I received a free ARC via NetGalley from Llewellyn Publications in exchange for an honest review.
Rating: 4 Stars
One of my favorite things about NetGalley is that I have been auto-approved by Llewellyn so I can immediately read any book they've posted. This tends to make for some spooky reads, because they of course publish a lot of material related to all things paranormal. I believe in ghosts, I have had experiences of my own, and I love reading about the experiences of others. When I saw this book available, it was doubly exciting because there is something so tragic and romantic and, well, haunting, about the Old West. Despite its historical inaccuracies, Tombstone is one of my fave movies and I was hoping that some investigations would be made into the lives of the real men and women the movie represented. I was NOT disappointed in that respect at all.
One author, Dan Baldwin, has several years of experience using a dowsing pendulum to communicate with spirits who have not yet crossed over. I am kind of glad that I did not know ahead of time about this tool that he uses, as it might have made me hesitate. Prior to reading this one, I had no idea what a dowsing pendulum even was. I have to admit much skepticism to start with and I am not entirely convinced of its work yet, but it certainly gives one much to think about.
He was joined with a husband-wife team, Rhonda and Dwight Hull, who are both psychic mediums and can communicate with the dead. Something I really liked from the start is the team's goal of helping these spirits cross over. I also liked the fact that they did not attempt to force a spirit to cross over - though of course forcing a spirit to do anything would be impossible. More than once the author mentioned that the team did not feel right attempting to suggest the spirit move on if the spirit seemed content and happy to stay where they were. They came across a few spirits like this, who knew there was something beyond our plane of existence, but were happy to be where they were and wished to remain so. There were others who were afraid to cross, such as a young girl they encountered who was afraid she would not find her family. Perhaps the story that stuck with me the longest is the one of the supposed encounter with Mattie Blaylock, Wyatt Earp's common-law wife who he abandoned in Tombstone when he met Josephine Marcus. Mattie's story is a sad one and she died of a laudanum overdose, though whether it was an accident or suicide is still debated. The team here falls on the side of believing she committed suicide and in their communication with what they believe is her spirit, they conclude she has remained behind because she is ashamed of the way she died and is afraid she can't leave the place where she is in self-imposed exile. The team encourages the spirit to move on, that she is forgiven and she is allowed to leave, then end the session.
Each chapter is set up the same way: background information of the place or subject the team is investigating, then the transcripts of the sessions. I feel like those are important, as well as the commentary within the transcripts to help the reader know what is going on. with books like this, I feel like one of the most crucial things an author can do is give as much background information as possible in order to place their subjects in the proper context. Perhaps this is even more true in regards to those who are famous or infamous. Everyone knows stories of the Old West but it is important to go beyond the legends and discover who these people actually were. It also shows me that investigators have done their homework so to speak, prior to beginning. This could also partially have to do with the fact that I love non-fiction and history in particular, but I think we can agree research is an important aspect in this line of work. Not only do they give the background information, but at the end of the chapter, when available, they list follow-up/further reading information
Despite my caution still in regards to the pendulum use (I have to learn more about it, possibly see one in action for myself in this kind of situation before rendering a verdict), another point where this team and I agree on is that we all believe spirits can return to a place where they were happy. I have been incredibly lucky in being able to spend a couple nights at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado and I can say 100% that there are spirits there. Between the audio and visual confirmations, you can just FEEL the energy. I never felt anything negative, it was happy and peaceful - though, I could have done without whoever was in the room above us stomping around all night on hardwood floors, dragging furniture about. Also, none of the floors have been hardwood for decades, it's all carpeted. And yet both nights I was woken up by very loud, heavy shoes on hard floors. But that aside, yes I believe the spirits of the little boy and girl are happy to be at the Stanley, a place they must have loved very much in life. On the reverse side, I also believe that it is possible for the doer of evil deeds to return to the scene of his or her crime. I've been to the Villisca Ax Murder House in Iowa and there is definitely some negative/bad mojo coming from that attic. I think it is possible that whoever murdered the Moore family and Stillinger girls is still in the house, along with at least a couple of the children.
All in all I definitely recommend this one to those who have an interest in the paranormal. The multiple locations they visit have made me want to set up a vacation in the southwest, ASAP. The transcripts of their sessions at various locations in these ghost towns are truly interesting. I admire their commitment to the field and will you leave you with this quote that I feel like really sums up their mission (at 27%):
"You will notice in reading the transcript of the session we were not collecting EVPs like someone would collect stamps, coins, or arrowheads. Rather, these efforts are aimed at building a relationship with those who have crossed over and in gaining a better understanding of their individual situation."