Historic “Gold Cure” for Addiction

In the latter nineteenth century, as temperance and prohibitionist sentiment flourished, quack cures for alcoholism began to be offered, beginning with the Keeley Double Gold Cure in 1890.

Holey Shroud Theory

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 14, 2016
Holey Shroud Theory
Here’s a limerick I wrote about the Turin Shroud (at approximately the time I was writing my book, Inquest on the Shroud of Turin):

“Newsweek”: In Flagrante

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 11, 2016

The once-respectable Newsweek has been caught in flagrante. Between the covers, so to speak, we find an editor not only shamelessly touting a notorious Brazilian “healer” but also promoting one of his arch shills, a “psychic” who had a lengthy earlier career as a pornography queen.

RIDDLEculous X

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 29, 2016
RIDDLEculous X

Reverend Peter Popoff: Still Unrepentant

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 23, 2016

I chanced upon an infomercial for the notorious Peter Popoff, televangelist and roving healer, on TLC (January 21, 2016), featuring a “Toronto Miracle Crusade.” For me it was dèjá vu once again.

Death of Cynthia Dwyer

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 18, 2016

Cynthia Dwyer is a name you probably will not recognize, but it caught my attention when it appeared in a Buffalo News headline, February 16, 2016, announcing her death at 84. She had been the “53rd hostage” from the Iranian crisis that began in 1979. She was also, subsequently, the editor of my first book, Inquest on the Shroud of Turin.

Poem: “The Bigfoot Bear”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 10, 2016
Poem: “The Bigfoot Bear”

For the past few years, I have been intensely studying what I call “The Bigfoot Bear”—that is, any bear, especially if standing and even walking upright, that may be mistaken for a Bigfoot. Here I offer a poem on that subject (rather than an investigative report). It is written in a style I have developed, that I call improvisational rhyming. It is perhaps best appreciated when read aloud.

Rev. Downs’ Elixir

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 5, 2016
Rev. Downs’ Elixir

Shown in the accompanying photograph, this 12-paneled aqua bottle (hand blown in a two-piece mold and measuring about 5 38’’ tall by  1 1316’’ diameter) is embossed “REV. N. H. DOWNS’ / VEGETABLE / BALSAMIC / ELIXIR.”

Poltergeist Scribbler: The Bizarre Case of Matthew Manning

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 39.6, November/December 2015

Investigative Files
Poltergeist Scribbler: The Bizarre Case of Matthew Manning

What has been called “one of the most extraordinary outbreaks of poltergeist phenomena” of the twentieth century began with an English schoolboy, aged eleven and a half years, Matthew Manning.

Solving the 1932 Bladenboro Fire-poltergeist Case

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 26, 2016

In 1932, several mysterious fires erupted in a house on Elm Street in the small town of Bladenboro, North Carolina. Police, fire experts, and others were baffled by the outbreaks that occurred over three days in the home of elderly residents Council H. Williamson and his wife Lydia. Beginning on January 30 with a burning curtain and window shade in the dining room, and continuing the next day with a set of bedclothes, a stack of papers stored in a closet, and a hanging pair of trousers, the rash of twenty mysterious fires ended about noon on February 1. Soon, however, the fiery case went cold and, according to an article by AtlasObscura.com, remains unsolved to this day (Tomlin 2016). But that has now changed.

The Bigfoot Obsession

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 25, 2016

With Joe Gisondi’s Monster Trek: The Obsessive Search for Bigfoot (2016), the subtitle says it all. Gisondi, an outsider, traveled with Bigfooters, those credulous folk motivated to search for the fabled creature despite zero scientific evidence for its existence. At times he sounds like a skeptic: “How could creatures presumed to be so large remain so elusive?” (77). At other times he seems a believer: “. . . I felt something watching me” (37). He is, in fact, a journalist trying to be objective and show both sides: “As always I straddle the world of what could be and what is” (42).

See “The Real ‘X-Files’”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 11, 2016

By now you have perhaps learned of the online video by Vice Media, The Real “X-Files?” in which I star as “the real-life Scully” (as in Agent Dana Scully from the popular TV series and film).

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Lincoln’s ‘Haunting’ Presence

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 40.1, January/February 2016

Review

“Concussion”: A Nickell-odeon Review

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 29, 2015
Concussion soon reveals how the Big Business and fans of an American craze respond to a medical interloper who would cost them money (and fun).

Haunting Tales: Folklore or—?—

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 16, 2015

I am often struck by how careless are the writers of those endlessly proliferating articles and books promoting belief in ghosts and hauntings.

“Spotlight”: A Nickell-odeon Review

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 2, 2015

Here it is at last, the film about priests’ child sexual abuse in Boston—and its cover-up by the Catholic church—seen from the vantage point of the Boston Globe reporters who broke the story.

“Suffragette”: A Nickell-odeon Review

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
November 25, 2015

Suffragette is the story of oppressed women seeking the right to vote in early twentieth-century Britain.

Bigfoot Roundup: Some Regional Variants Identified as Bears

Skeptical Briefs Volume 25.2, Summer 2015

Investigative Files
Bigfoot Roundup: Some Regional Variants Identified as Bears

Having long observed that many Bigfoot sightings seem consistent with bears, I have for some time been expounding on the subject—showing that, when bears stand upright on their hind legs, they become North America’s foremost Bigfoot lookalikes.

“He Named Me Malala”: A Nickell-odeon Review

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
November 13, 2015

The documentary He Named Me Malala is of course the story of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teen who fought for girls to be educated just like boys, and refused to be intimidated by the fascistic Taliban who in 2012 shot her in the head.

Pueblo Kachina Dolls

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
November 2, 2015
Pueblo Kachina Dolls

The Kachinas are powerful supernatural beings in the spiritual life of the Native American Hopi and Zuni Pueblo peoples. Kachina wooden dolls are given to children, not as playthings but as treasured objects to help them identify the many different kachinas. (Shown here are Hopi dolls from the author’s collection, made by Indian craftmen.)

The Black Madonna: A Folkloristic and Iconographic Investigation

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 39.5, September/October 2015

Investigative Files
The Black Madonna: A Folkloristic and Iconographic Investigation

One of the most famous of true icons (traditional religious panel paintings) is the so-called Black Madonna of Czestochowa, Poland (Figure 1). Its notoriety was boosted when, following his election to the papacy, the “Polish Pope” John Paul II prayed before it on a visit in 1979. For an international History Channel series, Miracles Decoded, I was asked to look into the icon’s origins. I

Beware Urgent “IRS” Calls

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
October 23, 2015

At 12:09 p.m., Thursday, September 18, 2015, my answering machine recorded an urgent message from the IRS:

From Lily Dale: A Report on the Spirits

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
October 20, 2015
From Lily Dale: A Report on the Spirits

On Saturday, September 5, 2015, my wife Diana and I attended yet another open-air séance at the village of Lily Dale, on Cassadaga Lake, New York. Lily Dale advertises that it is “The World’s Largest Center for the Religion of Spiritualism.”

Junipero Serra: Pope Francis’ U.S. Saint

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
October 9, 2015

During his first visit to the United States, Pope Francis I canonized a Spanish Catholic Franciscan friar, Junipero Serra y Ferrer (1713–1784). With only one “miracle” to his credit (though not for the church’s lack of trying!) he became Saint Junipero Serra, but the act provoked anger from many Native Americans and his statue at one mission was vandalized.

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